MRA prepares for demolition, opponents call it 'shocking'

Karrigan Monk
Black Mountain News
Construction work has started on the Galax House in Montreat to prepare it for "eventual demolition" to make way for the MRA's proposed new lodge.

The Mountain Retreat Association has started work on the site of a future proposed lodge in Montreat.

The proposed site of the lodge sits between Assembly Drive and Georgia Terrace in the town and currently houses three main structures: Galax House, Chestnut Lodge and Lord Apartments.

MRA Vice President for Sales, Marketing and Communication Tanner Pickett said work is being done to prepare these structures for demolition.

“The work we have done at the site is to prepare the lodges for eventual demolition,” Pickett said. “There are no plans to use Galax or either of the other two lodges going forward.”

This work comes at a time when the MRA is at risk of losing the permit it has for building the lodge.

After nearly 50 hours of hearings, the lodge was approved by Montreat’s Board of Adjustment in January 2022.

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

A group of families, including the Hayner and Jones families, opposed the lodge, saying it would negatively impact their property. They filed a brief with the Buncombe County Superior Court in January of this year and the hearing was held on May 3. The judge assigned to the case, Peter Knight, heard arguments but has not yet handed down a decision.

The opposition to the lodge say their due process rights were violated, namely due to large financial contributions made to the MRA by Board of Adjustment members. Attorneys for the MRA and the town of Montreat say these donations were made to the MRA as a whole and not to the special use permit project.

More:Opponents of lodge in Montreat cite donations by members of board that approved MRA's plan

More:Brief filed in Superior Court against MRA, town of Montreat

More:Montreat, MRA respond to petitioners' brief on proposed lodge

Priscilla Hayner, a member of one of the opposing families, called the demolition work “extraordinary and short-sighted.”

“From our side I would say that it’s shocking,” Hayner said. “They may lose the permit any day and so they don’t have permanent permission yet. They have a permit which is being challenged.”

While Pickett did not have an exact timeline for the work being done at the site, he said it will be up to the MRA’s board to decide.

The Galax House, along with Chestnut Lodge and Lord Apartments, are on the site of the proposed MRA lodge and are being prepared for "eventual demolition."

“The timeframe will result from board action,” Pickett said. “Our board has been exceptionally patient through this process and will continue to incorporate the best interests of the Conference Center and community into its decisions.”

Hayner said she would welcome any conversation with the MRA, but she has not seen the opportunity to do so.

“We have been keen and remain keen to meet with the MRA,” Hayner said. “We feel like there are many options for the MRA to build on this lot, or elsewhere or both and we’re happy to speak with the MRA.”

She described the buildings on the site as historic and said they are not only an asset to the MRA, but to the town as a whole. Hayner said she has heard as much as a third of property owners opposing the lodge and 120 families have given financial contributions to help with legal fees.

“History is critical to Montreat,” Hayner said. “Preserving Montreat’s history is important to Montreat and taking down or letting these houses further disintegrate is not a responsible manner of preserving history.”