Don’t give up downtown’s historic vistas

I want to share with my community my feedback to the Downtown Master Plan Commission: Allowing 27-story buildings would be obscene—and the death of Asheville’s uniqueness. A background of surrounding mountains, cloud formations and sunsets, the sense of spaciousness and light and the human scale are what make downtown unique and friendly. The BB&T building is an embarrassment to downtown at only 18 stories (and a horrible backdrop to the heart of our civic space, Pack Square). Let The Ellington stand (if we must!) as the signature tall building. I’d rather it were not [to be] there—or at least [that it] had been planned to be more of a community resource with low-cost housing in it, rather than as the elitist place it’s planned to be. But at least it is attractive and would probably become a symbol of Asheville.

But more tall buildings, even taller at 27 stories, would ruin downtown, making Asheville just another city rather than this extraordinary mecca that somehow escaped the blight of the building cancer decades ago. Who knows? Maybe a Depression will save us again!

And why are you ignoring the lessons of history? I’m certain people thought it was a terrible travesty to not be able to tear down those old-fashioned buildings and put chic skyscrapers up in their places (which everyone else was doing). Asheville would be nothing special now if they’d done that. What you are proposing now (27-story buildings) is flying in the face of the spirit of this place and will leave an Asheville for the future that is nothing special.

Please wake up, before it’s too late! No matter how setbacks etc. would mediate the effects, downtown would lose vistas, sunlight and the sense [it offers] of being in a small town where people are friendly. Looking at the new buildings on College near Pritchard Park and that horrible thing they are building on the old Chamber of Commerce site, I’d recommend 10 or 11 stories as the limit for downtown, still with setbacks etc.

Let’s make this city nice for the people who live here and pay for our government. Friendly people, a sense of community and beautiful vistas are what attract tourists.

— Amina Spengler

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9 thoughts on “Don’t give up downtown’s historic vistas

  1. Mysterylogger

    Build into the stratosphere, build, build, and build some more. After Asheville already screwed up nothing really matters what they save, they have already gutted the cities soul and heart along time ago.

    Up is better then out . . . .

  2. hauntedheadnc

    As any true Ashevillian will tell you, to build a tall building in Asheville is to invite the very torments of hell itself to rain down upon us all.

    And for good reason. You need only read the newspapers from the 1930’s to hear all you’ll ever need to about how those new monstrosities such as the Jackson Building and the courthouse, to say nothing of the Battery Park Hotel, Hotel George Vanderbilt, and the Hotel Asheville-Biltmore, were terrorizing citizens on a near nightly basis. And let’s not forget back in the 1970’s when police uncovered a plot by the BB&T;Building to go on a killing spree and stopped it just in time.

    Now, sarcasm aside, I don’t imagine there will be much to fret about in the highrise department, even once the economy gets back on its feet. Asheville’s government has decided that it prefers sprawl to urban development and that any urban development it does allow must be ugly and short. Hence, we get buildings such as 21 Battery Park and the Griffin Apartments.

    What a brave new city we’re building! Land costs so much downtown that by capping heights, we’re raising prices, because if a developer does decide to build something, as miserable of a process as it is in Asheville now, he will recoup his investment and the only way to do that is to build expensive retail spaces and expensive condominiums. The Griffin Apartments is the only affordable housing to have been built lately and it’s only affordable because it’s subsidized. In the end, we’ll surely get to continue living the lie that Asheville is not a considerable urban hub, but we’ll be pricing ourselves right out, and inviting the Atlanta weekenders right in.

    Why in God’s name can nobody see that? Build up, require affordable housing and decent architecture in every new project, and let Asheville grow, for Christ’s sake. It’s not small as it is, so quit trying to make it into something it isn’t — your quaint little fantasy. If you want that, I recommend Mars Hill.

    …And don’t even get me started on this whole load of crap about people going downtown solely to see the mountains. They go downtown for downtown. If they want mountains, they go up on the Parkway like a normal person.

  3. Rilee

    Haunted Head, your comments don’t really indicate a good grasp of financial or environmental reality, I’m afraid. You criticize the sprawl that results from building out and not up, yet you urge people to “go up on the Parkway like a normal person” where of course they are pumping out hydrocarbon emissions.
    Then also that criticism doesn’t take into account that the high-rises developers want to put up are for hotels, not for residences, and therefor do nothing to combat sprawl. High-rises are also not built for reasonably priced residential purposes, because building a high-rise is too expensive for a developer to justify for any purpose that doesn’t yield very high returns.
    Your criticism also fails to address the fact that in fact many people who live here do enjoy the fact that they can be enjoying a downtown experience but still look up and enjoy the views, too. There have been many times over the years where I’ve been downtown and heard someone say something admiring about the view they were seeing. If too many high-rise hotels go up, the only people who will enjoy the views are the rich who are able to pay the premium rents for the rooms there. Another consideration is the low-income elderly and handicapped people who live in the Vanderbilt and the Battery Park apartments, whose enjoyment of the sunshine and views would be eclipsed so that out-of-towners could enjoy them instead. This would truly be an example of development that was oriented toward the desires of visitors at the expense of the needs of local residents.
    Amina, I agree about the building at the former COC site – the design is horrible, and the display in their leasing office in the Grove Arcade bears that opinion out. My question would be, why couldn’t they at least have come up with a design more in keeping with the surrounding architecture? And many people who, like myself, live close by have been left wondering if the approval of the design had something to do with the fact that the property was owned by the COC! It wouldn’t surprise me.

  4. hauntedheadnc

    Rilee, you failed to notice my suggestions toward getting some affordability into those highrises. I also find it interesting that you say we should not allow tall buildings so that the interests of the residents of two tall buildings would be better served.

    I also find it interesting that you are apparently advocating that nobody use the Parkway because doing so might involve driving on it. Interesting approach. We should ban construction downtown, you seem to say, because it would keep tourists and residents off the Parkway because then they can see the mountains from downtown. Call it crazy, but it would seem to me that we would do more for the environment by allowing more people to live and work downtown where they could walk around to all the parts of their daily lives — their jobs, their stores, their churches, their restaurants, and more. This as opposed to making it a torture to attempt to build anything downtown, as we do now, which forces developers and development into the county. Don’t you think all that suburban development isn’t pumping out the hydrocarbons?

    And so. If we we can’t build downtown, what exactly do you suggest? How does a developer build a short building on an expensive piece of downtown property and make it affordable? How does one build a nice little eco-village commune rather than some nasty tall building, and make it affordable? Do tell.

  5. Rilee

    HH, I do support the building of more affordable housing downtown, and if it can be done in multi-story format, I personally would be all for it, if it is done with attention not only to maximizing density but to preserving the quality of downtown’s unique character. I merely observe that high-rises might well not appeal to developers of low-income housing.
    Besides that, I will also suggest that you take a look at the draft Downtown Master Plan. It does in fact propose that there should be sections of downtown which are more village-like, among its many other proposals.
    I would also suggest that you don’t assume that I agree with everything that the writer of the above letter said, because in fact I don’t. I don’t actually think, for example, that there should be 10-11 story height limits, rather, in line with the draft Master Plan, I would be more inclined to require developers of taller buildings to create structures whose forms are designed to minimize their shadowing effect – both on other structures and on regular users of downtown spaces – to preserve “solar access”.
    Besides the “solar access” issue, the plan proposes that newer structures be in harmony with the historic structures surrounding them. The plan proposes that development be sustainable on a lot of different levels; besides the obvious environmental level, there is additionally the issue of whether new development is consistent with the attributes of Asheville which made it attractive to visitors in the first place. To use the exact phrase used by the authors, not to let indiscriminate development “kill the goose that laid the golden egg”. I hope we could all get behind that sentiment. The story has after all been repeated in many towns in the US (as well as, no doubt, in other countries) of developers coming into an attractive area and just throwing up whatever kinds of structures would seem to maximize profit in the most immediate sense, and over and over the story ends, or hits a snag at least, with the towns in question losing the very characteristics that initially made them attractive to visitors. The draft plan makes mention of some towns and cities where growth was addressed with a more concerted overview applied to new construction, and that these municipalities have found growth to be a much more positive experience.
    Don’t take my word for it, though, read the actual draft! You can find it at
    Finally, I have a question for you: do you live downtown? If not, what part of town do you live in? I do suggest, both to you and to Amina Spengler, that if you’re concerned, that you get involved, and come to various meetings on these issues. But I also suggest that if you’re not a downtown resident, or a merchant, that at first you just listen to what residents and merchants have to say. Downtown residents and merchants represent a wide spectrum of interests, and they don’t all want the same things of course – but all have valid perspectives. None of us could be here without the presence of the others – we all need each other. The desires of non-downtown Asheville residents and out-of-town visitors are also valid, and should be taken into account as well, but those whose lives are the most profoundly impacted by decisions made about downtown growth and development need to be given particular weight. I live downtown, and so of course it is particularly important to me, but even so, I want to hear the perspectives of different parties affected as well. See ya at the next meeting?

  6. travelah

    To be blunt, if you can’t afford to live in Asheville, don’t move here and if you moved here thinking you could afford to live here while creating a dirty little stinking nirvana, move away.
    The people who will fuel downtown development or any other part of this community will be those with money to invest earning a decent return on that investment. That means condos and high rents for the privilege of living in Asheville’s art deco downtown. Get used to it. We are just like everybody else except we have allowed more bums and bum-thought to infiltrate the landscape.

  7. Rilee

    OMG, bum-thought has infiltrated our landscape. Aiiiieeee! Oh no, do you think it will damage the views from the high rises?

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