NEWS

Brief filed in Superior Court against MRA, town of Montreat

Karrigan Monk
Black Mountain News
Montreat Stewards has been in significant opposition of the MRA's new lodge in an effort to save three historic buildings.

A petitioners’ brief has been filed with the Buncombe County Superior Court in the matter of the proposed Mountain Retreat Association lodge in Montreat.

The brief, filed by lawyers representing the Hayner, Jones, Berry and Fox families, said the Jan. 6, 2022, decision by Montreat’s Board of Adjustment to allow the lodge to move forward with construction should be overturned. The brief said the decision was “arbitrary and capricious, and violated Petitioners’ due process rights.”

The brief said that a total of five board members made financial donations to the MRA before and while on the Board of Adjustment.

More:Montreat Stewards appeal Board of Adjustment decision to allow MRA lodge

More:Montreat Board of Adjustment dismisses appeals in MRA special use permit follow up

According to the brief, three board members, identified as Board Members 1, 2 and 3, made more than $355,000 in contributions to the MRA between 2005 and 2022.

Two other board members, Board Members 4 and 5, who were appointed after the hearing, but voted to approve the lodge, made $1,625 in donations from 2007 to 2022 and $700 in donations from 1997 to 2006, respectively.

Tanner Pickett, vice president for sales, marketing and communications of the Montreat Conference Center, said these donations were made public and available to the court.

“What matters is that, at every hearing of the board, members were asked if they could impartially rule on these issues,” Pickett said. “At every hearing, the members affirmed that they could. The hearing was conducted fairly, judged fairly, and the record supports that conclusion.”

The site of the lodge, situated between Assembly Drive and Georgia Terrace, would do away with three original structures on the MRA property: Galax House, Chestnut Lodge and Lord Apartments. Although 60 trees will need to be removed to accommodate the lodge, the MRA plans to replant 80. 

The lodge itself, outlined at 40,000 square feet, includes 40 guest rooms with private baths, a courtyard area and a 30-space parking garage. 

The brief maintains the hearing was not conducted fairly and should be overturned because of a failure to “present competent, material and substantial evidence” in compliance with the town’s zoning ordinances.

Pickett said the MRA will “respond to the Petitioners’ brief promptly and are pushing for a speedy resolution as we have been all along.”

He said the project is moving forward with designs and fundraising and has been since the permit was granted in March.

Priscilla Hayner, a member of one the families in the petition, said the hearing “lacked” due process and “fundamental fairness.”

“Assuming that the judge would see that because it’s pretty clear as set out by the lawyer,” Hayner said. “We’ll see what that decision is, but I think there’s no question based on the information and the brief that the process as a whole was lacking and required due process and protections in basic fairness.”

Hayner said there are several reasons why preventing the lodge is important to her, including historical preservation and environmental issues. She said she was also concerned that several properties, including her families, will be damaged by the building of the lodge. Hayner said she also feels the lodge is not the right “feel” for Montreat.

“There’s other kinds of construction that would be perfectly fine that give them what they need,” Hayner said. “But this is the wrong fit. … Montreat is such a special place with such a special feel to it.”

She said she is not the only one who feels this way and pointed to the “over 100 properties” that have put up signs against the lodge.  

“We all care about Montreat,” Hayner said. “I know the MRA cares about Montreat. I know that. The folks that have been working against the hotel care about Montreat. I think we all need to work to strengthen Montreat as a town, as a community, and that includes the MRA directly.”

Montreat Interim Town Manager Ben Blackburn said the town “takes the position that it does not discuss matters involving pending/on-going litigation.”