MRA lodge opponents say they won't depose Board of Adjustment members in superior court

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News

MONTREAT - Opponents to the Mountain Retreat Association's new lodge sought to clear the air after a statement was made by Mayor Tim Helms regarding a higher court appeal. 

"In the Town Council meeting of June 9, the mayor of Montreat made a statement that regrettably incorrectly characterized the recent request to the town that was made by our attorneys on our behalf," Harry T. Jones, a member of the opposition to the MRA lodge, said at the July 14 council meeting. 

Harry T. Jones, a member of the opposition to the new lodge, read a clarifying statement at the July 14 Montreat council meeting.

On June 9, Helms had condemned the actions of the opposition to depose members of the Board of Adjustment in superior court for their decision to approve a special use permit for the MRA's new lodge on Jan. 6. Prior to clarification, Helms said finding members of the community to volunteer to serve on town boards can be difficult and asking to depose such members would be disrespectful. 

Helms had stated that deposing members of the Board of Adjustment felt like an accusation of the board members' integrity.

"It's almost impossible in this community not to have had any contact and work with the MRA," Helms said on June 9. "It just really hurts me that (the opposition) would bring into question our citizens and the volunteer work and decision that they made."

However, after meeting privately with the Montreat Stewards, namely Jones, members of his family and members of the Hayner family, both families which lead the opposition, Helms rescinded his statement. He clarified that the plaintiffs have submitted "'discovery' questions" to be answered by Board of Adjustment members rather than deposing these individuals. 

"I regret my misstatement," Helms said in his summary of the July 14 council meeting. 

Montreat Mayor Tim Helms rescinded a statement on July 14 condemning the deposition of Board of Adjustment members in a superior court appeal.

According to John Noor, Jones' attorney, discovery questions were submitted to the town in May and responses were received in early July. He said further review of these questions will need to be conducted to determine if board members will be deposed.

"It asks a number of different questions," Noor said. "The board members involvement, their relationship with any of the parties that were in the lawsuit including the MRA, essentially to ensure there were no conflicts or potential conflicts of interest between those who had decided the outcome of the application and either the applicant or any other party who was admitted into the case."

Noor added that any of the involved parties could be deposed, not just board members, but that it remains too early to tell who may or may not be deposed in superior court.

This recent development comes roughly two months after the Hayner and Jones parties filed an appeal of the Board of Adjustment decision to Buncombe County Superior Court. The county has yet to set a date for the appeal. 

Recent discussion at council meetings led to Helms stating that as of July 15, the total cost of the lodge hearings on the town amounts to $140,000. 

Priscilla Hayner, sister of Kate Hayner, one of the appellants, said the petition for appeal suggests the appellants have information that there were conflicts of interest in the Board of Adjustment decision. She added that she wasn't sure what this meant as no members were named, but the discovery questions were likely a result of identifying the validity of this information.

"As it's been said to me, it would be irresponsible if the lawyers actually didn't follow up on that," Hayner said. "A lot of people in Montreat have been confused about why this is happening and I think that helps explain it."

According to the written petition for appeal to superior court, the appellants believe the Board of Adjustment "failed to consider the majority of evidence presented or weigh the evidence and determine contested facts."

The petition further outlines criteria for reversing the board's decision which states the decision was in violation of the petitioner's due process rights, was unsupported by competent, material and substantial evidence and was "otherwise affected by errors of law."

In Jones' statement at the recent council meeting, he said after meeting with the mayor on June 27, all parties emerged with a clearer understanding and committed to fair process moving forward. He said this clarification is important in the process to ensure town decisions follow the law and come from impartial decision makers.

Jones added that a deposition would be inappropriate as well as unhelpful without specific questions being addressed.

"If information arises that requires further inquiry, such as through depositions, then that will be considered," Jones said. "We confirmed to the mayor that our attorneys have certainly never had the intention to depose all members of the Board of Adjustment."

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.