Block buster

For the May 30 cover story, Xpress reporters David Forbes and Jake Frankel used the East Chestnut Street neighborhood on the cusp of downtown and north Asheville to examine the broader situation of urban density, especially as it relates to housing development. Forbes article, “No Vacancy,” posed a question: “How does a rapidly changing city balance the unique virtues of local character and the pressing need for more housing?”

Local development company PBCL has a proposal in the works for two parcels in the neighborhood, ultimately yielding “20 housing units on less than an acre,” 16 of which would be new. The proposal has incited some controversy among residents of East Chestnut. Some say the proposed units don't fit the historical character of the area. Others counter that housing is more important than aesthetics.

What do you think? Read the full story and add your thoughts at (Some comments have been truncated.) — Jaye Bartell


“Look, we want something there: Right now it's like a smile with a missing tooth. We just don't want the new tooth to be gold-plated with a diamond in the middle of it, and the size be so jarring.” This is one example of the thinly veiled racism and classism that underlies the position of the neighborhood association. …

Now that the wealthier white people have crowded out the minorities that used to rent and own homes in this area, they are reluctant to let them back in, even in affordable housing.

I think a lot of the objections here are being couched in euphemisms like 'not a good fit for the neighborhood.' What isn't a good fit? Just the architecture? I don't buy that. This is about not wanting the poor, especially poor minorities, in your backyard. …

Face it, living downtown in a growing city involves some compromises. If you want the tire swing in the tree, birds chirping, and all white, rich neighbors move to the Biltmore Park. — aaronkai

“Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of a cancer cell,” Thomson declares. “If the only reason to grow is because we think it has to happen, then we're not looking at the full equation, especially when it comes to the historic and traditional neighborhoods that encircle downtown.”

This is most assuredly not "growth for growth's sake.”

This is to provide affordable housing for the people that serve your food, drive your buses, maintain your lawns, and keep this city going from day to day. These people are your neighbors and deserve a place to live that they can afford in this city. — RavenRavinoff

FYI: This is a big renter neighborhood already. More of the homes in the immediate area are rentals rather than owner-occupied, and many of those homes are broken down into multiple units. There are also a handful of apartment buildings as well. It's definitely a mixed-age, mixed-income neighborhood.

I think a lot of the issue is "maxing out" these already dense neighborhoods with more than the infrastructure can handle — parking for example, the apartments in older homes means that most folks have to park on the streets and battle guests from the Princess Anne for spots. … — AVL

Classic NIMBY. My faves are the people who are generally supportive, but the character isn't quite right. Really? Get over it. We need to up the density in this city, which enables better, sustainable public transportation and less costly sprawl. — indy499

I'll thank the sustainability crowd for not trashing a historic neighborhood.

Sustainability is not about new development. Limiting growth and particularly population growth is the key to finding a better balance with the environment. — William Holder

True, but zoning actually harms population policy by diverting management funds away from municipal contraception. The connection to population growth is valid but zoning actually causes population growth, not alleviate it. — Alan Ditmore

"This is a big renter neighborhood already. More of the homes in the immediate area are rentals rather than owner-occupied and many of those homes are broken down into multiple units."

Yes, but they're often rented by private local landlords who scooped up a property or two when it was cheap and now charge four-figure monthly rates.

Now, I'm somewhat sympathetic to the argument that if you put the money down, you deserve some reward, but the "fragile community" argument is NIMBY bunk. And yes, call Dr. Freud to talk about that "missing tooth" analogy. — luther blissett

Great article. Lindsey Simerly's point about a vocal few is important. When former planning commissioner Jerome Jones used to vote, he would acknowledge that his appointment and job as a planning commissioner required him to vote for the greater good of our community, not the vocal minority, no matter what their position or class.

Those who are lucky enough to buy homes should realize that every time they walk into a store, are waited on in a fancy restaurant, or pick up dry cleaning they are being helped by a person in need of an affordable home which is most likely to be an apartment.  — Cindy Visnich

Why does everyone pull the race card? Or the NIMBY card? Or the affordable housing card? If the maximum rent on the renovated units is $661, that's not terribly affordable. I can't even afford $661, and I make $40,000 a year. That's what debt brings you.

As someone who is very preservation-minded: This is truly an issue of being a good fit architecturally. Listing on the National Register as a district requires that a neighborhood maintain its architectural integrity and its sense of place. From the looks of it, this neighborhood seems to have always been a mix of owners and renters, even from its inception. But that doesn't mean that some ultramodern apartment buildings needs to go up there nor does it that some Disneylike historical reproduction needs to be built. It means that a happy medium should be (and can be) achieved. — Preservationist

I'm president of the Preservation Society, and I believe our organization will be issuing a formal press release on this. But in the meantime, I must point out that this article is misleading in that it infers, based on the cover page headline, the whole proposed project is "affordable housing," when in fact, affordable housing consists of only a small fraction of the work proposed.

The Preservation Society has no opposition, and in fact, supports the affordable-housing component of the Chestnut Street project. That component is the renovation of an existing building for four one-bedroom units of affordable housing. In other words, they're offering to build housing for four poor people. Four.

What we oppose is "spot zoning" that would allow the proposed massive structure to be built right up to the property line, with no set back, and that will contain 16 two-bedroom condos that will likely be priced so as to be affordable only as second homes for rich people who live elsewhere. We are opposed not to more affordable housing in the neighborhood, but rather to a building for rich people to vacation in the neighborhood.

The developer here is holding the affordable-housing component hostage, saying that it won't fix up the existing historic structure for poor people unless the city lets them build whatever the developer wants for its rich clients on the vacant lot.

I'm disappointed with how the Xpress has played right along with the developer's script, but I guess it makes for a better story to pit one group of concerned citizens against another. I hope that future reporting on this issue will be more thorough. — Ben Scales

We made every effort to make the story fair. Rather than playing “right along with the developer’s script,” as Mr. Scales asserts, we quote multiple critics of the project, including some neighborhood residents and extensive views from the Preservation Society’s own director Jack Thomson. Jake Frankel’s history article accompanies the lead story and goes into detail about the neighborhood and some of the concerns new development brings.

But rather than a false conflict, actual tensions between the goals of density, affordability and preserving neighborhood character do exist. This is especially true when it comes to the question of development in residential neighborhoods near downtown. Cities can’t do everything for all people at once; it is the duty of a journalist to highlight rather than ignore real choices and conflicts. — David Forbes, Xpress

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One thought on “Block buster

  1. Wallace Paterson

    As a longtime resident of the Chestnut Hill area and a Preservation Society Member I value the historic character of our neighborhood, its diversity and the convenience of living in a dynamic and growing downtown. We chose this neighborhood partly because it was made a Historic District but it was overturned without losing its character. I think city oversight and regulation have been good and expect it to continue. I don’t want to live in a theme park.

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