Montreat Board of Adjustment calls special meeting to discuss MRA special use permit

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
A rendering of an upper view of the proposed lodge.

MONTREAT - The Board of Adjustment has called a special meeting set for March 16 to discuss further business related to the special use permit for the Mountain Retreat Association. 

"They're reviewing and approving the order from the Jan. 6 decision to approve the special use permit and then they are considering dismissal or hearing further arguments on the appeal," said town Zoning Administrator Scott Adams.

According Adams, the board will read the official approval of the special use permit and consider the appeal submitted by the opposition on Jan. 11. 

The opposition is composed of the Hayner and Jones families whose properties sit adjacent to the site of the new lodge.

"The appeal asks the Town to overturn the Zoning Administrator’s determination, which contradicts the Montreat Zoning Ordinance and established North Carolina land use law," read a statement from the Montreat Stewards, a group opposed to the lodge and organized by members of the opposition. 

While related to the approval of the permit, this appeal is different from an appeal of the overall permit decision. An overall appeal would be heard by a separate, higher court, different from the town Board of Adjustment. 

The opposition appealed to the board to overturn Adams' testimony that the other three lodges on the MRA property would exist as accessory structures to the main lodge. The parties in opposition say if this testimony were to stand, it would mean any property owner or developer could construct other large buildings on their lot so long as the other buildings were somewhat linked to the main house.

The parties in opposition have not said whether or not they will appeal the overall decision.

Richard DuBose, the president of the MRA, said while he hopes it won't come to an overall appeal, he's prepared in the event that it does.

"This whole thing boils down to the simple equation that the conference center has proposed that it has a right to use its property for the purpose of which we're already using it," DuBose said. 

If the Board of Adjustment were to hear the appeal, Adams said the process would be similar to the hearings thus far with the attorneys of the applicant and opposition presenting arguments. 

The Board of Adjustment approved the permit for the MRA on Jan. 6 with a 5-2 vote. The decision came at the end of the quasi-judicial hearing which spanned nearly 50 hours and eight sessions over the course of four months. 

The lodge plans would do away with three of the original structures on the MRA property: Galax House, Chestnut Lodge and Lord Apartments. Sixty trees will also need to be removed to accommodate the new lodge, but the MRA intends to replant 80. 

Located between Assembly Drive and Georgia Terrace, the lodge will include 40 guest rooms with private baths, an outdoor courtyard and a 30-space parking garage. Including the half-basement and parking garage, the total area comes to 40,000 square feet. 

With the permit approved, DuBose said the MRA has begun moving into the next few phases of the project. He said the conference center has started fundraising and working on communication efforts to move the process along while the MRA board works on next step planning. 

"At the end of the day, this building stands to support our mission and ministry for the next 50 to 100 years," DuBose said. "We're prepared to do what it takes to make sure we can do it."

Ezra Maille covers the town of Black Mountain, Montreat and the Swannanoa Valley. Reach him at 828-230-3324 or emaille@blackmountainnews.com. Please support local journalism with access to more breaking news by subscribing.