When a Supreme Court decision denied the constitutionality of a sign ordinance in Gilbert, Arizona, two years ago, a number of other municipalities throughout the country began nervously reviewing their own. In a climate in which some cities were even receiving threatening letters from the Goldwater Institute over the issue, says Suzanne Brown, Director of Community & Government Affairs for the Scottsdale Area Association of REALTORS® (SAAR), the city of Scottsdale hurriedly drafted a new one-size-fits-all ordinance that lumped signs for real estate listings in together with those advertising yard sales and political campaigns. With a well-timed Call for Action, and a Land Use Initiative review provided by the REALTOR® Party, the REALTORS® helped the city see reason.
The reactive draft proposed by the city’s Planning and Zoning department simply didn’t work for the real estate industry, explains SAAR CEO Rebecca Grossman. For one thing, it sought to restrict the number of post-and-panel sign ‘occurrences’ and ‘activities’ permitted at any given property in a calendar year; it would also have imposed problematic setback requirements for all yard signs. “Here in Scottsdale, where many of our structures were built right up along the original dirt roads, a 15′-setback from the curb would put ‘For Sale’ signs in many people’s living rooms!” she points out.
Although the threat didn’t show up on the radar of most Scottsdale citizens, or even that of City Council members, Grossman notes that, “When we hear the City Council say, ‘We’re looking at sign ordinances,’ REALTORS® need to pay attention. We needed to be part of the process, and, in fact, we needed to be insistent about it.”
The REALTORS® reviewed the first draft of the ordinance, and then requested revisions. The City Council met them half-way. Refusing to budge any further, the council added the slightly revised language to an upcoming agenda for a vote. SAAR immediately issued a Call for Action to its 8,000 members; the nearly 500 resulting letters got the attention of the City Council. The proposal was pulled from the agenda and returned to the Planning and Zoning department for further review. Followed by council members and city staff reaching out to the REALTORS® to discuss the ongoing concerns.
Within days, SAAR had applied for and received a REALTOR® Party Land Use Initiative Grant, and within about two weeks, the analysis provided by Robinson & Cole, the firm retained by NAR to review land use legislation, became a key resource as the city reconsidered the draft ordinance. The process had evolved into a productive collaboration, explains Grossman, in which the REALTORS®‘ contribution was clearly valued by the city. “The Robinson & Cole report, citing existing case law protecting signage, clearly substantiated the REALTORS®‘ position. At the end of the day, we were able to give the city the information it needed to protect homeownership rights.” The analysis was also a powerful defense of the broader Scottsdale economy, adds Brown: “We received grateful feedback from the city’s own Economic Development department, which conceded that it hadn’t understood the full impact of the proposed ordinance on local economic growth.”
Within short order, a new ordinance governing temporary signs was passed unanimously by the Scottsdale City Council, reflecting all that the REALTORS® had requested. Grossman and Brown can’t say enough about the level of service that SAAR received from the team at the REALTOR® Party and at Robinson & Cole. “The respect that a report like this commands is incredible,” says Brown, “and I don’t know how else a local association would be able to gain this kind of expertise, especially within the tight time frames we often face. In Arizona, in particular, this issue is bound to be coming up in other municipalities. With this REALTOR® Party resource available, they have nothing to fear.”
To learn more about how the Scottsdale Area Association of REALTORS® is working with its municipal government to guide the best possible legislation for real estate professionals, the community, and the local economy, contact CEO Rebecca Grossman or Suzanne Brown, Director of Community & Government Affairs, at 480-945-2651.