Montreat lodge hearing: 3 sessions, 15-plus hours, no decision

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
A rendering of the proposed lodge. The Montreat Board of Adjustment was unable to come to a resolution on whether or not to grant a special use permit to the MRA on Nov. 4, the third session of the hearing.

The Montreat Board of Adjustment continued to hear evidence Nov. 4 in the hearing for a special use permit for a new lodge proposed by the Mountain Retreat Association but did not reach a conclusion after more than five hours.

The hearing has been held over three consecutive Thursdays, from Oct. 21-Nov. 4, and has spanned more than 15 hours. The first three sessions were at Gaither Hall on the campus of Montreat College. The fourth session is scheduled Nov. 17 at Montreat Town Hall.

Roughly 20 members of the public were in attendance at the hearing Nov. 4, fewer than the number of attendees the first two sessions.

The hearing continued where the second session left off with site design and code compliance expert witness Charles Krekelberg on the stand. Krekelberg was directly examined by T.C. Morphis, the attorney for the MRA before being cross examined by James Whitlock, the attorney for the Hayner family, and John Noor, the attorney for the Jones family. 

The Hayner and Jones families hold properties adjacent to the site of the proposed lodge. 

The lodge proposal requires the demolition of three original lodges on the MRA property: Galax House, Chestnut Lodge and Lord Apartments. The plan also requires the removal of 60 trees with the promise of replanting 80. 

Planned to be built between Assembly Drive and Georgia Terrace, the lodge would include 40 guest rooms with private baths, a 30 space parking garage and a large courtyard area. 

Although originally outlined at 29,000 square feet, if the parking garage and half basement are included, the total comes out to 40,000 square feet. 

Krekelberg remained on the stand for nearly three hours. Amid much debate over the use of a submitted geotechnical report utilized by Krekelberg's architecture firm, he established that the lodge would be 9 feet, 4 inches below the maximum height allowed. Krekelberg testified the maximum allowable height to be 40 feet above the natural grade. 

Whitlock and Noor questioned Krekelberg as to how the lodge would affect the views from the Jones house as well as the Hayner house, which sits adjacent to the proposed site. 

Krekelberg maintained that only "the views to the west will be affected by the hotel," in reference to the Hayner house. He said the view from the Jones house would be able to look out over the roof of the lodge. 

Morphis called to the stand John Kinnard, a civil engineer and partner at Brooks Engineering Associates. During direct examination, Kinnard testified that the project would adhere to the town ordinances relating to stormwater, soil erosion, general safety and public health as outlined. 

"My opinion is this project will not be detrimental to or endanger the public health, safety or general welfare with regard to stormwater, soil erosion or sedimentation," Kinnard said. 

After a brief direct and cross examination of Kinnard, Morphis called the MRA's fifth witness, Jeffrey Moore to the stand. 

Moore, a traffic engineering manager at Gannett Fleming, presented a memorandum of findings that the new lodge would not create more traffic on Assembly Drive and likely show less than what is currently seen. 

"The number of vehicles that pass by you as a result of the lodge will likely decrease," Moore said. "The programming of the MRA has not changed. It's not expanding."

Under cross examination, Whitlock and Noor identified Moore's expert testimony as unsubstantial under state law due to his methodology for his findings. Moore testified that his methodology for finding the numbers was based purely on verbal communication with MRA President Richard DuBose and 14 various assumptions. 

The opposing counsel took issue with Moore's methodology as the engineer did not independently verify any of the information he was given from DuBose. He also testified that his methodology was essentially created for this unique project, that he had never seen it used before in another project. 

Anne Hayner, who was deemed by the board to hold standing in the hearing, asked Moore what would contradict his findings. He agreed that the MRA stating a goal of bringing more people to Montreat for the new lodge would be contradictory.

"'The new conceptual design composes replacing those three lodges with a new, larger  lodge that would expand the number of conference and retreat guests we could host and enable the conference center to bring more people to Montreat,'" Hayner read directly from the MRA's website. 

Both Whitlock and Noor asked that Moore's testimony be struck from the record.

Noor read directly from rule 702, which outlined the criteria for which Moore's testimony could be struck from the record. Whitlock agreed the testimony met nearly every criteria for being struck. 

"What Mr. Moore's testimony showed was that his methodology met nearly all of the initia of the unreliable testimony laid out in rule 702 in the case law interpreting it," Whitlock said. "It was crafted just for this case and litigation." 

After some deliberation by Chairman Mark Spence as to how the board could accept Moore's testimony while during deliberations, Spence decided to overrule the request, keeping the testimony on the record. Whitlock and Noor appealed to the board for an overrule of Spence's decision but the board voted unanimously to uphold the chairman's initial decision.