Ellington gets thumbs up from P&Z

The Ellington, a 23-story “boutique” hotel proposed for a site fronting on Biltmore Avenue, Aston Place and South Lexington Avenue, received unanimous approval from the city of Asheville’s Planning and Zoning Commission at its meeting Wednesday night.

The high-rise, which may become the tallest building in the Asheville skyline (rivaling the BB&T building), had previously been approved by the city’s Technical Review Committee, the Asheville Downtown Commission and the city’s Planning Department. P&Z members heard from representatives of the Houston-based development company Beck Group, the chief architect and a spokesperson for the Grove Park Inn, which is a principal partner in the project, as well as a handful of concerned citizens. Public comment ranged from total opposition, principally due to the massive scale of the building and potential traffic problems, to enthusiastic support for its contribution to density, the arts and the “vibrancy” of downtown.

An artist’s rendering offered by the developer suggests that the building will appear to be about as tall as the BB&T building, but opinions differ on this matter. The proposed structure is about five feet taller than the BB&T, but the site it would be built on is lower.

The hotel would include 125 rooms, a small banquet hall and a restaurant. Developers say their intent is to encourage guests to patronize other Asheville restaurants and businesses, hence the limited food service on-site. Upper floors will contain approximately 50 condominiums, including a 6,000-square-foot penthouse.

The developers have pledged they will contribute a portion of the sale of properties to the Community Foundation for its support of work-force housing projects in the city. The first sale of any condominium or the hotel will tithe 1.25 percent of the sale price for that purpose, and subsequent sales will contribute .5 percent. P&Z members and the planning staff asserted that this is the first development project in the city to include such funding, estimated by the developers to amount to approximately $1.5 million in the first five years.

The Ellington proposal will next be reviewed by City Council.

— Cecil Bothwell, staff writer


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About Cecil Bothwell
A writer for Mountain Xpress since three years before there WAS an MX--back in the days of GreenLine. Former managing editor of the paper, founding editor of the Warren Wilson College environmental journal, Heartstone, member of the national editorial board of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, publisher of Brave Ulysses Books, radio host of "Blows Against the Empire" on WPVM-LP 103.5 FM, co-author of the best selling guide Finding your way in Asheville. Lives with three cats, macs and cacti. His other car is a canoe. Paints, plays music and for the past five years has been researching and soon to publish a critical biography--Billy Graham: Prince of War:

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25 thoughts on “Ellington gets thumbs up from P&Z

  1. Ben Edson


    I work as an event planner that brings groups of people into Asheville for a variety of reasons. This hotel is not what we want! One of the reasons people flock to Asheville is that we do not have hideous looking buildings such as this one. Please take this thing back to the drawing board and redesign it at half the size!

    I would also like to hear about the amount of energy and water this facility plans on using. A recent survey by the Washington Post said that 62.5% of people use water and energy less efficiently when they stay in hotels! Why? They don’t have to pay for it. Well, Asheville, we would have to pay for it…in the air we breathe and the water bills we pay. I might be more supportive of this project if they were planning on using renewable energy sources to run the building.

    Look, these people need our community to build their building and rake in their huge profits. We certainly do not need this building to continue to be a prosperous and inviting community. With this in mind, let’s force them to do it our way! Sustainable, green built, smaller!

    Thank You,
    Ben Edson

    P.S. Anyone who knows anything about the hotel industry will tell you that the 1.5 million dollars promised for charity is a laughable figure compared to the amount of money these people will be making and taking (Houston based development firm) from our community.

  2. Sage

    I think it will be a beautiful building. The developers also deserve credit for designating a portion of profit for affordable housing and providing artist space. But even with all that I am worried that the Ellington’s luxe level will drive up values so much that locally owned neighboring businesses will be forced out and replaced with chains. After living in downtown Charleston and watching much of King St. turn into an anywhere USA mall after Charleston Place Hotel went in I fear Asheville heading in the exact same direction.

  3. hauntedheadnc

    Asheville already has skyscrapers, and it would have had more had the Depression not hit when it did. Tall buildings are nothing to be afraid of or upset about. Height is nothing to be concerned with — design is what we should all be getting our hemp necklaces in a twist about. And you have to admit, this building is quite a sight better than most of what’s been going up downtown lately? What would you rather have — an art deco-inspired building, or more of the same yawn-inducing crap we got when 12 S. Lexington, 21 Battery Park, and the Griffin Apartments were built? Modern architecture invariably sucks in Asheville, so I’m glad a developer has decided to take a bold step back and use a design inspired by architecture that people actually like.

    I am however afraid of gentrification downtown. A better approach would have been to include a few floors of affordable condos or rental apartments in the project itself rather than set up a fund to build it somewhere else. However, the fund’s more than most anyone else is willing to do. That, and if the developer decided to include a few floors of affordable housing, that would have caused the building to be even (omgohnoztehhorrorwhygodwhy) taller, which would have caused panic in the streets.

    However, I’m all for skyscrapers, and if requiring developers to include affordable housing only makes them build taller buildings to get in as many expensive condos as they’d been planning, I think that’s just ducky. Asheville’s already got a few skyscrapers, and it gave up on being a dinky little nowhere 80 years ago. The only reason we all know it as a little place where nothing was happening was because its economy was doing its Sleeping Beauty impression for the past 50 years. Now she’s awake and she’d probably not going to lie down again for a while. Rather than fight it, we need to do something more productive that will allow growth and enhance downtown, but preserve the nature we all say we like so much.

    Mixed-use skyscrapers designed thoughtfully do both, so bring them on, I say.

  4. I couldn’t agree more with the previous post. We shouldn’t really be afraid of the density as so much the design and how it affects Asheville’s urban space.

    As an architect looking in its a bit ridiculous, some of the modern architecture that has gone up around Asheville. The proportions of many of the new modern buildings in town are hideous. Most which are quoted in the post above.

    I’m not for just re-creating the past, but this building at least seems to have some sense of the street by stepping back its boundaries. The details and overall aesthetic are another matter which I don’t entirely agree with.

    To get to the point, the more we bash development downtown, the more we encourage sprawl on the mountain tops. They’ll find a place for this building whether you like it or not. I’d like to see thoughtful design going into our downtown spaces rather than out into the countryside.

  5. Still Learning

    Hey all you tasteful downtown planners, check out the new blog about development, sprawl, affordable housing, viewsheds, Elaine Lite for City Council and her kin (the Lifestyle Liberals Lite of Asheville and Buncombe County, North Carolina):


  6. Rebecca Nelson-Denmark

    This is a sad day to learn of such an enormous building going up in downtown Asheville. What a shame. After living in both Atlanta and Jacksonville for the past 25 years, my husband and I decided that the city life was no longer an option for us anymore. We’ve seen towns that were once rural in nature turn into chaotic disasters. It’s such a shame to see the City of Asheville approve such a buidling. It does nothing for the nostalgia of the downtown area and is simply being built to generate greed. If the people of this city are not more careful in their decisions, we will start to see over-development, over-growth, increased crime rates and the cost of living through the roof. The developers of this sort of establishment should come to Atlanta and build tall buildings alongside the interstate where you can purchase – yes you – can purchase a 2/2 condo NEXT to 12 lanes of I-85 for a whopping $450K! I’m ashamed of Asheville!

  7. Ben Edson

    I will say this again for those who took what I said as “downtown development bashing”…I am pro-infill and anti-sprawl all the way. I simply feel that we are in a very good position to decide what gets built, what it looks like and how it is constructed. “Green building” seems to be quite popular among residential builders; can we not demand this of commercial construction?

    With that said…building skyscrapers requires updating the infrastructure that supports them…i.e. streets, sidewalks etc. How about this for an idea? Before we build another skyscraper, can we get just one bike lane?

    Also, I share Sages concerns about homogenizing our community and agree with here comparison to Charleston. I also agree with Hauntedheadnc that we are no longer a “dinky little nowhere” but that doesn’t mean we have to rush into being a full blown metropolis!

    Ben Edson

  8. hauntedheadnc

    Rebecca, there are many, many things I could say about someone who moved here complaining that the area is growing, but I don’t think there’s a need. One thing I will point out though, in case it went over your head, is that if people keep moving to a particular place, that place does not stay small. I daresay the Ellington will likely be filled with ex-Atlantans, in fact.

    Also, one other point I would like to make is that you did not move to a small town. You moved to a city, albeit one that is much, much smaller than either Atlanta or Jacksonville. However, with 70,000 inside the city limits and more than 300,000 in the extended metro area, this is not Bugtussle, Mayberry, nor, sadly, even Petticoat Junction. I’m not sure we ever were. But of course, even if we were, we’re not anymore because all these darn people like yourself keep moving here.

  9. dankster

    That building is UGLY ! People do not come to asheville too see BIG UGLY BUILDINGs.

  10. dankster

    The commissioners in this City have there heads up there asses. Absolutely all the way !

  11. dankster

    Developers say their intent is to encourage guests to patronize other Asheville restaurants and businesses, hence the limited food service on-site. – Does this not happen ALLREADY with out the help of a BIG BUILDING and noisy developers ?.

  12. Alan Ditmore

    The bulding is far too small and short and the developer needs to be urged to make it taller, more rectangular and thus roomyer, and above all MORE UNITS!! both apartment and hotel.

    More highrise construction downtown is the ONLY way to prevent sprawl and provide affodable housing. Every new condo buyer is one less competitive bidder outbidding tenants and the homeless for existing apartments and hotel rooms. Even obscuring views helps housing affordability by repelling competitive bidders.

  13. Alan Ditmore

    ONLY CONTRACEPTION can reduce development without gentrification or ousting tenants and homeless. Regulating construction can NEVER WORK for anyone but monopolistic housing speculators and gentrifying elitists.

  14. hauntedheadnc

    Actually, dankster, about a million people a year come expressly to visit a very large building not too far south of downtown. Some of them will stay in the Ellington hotel when it’s completed even. And no, they’re not necessarily patronizing downtown businesses if they’re staying somewhere else in town at another hotel. That empty lot where the Ellington is slated to go isn’t doing anyone much good at all. It’s not even greenspace. Most of it’s ratty gravel.

    And Mr. Ditmore, I’m surprised at you. Two paragraphs and you didn’t mention birth control even once. Are you feeling well?

    Seriously though, the fact of the matter is that tall buildings make the best use of the smallest footprint. 50 condos on a little lot downtown are 50 condos not going in on 50 acres of forest in Fairview. I am totally for highrise growth downtown because its the smartest of the smart growth. My only concerns are design and gentrification. If this city would start requiring exemplary design and start requiring developers to include some affordable housing in amongst the expensive condos, you couldn’t ask for anything better. I really wonder at the people who are getting the vapors over this building’s height. How do you live in this town for any length of time and not notice the Battery Park Hotel building, or any of the other tall buildings in town? They must not have noticed them yet if they’re having such fits over another tall building joining what we already have. Bring it on, I say, and after some legislative tinkering to make future ones more inclusive and more attractive, bring on a hell of a lot more. I’d rather look at skyscrapers against green mountains than at a skyline that’s frozen in amber against mountains smeared to hell and gone with suburban crap.

  15. dankster

    This building will get built & developers are still going to want to develope fairview and surrounding areas.this building will not stop People from wanting to live on the surrounding Mountain sides or communities – you are very naive to think this is a solution to stop urban sprawl.I see no mention of condos in building,it is being billed as a – 23-story “boutique” hotel .

  16. Alan Ditmore

    Construction doesn’t cause gentrification, as even Hauntedhead claims. It is demolition and limiting construction that causes gentrification because a neighborhood must be limited in order to be exclusive. A neighborhood that allows anyone to buld as high as they want can never keep out the great unwashed masses and thus can never gentrify.
    Construction CAN NEVER cause gentrification and ONLY Contraception can ever manage growth.

  17. hauntedheadnc

    Dankster, I’m not naive at all. It’s simple math. If your butt is parked in a condo downtown, it’s not in a condo out where the woods used to be. What downtown growth is provide an alternative to sprawl. If provided with a better product, a lot of people will choose the downtown condo over the sprawl. There are an awful lot of people in Asheville who would love to live downtown but cannot because the product is not there.

    Honestly, you make it sound as though because you won’t get rid of all the sprawl in the county, we should freeze downtown right where it is so you can pretend it’s a little town that it has not been since the 1920’s.

    Asheville has two paths to take here. It’s going to grow first off, so get that through your head. You’re not going to stop people from coming here and if you try you will only stop everyone but the rich from coming here. The rich ALWAYS get what they want and if you try to stop growth they’re still going to want to be here and you will jack up property values so high that they will be the ONLY ones who can afford to come here. That’s what happens when the supply stays the same but the demand is higher than ever. Ask anyone who works in a hotel what happens to their static supply of hotel rooms on the weekends when more people are in town than during the weekdays.

    Having established that, Asheville’s paths are to either become a bigger city a la Portland or Vancouver, mixing natural beauty and preservation with a downtown core bristling with mixed-use, mixed-income skyscrapers, or it can ban new growth downtown and sprawl from horizon to horizon, and end up looking a lot more like a “bumpy Charlotte” than it would have had it allowed downtown growth. Please note that Vancouver has been named the most livable city on earth at least once, and then tell me which path you’d rather this city take. Stopping growth outright is not an option, so pick your path. What’s it going to be — Portland or Charlotte?

    And Mr. Ditmore, thank heavens. I was afraid there for a moment. You even capitalized it, and that’s just so thoughtful of you!

  18. hauntedheadnc

    For emphasis, you big silly. It’s not like you can bold or italicize text on her.

  19. Oh, because for a second I thought it was them using CHATROOM LOGIC to show how they were screaming.

    Can we not do this in any thread that I post in?

  20. Yomomma

    I think the hotel is a great idea. It should be finished just in time for $4-$5 Gasoline and Asheville next big recession. Asheville is nearly ‘played out’ amongst the truly hip and once the wannabe yuppies find another trendy roost it will be just like it was in the 80’s, maybe even worse! So, I think the hotel is a great idea because it will be a great place for the homeless to stay in about 10-15 years. Seriously, Asheville is cyclical. All this growth assumes that growth is never-ending. Look at a history book and you’ll see a lot of irresponsible money grabbing in this city winds up destroying itself… eventually.

  21. Alan Ditmore

    Yomomma is exactly right! I support construction for the homeless, especially when followed by large scale depreciation, direct or indirect. Housing affordability is a function of supply and demand. I am for an affordable downtown like in the 80’s

  22. Nam Vet

    “The Ellington”. Sounds very yankee Manhattan to me. To hades with the NYC way! The Ellington DOES NOT FIT into Asheville. I don’t want it at any height. Just who serves on our P&Z;panels anyway? A bunch of yankee transplants? Keep Asheville the way it is.People who want to move NYC here should GO BACK and “enjoy” the dumphole they have already made up there.

  23. Nam Vet

    I just read an article that the hotel’s own people say they believe there will be an addition of over 1300 cars on Biltmore Ave as a result of this hotel. And they will be driving in rush hour at 4-6pm. If this project goes ahead, goodbye Asheville as we know it.

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