The city of Columbia, Missouri, home to the state university’s flagship campus, has been dealing with complex downtown housing issues for years. The university is not interested in building more student housing, explains Brian Toohey, Chief Executive Officer of the Columbia Board of REALTORS® (CBOR). This created a significant private housing market, and a deep divide between those who want to preserve the downtown environment as it was and citizens who favor a more progressive approach for the city’s growth. When it came time to update the municipal zoning code, there was a strong move to make it more restrictive, and counter to the mixed-use, higher-density models that have proven successful elsewhere. As the current City Council was not particularly “real estate-friendly,” CBOR turned to the REALTOR® Party for help.
Through the Land Use Initiative, CBOR submitted an early draft of the revised code, which included restrictive temporary zoning rules, for review by Robinson & Cole, the law firm retained by the National Association of REALTORS® for nationwide land use issues. Toohey points out that applying for the review could not have been easier, and that the expertise that Robinson & Cole provides is invaluable. “They send an executive summary and background information, and a list of items and recommendations to consider,” he says.
The analysis provided by Robinson & Cole gave CBOR a basis for forming a strong community coalition, including the Columbia Apartment Association, the Downtown Community Improvement District, the Columbia Missouri Chamber of Commerce and the Central Missouri Development Council. Armed with the legal review, the REALTORS® took the lead in creating talking points for each organization to use when communicating with the media and speaking before the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council, and provided guidance for coalition members drafting letters to the city detailing their opposition to the zoning changes. Faced with the analysis of Robinson & Cole as presented by the coalition, the Planning and Zoning Commission modified the temporary zoning rules.
This success allowed CBOR to build an even stronger coalition when a subsequent draft of the code was released, and raised further concerns.
Again, Robinson & Cole came through. For example, explains Toohey, the second review revealed documentation of a Supreme Court ruling regarding signage that was relevant to Columbia’s zoning draft. When CBOR had the opportunity to meet with the consultants who were drafting the zoning code for the city, Toohey asked if they were aware of the case. “They said yes, they did know,” he reports, “but they were amazed that we knew!”
“Our input to the zoning review process has been respected and effective,” says Toohey. The code won’t be finalized until some time after the mayoral election Spring 2016, he notes, but CBOR is pleased with the significant changes that have been made to the draft, which will protect property rights and benefit the development of the city moving forward. He adds that he’d been making a push within his board to get more involved in local government and advocacy issues, but that there’d been a polite reluctance to ‘step on any toes.” “This complicated zoning struggle that we’ve engaged in has demonstrated the very real need to be involved. And now we know, first hand, the power of the REALTOR® Party.”
To learn more about how the Columbia Board of REALTORS® has been taking the lead on protecting downtown property rights, contact Chief Executive Officer Brian Toohey, email@example.com or 573.446.2408.
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