Reshaping Downtown Landscapes Using Infill Developments

Feb 19 2024

By: Peter Y. Alberice, NCARB

With a population of 10.8 million people, North Carolina holds the ninth place spot for most populous state in the country. The state has experienced massive growth over the past five years, and as the state population continues to increase, the need for more housing is evident.  

Cities across the state are looking for creative solutions to find more space for housing and other amenities while adhering to their sustainability goals, zoning laws, and creating cities that are more pedestrian friendly. One solution is to create more infill mixed-use developments.  

What is an Infill Development?

Infill developments are a rededication of land, typically vacant land or land that has previously been developed in an urban area for new construction. Usually, an infill development covers one or more lots in a downtown setting and the project is built out to the sidewalk and adjoining property lines.  

How Can Infill Developments Help Improve the Community?  

Infill developments are helping to revitalize cities all over the country. Choosing to build on an infill site as opposed to a new site can bring a variety of benefits to the community including:  

  • Sustainability – Building on an existing site is an eco-friendly alternative to building on a new or greenfield site because it conserves land and reduces the need for additional infrastructure resources such as water, sewer, and road extensions.  

  • Walkability – Having more resources within walking distance from residential buildings and workplaces means that people will be less dependent on cars for transportation.  

  • Restores Economic Vitality – Building a new, infill development can increase property values and restore economic vitality to a community by bringing in new businesses and new community members. Infill developments are more successful if there are 24 hour a day activities with a combination of ground floor retail, office, and residential uses within the same building. 

  • Preservation – If an existing building on the site is suitable for renovation or restoration, it can help preserve the history of the area and bring new life to an existing space.  

How Can Infill Developments Help Reshape Downtown Landscapes? 

For cities that have difficulties expanding outward, such as Asheville, North Carolina, infill developments are the best way to grow downtown without building outside of city limits. Creating mixed-use infill developments helps cities achieve their goals of not only providing more housing inside their limits, but also allows more businesses to start up or relocate to the area.

Project Highlight: 45 Asheland Avenue 

Located half a block from Patton Avenue on the South Slope, 45 Asheland offers modern condominium living in downtown Asheville.

Located half a block from Patton Avenue on the South Slope, 45 Asheland offers modern condominium living in downtown Asheville. This seven-story building offers a mixture of 38 one-, two-, and three-bedroom residences. Residents of 45 Asheland enjoy a variety of amenities including secure and deeded parking, spacious balconies overlooking downtown and the Blue Ridge Mountains, storage spaces, and luxurious appointments.  

Like most mixed-use and infill developments, the process of designing 45 Asheland presented several common challenges, including:  

1. Designing to Accommodate a Tight Site.  

45 Asheland is approximately 75,850 square feet of total building area, on a site that is a fourth of an acre of land. This tight site is surrounded by many local businesses and community facilities ranging from offices to breweries, the city bus station, and the Grove Street Community Center.  

Working in densely populated areas can present many unique challenges for designers and proper planning and clear communication throughout the design and construction process is critical for success.  

45 Asheland is a mixed-use, multifamily infill development in downtown Asheville. This image shows an aerial of the building while under construction.

2. Designing the Building to Meet Requirements of Pedestrian Friendly Infrastructure.  

45 Asheland was designed to help the City of Asheville meet its goals of creating a pedestrian friendly downtown.  

The key to making a mixed-use building pedestrian friendly is to have an activated space or spaces at the sidewalk level. These spaces can be retail space, restaurants, coffee shops, or any space that brings in continuous pedestrian traffic. The advantage of creating these types of buildings for developers, cities, and businesses is that the building will provide 24/7 activity, meaning that the site will be constantly generating more activity than a single-use space.  

3. Meeting Zoning Requirements and Gaining City Approval. 

Each municipality has different zoning regulations that govern the overall form and footprint of the building. Zoning and design review guidelines are in place to guide the project’s overall mass, scale, and aesthetics.  

Having worked in Asheville for several decades, our team was extremely familiar with designing structures that would adhere to the City’s zoning requirements. To get 45 Asheland through the zoning and entitlement process smoothly, our team designed the building with Asheville’s unique zoning requirements in mind.  

For example, in Asheville, the largest building that can be built as zoned by right is less than 100,000 gross square feet and the top floor must be less than 100 feet above the main lobby. When designing 45 Asheland, we worked with the developer client to create a concept that met the financial goals of the project and met the city’s zoning requirements.  

4. Minimizing Impacts of Construction for Pedestrians and Surrounding Buildings.  

One of the challenges of developing a building in a tight, urban area is ensuring that construction causes as little disturbance as possible to neighboring properties and traffic patterns. Ongoing communication with the developer, contractors, and design team is necessary to ensure that the construction phase of the project progresses smoothly.  

To cause as minimal disruption as possible during the construction of 45 Asheland, our team closed off one lane of the road until the parking area was complete. Once the parking area was completed, construction equipment was stored inside, and both lanes of the road were operational.  

A protective canopy was built outside of the building to allow pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk to continue flowing and to protect pedestrians from debris. This protective canopy stayed in place throughout the construction phase. 

Construction for 45 Ashland Avenue. We closed off a lane of the adjacent road for construction of this infill development.

5. Creating Community Connections.

Creating connections between the residents of the building, businesses in the building, and the community is essential to the success of a mixed-use building. People are more likely to interact with each other and with the built environment if an area is within walking distance of where they live or work.  

There are many opportunities for users to form connections with their neighbors and fellow community members living, working, and visiting a mixed-use development. Residents of the building are looking for amenities like fitness centers, pools, coworking spaces, and outdoor patios to entertain guests and to connect with their neighbors. Having a variety of different commercial spaces on the first floor and placing a building within walking distance of other businesses can encourage people to get out and explore the area they live in. 

6. Designing a Building that “Fits In” to its Surroundings.

One of the greatest compliments a designer can get is that the building they designed fits in well with the overall aesthetic and culture of the area their building resides in. Of course, this does not mean that all buildings in a city should be designed to look exactly alike.  

The goal of designing any project is to enhance the community it is a part of. When designing 45 Asheland, our design team took inspiration from the surrounding buildings downtown. Since there are few large skyscrapers in Asheville, the building was designed to be seven stories to maintain continuity and to pass through city zoning easier.  

7. Security Between Private Residences and Public Spaces.  

Security is paramount when designing any type of building but is even more important when creating a development with a variety of different uses. Ensuring that private residential spaces and residential amenities are kept safe and separate from public spaces can be achieved in multiple ways. Most commonly, this looks like creating secure, resident parking structures and designing a secure lobby area.  

Together, we create innovative developments that positively reshape downtown landscapes.  

Communities can reap a myriad of benefits from investing in the design of high-quality infill developments in urban areas. Infill developments can help cities reach many of their community goals such as building additional housing, creating pedestrian friendly downtown areas, designing sustainable infrastructure, and increasing economic vitality. For cities that have difficulty expanding outwardly especially, infill developments are key to helping the community grow without stretching their limits.