Why not The Ellington?

Forget the shuttle, we need a light rail. The developers of “The Ellington” are handing out proposed dog bones in an ill-strategized attempt to assuage would-be critics [regarding] their new development at 35 Biltmore Ave. According to the Xpress [“Welcome to ‘The Ellington’,” May 30], they are planning on investing in shuttles (energy-efficient, whew—how forward-thinking) that will carry forth the luxury inhabitants from the Biltmore location to the haven of the Grove Park Inn and all its (somewhat-justified) glory. How does that benefit our community, exactly?

We know that tall buildings are on the way. There is great interest in compacting our sprawling growth. Through high-density building, we’ll achieve the density numbers required to actually create a viable mass-transit light rail that would benefit every employee, employer, resident and tourist who desires to set foot in Asheville. If we allow The Ellington’s unique type of development without expecting pay-in on mass transit (benefiting every member of our community, not just the residents of one shuttle-enriched tower), we are undercutting the potential use of our collective resources for the long-term benefit to our citizens, our air quality and our livelihoods.

But let me not stop there in my criticism of this new development.

“Set a new standard of architectural excellence in downtown Asheville.” Those are the words used by the developers of our new skyscraper, The Ellington. This new architectural standard is straight out of Atlanta and Charlotte. And it is ugly, and it is post-modern Art Deco. And proclaiming it’s got vertical lines and a grand entrance does not mean it’s worthy of the unique architectural environment that Asheville contains. A few years ago, I wrote a letter to the Xpress about our need to maintain a unique environment here in Asheville. I posited: Why would somebody come visit if we have the same stores (Pottery Barn); the same food (lobster in the mountains); the same architecture (Atlanta’s Peachtree Boulevard does not need to be re-created here). And development has graffiti-ed our views.

So what can we do? We need to have our City Council institute the following:

1. Clear environmental-development standards for larger-square-footage developments (let’s get platinum-certified green buildings in downtown).

2. Mass-transit development fund (a tax or fee per square footage per year). People who can pay for one of these condos can afford an extra $100 a year for mass transit.

It’s beginning, people, and if enough of us contact every member of our City Council (including the very free-will-oriented Carl Mumpower), we can get them to create clear development standards benefiting our entire community. Why not?  With the profits these developers make, they’ll be able to withdraw to their private estates away from the smog and congestion of New Asheville, and the rest of us will have to walk amongst the clouds—polluted as they’ll be.

— Rupa Vickers

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