The Kimpton Arras Hotel, located in downtown Asheville. // Watchdog photo by John Boyle

Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:

Question: I was wondering if anyone has ever written about or explored the possibilities of building “up” versus all the neighborhood sprawls? For example, building hotels downtown that are 20-30 stories instead of five-six? Same thing with condos/apartments. Why not have 20-story buildings around the downtown area instead of continuing to try and find 50-100 acre land to build a sprawling 300-unit apartment complex? Has the city investigated this possibility? Would zoning laws allow it, or would they have to be changed? What is the community pulse on accepting this idea? Seems to me this would get less pushback than the 50-100 acre land grabs that disrupt an entire community.

My answer: I’m no expert on community pulse, but I envision it reading something like one of those signs you see at amusement parks that say, “Sorry, you must be at least 48 inches tall to ride!” Except in this case the sign would say, “Sorry, you cannot build anything taller than 48 inches high here anymore. Actually, you can’t build anything. We’re full. Go back home.”

Real answer: As I reported in an Answer Man column in February, some taller structures are under consideration in Asheville, namely Project Aspire, a partnership among the YMCA of Western North Carolina, First Baptist Church of Asheville, and the Greenville, South Carolina-based real estate development company, Furman Co. They submitted plans to the city for a project that will include a new YMCA, a nine-story hotel and an 18-level residential building.

That hotel size is not particularly unusual, but the 18-story residential building would be. This is not a done deal yet, by the way. The Asheville City Council will vote on conditional approval of the project’s zoning request on Tuesday, Sept. 12.

The city’s Planning and Urban Design staff offered an explainer on the whole “building up” versus “building out” approach, via city spokesperson Kim Miller. First, they noted that “regulations alone do not drive development.

“Finance, labor, cost of materials, markets, etc. are key factors that contribute to development decisions,” they said, noting that zoning codes generally allow for higher building downtown and elsewhere, with downtown height limits ranging from 145 to 265 feet. “And yet, as an example, there is a current project in development for a downtown hotel at 22 Carter St., where the zoning would allow for a 25-story building but the proposal is only six stories (or seven if you count the roof structure).”

Outside the downtown, height restrictions are “quite liberal and projects tend to choose building heights within the limits of wood-frame construction, about four to five stories, which is much more affordable than steel construction,” Planning and Urban Design staff said.

“When a project moves from wood to steel, a project needs to make up the extra cost with a much larger project to generate more long-term income — i.e., a project goes from five to perhaps 12 stories,” they said. “That investment shift is contingent on many financial calculations, most of which are not zoning.”

Generally speaking, downtown tower buildings primarily occur in bigger cities where market forces make them more viable.

“In Asheville, developers are less likely to take advantage of height due to the cost of high-rise construction,” they said. “Even downtown, many developments strive to stay under the high-rise limits.”

Developer Rusty Pulliam, principal and CEO of Pulliam Properties, said typically the builders looking to go higher than 10 stories in the Asheville area are hoteliers, as they really want to be downtown and are usually dealing with a relatively small amount of land. Getting taller projects approved can be a little tougher, Pulliam said, as the city has historically used the height of the 19-story Kimpton Arras Hotel downtown (formerly the BB&T building) as an informal benchmark on height.

This computer-generated rendering shows potential buildings and views of Project Aspire. a downtown development project proposed by the YMCA of Western North Carolina, First Baptist Church of Asheville and a Greenville developer, Furman Co. The project calls for a new YMCA, as well as a new hotel and apartments. The church will remain as it is. // Rendering from city of Asheville Planning & Development

“To your reader’s point, if you want to not have suburban sprawl or sprawl, period, the city’s got to start looking to go up both on hotels and multi-family,” Pulliam said.

Going higher than four or five stories starts incurring more costs, Pulliam said, in part to comply with fire and safety regulations. Once you reach that four-to-five story threshold, builders move from wooden carpentry to steel frames, concrete floors, platform decking, and metal studs.

“Today, in the world we live in, it costs a lot of money to build with concrete and steel,” Pulliam said.

Asheville is not flat, and it has areas that slope away from the downtown that certainly would be suitable for taller buildings that would not become eyesores, Pulliam said. But projects have to make sense financially, and the cost of building materials has skyrocketed, along with interest rates. That makes projects more expensive.

Moving out from the city core, taller apartment buildings remain unlikely, Pulliam said, because developers can build those three, four and five story buildings much cheaper than a tower. Generally, they can find more land, which allows for more spreading out, as well as one other key: surface parking.

Building parking decks is extremely expensive today.

Pulliam mentioned the City Centre office building he and some partners built downtown.

“I can just tell you when I built the City Centre office building in downtown Asheville and finished it in early 2016, a parking stall cost about $13,000 a stall,” Pulliam said. “Today, it’s about $35,000 a stall. It’s almost tripled.”

So, probably don’t look for a lot of really tall apartment buildings going up downtown or in the suburbs real soon.

“Really, for multi-family to work in today’s world with construction costs and interest rates, you’ve got to be out in the ‘burbs,” Pulliam said. “You’ve got to be out where you’ve got some land and you can surface park, for sure.”

Going back to the “community pulse” question, I do feel like elected leaders are becoming more open to more density in building, particularly with housing, and that likely will include taller buildings. I still feel like they’re not going to allow buildings that are significantly taller than that 20-story or so threshold, though, at least not for now.

As you may have heard many a construction opponent say, “We’re not Charlotte!”

Question: Spectrum and Disney are in dispute over charges in their negotiations, and the Disney channels are not available to customers whose Spectrum services have been providing those channels. I just paid my Spectrum bill, and the website says they are in negotiations, and I assume Spectrum is not paying Disney as they have been in the past. But my Spectrum bill does not show credit for the missing channels. Does Spectrum plan to provide their customers with billing adjustments for the missing channels once the negotiations are complete? Or will Spectrum just keep the money they are not paying to Disney during the dispute?

My answer: This reminds me to pay my TV bill before it gets cut off. Whoops, too late! Got a notice Monday…

Real answer: I emailed Spectrum spokesperson Patti Michel about this Monday, and serendipitously, Spectrum and Disney reached an agreement on the dispute, right before Monday Night Football fires up. Michel referred me to the news release about the settlement, but she also addressed the reader’s question.

“Charter will be providing a prorated credit for Disney content that was unavailable during the carriage dispute to eligible Spectrum TV customers who had not received a credit already,” Michel said via email.

The news release on the “transformative, multi-year distribution” agreement states, “As part of the deal, the majority of Disney’s networks and stations will be immediately restored to Spectrum’s video customers.”

Also in effect now, “Spectrum TV will provide its customers widespread access to a more curated lineup of 19 networks from The Walt Disney Company. Spectrum will continue to carry the ABC Owned Television Stations, Disney Channel, FX and the Nat Geo Channel, in addition to the full ESPN network suite. Networks that will no longer be included in Spectrum TV video packages are Baby TV, Disney Junior, Disney XD, Freeform, FXM, FXX, Nat Geo Wild, and Nat Geo Mundo.”

The release also offered these bullet points:

  • In the coming months, the Disney+ Basic ad-supported offering will be provided to customers who purchase the Spectrum TV Select package, as part of a wholesale arrangement.
  • ESPN+ will be provided to Spectrum TV Select Plus subscribers.
  • The ESPN flagship direct-to-consumer service will be made available to Spectrum TV Select subscribers upon launch.
  • Charter will maintain flexibility to offer a range of video packages at varying price points based upon different customers’’s viewing preferences.

Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. Got a question? Send it to John Boyle at or 828-337-0941. To show your support for this vital public service go to

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  1. Mass Timber structures have hit at least 25 stories in the US. World’s tallest mass timber tower opens in Milwaukee. So wood construction is not limited to smaller buildings. I do not know the cost of using these engineered wood products, but might be less than steel and concrete.

  2. Asheville leaders suffer from schizophrenia on the topic of density. They oppose sprawl and density. They profess to want to significantly upgrade the bus system, which requires density at the core to be economically feasible, and they enact policies that discourage downtown residences, eg, unique noise standards for downtown that violate WHO, US and NC standards (pretty hard to violate all 3).

    The sum of all the decisions and lack of a coherent policy is the hodge podge we have today.

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