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anel endorses The Ellington, 23-story hotel, condominium

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8/2/2007 - Panel endorses The Ellington, 23-story hotel, condominium
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ASHEVILLE - The city Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday unanimously endorsed The Ellington hotel and condominium proposed for Biltmore Avenue after praising its design and expected effects on downtown.

Commission members said they are impressed by developers' commitment to devote a percentage of real estate sales to affordable housing and said they see the 23-story building's height - a main point of debate during the public hearing before the vote - as reasonable in that location.

"What did people think about the Battery Park building when it was being built? That's a big building," said commission member Darryl Hart. "What about the Jackson Building? ... Things change."

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"I don't think there's a soul in the room that can say (The Ellington design) is ugly," said member David Young. "Sure this building is bigger ... than the buildings around it, but are we going to say we're not going to build anything but two-story buildings?"

The vote by the seven-member commission is not binding on City Council, which is likely to vote the project up or down in a few weeks. But the commission's backing and the endorsement of The Ellington design by the Downtown Commission last month on a 7-1 vote can't hurt the project's chances before City Council.

The Ellington would be among downtown's tallest structures and contain 125 hotel rooms and 44 to 52 condominium units.

Several opponents in a crowd of about 40 at Wednesday's hearing said it would tower over nearby buildings and further snarl traffic on Biltmore Avenue.

"It's overwhelming for the site. It's entirely too big," said Robert Malkin. He called The Ellington "a King Kong building."

Julie Brandt said the building would be "definitely out of scale" and warned that it would "gentrify downtown Asheville."

A traffic study done for the project said its effects on movement in the area would be within city guidelines. Critics disagreed.

"I cannot believe for a second that that would not cause tremendous problems. I don't care what the traffic impact analysis says," said City Council candidate Elaine Lite.

But downtown resident Kim MacQueen said the central business district is a logical place for buildings like The Ellington.

"Thoughtful, dense growth in downtown Asheville ... is our main weapon against sprawl," she said.

She added that she believes it will boost economic activity.

"Density downtown helps locally owned business by putting more feet on the street. ... People who stay downtown tend to shop downtown."

Pamela Myers, executive director for the Asheville Art Museum, said developers' commitment to the arts and affordable housing "shows some leadership" and exceeds what local government does in some cases.

Mark Barrett

Citizen-Times

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