The ripple effects of downtown Asheville parking costs

Parking on Cherry Street in Montford
OVERFLOWED: Parking on Cherry Street in the Montford neighborhood frequently exceeds its capacity. Photo by Barry Friedlander

Has your favorite free parking spot in downtown Asheville recently disappeared? You’re not alone.

Previously free lots on Hilliard and Buxton avenues have become fee-based within the past year, while Kassinger Development Group has disallowed use of the former Fuddrucker’s parking lot off Charlotte Street as it builds a mixed-use complex on the site. And with various street spaces, like the handful on West Walnut Street, suddenly sprouting parking meters, the number of no-cost places to leave one’s vehicle has dwindled.

The shift is pushing drivers who are unwilling or unable to pay for the convenience of parking downtown elsewhere — including spots in surrounding neighborhoods. That pressure is causing headaches for homeowners and sparking conversations around more sustainable ways to bring people into Asheville.

Downtown management

Meghan Rogers, executive director of the Asheville Downtown Association, says that parking has been a top concern for downtown businesses for many years. In the ADA’s 2022 survey, respondents listed “availability of parking options for employees” as the fifth-most serious problem facing their business, behind homelessness, safety and sanitation issues.

Though Rogers feels that downtown likely has a sufficient amount of parking, its affordability for downtown workers remains an issue. Waiting lists are common for monthly options — city-owned lots run $50-$60 per month and permitted street parking costs $30-$50, while metered parking goes for $1.50 per hour; city-owned garages cost $100-$130 per month or $2 per hour after the first hour. Those fees can add up quickly, and as the number of residents and visitors continues to grow, Rogers is adamant that changes need to occur for those who live and work in the city’s center.

“The ADA has advocated for additional parking options, public/private alternatives, better transit, more multimodal options and more,” she says. “We’ve [also] encouraged both the city and county to develop an option for employees of downtown businesses … and [offer] more effective communication about available options.”

Progress has occurred with a lot on Asheland Avenue that Rogers says was initially billed as downtown employee parking for $70 per month, with businesses able to purchase additional hang-tags for a nominal fee. While that promotional period has expired, the rate has been reduced to $50, in line with the cost at a Lexington Avenue lot. At press time, both lots had available spaces.

Asheville spokesperson Kim Miller says free parking may be found at a city-owned lot at 55 Valley Street, near City Hall. She also points to “many unmetered on-street parking spaces,” most of which are in the South Slope and have one- or two-hour limits. The city’s parking services team, however, does not keep an inventory of metered and unmetered parking spots.

“While the city continues to find ways to maximize the use of available parking downtown, improving connectivity citywide for all modes of transportation helps provide options to driving and parking,” Miller says. “Policies provide the framework for the city of Asheville to improve mobility by connecting sidewalk, greenways and transit.”

Shift out of park

Those enhanced options are especially important as the number of employees who commute to downtown from outside Buncombe County continues to rise. Tristan Winkler, director of the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization, reports an uptick of about 25,000 commuters coming into Asheville for work from 2002-19.

“That’s a huge increase,” Winkler says. “Over the same time, the amount of people who live and work in Asheville increased by about 1,000. So, overall, what you’re seeing is Asheville employers increasingly dependent on bringing in workers from outside of the city.”

While Winkler’s job doesn’t involve specifically monitoring the downtown parking situation, the MPO conducted a regional transit study from 2020-21 that identified four potential routes to connect Asheville with the rest of the region. The changes would reduce downtown parking demands but also have wider-ranging effects.

“Right now, if you live outside of the city, you don’t have a ton of options besides driving into the city. The transit routes, for the most part, stop around the city limits, and bike infrastructure outside of the city is very, very limited,” he says. “Having more regional transit routes is something that would give people options, but that’s something that has not moved forward since this study was adopted.”

Historic headaches

The historic Montford neighborhood just north of downtown features free parking in a gravel lot at the intersection of Cherry and Flint streets, as well as in a paved lot near the convergence of Cherry and Broadway by the Asheville Skatepark. (Both are owned and operated by the N.C. Department of Transportation.) Montford resident Barry Friedlander says the two options are usually full throughout the week, prompting drivers to park on nearby streets.

Sympathetic to service workers who struggle to afford parking, Friedlander would like to see free or modestly priced choices at a designated central location for these employees. Until that or another solution arises, however, he and his neighbors are dealing with the consequences of overflow parking.

Fellow Montford resident Jon Sackson says that such violations — which he rarely sees enforced — keep garbage collectors, emergency vehicles and parcel delivery trucks from proceeding on their usual routes. And residents without off-street parking often have to find spots multiple blocks away from home, making grocery trips and other routine outings especially inconvenient.

“It’s like trying to take a sponge which is already mostly soaked and trying to soak up a bunch of water,” Sackson says. “It doesn’t work.”

With the approval of the Montford Neighborhood Association, Friedlander and Sackson formed an ad hoc parking group with fellow residents Brian Astle and Bonnie Gilbert. After regularly recording cars parked throughout the neighborhood for several weeks, they found that residential streets such as Cumberland Avenue were often at 100% capacity or higher due to illegally parked vehicles.

Armed with that data in late summer 2019, the group invited Ken Putnam, director of Asheville’s Transportation Department, to walk with them through the impacted streets, discuss the issue and explore potential solutions. The first measure Putnam suggested was establishing permitted parking for residents, something Sackson says has worked well in Washington, D.C., in tandem with rigorously enforced towing for violators.

Nearly three years later, however, the ad hoc group members had yet to hear back from Putnam. Miller provided more information in response to recent inquiries from Xpress.

“At the present time, we do not have sufficient resources to create a residential parking permit zone in Montford,” she says. “The city’s current Code of Ordinances does not currently address residential parking permits, nor how exceptions may be handled.”

Though the decrease in downtown activity during the pandemic granted Montford a temporary respite, Asheville’s recent resurgence has again brought street parking woes to the adjoining neighborhood.

“The lack of standards and signage and the total lack of parking enforcement have made this situation something like the Wild West of parking in Montford,” Sackson says. “Just go stake your claim wherever you want. Nobody will bother you.”


Michael Hernandez, a server at Zambra on West Walnut Street, doesn’t add to Montford’s parking chaos for several reasons. He averages around 5 miles of walking in a normal shift at the tapas restaurant and doesn’t want a long trek back to his car after he clocks out — especially late at night while carrying cash tips. Instead, he first looks for parking on Haywood Street, and for the past two years he primarily used a free lot at the corner of Haywood and Page avenues.

“About three months ago, [the city] turned that into permit parking, which is pretty much empty all day long,” Hernandez says. (Miller confirms that Lot 18 became a permitted lot on April 1.) “So now I try to find metered parking in that area. If I can’t find one, then there’s a permit lot on Rankin [Avenue] that I take a chance on and park there. Sometimes I get ticketed and sometimes I don’t.”

Because he goes in around 3 p.m., Hernandez typically only has to pay for two or three hours of parking before meters stop charging at 6 p.m. As as result, he spends far less on parking than when he worked day shifts at Cúrate or Rhubarb, when his car was metered for six to eight hours.

Like Rogers and Friedlander, Hernandez would like to see local elected officials offer deeply discounted parking for downtown workers, but he says such options should not be restricted to certain areas or hours. That flexibility becomes increasingly important with peak tourist season approaching.

“It’s become more difficult to find parking, and it will continue to get worse with summer,” Hernandez says. “Saturdays are always bad.”


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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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16 thoughts on “The ripple effects of downtown Asheville parking costs


    I lived in Santa Cruz, California for a while. The city created ample public parking at inexpensive rates. Prevented people circling the block, reduced traffic congestion, and made getting in and out easy.

    A good model for AVL to adopt.

    • indy499

      Would be informative if you said how this was done. You can’t create parking out of thin air.

  2. Robert Travers

    I tried setting up an account on a parking app and it would not accept my info. Used same card I have purchased coffee and numerous donuts with. There is never any street parking available, so a pay lot is the only option. I am going to choose a less desirable option, stop going to the donut shop. I’ll save money, maybe learn how to bake donuts myself!

    • kw

      You should also let the donut shop know why you’ll no longer support them. Businesses need to know that locals are pretty much giving up downtown.

  3. Jerry Hinz

    The city is making the parking situation worse- They allow hotels to be built with only 1/2 the parking taken care of on the hotel property– where do all the other cars go?– right into our streets and parking lots- The garage parking near me- not associated with the city– is $4 the first 1/2 hour– I think — and max $20 for the day … That is a lot of money… The city pushing 1/2 the hotel cars to other lots- creates a supply and demand problem that then results in the parking garages– raising fees-to make more profit. Why can’t the city make hotels and apartments- with each bedroom – having one car parking place? .. Asheville stays–move around mostly in personal cars– no train- few use the buses- and those coming into the city predominantly come in cars. — If an apartment is 2 bedroom- the city now is OK with one parking space – I can pretty much know that a worker needs to be in each bedroom – to afford a 2 bedroom apartment- and of course-those workers each have a car– 2 bedrooms— need 2 cars. — and sometimes more– As for hotels- if they approve a 34 room hotel– the city will approve 17 parking spaces— Makes no sense- but the pro- hotel- city routinely approves their minimum— 1/2 space per hotel room ..I bet 95% of the people who stay in town- come by car– and stay in a hotel- and each hotel room needs a minimum of – 1 parking space. The national average is more like 1.24 parking spaces per hotel room… since – of course- there are workers- management- even meetings that need more parking. I know– it’s nuts. It’s your council- They don’t listen to me . This city council is creating a parking problem- is too “pro-builder” — “pro- hotel” – and is shifting the costs to us—-The city does not have the codes—to have parking accommodated… and we will all suffer for it .– as the parking situation gets worse and worse… (Transportation Engineer- now retired)

    • indy499

      The city is in the process of approving these absurd 200 sq ft “apartments” with no kitchen. They have zero parking spaces!

  4. NIMBY

    I feel for the neighborhoods and recognize the merits of a permitted street parking system, similar to most cities. The downtown parking complaints are laughable though. Parking is readily available in downtown, just not right outside the door of your favorite coffee shop.

    Perhaps we should explore eco-friendly solutions, such as Bird Scooters and better bus systems to connect people to our ample parking decks. City Council certainly would support that.

    • Jerry Hinz

      I live downtown. Street parking is difficult most of the day- – The private garage prices are increasing- I suppose due to the opportunity to make more money from the large crowds. . Wall Street parking is popular and will need to accommodate theFlat Iron Parking- when that project is completed.. Wall Street parking can be full with any good weekends or events. In one text Esther was asking her staff if buildings needed to have their own parking- as in other cities they do not– I have not confirmed that other cities do not require parking on the sites of hotels. Thankfully- I have been told- but have not seen in regulation- that each project must now provide “on their property” the 1/2 the parking spots they need… That’s something, I guess- but it sure does shift the parking costs to others- for the other 1/2– including shifting those costs to us– as we will need more parking structures in the future. Sure- we need better buses and routes– – but we might need a change– I think some are afraid of taking the bus here- When we started the Master Plan- I was trying to get the city to have hotels more blosk fromt he center- provide parking and have the tourists walk in or take the bus- I still think that is a better answer than “up not out” changing Asheville- by allowing larger structures in the city– to have hotels in the core- I think more hotels in the core is a bad idea- we were special– and this council- apparently wants to make money and placate builders– by changing the core area…. the cash cow we have had- … and the quality of life we- who live down town have had. I do not think any of the council lives downtown- we are not represented by this council—- Hey– City– lets develop 5-6- or more blocks out of the core and have people walk in- take the bus- or uber in a few blocks– let’s protect the core– You are too hasty to build—- and— another moritorium on hotels in the core– and nearby— would be nice– If that would be possible.

      • NIMBY

        Sounds like a great opportunity to develop the many surface lots around town and require some parking at or below ground level. We need infill.

  5. Michael Hopping

    Ah, come on. Asheville has been full speed ahead on taxable overdevelopment for many years without regard for transportation-related consequences. Next steps are obviously to finish the job of rendering car use unbearable (other than for the wealthy who live or vacation downtown and the trucks that service neighborhood businesses). Let others hike, bike, or take a bus. Of course this will entail some social modifications. With less visitation from surrounding counties and current service workers priced out of continuing in their jobs (with or without shoebox housing), downtown businesses will need to hire more downtown residents. They’ll demand higher pay, of course, but relate better to the changed customer base that, apart from themselves, will mainly consist of tourists who fly in and stay for a week or two. Look at it as a genteel form of downtown economic cleansing.

  6. Robert

    What do people expect when Tourism is off the rails and the masses clamor for more housing, affordable or not, at any cost, with little regard for health, safety, infrastructure, regard for Community? But it should be relatively simple to give parking decals to residents/locals/people with NC plates/828 phones and charge visitors to park in garages, right?

  7. KarenR

    Unless you are a superfan of suburban strip mall development, forcing every building/project/business to provide its own parking in downtown is not a good idea. Land is a finite resource and land in our downtown generates far more for the community than any other form of development. A surface parking lot is not ‘highest and best use’ by any definition. For a number of years I managed a surface parking lot downtown on the corner of Biltmore and Aston. We paid property taxes of approximately $10,000 annually. The adjacent smaller property was the Hot Dog King – and I doubt they paid much more. Today, those parcels contain the Aloft Hotel, the Garage Apartments, and the City of Asheville’s 400+ space parking deck. The City deck does not pay property tax, but the other two develpments paid $340,127 in property taxes alone last year.

    Municipalities typically invest in larger parking structures for a number of reasons: a City benefits from the value of the entire downtown so it pays to provide parking for the area, a City can charge variable rates to meet community goals – such as lower parking costs for lower-wage workers or free parking to encourage local visitors, concentrating parking allows for development of surface lots to highest and best use, and concentrating parking allows for multiple users – daytime office workers make way for people coming in for dining and entertainment, for example, allowing us to dedicated a little less asphalt for parked cars. Parking garages can be successful city investments in and of themselves and after loans are paid, a steady income stream is established. Downtown Asheville’s revitalization in the late 80’s and 90’s was partly due to the ready availability of affordable parking in City garages constructed in the 70’s and early 80’s – when no one was coming downtown, but our then Council and City Manager believed in its future.

    Why has so little been done since? I agree that we should have parking structures in the perimeter of downtown that could offer lower priced parking options or commuter lots with shuttles into downtown. In fact, these proposals were recommended in studies done by the City of Asheville in 2008 and again in 2016. Year after year, parking is one of the top issues for downtown business owners, downtown workers, and locals trying to enjoy their city center. But nothing gets done and our City and Council have failed to ensure we had the infrastructure we need for growth. I asked staff in a parking committee meeting back in 2014 if they could show me the areas they’d identified for potential parking garages. None. So instead of having additional parking at the outskirts that would allow us to remove street parking and widen sidewalks and add plantings and benches to improve the pedestrian experiece, we pit locals against tourists. As tourist dollars jump more freely from the wallet, this often means locals choose not to come downtown, which means local businesses have to change their offerings to attract the tourist customers, which makes locals feel downtown caters to tourists, and it’s one hot mess.

    Close-in neighborhoods like Montford are feeling the effect of this lack of investment and I hope there is pressure to have a real solution for the larger community as opposed to a band-aid to appease a neighborhood. If people are illegally parking on a City street, that is a potential safety issue. If the issue is non-neighbors parking on the City street, I’m not sure it’s fair to stop other community members from parking there. I have a hard time not calling out the hypocrisy if we say we need to be sure that someone living in Montford who has no parking should be entitled to park in front of their home for free while we suggest that someone who lives downtown with no parking, or someone working downtown, should not only have to pay, but be satisfied walking five or six blocks. If the problem is lack of parking downtown, ensuring parking for an adjacent naighborhood serves only that neighborhood, and exacerbates the downtown problem. I know this is not ideal for the neighborhood and hope they add their voices and press for comprehensive, workable solutions.

  8. R.G.

    Want housing and parking and room for visitors too? Maybe it’s time to level everything downtown, and put in a grid like New York City did long ago. Build high-rises and public transit. Local officials need to quit piecing this city together with bandaids and myopia. If we’re really going to allow anyone and everyone to come here, let’s demolish it completely, start over with a new name, and get it right! Don’t y’all be nimbies now.

  9. dhsmithnc

    Howdy Folks, Well…I do not have the time to reply to every single comment here…so I will give something like a generic holiday card sent to all…all of your responses cause a response in me akin to throwing up. Is there no one with any sense out there?

  10. Cindy Heil

    There is no public transit where I live so I must drive downtown, which I rarely do because of parking. Fortunately, I’m retired, but what of those who must work? Many businesses expect residents to work for them, even though some businesses have just recently increased wages to bring them closer to the cost of living here. How about helping their employees by helping to pay for parking? Whatever happens, it will be from the effort of those affected because city leadership cares only about tourism dollars. As long as tourists can park in their hotels, who cares about those of us who try to live and work here?

  11. R.G.

    We was screwed by ‘The Jetsons’! Watching all them cartoons when they was kids is maybe how local officials grew up to believe we was all gonna be flyin’ hither and yon via jetpacks by now. Blame TV, y’all!

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