With help from a REALTOR® Party Smart Growth Grant, the Orlando Regional REALTOR® Association was able to bring a panel of experts to Oviedo, Florida to explain the compelling economic modeling that informed a mandate for higher-density development. Five years previously, the same kind of sophisticated projections were made in Traverse City, Michigan, where the report is still being used to push for higher density development to maximize tax revenue and housing at every price level.
Passions were high, and the Orlando Regional REALTOR® Association had been tipped-off by social media to expect protesters at the public meeting it was hosting. Duly warned, they hired security, but in fact, the REALTORS® welcomed the opposition: it meant a chance to reach people who were misunderstanding the data behind a recent economic report recommending higher-density development in the small central Florida city of Oviedo. The REALTORS® were sponsoring the meeting to clarify and defend the report and its recommendations prior to the City Council’s consideration of a new comprehensive plan. Thanks to the expertise and level-headed sensitivity of the team they brought in to face the music, the contentious affair became a highly productive community conversation. A savvy mayor supported the effort, and a Smart Growth Grant from the REALTOR® Party made it possible.
The report in question had been prepared by Urban3, an innovative Asheville, North Carolina-based 3D economic-modeling firm headed by Joe Minicozzi. It analyzed Oviedo’s projected revenue and expense data at a granular level,and created compelling images representing the current reality and projected outcomes. The analysis showed that not only was the city collecting about half the funds necessary to support its obligations to its residents, but also revealed disparities in geo-specific infrastructure spending across the jurisdiction. As Candy Cole, Executive Director of the Orlando Regional REALTOR® Association’s Foundation, observes, “There’s only so much land, and we clearly need to be smarter about how we’re using it.” That said, she notes that development is a delicate topic, and has to be treated with grace, especially by the REALTORS®, who are in the business of defending private property rights. “We know that Smart Growth principles create opportunity for homeownership and economic growth, but a lot of people were taking this personally. The resistance was reactionary and coming from a place of misinformation. The Smart Growth Grant gave us a way to bring the authors of the Urban3 report back to town, together with Charles Marohn, founder of the Strong Towns movement, to address the concerns.”
Oviedo Mayor Megan Sladek is a REALTOR®, herself, and understands the complexities of the issues and the stakes involved. Her office had turned to the REALTORS for help supporting the report, and she, in turn, helped to promote the two-hour workshop. Cole also invited land planners from all over Florida to capitalize on the presence of this team of experts. The conflict, predictably, was between local NIMBYs, YIMBYs, and yes, BANANAS (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone.) “People were frustrated, and taking it personally,” explains Cole. They felt that their particular property was being targeted. Joe Minicozzi diffused that tension masterfully, by removing the personal-factor from the equation, and demonstrating his concepts using other cities as examples. It went from ‘This is what you must do,’ to ‘This is how working together for the common good has worked elsewhere,’” she says, adding that Minicozzi took questions for an extra ninety minutes, making sure no concern went unanswered.
Cole’s favorite example of how the meeting turned around is that of an angry protester railing about an empty shopping mall in Oviedo and demanding to know why it wasn’t a priority for re-development, if residential zoning was in the crosshairs. As it turns out, the developer from the derelict mall was also present. “He was just as frustrated! He said, ‘You wouldn’t believe the great plans we have that are impossible because of xyz zoning issues!’ And right there in the meeting, with planning officials present and national experts at the table, we got a conversation started about solutions.”
When Mayor Sladek eventually relayed the good news that the City Council had passed the new planning documents, she credited the public education that the REALTORS® had provided:
Last night, we adopted our final Comp Plan and ZERO people spoke in opposition to the increased density that makes possible. And it’s not because people didn’t know it was on the agenda. The meeting had at least 100 people in attendance, they just were not upset by the direction Council moved after holding that meeting and all the others.
I believe that level of public complacency at the final public hearing was made possible by the slightly spicy meeting that helped introduce people to the concept of urban density subsidizing residential.
While most people don’t like growth or density, last night’s meeting (which brought people out in droves over a proposed tax hike), proves people in Oviedo prefer growth/density over taxes. It has been an interesting journey, helping our community get to a place where the level of understanding is high enough that we can have a productive conversation about these hard topics.
Speaking of not liking growth or density, that’s the attitude that the Aspire North REALTORS® in Traverse City, Michigan, has also increasingly encountered in the five years since it supported an in-depth study by Urban3 that revealed where housing density could be increased to meet demand and maximize tax revenue. Despite the clear data presented by the report, attempts to increase the 65’ building height limit within city limits have met with resistance, and developers have been thwarted from building even high-end mixed-use projects. CEO Kim Pontius explains that he is in the process of applying for a Housing Opportunity Grant to remind the voting public of the barriers that stand in the way of solving infrastructure deficiencies from the housing shortage to desperately needed storm sewer repair. “We need to be having informative conversations so that people understand the serious implications of maintaining the status quo. We’re looking forward to bringing Joe Minicozzi’s report back into the spotlight as an excellent source of proven facts, recommendations, and solutions.”
To learn more about how the Orlando Regional REALTOR® Association is working to bring communities around on the concept of Smart Growth, contact Candy Cole, Executive Director of its Foundation, at CandyC@orlandorealtors.org or 407.513.7271. For a five-year perspective on the value of 3D economic modeling, contact Kimberly Pontius, CEO of Aspire North REALTORS®, at firstname.lastname@example.org.