MRA lodge proposal hearing continued once again with no resolution

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
The Montreat Board of Adjustment continued the special use permit hearing for the proposed lodge from the MRA on Oct. 28 on the Montreat College campus.

The second session of the Board of Adjustment hearing on Oct. 28 for a special use permit for the Mountain Retreat Association to build a new lodge was continued to Nov. 4 as the board was unable to finish the evidentiary part of the hearing in the five hours allotted. 

The hearing has lasted more than 10 hours so far, after the first part of the hearing Oct. 21 was continued to Oct. 28.

Roughly 40 members of the public were in attendance at Gaither Chapel on the Montreat College campus to witness the hearing. 

The second session of the hearing on Oct. 28 began where the first left off, with MRA President Richard DuBose on the stand to testify on behalf of his organization. 

DuBose talked about why the MRA wants a larger facility while annual occupancy rates remain at around 50. Using the example of the renovation of Assembly Inn, DuBose said once the facility had been improved, occupancy rates grew by around 30%.

"People who stayed at Assembly Inn were happier to stay there," DuBose said. "People who worked at Assembly Inn were prouder to operate and work in the place."

The new plans for the lodge include added greenspace and fewer rooms following a period of community input.

The proposed lodge requires the removal of 60 trees as well as three of the original structures on the property: Galax House, Chestnut Lodge and Lord Apartments. Although the plan requires significant modification to the property, the proposal plans to replant 80 trees in an effort to keep the area as intact as possible. 

With the removal of the three original structures, the lodge, proposed to be built between Assembly Drive and Georgia Terrace, would include 40 guest rooms with private baths, a large courtyard area and a 30 space parking garage.

James Whitlock, the attorney for the Hayner family, established that although the total square footage has been outlined at 29,000 square feet, if the half basement and parking garage are included, the total amounts to 40,000 square feet. 

After DuBose, the MRA attorney, T.C. Morphis, called to the stand the architect of the project, Nathan Bryant of Samsel Architects. Bryant was then followed by Charles Krekelberg, the project manager of the lodge proposal, of the same architecture firm. 

Bryant and Krekelberg were sworn in as experts in their testimonials, Bryant as an expert in architecture and Krekelberg as an expert in code compliance. 

Bryant said the design of the lodge follows a modern take on a classic Montreat building or mountain lodge. He testified that based on the design, the lodge will comply with the criteria needed to be met for a special use permit. 

"The structure itself will not be detrimental to or endanger the public health, safety or general welfare," Bryant said. "We've approached this project from every angle to be in harmony."

Whitlock asked if a 40,000 square foot lodge could be in harmony with a 2,000 square foot building like the Hayner house. Bryant testified that it could. 

Bryant said that the building will be 9 feet lower than the maximum allowed yet he didn't know the exact height allowed. He frequently deferred to Krekelberg when questioned about specifics and details.  

Krekelberg testified that he had read Montreat's comprehensive plan and town ordinance. He said putting the lodge in this spot makes sense as it would not be too residential and not too industrial. 

Krekelberg said the building "does comply" with the Montreat zoning ordinance. He also pointed out that the old lodges that would be demolished are over the setback limitations but that the new lodge would be in compliance with an excess of roughly 8 feet. 

A rendering of an upper view of the proposed lodge.

During cross examination, the opposing attorneys asked if the plan had taken into account the view from the Hayner residence, asking if this would be in harmony with the neighboring houses. Krekelberg testified that the lodge will comply with all the parameters outlined by the ordinance, including parking limitations, setback and height. 

"We wanted to make sure our building did not extend and affect that view corridor," Krekelberg said. 

With a few additional witnesses still to be called by the MRA and six witnesses to be brought from the MRA's opposition, the board decided to carry over to the following week on Nov. 4.