After postponing a decision at a previous meeting, the Asheville City Council approved Project Aspire with a 5-2 vote on Tuesday, Sept. 26. The ~10 acres of downtown property is owned by the YMCA of Western North Carolina and First Baptist Church of Asheville, who partnered to develop the proposal with help from Greenville, SC-based developer, the Furman Co.
Let’s unpack what’s on the horizon for this part of downtown’s eastern gateway.
Proposal and conditions
Because this was a conditional zoning request, the plan presented to the City Council is a conceptual one, and exact numbers for units and square footage haven’t yet been established. Before all that is finalized, the project will have to go through further review from city committees and the Planning and Zoning Commission.
The approved conceptual plan includes five new buildings. The first building has four levels for the YMCA (replacing the current YMCA building), six residential levels, and one level for retail. Building two is a 20-story hotel, and building three would have five levels of office space and a retail level. Buildings four and five would be residential spaces — at 19 and seven stories, respectively. Per the City’s Ordinance 5039 approving the project, buildings two and four can’t exceed 265 ft, although the hotel will likely become the tallest building in Asheville.
Project Aspire was approved with around 30 conditions from the City (which, if you want to tackle the technical language, can be found in the permit’s document folder), including:
- A minimum of 20% of the residential units must be designated affordable for at or below 80% of the median income.
- 50% of these units must be reserved for the Housing Authority’s Housing Choice Vouchers.
- Short-term vacation rentals are prohibited.
- Electric vehicle charging spaces in the two parking garages are required.
- The Project must host an outreach program for connection with minority- and women-owned businesses.
The ordinance also addresses the community around the project, stating that the developer must maintain an “ongoing dialogue and collaboration” with the surrounding community, specifying projects and agreements already made with the East End/Valley Street neighborhood.
Tuesday’s City Council meeting included just under two hours of public comment from nearly forty speakers, who both praised the project and its aims and raised objections. The Council also received emails and voicemails from those who could not attend in person. Some praised the project’s affordable housing, health and childcare, green spaces, and focus on growth. Others expressed concern about the proposed height of the largest buildings and the impact on and proximity to the historically Black East End/Valley Street neighborhood as well as a belief that the effect on the community had not fully been investigated.
The City Council meeting can be viewed online, with the discussion of Project Aspire beginning about 34 minutes into the meeting.