Board of Adjustment set to hold hearing for Montreat lodge proposal

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
The MRA plans to replace the old and dilapidated apartments with a new and larger lodge.

The widely anticipated Board of Adjustment hearing for the new lodge proposed by the Montreat Retreat Association is set to take place Sept. 23. 

"It's a quasi-judicial hearing, which means it's not an open public comment period," said Alex Carmichael, the Montreat town administrator. 

People who the board has decided hold standing will be allowed to present evidence, according to Carmichael. Two attorneys will also be present at the hearing, the town attorney and an outside lawyer to represent the board. 

The lodge site, the point of contestation among neighbors adjacent to the property and town residents, was chosen following the plan of the town, zoning ordinances and standards, according to MRA president Richard DuBose. 

"Our board slowed down the process to give neighbors an opportunity to provide more input, so that we could hear from any concerned citizens that had questions, concerns about the project," DuBose said. 

After input by the residents, DuBose said the MRA board amended the plan significantly before presenting it to the town, reducing the scope and adding landscaping. 

"We put some great thought into how we would manage the site," he said. "All that has made for a stronger plan, in our view."

Montreat Stewards, a group lead by the Hayner family, whose property sits directly beside the new hotel's proposed site, have organized opposition to the MRA's proposal. According to the Stewards, 870 people have signed a petition against the lodge, including roughly one-third of all the properties in Montreat. 

"My impression is the majority supports us," said Priscilla Hayner. "Although not everyone is willing to say so publicly."

Although Hayner and the Stewards presented an alternative to the new lodge, the MRA's project developers rejected the proposal as not adequate to their needs. Hayner said the MRA was not interested in further negotiations and said simply, 'We'll see you at the Board of Adjustment meeting.'

"Essentially they said 'no,'" Hayner said. "'It was pretty non-Montreat-like."

The Montreat Stewards have been in opposition to the MRA's new lodge, a project in the works for the past few years.

While the alternative did not meet the same exact parameters, Hayner was optimistic that it would offer the original plan a fair compromise. She said the MRA architects looked at it and didn't seem interested in finding any positives, that the meeting was overwhelmingly negative and the retreat board was not interested in finding a middle ground. 

"They're really, really set on the model they started with and they really are not willing to think outside of that model," Hayner said. 

According to DuBose, after the MRA submitted the formal application in mid-July, the Hayner family brought their alternative to the MRA. He said their plan was more than a simple revision, it was a "pretty substantial departure" from the plan the MRA proposed. 

DuBose said the plan was carefully considered, at the MRA's own expense, with the help of architects and the construction manager. Since the recommendations from the residents were so different, DuBose found it difficult for the association to ultimately meet their goals with the new lodge if they were to follow the alternative plan. 

"Their plan just simply didn't meet the goals of the project so we had to decline their suggested changes," DuBose said. 

For those in opposition, the project holds risks for the town. With the location beside the creek, the potential for environmental degradation, particularly in light of this summer's flooding, is something that needs addressing.

Although the plan aims to remove 59 trees for the lodge, with the added landscaping component of the revised plan, the MRA maintains the intention of replanting saplings once the project has been completed. 

"Our aim is to be good neighbors," DuBose said. "We've done our best to be open minded to their concerns and to try to keep our eye on the ball to accomplish our goals for the project."