The Montreat Conference Center (MRA) has been planning to build a 40 room hotel with meeting rooms and an underground parking garage on Assembly Drive in the center of Montreat, directly across from Robert Lake Park. We are strongly opposed. A permit was initially granted by the Montreat Board of Adjustment, but revoked by the Superior Court on appeal. The MRA is now appealing the decision, but the Town of Montreat is no longer joining the appeal.
The Struggle to Stop the Hotel: Where It Stands
Since early 2021, the Montreat Conference Center (aka the Mountain Retreat Association, or MRA) has been trying to advance a plan to demolish three historic homes and build a 40,000-sq.-ft. hotel and underground parking garage in the center of Montreat, directly uphill from a stream and children’s playground. In addition to destroying the homes — one of which is the oldest in Montreat — and cutting down sixty mature trees, experts say the proposal would pollute the stream with stormwater runoff.
Upon learning of the plans, neighbors and others who love Montreat spoke out against the hotel, many of us gathering under the name “Montreat Stewards.” We met with the MRA to seek a win-win solution, presenting an alternative proposal for development at the site that would leave the historic buildings intact. Yet the MRA rejected this alternative, closing off discussion as they moved forward with their hotel plan.
In July 2021 the MRA applied for a Special Use Permit, without which the hotel is prohibited under Montreat zoning law. Over eight hearing sessions from October to January, both the MRA and opposing neighbors presented evidence before the Board of Adjustment as to whether the planned hotel meets the requirements for a permit — which include conforming with Montreat’s Comprehensive Plan and not harming public health or welfare. Key testimony against the hotel came from a stormwater expert who spoke about the pollution it would cause, an engineer who highlighted the risk to the foundation of nearby homes, and an architectural historian who explained how the crucial goal of preserving historic structures is clearly laid out in the Town’s Comprehensive Plan.
After roughly 50 hours of hearing, however, the Board of Adjustment deliberated for merely two hours on January 6, 2022 before voting 5-2 to approve the permit. This perfunctory discussion failed to engage with the vast majority of evidence against the hotel or make the findings of fact that the law requires. What’s more, the written order of the Board’s decision starkly misrepresented the contents of their deliberations and improperly sought to alter the requirements of the Town’s ordinance.
For these reasons and more, neighbors who were parties in the hearing appealed the Board’s decision to the Superior Court of Buncombe County. The legal process of gathering information ('discovery') extended through the fall of 2022, and on January 6, 2023 the Brief outlining our arguments for overturning the decision was filed with Superior Court. The full 28-page brief can be found on the Appeals page.
The Appeal hearing took place on May 3, 2023, and the legal case for revoking the permit was strong. The judge heard arguments from all sides and reached a decision based on the law: to overturn the Board's decision and revoke the Special Use Permit. In September 2023 the judge's 16-page written decision was released, confirming a complete reversal of the Board of Adjustment decision. The full decision and a summary of key points are available on the Appeals page.
In October 2023 the MRA announced that it will appeal the Superior Court decision to the North Carolina Board of Appeals. The Town of Montreat announced that it will not take part in this case. A decision from the Court of Appeals may take another 12-18 months. In the meantime, the MRA has no permit to build, and no clear path to construct anything new on this site.
We would like to reiterate: we are keen to speak with the MRA, whenever they are willing, about how we can help them to achieve their stated ends in a way that is in harmony with Montreat and based on consultations with community members.
Current view: Galax House on Assembly Drive
Proposed Hotel from Assembly Drive
Proposed Hotel from Georgia Terrace
Neighbors are concerned this hotel project would:
Irrevocably change the look and feel of the center of Montreat with the scale of the project
Increase traffic substantially in an already congested location
Diminish a historic neighborhood and destroy two of the oldest buildings in Montreat
The Conference Center never reached out to inform or consult with neighbors about the project. However in mid February, 2021, immediate neighbors of the project indirectly learned of the plans. We have since met several times with the Conference Center, raising our concerns and proposing alternative plans for development of the area, but they have refused to change course. In July the MRA applied for a Special Use Permit, without which they cannot build the hotel.
We continue to strongly believe that the scale of the project is far out of proportion to the space, and to the style and needs of Montreat, and that it in fact contradicts the Town mission: "To seek ways to maintain and improve the quality of life, preserve the natural beauty and promote responsible growth while maintaining our community image, heritage and traditions."
On this website you can find information on
The Special Use Permit hearing before the Board of Adjustment
The "village concept" — an alternate plan proposed by neighbors to preserve and restore the historic lodges while adding smaller new construction
Voices so far, including letters from the community and articles in the Black Mountain News and Asheville Citizen Times
If you want to join an email list to stay updated on the hotel project, please contact us.
The mission of the Town of Montreat:
To seek ways to maintain and improve the quality of life, preserve the natural beauty and promote responsible growth while maintaining our community image, heritage and traditions.
Montreat Stewards is a group of Montreat residents and friends dedicated to preserving and protecting the beauty, history and peace of Montreat, North Carolina.