Grow up or grow out

Asheville residents are apparently adding height to the list of divisive issues we can fight about. Certainly we all have a right to our opinion on the best way for this city to grow. But one way or another, it will grow.

Where each of us now lives was once virgin forest. Most of us choose to live here because we recognize what a wonderful place it is. But we’re not alone: The most e-mailed article of any kind on The New York Times Web site recently was about the many splendors of Asheville. This month’s Florida Trend magazine has a feature on all the Floridians who’ve moved here or want to. Hurricane warnings are up for the entire Southeast coast, and the Southwest is running out of water.

So the question isn’t whether or not we’ll grow, but where we should put all these new people. And unfortunately, the choice is pretty stark: We either allow smart growth at the center, where density makes sense and local businesses flourish, or we add even more suburban sprawl.

The current dispute about The Ellington conveniently encapsulates much of the sprawl-vs.-density debate. When Public Interest Projects started working on revitalizing downtown 17 years ago, much of it was still boarded up; we’ve renovated more historic buildings, developed more middle-class housing, and brought in more small businesses than anyone else I’m aware of. We also provided the land for The Ellington.

When the Grove Park Inn approached us about selling our property, we asked them to help us create a positive model for future large projects. They generously agreed to: make it a green building; make a significant contribution to affordable housing; eschew chain stores; make it beautiful; and, however tall, make it pedestrian-scale at the sidewalk. And though The Ellington seems to be the issue of the moment, the arguments for and against it have already been recycled a number of times and will be again as our city continues to grow. Here they are, with my responses:

“It doesn’t fit into our historic downtown. It doesn’t represent the essential Asheville.” My essential Asheville is a vital, dynamic city that welcomes all kinds of people who want to add their energy to the mix. My essential Asheville honors its history, but it’s not a museum or a quaint shopping enclave for the wealthy. Much of our claim to fame is the eclectic, artistic, urban energy that was drawn here in the early 20th century. Early on, that translated into taller buildings rising out of blocks of shorter ones. The Jackson Building became the first skyscraper in the state west of Charlotte when it was erected in 1924. That year, we had two of the six tallest buildings in the state. By 1929, we had six of the 25 tallest buildings in the state—each rising above its shorter neighbors. Today Asheville, the state’s sixth-largest metro area, has no buildings in the top 25. It just doesn’t seem that extreme to grow six stories taller in close to a century.

“It’s just too big for that block. It’s too tall. It’s out of scale.” What does that mean? Compared to what? One of the Downtown Commission’s primary focuses is safeguarding downtown’s vitality and wonderful pedestrian experience by considering how buildings relate to the sidewalk and surrounding structures. We encourage developers to provide pedestrian-friendly spaces at sidewalk level and to step buildings back as they go up, to soften the impact of different-sized structures while allowing light and views of the sky to reach the sidewalk. Though far from perfect, this process has resulted in 60 N. Lexington adding green space next to the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, the new Hotel Indigo adding a primary street entrance on Haywood, and The Ellington stepping back all three façades instead of just plunking down a somewhat shorter but much blockier building on Biltmore. Unlike the blocky, 15-story building the city recently approved on Coxe Avenue in an area of mostly one-story structures, The Ellington will sit within 200 yards of three other tall buildings: the BB&T, the Jackson Building and 12 S. Lexington.

“It’s like a vertical gated community for the wealthy. It causes gentrification.” The first point is a little silly: Every residential building has a door that locks. The Ellington’s residents are no more obliged to open their building to the public than people living in the Vanderbilt Apartments, The Battery Park Apartments, The Griffin or your house. And while gentrification is a serious issue, limiting density is the surest path to it. As long as downtown space is in short supply and high demand, rents and prices will climb, and no one but the wealthy will be able to live there. Look at Charleston and Savannah. Our downtown remains by far the most economically mixed part of this community, with poor, wealthy and middle-class people living next door to one another. Saying someone should build affordable housing downtown without providing a source of funds creates no housing. The Ellington’s contractual agreement to donate $1.5 million to $2 million to support work-force housing downtown was intended as one model for dealing with the problem. That amount is roughly double the city and county’s combined annual contribution to affordable housing for the entire area.

“It will be the tallest building in town.” The BB&T Building, with its adjacent 125,000 square foot parking deck, is currently downtown’s tallest, but it wasn’t necessarily meant to be an icon for the ages—and it will remain the most massive structure with the greatest pedestrian impact.

Density generates governmental efficiencies while increasing the tax base. On its half-acre parcel, The Ellington will generate more local property taxes than the 73-acre Asheville Mall, and more than the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Swannanoa River Road, the entire 2,400-acre Biltmore Estate and the Southridge Shopping Center near the airport COMBINED—without all the traffic that requires 200 acres of parking. Used to pay the debt service on tax-free government bonds, the $1 million-plus in local property taxes The Ellington will produce could generate enough money to enable City Council to fix the Civic Center or provide a $30 million fund we could use to actually make a dent in our affordable-housing problem.

Small downtown businesses need a regular influx of customers. The Ellington and the GPI’s shuttle will bring a steady stream of visitors with disposable incomes downtown. And they’ll come to enjoy Asheville, not to shop for the lowest prices at the same chains they can drive to back home.

Even if you’re still persuaded by the “too big/too tall/too gentrifying” arguments, you’re left with that same stark choice between density and more sprawl. It’s certainly OK to oppose what you don’t believe in, but don’t we all also have a responsibility to honestly consider the broader effects of too narrow a focus? Do we want to be a quaint little tourist town for the rich? Or do we want to be a real city, growing smart and providing jobs and homes for anyone who wants to contribute, wealthy or not?

Are we, as a community, serious about smart growth, affordable housing, the environment, global warming and protecting local businesses? Or is all our talk so much hot air pouring out of our tailpipes as we drive to the new gated subdivisions we’ve caused to be built out in the county, or to the acres and acres of parking at our next new big-box shopping center?

If I’ve offended anyone, please understand that 17 years of sometimes obsessive immersion in downtown revitalization has made me passionate about our progress and protective of our potential to be a model for urban livability.

[J. Patrick Whalen chairs the Downtown Commission and is president of Public Interest Projects.]

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56 thoughts on “Grow up or grow out

  1. Rob Close

    “It’s just too big for that block. It’s too tall. It’s out of scale.” – Having seen the models for it, overshadowing Doc Chey’s and everything around it, I can say that this complaint looks valid to me.

    Also, the BB&T;Building is disgusting. So saying that is project is ok because that one already exists is weak. Downtown would be better off without BB&T;, imagine what useful things we could have there.

    Bigger does not mean better. Yes we have to grow up, but c’mon, put some reasonable limits on these ideas, people!

  2. Dawn

    I would feel a lot better about the Ellington if there were currently a project on the table to build a large building in the downtown business district that would provide affordable rental apartments or affordable condos for the Asheville non-elite (and the full time residents of our fair city).

    I suppose I just have to trust that the funds generated for affordable housing by the Ellington will go towards DOWNTOWN development and not modular homes in Emma.

  3. lokel

    Dawn- rent is determined, primarily by the owner of the rental units themselves, but also by what the market will bear.

    The same apartments that were affordable 10 years ago, are still here, now the rent is 5 times as much, because thats what the going rate is.

    Your argument is inane, if you were a builder or potential developer, would you spend millions on a project to have the City or County tell you the rent must be x dollars (an amount below market value)? My guess is no.

    The folks building these places realize there is money to be made in the rental/condo market in this town, and by god they are gonna’ make it.

    As Whalen’s letter points out: there were no taller buildings when the Jackson building was built, there were very few in town when the Northwestern Bank (BB&T;) was built many years later.

    The cities in Europe reveal an architectural splendor that is unrivaled in America. And guess what, there are centuries old buildings made of stone and mortar right beside post-modern glass and metal structure 3 times as tall and “it works.”

    It is too late now to attempt to rewrite the laws of this town to limit new buildings to a certain level.

    Asheville was a boom town in the 20’s and as they say, “here we grow again.”

    At least the Ellington is not proposed for the top of Sunset Mountain.

  4. Aliasjoe

    The affordable housing contribution agreement stipulates that the money return to the downtown area. Pat says that above, but it may not be that obvious. Anyhow, that’s the deal. The affordable housing $$$ has to go back to the downtown area. Having that money available will definitely attract some attention from affordable housing developers because its low hanging fruit and no other district in the city has this earmark.

  5. Peter Y. Alberice

    The only model on display that I know of is the goofy model that is on display at Greenlife. How ironic that a building that has major zoning issues and violations is letting a group provide misinformation about a project that has no zoning violations. I am very familiar with this project and it never ceases to amaze me how those with the most negative opinions about the project seem to have an apparent inability to conceptually understand the complexities and trade-offs that we as a community are facing over the next 30 to 50 years.

    There has been much discussion about how the building fits in its context. In looking around at our downtown, one of the interesting characteristics is that there is a mix of high rise and low rise buildings throughout. A good example is the Public Service building and its relation to Wall Street, the Battery Park Hotel and its relation to the Grove Arcade and the Flat Iron Building and its relation to Wall Street and Battery Park. Had the tower been built by E. W. Grove at the Grove Arcade, it would have been about 20 to 21 storys tall. In all of these examples, regardless of the height of the building, there is a strong people oriented context at the street level. The Ellington will have similarly positive characteristics at the street level which will reinforce the pedestrian experience.

    While the building will be the tallest building in our downtown, the architects for the project have designed it in a way that mitigates the bulk of the building by stepping the building back at several points in its facades. The building is relatively slender at its upper stories and its footprint at this part of the building is smaller than the footprint of our building at 12 South Lexington Avenue. Had the proposed building been lower in height, without the stepped façade, the building would be much more massive and bulky in appearance.

    There has been much discussion about traffic congestion. In reality, congestion is a characteristic of a healthy downtown where many people live, work, shop, attend sports and cultural events and play. Cities such as Johnson City, Bristol and Kingsport have relatively less congestion in their downtowns, and have much less activity as well.

    Finally, let’s get over the perceived problem of too many rich people. Who among you have the right to determine where people, rich or poor, can or cannot live? Wealthy people, from George Vanderbilt to Julian Price and hundreds of other wealthy people have or continue to contribute to the arts, social services, health care, affordable housing and scores of other endeavors without which, we would be a very poor community.


  6. SeeingThrough FogMakers

    The only model on display that I know of is the goofy model that is on display at Greenlife. How ironic that a building that has major zoning issues and violations is letting a group provide misinformation about a project that has no zoning violations.

    Who among you have the right to determine where people, rich or poor, can or cannot live? Wealthy people, from George Vanderbilt to Julian Price and hundreds of other wealthy people have or continue to contribute to the arts, social services, health care, affordable housing and scores of other endeavors without which, we would be a very poor community.

    Peter, well said.

  7. Jake

    Among his many assertions, Mr. Whalen claims that “[t]he current dispute about The Ellington conveniently encapsulates much of the sprawl-vs.-density debate.” After he attempts to refute some of the community’s many arguments against this project, he concludes that “[e]ven if you’re still persuaded by the ‘too big/too tall/too gentrifying’ arguments, you’re left with that same stark choice between density and more sprawl.”

    This might be true but for the fact that The Ellington is not a residential project, it is a tourism project. The Ellington is not being built to house people who will live, work and raise their families in Asheville. “Up vs. out” may be a worthwhile trade-off when looking at residential development, but it is irrelevant when looking at a tourism-driven urban hotel/condo development such as this.

    Mr. Whalen and many who support The Ellington are guilty of spreading this misinformation widely and deeply. His “17 years of sometimes obsessive immersion in downtown revitalization” does little to mitigate the offense of such tactics.

  8. Joe

    Sprawl-ish “tourism-driven” developments include The Ramble, The Cliffs, Lake Toxaway, Reserve at Lake Koewee… the list goes on. The same people who are interested in condos downtown as second homes will also look at houses, townhouses, and condos in low-density developments. The choice is up or out.

    .. And for all the opposition to the Ellington on this ground of “up or not at all”, where was the opposition to the Battery Park Lofts, Market St. Lofts, Zona Lofts, etc? Even Zona, which will have some residents in it (bottom 4 floors or so) will likely end up majority second homes (8 weeks/year occupancy).

  9. Anthony B

    Pat is right on the mark. In Asheville, there is a constant theme of battle by reduction in scale: if a proposed subdivision is 100 homes, the residents rise up and get it scaled back to 60, on the same acreage, of course. If the building is 20 stories, we say please make it 14. Of course, forcing arbitrarily-sized developments doesn’t really accomplish much except to use up more land than is really needed to accommodate a given market. It also means we miss out on potential offers of help building our community, such as the affordable housing trust being proposed here.

    It seems to me a more rational approach, while not completely ignoring appropriate scale, would be to address aesthetics. Big buildings, while adding cultural and economic vitality, can be beautiful and iconic – Asheville’s include the old Battery Park hotel, Flatiron, Public Service, and the Jackson. On the other hand, we have 21 Battery Park, which at a smaller scale, is a worthless addition to the city, thanks to its brutal architecture.

    In other words, we should move past our QUANTITY fixation and spend more effort on quality. The results would be more productive.

  10. Heather Rayburn

    I had another question for Peter in addition to the one I just submitted … if the answer is yes that you both live in downtown am wondering if you have second homes somewhere else outside the city in a low-density area? Also, could we have full-disclosure by posters who are making tons of $$$ developing downtown?

    Speaking of goofy … what do people think of that soul-numbing building on South Lexington … the one that looks like a school dorm?


  11. Carrie

    I live and work downtown. I also have a “low-density” home which I call home as well. I make no “$$$” from development. Does theat mean I have no voice in Asheville? Because I have two houses? I am a citizen here the same as you (At least i think, do you live downtown?). Don’t tell me because someone has multiple homes or x amount of dollars in the bank that they’re somehow not entitled to a voice or vote. I am in favor of The Ellington.
    Thanks, Peter. You brought up many good points. I saw that dia-drama at Greenlife, too.
    And Eric (previous post same issue)
    I’m a bartender.

  12. Aliasjoe

    Peter lives at 12 S. Lexington (on the same block as the Ellington proposal) according to the phone book. His office is in that building as well, his commute is down a stair case. I think he used to live over next to Over Easy (or above it) for a number of years. Pat is moving to the Rice-White building (two doors down from the Ellington proposal) and he should have been in his apartment back in July 2006, but there have been a ton of construction delays. Historic renovation projects don’t move as fast as we’d like them to sometimes. So basically, they live on the block of the proposal. Should that discount their comments or add to them? Its a slippery slope we start sliding down if we’re going to gauge people’s commentary based upon their proximity or lack thereof. I think Anthony does a great job at summarizing the (in)ability of discourse in our community. We need to focus on facts of the project and its design. If you want to open the cans of disclosure, you should also be prepared to open yours too. Poking at people personally will only cause more fighting, and that comment about Peter’s building was just rude. Have you built or designed a building lately? Perhaps you could show us your architecture license? Do we really want to get into a debate on the merit of the architectures we own or build?
    Then lets put the facts of proportion, art, planning, design, and architecture on the table. I’m also open for recommendations on how we achieve better design in our community.
    Joe (not the Joe above, but I agree with him) Minicozzi

  13. Carpe Diem

    Pat Whalen has not lived downtown in all the years he has been making money off of Julian Price’s money (downtown).
    Do your homework people, Pat has much to gain from this “project” and he has his employees posting in his support. Although I agree that Asheville will continue to grow one way or the other, I don’t believe that growing “up” will serve to stem the tide of people who want to develop and live outside of downtown.

  14. Aliasjoe

    Hey Carpe:
    Could you enlighten me on what I am gaining? Do you want to compare pay checks or something? Do you have a better recommendation on what I should do with my Masters Degree in Urban Design? Maybe I shouldn’t use any of my knowledge. Could you write a letter of support to Harvard and University of Miami and tell them that I’m not going to pay back my student loans because I shouldn’t be using my education. Perhaps I should make a living selling grilled cheese or go into accounting or something. Better yet, maybe I could apply all of my real estate experience and go build spec homes on the mountain sides or a new strip mall on 74 to coddle to the people that will buy in the Cliffs new project.
    Since we’re speaking latin, Veritas!
    Joe Minicozzi
    PS: Why hide behind an alias?

  15. Joe

    I am the “Joe” (not Minicozzi) above. I am not an employee of Pat, nor do I know him at all. But he’s right in what he says. Building up is the right move for Asheville. Stopping upward growth in downtown will just lead to Asheville becoming another Charlotte or Atlanta.

    To take a tactic that many people in this debate use: If you want to live in a place like Charlotte or Atlanta, you can.

  16. Peter Y. Alberice

    Heather and all.

    My wife and I have lived and worked in
    Downtown Asheville since December 1996. We were developers and part owners of the Jenkins Building (32 Broadway) along with 5 other investors. We bought the building, which had been significantly damaged by a fire from a nearby building, from the Preservation Society in the early 90’s. Our group designed and built the renovation for the building and we sold it to an investor 3 years ago.

    We formed a new development group in 2002 and bought the property where 12 South Lexington is located, along with adjoining property, through the bid process, from the City of Asheville.

    (believe me, I will get to the point)

    In developing 12 South Lexington and the adjoining property, we did not evict anyone, nor did we tear down any buildings. Our goal was to retain the 3 properties facing Biltmore Avenue and develop a mixed use building in the surface parking lot on Lexington Avenue. We have been working in the construction phase of the project since December 2004 and will be finished probably by late 2008. We feel that our project has made a positive contribution to downtown Asheville and buyers of units in the building are pleased with the design.

    Living and working downtown is great and I would recommend it highly. Our space in 12 South Lexington is our only home and if I ever have the opportunity to have a 2nd home, it would be in Lugano.

    So to the point…. Development is very complicated, risky, stressfull and time consuming. It takes a long time to find property, conceive of a project, pre sell or pre lease the spaces, secure financing, have the project built on time and in the budget, and make sure that it is properly closed out. Donald Trump is an anomoly. Very few developers ever make money quickly unless they are lucky enough to find something to flip, but even that takes time. So for most people who are interested in having a home and saving for the future (college for children, retirement) the only real way that most of us will achieve this is to be able to buy a home. Unfortunately, the barrier for first time home buyers is often formidable.

    So whether or not you support the Ellington project, please give serious consideration to the housing fund that is being set up by their development team. This has the potential to help many individuals and families purchase their initial home and to begin achieving some equity for their present and future needs. With this fund in place, other projects can contribute to the fund depending on the size and scale of the project. With the compounding of the initial fund, the amount available will grow significanly over time and will be able to help more and more peopls.


  17. Carpe Diem

    I’m sorry Joe. You are obviously well qualified to work for Pat and should enjoy all the riches your degrees will earn you (once you pay off your loans) in that capacity.
    My name really is Carpe, my parents were Rainbow Children and all of my siblings have Latin cliche’s for names. You may know my brother, Ignotum per Ignotius.

  18. Heather Rayburn

    Hi Peter,

    Am having qualms about my post, which was written in angry reaction to your comments. Apologies.

    Heather Rayburn

  19. Peter Y. Alberice


    Apology accepted, and I apologize as well to anyone who was offended by my comment about the model. I was only making a comment about the model relative to its representation of the Ellington design.

    What is unfortunate about the model is that it is not an accurate representation of the project and as a result, there is a large amount of misinformation or misunderstanding about it.

    Imagine how much better the debate would be, and how much better our community would be served if there was a truly accurate model, with full and accurate information about the scope of the project and its trade-offs, along with representatives for and against the project discussing it with people interested in it.


  20. Benjamin Gillum

    Aliasjoe wrote: “Poking at people personally will only cause more fighting, and that comment about Peter’s building was just rude. ”

    And what about Peter’s initial comment:

    “The only model on display that I know of is the goofy model that is on display at Greenlife. … it never ceases to amaze me how those with the most negative opinions about the project seem to have an apparent inability to conceptually understand the complexities and trade-offs that we as a community are facing over the next 30 to 50 years.”

    Rude and condescending, I’d say, and definitely containing personal pokes at Heather’s associates who are fighting the Ellington. So, Mr. Alberice should not be surprised to get it back in like kind.

    Personally I have little problem with the Ellington, and I think I like 12 S. Lexington, though it’s street level doesn’t seem very inviting at this point, I am hopeful when it is done that the street scene will be improved.

    While I disagree with those opposing the Ellington, I can certainly understand that some people would like height limits. Tall buildings cast long shadows. If I owned property north of the Ellington, I would be concerned about losing my southern exposure, but I don’t so I’ll let those people protest if they want.

    You and others proclaim we can grow up or out. The fact is that we have been and will continue to do both.

    I think that a slow growth strategy for Asheville/Buncombe is a reasonable alternative to the full-speed-ahead practices of today.

  21. nonsuperstitious

    The belief that an invisible hand guiding profit drives will make a healthier community is as superstitious as any fundamentalist religion. Mr. Whalen believes it however, that’s why he can say that growth is inevitable. No, the city Council can decide to approve or not. If we weren’t ruled by the superstition of the invisible hand Asheville should take a vote on how many people we want and how much surface we want covered by impermeable buildings, and how much car pollution.
    Do you agree that there can be too many people on earth? Too much pollution? So some day we must control population, growth and pollution. The question is, is now a good time? If so, asheville is the right place for we have more beautiful and healthy environment to lose than almost anywhere else. We need to set an example. We also need to take care of all those involved in development if we do this, which includes marginally successful developers, architects, construction contractors and crews, interior desecrators, furniture salesmen, etc. This is another reason that people can’t conceive of a development equilibrium – it will take a big shift in our economic assumptions.

  22. Joe


    Growth is inevitable, and if Asheville wants to avoid becoming a Charlotte or Atlanta, Asheville’s downtown needs to grow upward. You say that “the city council can decide to approve or not”. Sure, the Asheville City Council can put a moratorium on development. What happens then? *All* development moves to the county. You think the sprawl and low-density developments, strip malls, etc in the county are bad now? And there’s no way the county’s putting a moratorium on development — they’re seriously considering a zoning change that will allow people to put a mobile home in 100% of the county (as opposed to the 90% they’re currently allowed to).

    Populations will rise, and people will continue moving to Asheville, because it’s a great place to be. That is, unless we want to build a fence around the greater Asheville area, patrol it with border guards, and stop “immigration”… And also impose population control (birth control? eugenics?) on local Ashevillians.

    There’s another insidious side to this idea that Asheville should “stop” growth — housing prices will rise faster. If we care at all about affordable housing, we need more housing (supply) to meet demand. And we should especially encourage projects that help meet this demand (Zona) as well as those that contribute to the cause (Ellington’s donation). It would be good, however, for Asheville to adopt affordable housing requirements on all new developments, either by something like the 80/20 rule (like Boston uses), or by requiring donations like the Ellington is making.

  23. ““Up vs. out” may be a worthwhile trade-off when looking at residential development, but it is irrelevant when looking at a tourism-driven urban hotel/condo development such as this.

    Mr. Whalen and many who support The Ellington are guilty of spreading this misinformation widely and deeply.”

    So true, jake. so true.

    This is NOT about sprawl versus smart and upward growth. This is about money, gentrification, and Tourist Dollars. Call it what it is, and I no longer have any problem with it.

    But you ninnies claiming that citizens who dont want this building are promoting sprawl are intentionally clouding the issue.

    Unchecked development of any kind promotes outward growth for a community. If you truly wish to combat ‘sprawl’ and asheville’s ‘urban footprint’, then look into limiting how many people move here. *Constant growth of any kind is inherently unsustainable.* Until we, as a community, can figure out how to do that, we will have the issues of an over-populated community taking more than it can afford. Simple as that.

    Now go outside.

  24. “…and the Southwest is running out of water.”

    -so shouldn’t we be discouraging people from moving here? Doesn’t that make the up vs. out argument mute? If it really is about urban sustainability, then shouldn’t we limit how many people can live in this area, with such a limited natural infrastructure?

    All the tall, urban-dense buildings we can fit downtown wont change the fact that WNC and Asheville can’t support a continuing influx of people.

  25. hauntedheadnc

    Sure. We ought to limit the number of people who can live here. After all, we waited for you to get here, so it’s not the least bit hypocritical to close the doors now that you finally made it.

  26. travelah

    For those who think the building is out of scale for downtown, there is a solution. Promote the construction of 2,3 or maybe 4 others similar in size to it and it will no longer be “out of scale”.

  27. Joe

    Chuck: why can’t Asheville support more people?

    If you’re worried about Asheville becoming a tourist/resort town, stopping development in the city is the absolute worst thing you could do. Without more development, not as many houses/condos/etc will be available, driving the prices of existing homes even higher, and making it less affordable for people who work in Asheville to live in Asheville. How well did that building moratorium work in Aspen, Colorado?

    Asheville needs smart growth. Plenty of very intelligent, caring, non-profit-motivated people have studied development, and have come close to a consensus on smart growth principles. If you haven’t studied them, you should.

  28. chuck


    Those are some good points. Thanks. My reference to Asheville not being able to support more people was from a quote regarding the area’s declining water supply. And while i was reading said article, as well as all the wonderfully insightful posts, i was also listening to a radio show discussing over-population and how today’s environmental movement doesnt talk about this 10 ton elephant in the room.

    So, my thought process was, if WNC is running out of water (see quote above), then how can the area welcome more people?

    And despite hauntedheadnc’s attempts at snarkyness, i do feel its a valid question. This isn’t about ‘i found it first’, this is about what our bioregion can hold, environmentally speaking. We do appear to have experienced a pretty severe drought this year, and if we continue to, this kind of development just wont be able to last.

    Water rights are one of the major issues facing the world, as the repercussions from a heated atmosphere begin to manifest. And we can’t continue to build massive houses with pristine lawns, in the city or outside the city, if the water is disapearing, right?

    I do not wish to see Asheville turn into Aspen, or Boulder. And i do not wish to tell people that they cant move here because i moved here a decade before them. But the issues facing WNC today are unique for many reasons, economically and environmentally, and, like it or not, it seems we will have to deal with how many Floridians can come here as they flee their crumbling ecology and infrastructure in the swamplands.

  29. Joe


    First, we won’t know the population capacity of Asheville until we reach it. While it may be true that, given current facilities, we are within, say, 25,000 residents of maxing out, that’s not to say that improvements can’t be made on the facilities, or that new facilities and sources could be discovered. Many have told us that “the end is nigh” over time, and we humans innovate to get past whatever hurdle was seen as impenetrable. So, it’s possible we would reach some idea of “capacity” soon, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

    Second, if Asheville grows to the point that people can’t get water, then people will leave. Cities will generally grow to optimal points, under a similar theory to the efficient markets theory. I’m not advocating some type of laissez-faire attitude toward development; we need an active and intelligent P&Z;board, planner, and city council — just saying that cities will tend to grow until the consequences of their growth decreases the attractiveness of living there.

    The important thing to realize here is that Asheville is going to get to a point where, one day, it will less attractive to live in Asheville than the day before. This is going to happen. The question is whether that happens in the next few years, or whether that happens 50, 75, 100 years from now. If we promote smart growth, we’ll have a much better chance of having Asheville continue to be more and more attractive to live in. If we deny smart growth in the city of Asheville, thus pushing developers into sprawling through Buncombe County, Asheville will likely peak much sooner.

  30. Joe:

    Great points, once again. I thank you.

    My concern for WNC’s water supply is not merely rooted in our man-made infrastructure, though. It has to do with actual availability of non-renewable goods like land and clean water. Non-renewable. Means you only get one try.
    So no matter how much ‘human innovation’ you throw into the equation, we don’t share the same optimism for the current situation (i thought that a nice ryhme, good metre).

    What you are suggesting sounds to me something like “let everybody move here and develop until our land can no longer allow people to inhabit it, then move on.” I’m sure that’s not exactly what you are saying, but it might be closer than you think.

    I am still of the opinion that those of us living here now may have some vested interest in seeing our current resources preserved in some fashion so we never actually meet that particular tipping point you refer to. Perhaps this touches on too many different issues to be discussed in the context of ‘smart growth’.

    But I wonder, can limiting the population ever be a part of this ‘smart growth’? And also, if ‘smart growth’ will allow more people to move here for a longer period of time, and I don’t want that, then should I push for ‘no growth’ so we can turn it into an affordable place to live again? Although I would probably have to come up with a better name for it. Any ideas?
    Your well articulated point is making me think that ‘smart growth’ is maybe counter-productive to my own protectionist needs.

    But I don’t want either, I don’t want lots of people moving here because they already ruined where they came from. Move here and make it a better, more sustainable place, sure. But stop moving here and trying to re-create what you left behind; big house, two-car garage, suburban lifestyle, more roads, more flush toilets wasting water, mores restraunts wasting water, etc etc etc This seems to be a sentiment shared by many.

    Again, I do not see how building this building will discourage sprawl, though. Development encourages development. Build the Ellington, and you are encouraging more ‘sprawl’ as well. That’s fine, I suppose. I am just annoyed by the “Up or Out” debate that implies that the ellington is somehow “Sustainable” because it is in the city. It goes hand-in-hand. It is not an either-or choice. With a dwindling water supply, any kind of development that doesn’t create more energy than it takes is unsustainable.
    Do you really mean to imply that all the Ellington Dwellers will be pristine examples of eco-friendly city dwellers, contributing very little to our collective footprint? Or will they merely be part-time residents, contributing to an already over-taxed, over-populated downtown area with roads too small for the population?
    This city makes money from constant growth, so it will continue until the infrastructure collapses, on that you are right. But I still feel the need to point out how that benefits nobody except the developers and the politicians who take their kickbacks. The rest of us? We’ll be left with a ruined town and an empty “I told ’em so”

    There are so many feasible, functioning examples of true sustainability this city could be implementing, from rainwater collecting for household use, useful public transit, and neighborhood-based solar energy production, to true community development and grey-water management. Look at what numerous towns and cities have done around the world, from Portland Oregon and Vancouver BC, to small towns in Germany and Ecuador. But the city would rather throw a project like the Ellington in our faces and say that if we don’t support this giant complex for the very-rich, then we dont support sustainability. It is irritating, to say the least.

  31. Joe


    So I think we can trace our different conclusions to different beliefs about our natural habit and planet. I believe that our planet adapts (sometimes imperfectly) in response to the actions against it, and our “free” markets also help.

    Before I continue, let me digress here for a second: (a) I believe that temperatures across the world are rising, and that some bad things are happening because of them; (b) I believe that “free” market capitalism often leads to immediate negative impact on our environment.

    However… On global warming: I believe we are lacking so much information on global warming to really know what will happen and what the best responses would be. Listen to the true, hard scientists who are doing the research on “global warming”, not the politicians or actors or various “green” spokespeople. What do they say? Answer: cloudy. But that’s a “gray” answer, not a black-and-white one, so you hear environmentalists trumpeting hybrids, more renewable light bulbs, etc… Even though we know the impact of those changes are almost certainly so small that they won’t affect a thing.

    Let me give you an example here. Lots of predictions on the dire straits we’ll be in from global warming are based, in part, on an assumption that the amount of CO2 that trees can process is the amount we see them currently process in our environment. So, based on that, really bad things happen when lots of trees go away. However, it turns out that trees can process a lot more CO2 than they do now; it’s just that they don’t process more because there are more trees now (sort of a high pressure/low pressure deal). So, the predictions should be revised (but often aren’t, because the dire predictions come from the politicians/alarmists/people with agendas instead of the hard scientists who do the research).

    On capitalism… Free markets and innovation promote a consumer society, which historically has meant packaging, products, byproducts, effluent, etc that are extremely harmful to the environment. However, the consumer society will pay to keep its comfort levels… Where did we get sewer systems, water filters, waste treatment plants, air filters, etc? Consumers willing to pay for them in a society that rewards those who build things that people want to pay for.

    Ok, so back on topic. Because I believe that we are ignorant about not only exactly the state that we’re in, but also about how it could properly be improved, I am wary of any predictions about the capacity of our environment. I was in Asheville in 1987 when there was an enormous drought, and we certainly made it past there without a problem. Today is not 1987, but if you’re going to use a drought as evidence of anything happening today, you should distinguish why this drought is different (other than the year difference).

    So, I do believe that our presence here on earth has an impact on earth, even if we don’t know what’s going to happen as a result of it. And I also believe that the “free” market will help us as our comfort levels start declining by innovating, if it’s possible. That’s not to say that we can’t completely screw up the planet and all die because of it, just that if we do, it’s much more likely to be something like nuclear winter, and less likely to be something like global warming or a rising percentage of contaminated water. Those are problems that we will likely be able to innovate around.

    And I have one other core belief that’s relevant: pragmatism. I don’t argue that increasing growth and population is an unmitigated good, or the best possible thing that could happen. I just point out that they’re inevitable, unless you’re willing to do things I would find unethical and immoral, like mass killings or involuntary population control. There’s a great example of the inevitability of growth here: no matter what moratorium Asheville puts on building, we know Buncombe County won’t. So there will be growth in Buncombe County, somewhere.

    So, to review: (a) we don’t really know what’s going to happen to our planet, (b) the free market is the best vehicle to promote solutions that are possible, and (c) people are going to come to Buncombe County and want to develop homes and businesses for people to live. If that’s the case, might as well grow in the smartest way possible (smart growth) so that the environmental impact is minimized, and so that an “example” is set for future developers and resident. It is much better for Asheville to be known for having a high-density, vertical-growth downtown, with buildings that are LEED certified and a large affordable housing fund, than for it to be known as a place that favors big box stores and low-density development. Mainly because the latter leads much more quickly to Atlanta, Charlotte, etc.

    Ok, to wrap, and answer some of your specific questions. I do not think my position is “use up the land until it’s unusable, then move on.” That’s a very extreme view. I can’t think of many places where that’s happened in the U.S… maybe Newark, NJ? Brownfields programs, superfund, etc have all shown that we can clean up past pollution. Also, I would argue that low-density sprawl has “wrecked” Atlanta more than any pollution has. If Atlanta had encouraged high-density development downtown, it could have lessened the sprawl. By the way, Atlanta recently realized this, and is trying hard, but the genie was already out of the bottle. Asheville has a much better opportunity here.

    I know that the residents of the Ellington, or any other new residents, will have an impact on the environment. But, as stated above, it’s unclear exactly what that impact is in the long term. To call Earth “fragile” is to be ignorant; species have beaten up on Earth for a very long time. Eventually, I imagine, the Earth will be no more, but to argue that we know anything specific about future sustainability is ignorant.

    So, in the end, our debate probably goes down to how much we trust scientists (I’m assuming it’s a scientist who was talking about the water supply) who give us dire warnings. Do they do it because it’s really true? Or because it gets them on radio, TV, etc and gets them fans, people who love to hear that information, etc? I need a lot of evidence to convince me… And if it isn’t even in the MSM, then I’m incredibly skeptical.

  32. Nam Vet

    It is sickening what our Council has allowed. The Manhattanization of Asheville. The very reason this area is appealing to outsiders is the old buildings, and the friendly small Southern city atmosphere. All these “boutique” hotels and million dollar condos will fork up the works like no one’s business. Money grubbing local politicos allow this carnage. I am sickened by the vote of Brownie Newman who advertises himself as a “progressive”. Same with Holly Jones. These socialists just want more tax revenue at the cost of liveability in Asheville. All taxes will go way up downtown. Long standing businesses will close and we will end up with a downtown full of ex-NYers. And the atmosphere will turn into a mean-spirited NYC dumphole. God save us from the outsiders who want to turn us into what they left, and the local “progressive” politicos who are their useful idiots.

  33. There is no room in the future for poor people. If you can’t find employment in serving those more wealthy than you, then be prepared to get swept under the rug, so to speak.

    Nam Vet, I see you are disgusted with the socialists on council who voted for this. What about everybody else who voted for this? Does this mean Dr. Carl is a commie, too? And does this mean Comrade Newman will make the ellington state-owned? Or is it a different definition of socialism you are referring to? One not actually defined in the dictionary, perhaps?

  34. Joe,

    I find it interesting and telling that you say you don’t trust ‘the scientists” in one sentence, but then make reference to “real, hard scientists” findings in another. I guess you only support the findings if they support you own beliefs. Smells like partisan talking points to me.

    A few points I wish to bring up; Your reference to the drought of 1987. The main difference I see? The population in the area has increased greatly in the past 20 years. Perhaps doubling. The drought may have been manageable then, but with more and more people here, the Reality is, our water is divided up by more and more people. Simple math. The idea that ‘we have gone through this before’ is false. We havent. Atlanta is running out of water. Charlotte is running out of water. When it will happen is certainly debatable, and these issues are inexorably wrapped up in politics, without a doubt. But, nonetheless, it appears that basing our economy on ever-increasing populations and development may have some limits on the planet that sustains us. Many people wish to say this is just Left Wing, reactionary propaganda, but I don’t. If that is where we disagree, then so be it

    As far as the drought goes, I am mainly going on my own experience. This year has been terrible for rain, and in my opinion much worse than ‘the scientists” say. Our annual rainfall is changing so much, that the amount that falls is higher than the amount that actually collects in the ground. My garden’s need for watering this year (first time I have had to water like this, ever) tells me this. 2 inches of rain in a half-hour is not the same as a nice, slow soak over a few hours or days. One replenishes the water table, and the other just creates flash floods and displaces topsoil.

    Oh, and that last post of yours was extremely long-winded and off-topic. I ask you to try and stick to the point; Can we continually allow people to move to WNC without examining where the cutoff point is? Is it wise or sustainable to not place limits at some point? I have no idea where this point is, or who gets to do the limiting. Perhaps we all need to start talking about it with each other. but it seems like a necessary conversation if we dont want to see WNC turn into Atlanta, Charlotte, or Las Angelos.

  35. Nam Vet

    What up Chuck? :) My point about Newman-Jones-Cape is the hypocrisy factor. Just what is progressive about a vote for the Ellington? Huh? Mumpower-Davis were expected to vote for it because they are publically in favor of development. I disagree with them,but at least they are upfront. Three of the “Fab Four” went contrary to progressive principles in voting for it. I can only guess that they think it is worth high-jacking our city for added tax revenues. No doubt they are looking down the line for funding for more parks and pet projects. Bike lanes? You get the drift I suspect. I respect those who attempt to walk their talk, whether I agree with them or not. Newman-Cape-Jones becoming useful idiots for the greedy developers who cater to the rich…too much to take without comment. But Chuck I sense you are an unquestioning knee-jerk supporter of these PINOs and are beyond being convinced through logical argument. But it is nice to unload here. :) Oh, and PINO means: Progressive In Name Only.

  36. chuck

    “But Chuck I sense you are an unquestioning knee-jerk supporter of these PINOs and are beyond being convinced through logical argument.”

    nam vet, if you really believe i am a knee-jerk liberal, then you really need to read my posts, minus the faux-news filter over your screen. Do you actually read, or just skim for random sentance fragments to take out of context?


    I guess you decided to give up the argument, eh? Couldn’t find any good quotes from ‘your’ scientists?

  37. Joe


    Oh, it’s not hard to rebut you, I’ve just been busy.

    (1) I believe in hard facts, hard science above everything else. Never said otherwise.

    (2) When you talk about global warming, you have to be very specific. Saying “all scientists believe in global warming” is vague and loaded. Do most scientists agree that temperatures taken on the ground and in the air have risen over the past few years? Yes. Does it follow from that observation that many cataclismic things will occur? No. You have to build, block by block. No shortcut if you want to go with science.

    (3) Drought. All of your comments are based on guesses and supposition. You have no actual numbers or studies, just statements like “the population has doubled… maybe”. You have a conspiracy-theory-esque perspective on this. Obviously, no one can research everything to the 9’s, so I follow a general rule that goes a little like this: “Read general-interest publications, and listen to what people in authority are saying. To the extent that you can weight certain publications or people over others, do so. If you go further and read expert opinion that is substantiated by solid research and facts, then deviate from the median/common viewpoint.”

    So, what I’ve read about the drought has been that it’s been bad, but not that Asheville won’t be able to handle continued growth. And, trust me, no matter how little you think of the politicians on city council, they do care and think about the future, as do the people in charge of our water supply.

    Your protestations to the contrary, that somehow we’re going to run out of water and we’re totally screwed, and nobody knows it aren’t supported by any hard science. You can give me some facts (population growing, drought bad), but you haven’t quantified them with respect to known science. If you’re going to be convincing, you’re going to need to find another, decent cohort to Asheville that ran out of water catastrophically, and show how Asheville is similar to it. If you can’t find one, then it’s going to be difficult, because even if you can cite the current supply and rising population, you won’t be taking into account technological advances or other water sources that could be used.

    I can go on here, but the simple fact is that you haven’t shown anything other than some random statements and conspiracy-theory-esque rants. If the end is truly nigh, then you should be able to show it convincingly. But you haven’t.

  38. Hopefully

    The end is not nigh, the negative impact of global warming is cumalative. It will take years for the worst effects to be realized. Meanwhile, the greedsters will still be making their thickheaded arguments to protect their profits, aided by the legions of foxfauxnews. Hello!!! The rich aren’t smarter than the rest of us, they are just greedier.

  39. Nam Vet

    Chuck, shrink your head down to size, OK? :)

    light&hope;, honey, if you think just greedy corporations are the only bain to mankind, you need to consider this. The Government “corporation” will tax us out of house and home if eft unchecked. With capitalist corporations, you can at least stop buying their product (YES pay attention here plz. if you object to big oil profits, stop driving, etc.). BUT, once you left Big Government corporation get big enough, they will tax you coming and going, and you will be close to powerless to do anything about it. Once Big Brother gets too much power (read socialism ere) they are pretty hard to chop down to size, save an armed rebellion.

    So when the fauxprogs Cape-Jones-Newman vote FOR a rich man’s hotel like the Ellington, it is worse than the support of real estate developers because they are doing it to pad the tax rolls, build more unneeded parks,”find a solution for homelessness”, etc…on your tax money. And expand local government.

    There are plenty of bad guys to go around. Don’t forget the local socialists.

  40. Hopefully

    Whats wrong with socialism? Only the rich need to worry, and if you were rich, you would not have gone to war in Vietnam. My father said it was mostly losers who went there. The elites found ways to get out of serving there. Example: bush and clinton and cheney, etc. Anyway, a bigger tax base is good, more money for the people. Parks, health care, the homeless, (which by the way, a large percentage of homeless people are vets)and lets not forget education,etc. You should be proud to pay your taxes and consider yourself fortunate that you make enough to be taxed. I like tall buildings and welcome controlled growth in a-ville. And bring in more rich people, at least they are educated and know how to spell “bane”

  41. Nam Vet

    I doubt you and I can have a meaningful debate on this issue. No offense, but anyone who believes “only the rich” will pay high socialist taxes just isn’t paying attention. The middle class is the rich that will pay most of it. The upper tier earners cannot makeup even 20% of what will be needed to fund socialism in this country. Everyone will suffer, because more and more of our disposable income will be confiscated by the State. Then the economy will suffer because there will be no incentive to invest, people will but much less because they won’t have the money, people will lose their jobs, and the whole country will be once again in a “national malaise”. Socialism plain doesn’t work. And it is anti-American.

  42. Hopefully

    If Jesus were alive today, he would be anti-american…its anti- american to be against growth, as you seem to be. We need the growth here. With a larger tax base, we can properly educate the kids and hopefully eventually intellectually revitalize this region. Personally I think you should be required to have a college degree in order to vote or have children. Think of what a beautiful place this could be.

    Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.

    Oscar Wilde

  43. Nam Vet

    LOL, this would be funny if it wasn’t such a serious subject. L&H;, how old are you? And did you move here from somewhere else, like “upnorth”? You certainly don’t sound like YOU have a college degree, from a decent school at any rate. By the way, I do, from UNC-A. 3.5 average.

    And you think you know what Jesus would do? That Jesus would be in favor of a richman’s holiday hotel at The Ellington so “we can increase the tax base”? HUH? And you are in favor of socialism? And drive up the property taxes on every mom& pop small business downtown? My lord girl, think your ideas out. By the way, Jesus REFUSED to become involved with politics of any kind when he walked this earth. Despite Judas’ attempts to get him to takes politic sides. Christ replied “my Kingdom is not of this world”. Amen.

  44. Hopefully

    U.N.C.-A??? Isn’t that one of those bible schools? No I don’t have a degree…yet. I’m in my second year at Duke. They teach spellin’ and everthin’ thar. Perhaps you should become acquainted with spell check (I’m assuming you are using a computer) People are always afraid of progress, and A-ville really needs some help. You see, the more people who move here from “upnorth” the better off you’ins will be. It will improve the gene pool, the economy, and the cooking! Hey, wake up! Those mom and pops you speak of will just raise their prices to compensate for higher taxes. If you can’t pay the price, move to N. Wilkesboro.

  45. Hopefully

    Oh and please quote the bible again, that was so provincial it made me laugh aloud!

  46. dickyfauge

    Light & hope why are you so mad? Did someone pee in your wheaties? Ease up on everyone.

  47. Nam Vet

    Dicky, the poor thing is a NE yankee transplant. She can’t help but be an angry whiner. That is the dominant culture up there. Perhaps one day she will relax and become an Ashevillian and mellow out. We can only hope. In the meantime, most of us here are ignoring her because she is an angry troll who just tries to stir things up.

  48. travelah

    dicky, don’t sweat it. She is a troll and once folks realize that, you just don’t have to take her serious at all.

  49. Hopefully

    In the spirit of the season I’m going to ignore your comments and wish you a merry christmas!

  50. Nam Vet

    I think we may have converted her! Good for you L&H;. Merry Christmas to you.

  51. Traveleh

    Dicky, I’ve had a change of heart about L&H;…but that name dicky fauge has got to go!

  52. quotequeen

    There must be more to life than having everything.
    ~ Maurice Sendak

  53. quotequeen

    No one can earn a million dollars honestly.
    William Jennings Bryan (1860 – 1925)

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