By Tim Gardner
The old Charles H. Cannon, Jr. Memorial Hospital in Banner Elk has sat vacant for many years. About the only activities occurring on the blighted property since then have been ghost hunting, acts of vandalism and grass and weeds growing high in the spring and summer.
Occasionally, various entities expressed interest in using the old facility and grounds to make some sort of development. But each time, nothing materialized to see that to fruition. It is visible from the road on Highway 184, has sat dormant since it closed in 1999.
But the possibility of a development at the old hospital has experienced much progress during the last year after being purchased by Landsdowne Village, an LLC created by Steven Cuff of Steven Cuff Construction, headquartered in Huntersville, NC.
The 10-acre lot was purchased by Landsdowne Village in August 2018, according to Avery County Register of Deeds records. Cuff was then confirmed as the purchaser by Banner Elk Town Manager Rick Owen.
Tuesday night Cuff met with the Town of Banner Elk Planning Board, explaining his plans for the hospital building and property in detail. There was no action taken by the board after the presentation, as it was simply a second preliminary review to communicate Cuff’s intentions with the town.
“I thought the meeting went extremely well and I was most happy with it,” said Cuff.
He is scheduled to meet with the Planning Board again at its Oct. 7 meeting. The Board can then recommend Cuff’s plan for the old hospital and its property to the town’s Board of Adjustment, which has final authority on whether to approve or reject them.
The Board of Adjustment will likely meet on Oct. 21, according to Owen.
Landsdowne plans on saving the old hospital building, although its original plans were to demolish the building and build a similar structure in terms of size and height. But currently the building is subject to the town’s height restrictions (a total of 35 feet) that prevent constructing new, taller structures in the town.
The Planning Board is considering recommending a Zoning Ordinance amendment that would allow for taller buildings in certain situations. Any amendments would require a public hearing and Town Council approval.
The property on which the hospital sits has already be zoned as mixed use—the only such property that is in the town. That opens the possibility for renovating and converting the facility into a hotel, also with shops, medical clinics, restaurant and rental office suites.
Cuff said he also desires to a construct more than a dozen rental cabins on the property and possibly a farmers market, and that connectivity to the downtown area is key for the project.
Cuff told the Planning Board members that he intends for the project to be performed in phases with the first being the construction of various offices and the rentals.
Owen said that Cuff and other Landsdowne representatives have also been in periodic touch with him and other town officials, such as Cheryl Buchanan of its planning office, about potential zoning issues to be concerned about from an ordinance standpoint and to iron out any other regulations and concerns.
“The town is up for anything that will clean up this property, which is an eyesore,” Owen said. “We appreciate Mr. Cuff’s interest and plans for the old hospital and its property. It’s quite a long process for him preparing the proper documentation and going through so many required procedures. “
Tentative plans for the old Cannon Memorial Hospital lot in Banner Elk were initially discussed at a Planning Board meeting Oct. 1, 2018. The preliminary site plan review then was given at the Planning Board meeting came from Elliott Harwell, who spoke for Cuff, who was unable to attend that meeting.
Harwell said at the October 2018 Planning Board meeting that the building was looked at by an architect and a structural engineer who said it would be a shame to demolish the building completely, because it’s interior and exteriors are still useable.
According to previously published articles, Landsdowne purchased the old hospital and the property its sits on from Wooten Enterprises and its founder, Olin Wooten, for $1.4 million, reduced from $2.4 million.
A total cost estimate for the project has been reported at around $6 million. The first phase of the project would cost about $2.5 million, including the acquisition of land and demolition of the old hospital structures that can’t be renovated. Another part of the estimate is a cost of between $500,000 to $850,000 to demolish the old hospital and perhaps even higher if asbestos abatement can’t be remediated.
Pictures of the old hospital as it looks today: