Letter writer: Coming soon: Asheville, a victim of its own success

Graphic by Lori Deaton

I live full time within walking distance (if necessary) of the Asheville central business district. I include in downtown Asheville the central business district and the adjacent residential/business neighborhoods. I define the perimeters of downtown Asheville as follows: Hillside Street on the north, Merrimon Avenue and continuing with Asheland Avenue on the west, Town Mountain Road and continuing with Tunnel Road on the east and Swannanoa River Road on the south.

In the past decade, I have lived part time in downtown Charleston, S.C., part time in Asheville in Montford and off Charlotte Street and the rest of the time in nearby Hendersonville.

In October of this year, I tried to drive to the main public library in the downtown business district. It was not during busy traffic hours (8 to 9 a.m. and 5 to 6 p.m.). Every parking deck was full, and I saw no parking places on the streets of the central business district. I drove around and around and finally gave up and drove home.

On a recent Sunday in November, I tried to find a parking space to go to a church I attend in the downtown business district. I drove repeatedly around several blocks in the business district and watched as the only nearby city parking deck filled as quickly as cars exited.

There were no empty parking spaces on the street I circled. Finally, I parked in the nearby U.S. post office parking lot. I assumed that it was OK to park there since the post office is closed all day on Sundays. There were two other cars parked there. When I left the church service about 1 1/4 hours later, the car was gone. It had been towed, resulting in a $195 towing charge to retrieve my borrowed car (if I picked it up within 24 hours of the towing time). I borrowed $195 from a friend and picked up the car Monday morning.

Do the governments (city or federal) — I guess in this case, the federal — contract with the local towing companies to patrol the parking lots to tow cars away for these exorbitant extortion amounts? Are the towing companies trolling the streets of downtown or just watching nearby to catch their latest prey?

When I walk the sidewalks of the downtown business district any day of the week, the sidewalks usually are too narrow and dangerous and in desperate need of repair. The streets and sidewalks in the neighborhoods (business and residential) adjacent to the central business district are very narrow and in need of repair. For cars to proceed in two directions, cars often dangerously have to weave in and out of the parked cars that line the streets. Traffic often is very dangerously backed up on the streets in the downtown business district and in the adjacent business/residential neighborhoods.

The interference to the streets and sidewalks resulting from the construction of the hotels is horrible, making a bad situation even worse.

The new hotels and other high-rise buildings are blocking the views of the nearby mountains and view of the historic downtown buildings.

Charleston, S.C., and Hendersonville have preserved and maintained their downtowns without building new hotels or other high-rise buildings. (Although some old existing Charleston buildings have been renovated as hotels.) Their skylines have stayed the same. Buildings over certain heights are strictly prohibited.

Charleston wants to preserve the beautiful views of the Ashley and Cooper rivers and of the Charleston Harbor and of existing historic buildings. Hendersonville wants to preserve its views of the mountains and views of historic buildings in downtown Hendersonville. The new hotels and other high-rise buildings in downtown Charleston and in downtown Hendersonville are built outside of their downtowns. Many hotel and other high-rise buildings have been built outside of downtown Charleston and downtown Hendersonville, which are very accessible without jeopardizing the viability of their downtowns. Both Charleston and Hendersonville are thriving and beautiful, attracting visitors and residents alike. Why can’t Asheville follow their examples?

Asheville, however, is fast becoming a victim of its own success. The new hotels and other new high-rise buildings will cause even more traffic on the already-crowded streets and sidewalks, often in terrible need of repair. The added vehicular traffic will cause additional deterioration of the streets and sidewalks. Parking will become even less available. Unless there is an immediate moratorium (and then prohibition) of all future hotels and other future new buildings in the downtown business district, until the streets and sidewalks are repaired, and until more parking is made available, downtown Asheville will die a painful (and still unnecessary) death. (Also, what if there is another recession?)

Tourists and downtown residents will no longer want to visit or reside in downtown Asheville. Asheville will become known as a town of very congested traffic, a town with narrow and unrepaired streets and sidewalks, a town with too few parking spaces, a town with very high hotel room rates, a town which tries to prohibit short-term rentals, a town which no longer has many views of the beautiful surrounding mountains and a town which has diminished views of the historic buildings — churches, restaurants, offices, etc., built before the crash of 1929.

Visitors and residents will instead go to other Southeastern locations — like Charleston, Greenville, S.C., Savannah, Hendersonville, Brevard, etc.

Let’s preserve Asheville before we destroy it.

— Lex Veazey


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15 thoughts on “Letter writer: Coming soon: Asheville, a victim of its own success

  1. Gary W

    Give me a break. What do think is fueling this growth? If you appreciate the “charm” of the cities you referenced, then live in those areas. In your efforts to preserve Asheville, do you mean return to a period when downtown was boarded up and pigeons out numbered people after 5pm? It’s also funny you would mention Greenville SC, a city where more downtown hotels are being built then here in Asheville. All of this because you were inconvenienced searching for a parking space. Downtown is an urban center in a city surrounded by beautiful mountains and scenery, much which is protected from development by national parks or the very nature of its topography. This is not Hendersonville, Charleston, Savannah, Greenville or Brevard. If they appeal to you then by all means move there otherwise explore beyond downtown because you may be amazed at what you discover.

    • Lulz

      LOL, you equate that downtown thriving has meant the rest of the city and residents have benefited from it lulz. If that’s the case, how come residents are still picking up the tab for that and the river district while they see their services go down and “fees” tacked on? In reality, the only people to benefit from downtown are those that own the buildings LOL. Downtown has done nothing for me and it makes no difference if it shuts down at 5 pm or 5 am LOL.

      • Gary W

        Huh? What comments are you reading? No where in my comments did I say that the rest of the community has benefited from the resurgence of downtown. If you have have not benefited then that’s on you, however I do care if the city prospers regardless if I’m a direct beneficiary or not. One additional note, those that pay taxes (downtown or elsewhere) benefits everyone as spreading out the cost to maintain city services. Fortunately the city as a whole does not serve at the pleasure of one person who feels they have not benefited from its growth.

  2. Fred

    Asheville is NOTHING without tourism and real estate…. Cashing out is what this town does best. A town of hustlers and peddlers. Nobody wants to talk to you unless you have lots of cash.

  3. AVL LVR

    The writer has a point. When my relatives visited last Thanksgiving they remarked traffic was too congested. This is exactly why we need to move unnecessary traffic out of the side roads and into 8-10 lane I-26 highway. If I-26 is too congested, traffic spill into the side roads. Yet, city council will say the less-than-expected traffic counts on I-26 (which is no longer even true) prove that we need less lanes. No, there was less-than expected traffic because of the recession and it was no longer worth it for drivers to use. For instance, I use US-25 instead of I-26.

  4. Stephen Towe

    As a native of the area, I have a different perspective. When I was a boy, Mom used to take us to downtown Asheville occasionally for shopping. The Haywood Hotel was Iveys, Bon Marche was up the street, there was Woolworths across the street that was a five and dime and a bar seated eatery. There was a jeweler, a shoe store, a Junior Miss and a Mister Junior for kids clothes. There was the Imperial Theatre across from Wachovia and the Plaza Theatre where the Diana Wortham center is. It was peaceful, uncrowded, and rather cool–especially going weekly to the S&W cafeteria to eat with my family.

    It devolved over 35 years into a ghost town after the Mall was built. John Cram and many others took on the responsibility to bring it back, and wow were they successful, with 800 million under construction right now–success is accelerating exponentially and unfortunately the writer is right–there is a scarcity of parking, the streets are congested, and the infrastructure in need of major overhaul.

    What is needed is leadership on the city and county level to address those issues. We certainly pay enough in property tax to do that. But it’s all about priorities. Greenspace is nice, but it doesn’t help with parking lot/building creation. Car battery charging stations sound cool, but they are almost never used. Moogfest sound trendy, but they lose a lot of money. You have to establish rational priorities and execute the plans. The Civic Center is a perfect paradigm of what is wrong with leadership in Asheville. Argue for 15 years, do nothing but waste hundreds of thousands of dollars on studies that gather dust, while the building bio-degrades.

    So it’s all about electing pragmatic, experienced doers–not idealist, not irrational and emotional talkers, not people who want to turn Asheville into a socialist eutopia. You know, business people, builders, contractors, surveyors, Realtors, etc. Not starry eyed liberals whose main contribution to life was being a community organizer or buying a Prius and criticizing growth like it’s a disease.

    Leadership. It’s what is needed. I live in the county, but pay city taxes on my business, and I can’t vote or run for city council. Full disclosure.

    • WAVL

      I was with you until the second to last paragraph:
      “Not starry eyed liberals whose main contribution to life was being a community organizer…”
      So, not someone who has an understanding of and experience in representing the needs of people who actually live here?

    • The Real World

      Well said, Stephen. Good thing you can’t get elected to city council cuz you would just drive ’em crazy talking all that sense. They might melt down. Oh wait, but then we could do a coup. Yea, I’d bring my lawn chair and popcorn for that.

  5. hauntedheadnc

    Yet another letter from someone who believes in their soul that Asheville was made perfect when they finally decided to grace us full-time with their presence, and now that they’re here it’s time to close the gates.

    The list of nonsense in this letter is almost too long to address, but let’s take a couple of points:

    The high-rise buildings are blocking the view of the mountains and historic buildings? Do you mean the historic high-rise buildings that went up almost ninety years ago? The ones that stand as proof that Asheville is not some bucolic village and stopped trying to be one long before almost all of us were born? Those historic buildings? If so, the solution is simple: Walk another half a block until you can see them again.

    Hendersonville? You’re really holding Hendersonville up as an example to follow? Really? The town whose “Historic Downtown” consists of six blocks of a single street, and whose residents really don’t give a tear how many thousands of acres of orchards and forests get torn up for subdivisions in the county so long as those six blocks remain untouched? The last time I checked, Henderson County loses an average of three acres of land a day to sprawl, and for the longest time their downtown consisted of nothing but restaurants, antique shops, and realtors all with their hands in the wallets of bitter old Floridians. At present, Asheville is still a little better than that, and I’d prefer to keep it that way.

  6. clayton moore

    The metermaids are vampires. I got a ticket for parking with my bumper 3 inches over the front line at a former driveway that no longer goes anywhere. There was NO parking space or meter where my bumper was. I should’ve called Jack Reacher…he would have gotten my quarter from the meter to prove I paid! The tool behind me was over the line, too and he got a ticket as well. I now put garlic and wooden stakes on my hood and the metermaid vampires wont touch my car now. Ha Ha!
    My one ticket.10 bucks. I did not return for a year so at least there was one extra space for the tourons.

  7. clayton moore

    Part 2.
    I asked a metermaid as she was writing a ticket for an illegally parked VW if she was going to note on the ticket that the license plate was expired. Nope..not her job. I said if the tag is expired their insurance and car tax may be unpaid, too. Nope…not her job. C’mon vampires! Do yerr dooty!

      • peter moss

        I got bumped in the rear bumper by a UNCAy! student driving on Merry-Man Ave. last week.
        I thought it would be a good idea to stop for the red light.
        Stoooodent was texting (image that!).
        Broke the tail lights, too.
        Tag on stoodent’s Honda civic was expired by 4 months and
        the genius had no insurance either.
        Guess who pays for the damage to my auto?
        My insurance company uninsured motorist coverage pays for some the $1200 dent and lights repair cost but I pay the 1st $500 deductible.
        So, I agree. Write up the expired tag dolts!
        WTF applies to the cops not getting these irresponsible saps off the road.

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