Corey Atkins on moving Asheville towards YIMBYISM

March 19, 2019

I recently attended the City Council Board retreat, which included discussion and updates from their overall Strategic Operating Plan. If you have never read the Strategic Operating Plan, I would encourage you to review it here: The Plan contains 8 Focus Areas, broken down into 33 Goals or Priorities.

Needless to say, this plan is quite ambitious. It contains many admirable goals and objectives. Most are attainable in a reasonable period of time too. Some are not. While Council shifted foci around during the Friday retreat from goal to goal, the overwhelming theme was that the City has limited resources and cannot do everything at once. It was repeatedly iterated from council members that no one priority is being ignored over the others; they want to accomplish them all, but due to lack of financial capabilities, not everything can be worked on at once.

Two things stand out from this meeting and the overall City Strategic goals. First, while fully aware that strategic plans are not meant to be tactical, there was little talk, if any, about core services. Cities should provide safety, water and infrastructure first and foremost. Striving for far-reaching goals is great, but should never take the place of basic service needs of a citizenry. Let’s refocus on those needs first. Needs like roads, sidewalks, clean water and police/fire protection have to be shored up before we move on to other wants. Especially in a revenue crunch.

Secondly, despite having sections for “Thriving Local Economy” and “A Financially Resilient City,” the Strategic Plan offers little to no mention of expanding the tax base through solid economic development. We cannot complain about lack of funding and need for more housing if we keep saying NO to everything. Instead, if we are having revenue issues, without a major windfall from outside sources, we must grow our tax base. The City mainly gets its General Fund monies via property taxes. Housing (as vital as it is) and Residential projects cannot pay the freight alone. We must continue efforts that redevelop abandoned or dormant properties, as well as attract and expand commercial and industrial projects within the City limits to add needed growth to the coffers.

How do we ensure this smart growth occurs? By saying Yes, In My Back Yard (YIMBY), not No, or practicing NIMBYism. By taking politics out of development projects, adhering to predictable standards reflective of City values, and empowering staff to implement those standards excepting reasonable legal or logistical obstacles.  The Chamber, County and City partner to advance our shared objectives for economic diversification, a strong and sustainable tax base and economic mobility for all.   Taken together, these methods will not only secure a stronger financial footing for the future of the City, but advance many of the important goals set forth by this Council and community.

— Corey Atkins, VP of Public Policy

Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce