In Blount County, Tennessee, severe zoning restrictions on housing development were on the table. To keep the County Council from limiting residential density, the East Tennessee REALTORS (formerly Knoxville Area Association of REALTORS) leveraged multiple resources from the REALTOR® Party: Issues Mobilization, Advocacy Everywhere, and the Land Use Initiative program.
The good news was that Blount County had attracted major employers like Amazon and Smith & Wesson to put down stakes – and significant new investment – in eastern Tennessee. What concerned the Knoxville Area Association of REALTORS®, whose area of service includes Blount County, were the extreme new zoning changes that the county was proposing: first, to eliminate planned unit development and cluster development, and then, to elevate required lot sizes, both of which would substantially limit new housing production. Using a three-part spectrum of resources from the REALTOR® Party, the local REALTORS® were able to stave off the threatened restrictions – a major victory for the real estate industry, property owners, and aspiring homebuyers.
As Government Affairs and Policy Director Hancen Sale explains, “The proposed changes would have severely hindered future residential development in one of the fastest-growing counties in the eastern end of Tennessee. Not only was this going to exacerbate the state of housing affordability, but we were very concerned about the property rights implication, as the proposal would effectively devalue people’s land in the areas affected.”
The REALTORS® submitted both proposed ordinances to the REALTOR® Party’s Land Use Initiative (LUI) program for review. The resulting analyses provided the basis for talking points that were used in discussion with the county’s elected officials; the second report, in particular, helped to frame the Issues Mobilization Campaign that the REALTORS® mounted to rally public opposition to the new zoning. A Call for Action through the REALTOR® Party’s Advocacy Everywhere program supported the campaign, just prior to the public hearing. Says Sale, “We targeted our members and consumers who understand the severe housing shortage and how limitations on housing development can impede future economic growth. We also wanted to emphasize how more dense development along corridors can help the county preserve more open space and farmland, aligning with the principles of smart growth.”
The odds were stacked against them, he notes, but allowing restrictive zoning to choke off housing development was not an option. “At first, lots of people said, ‘Don’t even show up; this is going to pass.’ Even with all our effort and advocacy, it was still very close: we ended up locking the vote at 10-10, so I’d say it was a good thing we showed up. We absolutely couldn’t have done it without the resources and support of NAR!” Having defeated the most harmful threat, he adds, the Knoxville REALTORS® are still very much involved in finding better solutions to amend certain problematic aspects of the zoning code.
Although the local REALTORS® had previous experience using the Land Use Initiative program, this was the first time it had tapped into either the Advocacy Everywhere or the Issues Mobilization programs, reports Sale. “The REALTOR® Party resources were incredibly accessible, and the only daunting thing about them was figuring out which ones to use. There is truly a tool to tackle every issue, depending on the circumstances, and the REALTOR® Party team is so responsive and helpful.”
To learn more about how the East Tennessee REALTORS® is defending private property rights and promoting more efficient growth in its region with backing from the REALTOR® Party, contact Hancen Sale, Government Affairs and Policy Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 865.588.6350.