The city of Brookings, South Dakota, is home to the largest university in the state, as well as the headquarters of several robust industrial firms and agricultural operations. But as any one of the 58 members of the East Central South Dakota REALTORS® (ECSDR) can tell you, the growth that Brookings is enjoying is tempered by a housing crisis and heightened by issues ranging from geological obstacles to student demand to millennial preferences. Using a $15,000 Smart Growth Action Grant from the REALTOR® Party, the board brought in a planning expert to help guide the community in governing its own growth with a wise eye to the future.
RaeAnn Thompson, ECSDR’s Association Executive, explains that housing has long been at the forefront of many minds in Brookings. The city’s mayor had recently established an Affordable Housing Task Force and a Comprehensive Master Plan Advisory Committee, both of which have REALTORS® on board. “Naturally, REALTORS® are deeply invested in this because it directly affects their livelihood. But they are also, by definition, people who are involved and invested in their communities and want to see them thrive and prosper,” says Thompson. When she began noticing articles on Smart Growth development in the National Association of REALTORS®’ On Common Ground magazine and relevant Success Stories posted on the REALTOR® Action Center, she reached out to those members about sponsoring a study that would advance the work of both those advisory groups.
Thompson called the Community & Political Affairs division at NAR, and was guided through the whole grant application process. ECSDR used its Smart Growth Action Grant, which it matched by 10%, to commission a study from Janet Tharp, a Dallas-based urban and regional planner, who traveled twice to Brookings for the project. Her first trip, in June, was an information-gathering mission, on which she toured the city by car and met with numerous city stakeholders, including the ECSDR Board of Directors; city and county elected and appointed officials; representatives from the University, the school board, the local utility companies, and affordable housing interest groups; and builders, developers and business advocates. Thompson was able to arrange these encounters easily. “Everyone was more than receptive to the idea, and agreed that the timing was perfect. The housing situation really is a top priority here,” she says.
When Tharp returned in August, she presented a report that shed light on numerous issues and challenges that Brookings is facing, and offered examples of possible solutions that she’d seen succeed elsewhere. “She pointed out the need for what she called ‘missing middle homes,’” notes Thompson, referring to more compact housing arrangements that are in short supply in Brookings, such as townhomes, cottages and courtyard homes. The suggestion of an architectural design contest was well received, she adds, and developers are investigating the concept of ‘tiny homes.’ The report also emphasized the need to capitalize on the city’s distinctive downtown district, and create more mixed-use development there to attract millennials who value walkability.
From conversations with her members who serve on the city’s Comprehensive Master Plan Advisory Committee and the Affordable Housing Task Force, Thompson knows that the study is a great asset to Brookings at a critical point in its evolution. At the meeting where the report was presented, the mayor recognized the vision and support of the REALTORS®.
“When we shared our story at a recent state meeting, there was a lot of interest among my fellow AEs,” says Thompson. “We are the first board in South Dakota to receive a Smart Growth Action Grant at this level, and we’re very proud that the REALTOR® Party has enabled us to provide this kind of leadership in our community.”
To learn more about how the REALTORS® of East Central South Dakota are helping the city of Brookings to achieve Smart Growth, contact Association Executive RaeAnn Thompson, at contact@ECSDR.com or 605-695-8495.