DuBose: Concerns for new lodge acknowledged, to 'influence' design

Ty Roush
Black Mountain News
A concept rendering of the proposed Assembly Drive lodge.

MONTREAT - Two listening sessions were held April 13 and 19 to allow dialogue between Montreat Conference Center and property owners closest to a proposed development between Georgia Terrace and Assembly Drive.

The property owners invited to the call are those “near the proposed project site,” president Richard DuBose said. They were joined by MCC’s governing board members in addition to DuBose.

A second listening session held April 19 provided time for DuBose to answer questions submitted to MCC in addition to attendees urging board members to consider alternative development sites.

Board members updated property owners on the project and the commitments Mountain Retreat Association, MCC’s corporate moniker, have made through the public input period, DuBose said. 

The property between Georgia Terrace and Assembly Drive remains the “preferred option for development,” the board noted, though “it was trying to come with an open mind to new ideas that might pop up from the dialogue.”

“I think our board members really tried to communicate why the project is important to our future goals, providing hospitality for our guests, better programming and helping us to build a stronger financial foundation,” DuBose said.

A task force composed of board members to communicate directly with neighboring property owners on the board’s behalf, established during a March 15 meeting, “came away from the conversation with a better understanding of neighbors’ concerns.”

Montreat Conference Center President Richard DuBose says he is confident the town will support the new lodge.

Though the sessions allowed the board to better understand opposing viewpoints, DuBose noted that no resolution was found for whether any development would be viable for those in opposition at the proposed site.

The listening sessions, complemented by emails, Zoom and phone calls DuBose has held with neighboring property owners, “are being held to impact the design.”

“Our focus is on taking the immediate neighbor feedback to influence the design process,” he said. “It’s hard to put our best foot forward when our foot hasn’t been completely designed yet.”

Tanner Pickett, vice president for sales, marketing and communications said he thinks input “will have a great impact on whatever the ending design looks like.”

Assembly Inn alternative

An alternative to build a freestanding lodge adjacent to Assembly Inn, contrasted with a previous alternative of adding on a wing to the building, was presented to the board during the April 19 session.

DuBose said the board reiterated its preference for the Georgia-Assembly location while continuing to listen to public input.

Developing a lodge on the Assembly Inn property would require the removal of staff parking and access for deliveries. Construction could pose challenges with nearby slopes.

“We looked at it, and we haven’t done any profound study on it, but we’ve looked at it and building in sufficient additional parking would be a real challenge,” DuBose said. “We’d probably have to excavate significantly. It has some interesting challenges to it.”

Listening

Some questions went unanswered and not enough information was provided, Priscilla Hayner said of the sessions.

An inquiry into whether MCC or DuBose had surveyed the site before it decided to develop the property was proposed by Hayner and other members of the sessions.

Hayner said she was told that DuBose held conversations with previous conference attendees, which she noted as a “very narrow picture.”

“The MRA is a very important institution for Montreat, and everybody in the two calls I attended repeatedly said that we value MRA,” Hayner said. “Most of the people in the calls were donors to MRA, (we said) we want to work with them to find the right solution.”

A detailed assessment of other potential development sites has not been presented to the public, Hayner added, thereby leading to opposition to the current site location.

“They seem to have approached this sort of, by instinct, that this is the right location for them,” she said.

Communication

MCC has launched a site featuring design renderings, a letter on behalf of MCC’s governing board by DuBose and board chair Burnet Tucker, blog postings discussing aspects of the development’s design and location selection process and a section for FAQs, most recently updated March 16.

DuBose has maintained that he will respond to all emails or calls regarding the development in addition to adding more blog posts discussing the lodge. He adds that he thinks “there’ll be plenty of opportunity for broader public input.”

While no additional sessions have been announced, Hayner said she appreciated the listening sessions and suggested that MCC “should have more,” urging for both sides to opt for a “win-win.”

“We want to work with them for a win-win solution,” Hayner said. “I hope they heard that clearly. We said it repeatedly.”