Smart Growth

Southeastern Oklahoma REALTORS® Create Gathering Space in Historic Downtown McAlester

On a vacant lot in downtown McAlester, Okla., adjacent to a large historic building and across the street from a bustling coffeehouse/brewery, an attractive new gathering place has sprung up, providing the family-oriented community with a central new green space and priming the area for additional growth and development. It’s the result of a collaboration between the Southeastern Oklahoma Association of REALTORS®, the McAlester Main Street organization, a local property owner – and a whole lot of elbow grease.

‘The Lot on Choctaw’, as it has come to be known, had been unused for as long as anyone could remember, but its location made it a prime candidate for ‘placemaking,’ a concept promoted by the National Main Street Center. Through placemaking, communities create immediate, affordable, and focused improvement projects that help to activate outdoor spaces, bringing people together and demonstrating potential for future development investment. Local REALTOR® Shelly Howard, a member of the 175-member Southeastern Oklahoma Association of REALTORS®, led the project with a $4,000 Placemaking Grant.

Working closely with McAlester Main Street, a partner organization of the National Main Street Center, Howard helped to coordinate the gift of the vacant lot – actually a long-term $1-a-year lease – with the owner of the vacant landmark building next door, who hopes eventually to restore and develop the building; should the owner ever have to terminate the lease, $5,000 will be provided to the town to relocate the new public park.

McAlester Main Street designed the project: a lovely plaza of handsome brickwork and turf, three large shady pergolas, five picnic benches, and numerous large oak planters containing small trees, as well as low maintenance grasses, roses, and other flowers.  REALTORS® provided much of the manpower needed to make the plan a reality. Says Howard, “For each of the five workdays we had, from March through the completion in September, about ten REALTORS® were there, cleaning, painting, building, planting. It was a great turnout, and an impressive volunteer project for a town with a population of about 19,000!” Much of the heavy lifting was contributed free of charge by a contractor who does a lot of work for McAlester Main Street; another company donated the planters. The town will be helping to maintain the Lot on Choctaw, but Howard finds herself stopping by to water and weed periodically. “I can’t help myself – it’s really my baby!” she laughs.

The park was designed to accommodate food trucks along one side for special events, which brings an even more robust and vibrant level of usage to the new space. “Our community is committed to creating more green gathering space – for families, young professionals, older folks – and to attract more business development to the historic downtown area. We’re so proud of what the REALTORS® have been able to contribute to that goal.”

She continues, “When I see Facebook posts by community members who are using the new space to gather for class reunions, it just warms my heart,” says Howard. “This is exactly what we built it for.”

To learn more about how the Southeastern Oklahoma Association of REALTORS® is using REALTOR® Party resources to enhance life in towns like McAlester, contact Shelly Howard, at 918-424-1735.




Read more

Coeur d’Alene REALTORS® Bring a “Storybook Trail” to Growing Community

It must have been like Christmas at the Rathdrum, Idaho City Hall: the local REALTOR® association had decided to make the small but up-and-coming mountain community the beneficiary of a Placemaking project, with support from the REALTOR® Party, as well as considerable volunteer power of its own.

Ali Taylor, association executive of the 1600-member Coeur d’Alene Association of REALTORS®, explains that her board was aware of Placemaking Grants, and wanted to find a way to use one to help a local community where its members live and work. They chose the City of Rathdrum, a growing city that was still small enough to benefit from the impact of a relatively modest project. Taylor and her board president, Amanda Kuespert, sat down with staff from the Rathdrum Parks and Recreation Department, and asked, “What can we do for you?” It didn’t take much brainstorming to land on a dream project with broad appeal: the creation of a storybook trail at the base of Rathdrum Mountain.

Taylor contacted NAR staff and pitched the idea, whose walkability and community gathering features made it a good fit for a Placemaking Grant. “The project’s intent is to provide children and their families, and even schools and daycares, a destination for spending quality time outdoors, away from the television and electronics, while being active and learning at the same time,” says Taylor. She also expects that the StoryWalk will attract visitors from beyond the City of Rathdrum, which could bolster local businesses, and notes that the trail will be a positive asset for REALTORS® to use in marketing the area.

The Placemaking Grant supported the construction of a gentle, unpaved creek-side trail on a wooded 540-acre plot of public land just a few minutes’ drive from the downtown Rathdrum, and several schools. The city provided the mapping and design of the trail, which features 20 cement posts installed along the path, specially designed to hold pages from picture books chosen by the local library. The books, whose pages are protected by plexiglass covers, will be changed four times a year. The ‘reading stations,’ as well as benches and a nine-foot high cement Bigfoot statue marking the trailhead, were funded by the Placemaking grant, together with another $2,500 pledged by the Coeur d’Alene Association of REALTORS®.

About 20 REALTOR® volunteers joined with city volunteers, Boy Scouts, and other community partners to clear the trail site and install the book posts over the course of about five days this summer. “We had a blast working with all of them!” reports Taylor. “It was a great collaboration, and many parties can claim real ownership of the project, which has been a real success.” The city built a parking lot near the trail to improve access, and has committed to taking care of trash removal; it is also providing an on-site ‘camp host’ during the trail’s open season to provide safety and information.

The City of Rathdrum organized a festive ribbon-cutting ceremony with the mayor when the trail was nearly complete towards the end of the summer, and in its inaugural season, the camp host reported 30 to 60 visitors per day. Several signs, one at the trailhead, a smaller one mid-trail, and a plaque on Bigfoot, credit the Coeur d’Alene REALTORS® with making it possible, and Taylor says that they’ve noticed quite a buzz over the city’s new attraction on local social media. “The project has helped us to develop a strong relationship with community members and city officials,” notes Taylor, adding “It’s been much more impactful than simply writing a check.”

To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho are using REALTOR® Party resources to improve the quality of life in their local communities, contact Association Executive Ali Taylor at 208-667-0664. To learn more about Storybook Trails, see Storybook Trails: Where Kids Can Walk and Learn at the Same Time.

Read more

After a Wildfire, Oroville REALTORS® Makes Smart Growth Plans to Rebuild Paradise

The aftermath of the 2018 Camp Fire Wildfire in California

It’s not every day that a community can plan its own redevelopment from scratch. Following last fall’s devastating wildfire that destroyed Paradise, California, however, that’s exactly the silver lining that the town is facing. Paradise, having popped up during the Gold Rush and grown haphazardly over the years, never had a town center or any coherent pattern, and the opportunity to rebuild comes with the advantage of a clean slate; for neighboring communities like Oroville, California, whose population has swelled by 20% as it accommodates refugees from the fire, the need for significant housing expansion is urgent.  Organizations like the Oroville Association of REALTORS® are determined to steer the new growth toward Smart Growth.

Ellie Rosebush, executive of the 131-member Oroville association, was at work when she lost her own house in the November 2018 Camp Fire. She’s quick to credit the California Association of REALTORS®, many local associations, and fellow AEs from across the country with providing her and her community with critical support that got them through the harrowing aftermath. When she began thinking of a topic for the association’s annual “20/20” forum, it made sense to be thinking of Smart Growth. With a REALTOR® Party grant, the Oroville Association was able to bring an expert to the table.

That expert was Kate Meis, executive director of The Local Government Commission, a Sacramento-based nonprofit that helps local governments grow smarter and more sustainably. She presented a compelling case for Smart Growth, with inspiring examples of places that have come back from devastation even stronger.  Speaking to a gathering of 95 attendees interested and involved in the restoration of the area, she cited a town in the Midwest that was destroyed by a tornado and might have folded, rebuilt, instead, and is now a model of fundamental Smart Growth principles. She also described the success of San Francisco’s Embarcadero neighborhood, whose current prosperity as a cultural and economic center was only possible after the disastrous 1989 collapse of an overhead freeway. For neighboring towns like Oroville that are desperate for more housing but don’t have a ‘clean slate,” she emphasized the benefits of in-fill development. The buzz in the room was palpable, says Rosebush, as people saw solutions in the success of other once-devastated areas.

Rosebush explains that her team made a significant effort to bring a ‘who’s who’ of community builders to the forum. “We contacted all the local government groups, City Councils, County Supervisors, and Chamber and Downtown Associations leadership. Many attendees were newcomers to the conversation, which made us especially happy. One group, the Rebuild Paradise Foundation, connected with Kate immediately following her presentation, to invite her to come speak to another group involved in the growth of our community,” she reports. “As ‘The Voice of Real Estate’ here in the Paradise-Oroville area,” she notes, “it’s our responsibility to plant seeds like this, and bring the right people – interested, empowered people – together to hear, learn, discuss, and plan. We’re influencers, keeping the message of Smart Growth front and center in a region where growth is going to happen.”

To learn more about how the Oroville Association of REALTORS® is contributing to the vision of the community that will rise from the ashes of Paradise, contact Association Executive Ellie Rosebush at 530-533-9112. A more in-depth article on the work of the Oroville Association’s efforts can be found in this quarter’s issue of On Common Ground, The REALTOR® Party’s Smart Growth magazine.

Read more

Santa Fe REALTORS® Help Spur Re-Development of Central Urban Corridor

It hasn’t been quick, and it hasn’t been easy, but over the course of the past decade the Santa Fe Association of REALTORS® has spearheaded a movement that will transform an under-developed 1.5-mile stretch of highway that runs through the heart of its city. Using two Smart Growth Action Grants, SFAR has helped spur the Midtown redevelopment with an emphasis on form-based zoning and affordable housing.

The thoroughfare is St. Michael’s Drive, and the segment in question, now a seven-lane highway, is anchored at one end by a hospital and associated medical businesses, and at the other by a now-defunct college campus owned by the city. In between, the corridor features significant excess road capacity in addition to 1960s and 1970s-era commercial-strip development that supports a somewhat marginal business climate. Santa Fe, like many communities across the country, is experiencing a serious workforce housing crunch, says Donna Reynolds, SFAR’s Government Affairs Director, and the St. Michael’s Drive redevelopment project presents a real opportunity to address the shortage.

Ten years ago, when the City of Santa Fe identified the St. Michael’s highway segment for redevelopment, it was only natural that the REALTORS® would see the possibilities for workforce housing and mixed-use development – and act on them; SFAR has long championed programs and initiatives supporting affordable housing throughout the city, notes Reynolds. In 2011, the association secured a $15,000 Smart Growth Action Grant to create a housing study to determine the numbers of affordable rental and for-sale units that could be developed; the study also made policy recommendations to help incentivize housing construction along the corridor.

Reynolds credits the city’s former Asset Development Director, who was well-versed in forward-thinking land use issues, with developing the progressive new Midtown Local Innovation Corridor (LINC) Overlay District. This district, portions of which have since been designated as an Opportunity Zone, embraces a forms-based land use code, encourages multi-family housing, and lifts barriers to development by eliminating city-land development fees; granting certain projects the ability to purchase water rights from the city at cost; and allowing certain types of preferred development projects to bypass the lengthy permitting process with by-right staff approval. “This is a very unusual overlay district, in that it is less, not more, restrictive, and actually removes many of the hurdles that had made development of affordable housing a lengthy, uncertain, and unrewarding process,” says Reynolds. “We were extremely lucky in having an advocate inside City Hall who could make the fiscal case for lighter restrictions, and demonstrated that there was greater economic benefit to be had in promoting development, than revenue from permits could ever bring in.”

A second Smart Growth Action Grant in 2014 helped SFAR to build on the momentum created by the creation of the Midtown LINC. It established an active stakeholder alliance of roughly 120 property owners and businesses who support redevelopment within the St. Michael’s corridor. It also supported a multi-family housing conference that attracted more than 130 attendees, expert speakers, and several major industry sponsors. And finally, it helped to launch a vibrant new website for Midtown LINC, to promote the corridor and its redevelopment.

The City of Santa Fe is actively soliciting development proposals for city-owned land, and is considering establishing similar progressive overlay districts elsewhere in the city. The Midtown LINC is now trying to engage the state of New Mexico, which owns the actual street, to form a partnership with the city to transform the streetscape itself into an attractive bike-and-pedestrian friendly boulevard.

“Our experience here in Santa Fe shows that the REALTOR® Party’s Smart Growth Grants can make a very big difference,” says Reynolds. “They amounted to $30,000 over a decade, and we sure got a lot out of them; in fact, we now have a model that can be replicated in other areas of our city and beyond, so the eventual impact is probably even greater than we realize.  We’re so grateful for the support from the REALTOR® Party that makes this kind of progress possible.”

To learn more about how the Santa Fe Association of REALTORS®  is improving its communities with help from the REALTOR® Party, contact Donna Reynolds, Government Affairs Director, at 505-982-8385.

Read more

Selkirk REALTORS® Protect Quality of Life in Bonners Ferry

The scenic city of Bonners Ferry, Idaho,is taking careful steps to avoid becoming a victim of its own success. To preserve the high quality of life that attracts many visitors and would-be residents, it has spent several years developing a Comprehensive Plan and Transportation Plan that will foster the compact growth of its community, while encouraging walking and biking in and around town. Coming to the table with Smart Growth Action Grants, together with considerable knowledge and understanding of its own, the Selkirk Association of REALTORS® has become an important partner in the creation of a robust pedestrian/bicycle mobility plan for the area.

The plan, explains Stephanie Rief, Association Executive of the 246-member association, is for a pedestrian/bicycle network providing safe and convenient routes that both meet current demand and encourage even more usage. Idaho Smart Growth was the organization commissioned to create the plan, which integrates walking and biking routes into the master plan for roadway transportation. “The walk/bike plan includes routes in all parts of town, connections and safe crossings and access to destinations, as well as clear network branding and directional signage,” says Rief. “This will improve access to active transportation options, and help stimulate economic development related to bike tourism,” she adds. “By increasing the walkability and bike-ability within Bonners Ferry, we are also creating opportunity and purpose for improved housing in the city.”

The Selkirk Association of REALTORS® has actually received three Smart Growth Action Grants for the complex project, one for each of the three preparatory phases of the plan. The first two grants supported initial planning, drafting, and a site visit. This most recent grant helped to fund Phase 3, which included branding, wrap-up, and a kick-off, seeing the plan through initial stages of implementation. Although Rief has completed many grant applications on behalf of her association, she reached out to the state association, Idaho REALTORS®, for guidance applying for the grant: “Because of its importance, and because it was the first large Smart Growth grant our association had applied for, I felt that it would be nice to have that added expertise of their staff grant writer,” she explains. “The application process was actually fairly simple,” she notes, adding that the Selkirk Association of REALTORS® encourages its fellow small associations to take advantage of the REALTOR® Party’s grant programs. “The support of the REALTOR® Party has helped us to build the relationships that build our community!”

REALTOR® members were actively involved at many levels of the plan’s development, from being interviewed about existing conditions, to attending public meetings, to serving on a pedestrian bicycle advisory group.

“Being a part of this project has helped the REALTOR® community establish itself as a trusted, knowledgeable, and caring partner,” says Rief. “It’s allowed us to work more closely with the Mayor of Bonners Ferry, the City Administrator, and the Boundary County Economic Developer. They are all grateful for the help of the National Association of REALTORS®, as well as the Selkirk Association of REALTORS®, towards this amazing accomplishment. REALTORS® are now often involved in city and county economic projects that they wouldn’t necessarily have been invited to engage in before. It has been a turning point for everyone involved and we look forward to future civic collaboration.”

To learn more about how the Selkirk Association of REALTORS® is making sure walking and biking is built into the fabric of the Bonners Ferry community, contact Association Executive Stephanie Rief at 208-265-2227.

Read more

Haywood REALTORS® Supports Smart Growth and Affordable Housing in Waynesville, NC

In some respects, the western North Carolina Town of Waynesville doesn’t have much choice but to embrace Smart Growth: bounded by the Great Smoky and Blue Ridge Mountains, as well as a flood plain, sprawl isn’t necessarily an option. Still, as it updates the regulatory twenty-year Comprehensive Land Use Plan that serves as its critical ‘road map’ for future land use and zoning decisions, Waynesville needed as much public input as possible as it tackles issues from insufficient affordable housing to the contemporary appeal of living close to the business core. With a REALTOR® Party Smart Growth Action Grant, the Haywood REALTOR® Association sponsored a Visioning Workshop on a weekday afternoon in June, to gather ideas and opinions from local stakeholders.

Lisa Brown, Association Executive of the 280-member board, says that when her Government Affairs Co-Chair, Ellen Sither, approached her with the idea of using a REALTOR® Party grant to fund the event, “My first thought was ‘Yay!’…. And then, as a staff of one, I thought, ‘Oh Lord.  How am I going to do this?’ It was our first major grant application, and had I known it would be as easy as it was, we would have started long ago!” She gives credit for the heavy lifting to Sither and Elizabeth Teague, the Town of Waynesville Development Services Director, who put together the application; they, in turn, note that the team at the National Association of REALTORS® was helpful and responsive every step of the way.

The Visioning Workshop, which was held in the town’s Recreation Center, met a critical need for the planning process, says Teague. “With our consultants, we had accomplished a lot of technical work, but what was missing was public input. And while the town has a reasonable budget, we certainly couldn’t have held such an event without the REALTORS®. They provided food, and marketing, and worked side-by-side with the professional consultants. It was wonderful!” The event drew just shy of 400 participants, and generated valuable responses and ideas for the steering committee. Through the workshops, local support was affirmed for exploring redevelopment opportunities for older properties, for smaller area planning, and for maximizing density through infill; it was also made abundantly clear that Waynesville residents don’t want development to spread up their beloved mountainsides. Over the course of the day, notes Sither about 25 REALTORS® donated their time to the event, participating in a morning training session, then helping to bring in lunch for the team, and working in sessions with members of the public from 3-7pm. “For some, it meant closing a one-person office for the day. It was a lot to give!”

Although the Visioning Workshop was deliberately planned to coincide with pick-up time from the Recreation Center day camp, it didn’t attract as many young people as the planners had hoped. “We had more higher-income retirees than younger residents providing input,” remarks Sither, “but still, every bit was useful as we considered the big picture.” Brown and Teague are also members of the Haywood County Affordable Housing Council, which focuses on making it possible for younger generations to return to live in the rural community. “This is a key issue for the well-being of the town,” says Brown, “and it dovetails neatly with the visioning process for the Comprehensive Plan. So, while the younger folks may not have been directly represented – and, of course, they’re busy! – there were others of us advocating for the housing needs of their generation and beyond.”

Teague expresses the town’s great appreciation for the leadership of the REALTORS®, not just in sponsoring the Visioning Workshop, but in volunteering their time and expertise to the Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee, and in communicating the town’s efforts to a larger audience. “We’ve created a truly productive partnership, which is not always the case between towns and the real estate industry. As we go forward, we know it’s critical for the REALTORS® to be our partners in Smart Growth planning: together, we can protect the town and create growth.”

To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Haywood County, North Carolina, are helping the Town of Waynesville plan for future land use and zoning decisions with an eye to Smart Growth and affordable housing, contact Lisa M. Brown, Association Executive, at 828-452-5096; Government Affairs Co-Chair Ellen Sither, at 828-452-5809; or Elizabeth Teague, Development Services Director for the Town of Waynesville, at 828-476-9645.


Read more

Is Smart Growth the Key to Preserving Montana’s ‘Big Sky?’ Gallatin REALTORS® Funds Study to Find Answers.

In a land known as ‘Big Sky,’ it should come as no surprise that there’s a certain cultural resistance to development density. Yet in Gallatin County, Montana, which has been topping best-places-to-live and best-places-to-retire lists in recent years, tremendous growth is forcing a closer look at the best ways to accommodate the burgeoning population. A Smart Growth Action Grant recently funded a comparative analysis study that will inform the ongoing development debates by clearly quantifying the fiscal implications of dense development versus sprawl.

In fact, the 1,100-member Gallatin Association of REALTORS® (GAR) received two grants to contribute to the complex process of developing a growth plan for the greater Bozeman region: a $15,000 Smart Growth Action Grant supported the study by an Asheville, NC-based urban planning consulting firm called Urban3; and a $1,500 Housing Opportunity Grant helped to fund an Affordable Housing Summit that brought stakeholders together to begin discussing goals for Bozeman.

“I have a handwritten note of thanks from the mayor on my desk right now,” says Ellen Beck, GAR’s Government Affairs Director. Between the in-depth analysis that was provided by the Urban3 study and the data collected at the Housing Summit, she says, the REALTORS® have earned not only the gratitude of City Hall, but also recognition as a serious partner in discussions about the region’s future growth.

The comparative analysis study, which was completed in July, highlighted the significant return of property tax per acre that would be realized by reinvesting in urban centers and historic commercial corridors; the findings were illustrated by a series of colorful 3-D images that convey relative land value, tax value, and value-per-acre at a glance. On July 11, Joe Minicozzi, principal of Urban3, presented the study results to three different Bozeman audiences: at a breakfast for the REALTORS®; at a City Hall luncheon for city staff, the local homebuilders association, and developers; and once more in the evening for the general public. Beck, who attended all three sessions, says “The primary goal was to educate the public with this very clearly reasoned analysis. I think a lot of minds that had been skeptical were opened, when presented with the tax implications of building up the urban core, as opposed to on the outskirts, or way out in the country. The graphics made a very compelling argument for Smart Growth.”

Two weeks later, GAR joined the city in hosting an Affordable Housing Summit that gathered representatives from the university and the local hospital, the region’s largest housing consumers; AARP; the Department of Transportation; the school district; the local land trust; and, of course, REALTORS®. A facilitator from the university had small groups work together to answer a series of questions ultimately seeking to determine an acceptable definition of ‘affordable housing’ beyond the HUD standard. “It was a fascinating and highly effective exercise,” says Beck, “and by having teams from such different sectors working together, it really made us all think in broader terms.” City Hall was so thrilled with the results, she says, that it asked the REALTORS® to follow up with an even more comprehensive summit.

“We could not have achieved all this without the support of the National Association of REALTORS®,” notes Beck. “Our goal, going in to these programs, was to inform the growth policy planning process, which will promote Smart Growth development standards and spur an uptick in compact, walkable neighborhoods,” she says. “Another really positive outcome is that the city is looking to us as partners with valuable resources, expertise, and information.”

To learn more about how the Gallatin Association of REALTORS® is working as a valued partner of City Hall to plan the region’s Smart Growth, contact Government Affairs Director Ellen Beck at 406-585-0033.

Read more

Southern Minnesota REALTORS® Jump-start Walkability in Mankato

As the concept of walkability becomes more prominent in municipal planning throughout the country, and in greater demand in real estate markets, REALTORS® are on it. In Mankato, Minn., the local REALTORS® sponsored a WalkShop event in Old Town, a district with lots of old charm and a new public amphitheater, but lacking a pedestrian-friendly infrastructure to link the two. A Smart Growth Action Grant helped them make it happen.

Deb Hansen, Chief Executive Officer of the 350-member REALTOR® Association of Southern Minnesota (RASM) explains that the idea for the program was the result of a lot of brainstorming by a REALTOR® committee exploring the Walkscore concept in the context of Mankato, a riverfront community that is perceived as a ‘driving community.’ “Once we discovered the availability of this grant, we decided to focus our efforts on the Old Town district,” she says, citing the advantages of the neighborhood’s vintage main street architecture and an exciting new amphitheater for live performances in the city’s new Riverfront Park, just a block behind the commercial street. The neighborhood came with unique challenges, too: it was heavily industrial, including quarries and a metal scrapyard, and lacked visibility from one point to the next. It also lacked parking. “Our goal was to make this area more accessible, more functional, and more welcoming,” says Hansen.

The grant application process was smooth and easy. “It helped that we’d done our due diligence, and were able to communicate our goals and vision to the REALTOR® Party team,” says Hansen. RASM President Elect Jason Beal, a lifelong Mankato resident, issued personal invitations to numerous local stakeholders to participate in the early June event. The day began with an informal breakfast at a local bakery, where participants could meet and mingle. They included representatives from the City Center Partnership and the Old Town district, the Mankato Council for the Arts, public safety officials, neighboring towns, and a handful of REALTORS®. Then Samantha Thomas, a professional walkability consultant, delivered a presentation on the goals and successes of walkability efforts elsewhere in the country.

“It was fantastic,” says Beal. “Samantha’s presentation broke down the concept of walkability, and showed us what could be done, from huge capital improvements to just striping the streets.” Then the group headed out and toured the area on foot, returning to the bakery to brainstorm ideas in small groups over lunch; Thomas took notes, which informed her written report, delivered a few weeks later. Beal praises Thomas’ positive, can-do tone, and her expertise as she led the walk, measured sidewalks, and pointed out impediments: “It was all about ‘What do we have, and how can we work with it?’ with an emphasis on quality, rather than rushing in to anything.”

For weeks following the event, Hansen received numerous requests for copies of Thomas’ PowerPoint presentation and the report, as well as glowing thanks, like this from a transportation planner from a neighboring jurisdiction:

I really appreciate you hosting the REALTOR® Walkability Event on June 6. That was a great opportunity to gain some perspective on how Mankato could benefit from changes to the pedestrian realm.

According to Beal, the notion of walkability improvements has gained traction in the community: several local organizations are collaborating to create a “Vitality Fund” with a goal to raise $10 million to support local projects over the next 10 to 15 years; the WalkShop report outlines just the kind of improvement they are looking to fund. Meanwhile, the Mankato Council for the Arts is talking about painting alleyway walls in the Old Town corridor with fanciful designs, and RASM is looking into the possibility of securing a REALTOR® Party Placemaking Grant to help the community envision some of the ideas that emerged from the event. “This has generated so much excitement,” says Beal, “and we’re grateful to the REALTOR® Party for providing us with such tremendous practical resources.”

To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Southern Minnesota are using REALTOR® Party resources to help communities work toward improving walkability, contact Chief Executive Officer Deb Hansen at 507-345-6018; or President Elect Jason Beal at 507-381-1060.

Read more

With Better Block Event, Longleaf Pine REALTORS® Demonstrate Just How Pedestrian-Friendly Haymount Can Be

The Haymount district of Fayetteville, North Carolina is blessed with neat neighborhoods of cottage-style homes and proximity to downtown. Its vibrant commercial district is currently cursed, however, by an environment hostile to pedestrian traffic.  Armed with a vision, a Smart Growth Action Grant, and a whole lot of duct tape, the local Longleaf Pine REALTORS® (LPR) set out to change that.

Partnering with the North Carolina chapter of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals, the Haymount business community, and other local organizations, the 1,600-member association mounted a Better Block Event on a weekend in March to reveal how basic improvements such as bike lanes, crosswalks, reduced traffic lanes, and widened sidewalks could transform the area for the better.

“It was beyond great,” says LPR Government Affairs Director Angie Hedgepeth, of the half-day event that drew more than 3,000 visitors and earned a commitment from the City Council to allocate funding for pedestrian safety measures. It was a city staff member who first approached the REALTORS® about the possibility of securing a Smart Growth Action Grant for a Better Block Event, says Hedgepeth. She, in turn, worked on the project with a county transportation planner and a committee of about 70 REALTORS®.

Using its community relationships, ingenuity, and only slightly more money than the $5,000 grant, LPR effectively transformed a central block of Haymount that had already been the site of one pedestrian fatality. “Beyond the immediate issue of pedestrian safety,” says Hedgepeth, “this effort should benefit property values, business activity, and community connectedness, and could set a positive precedent for the entire region.”

For all its potential, the project came with a steep learning curve: the permits alone, from the North Carolina Department of Treansportation as well as the city of Fayetteville, took months to secure. Then, there was insurance for the event, and a stage to rent, musicians to hire, vendors and artists and food trucks to arrange, and dozens and dozens of orange traffic cones. There was a website to create, and a big publicity campaign, and video coverage involving overhead drones.  Hedgepeth and her team experimented with various temporary crosswalk application methods after-hours in the LPR parking lot.  Two local nurseries and a landscaping company contributed a row of mature potted trees, several park benches, and additional greenery.  The night before the event, the REALTORS® pre-marked the roads.  At 8 a.m., day-of, they were out stenciling bike-lane markers and applying eight critical crosswalks with architectural drafting paper and duct tape.

Despite the significant alteration of the traffic access, Hedgepeth reports, “there was no honking of horns, no screaming; drivers were just easing down the road, giving all the pedestrian activity the time and space it needed.  It was wonderful, and a big relief, because of course, we had no idea what to expect.”

Local youngsters circulating through the event collected surveys from more than 300 attendees, which have been complied in a report for the City Council. At the end of the day, the REALTORS® interviewed all the businesses in the Better Block zone; all were excited, and one, a new coffee shop, was thrilled to report doing triple its usual trade that day, says Hedgepeth. “People came to our tent and said, ‘Please, can you help make this happen for real?’ and ‘How can we help get this done?!’”

The REALTORS® are on it. The City Councilman representing Haymount has assured them that he’ll find funding for at least the painting of the new crosswalks in the next budget cycle, as a start. Communities beyond Haymount stand to benefit from all the effort, too: an official from a nearby city called the REALTORS® directly, after she’d seen reports in the media, to ask how they’d done it. “It’ll be a while before we’re ready to do something like this again,” laughs Hedgepeth, “but we’re happy to share our new expertise! In so many ways, the grant from NAR is being leveraged in to far greater gains.”

To learn more about how the Longleaf Pine REALTORS® are working to make the communities of Fayetteville, North Carolina,more desirable, livable, workable, and walkable, contact Government Affairs Director Angie Hedgepeth at 910-323-1421.  To visit the event website, see

Read more

New Hampshire REALTORS® Envision Smart Growth for White Mountains

In the White Mountains region of New Hampshire, one of the nation’s earliest tourist destinations and a favored second-home location, the pronounced lack of affordable housing limits service industry opportunities for a would-be workforce. The drain on the economic sustainability of the broader community is already being felt: two of the region’s most popular tourist attractions have been forced to partially and temporarily close in high season, due to lack of staff. Looking ahead, a recent report projects that first-time home purchases will be down in New Hampshire in the next five to ten years. But, with a REALTOR® Party Smart Growth Action Grant, the 150-member White Mountain Board of REALTORS® (WMBR) has helped communities to envision solutions and begin to remove barriers to affordable housing by sponsoring design and planning charrettes in partnership with the Mount Washington Valley Housing Coalition (MWVHC.)

“To me, it’s a no-brainer!” states 2018 WMBR President Theresa Bernhardt, explaining that Victoria Laracy, the executive director of MWVHC, had reached out to the REALTORS® for help funding the charrettes. “We have access to these REALTOR® Party funds, and this is what we do: provide housing.” Two charrettes held in October 2017 were the third such project that WMBR has sponsored since 2013, each one building on the work of the previous charrettes. A charrette is an intensive design and planning exercise that brings together representatives of all stakeholder groups; in the towns of Bartlett and Conway last fall, that meant hard-working teams of planning officials, bankers, property representatives, REALTORS®, architects, engineers, site planners, construction estimators, neighbors, local businesses and workers in need of housing.

Laracy, whose organization has planned and hosted each of the programs, cuts to the chase: “These charrettes demonstrate how the economics of development need for zoning to be in place in order to achieve adequate affordable housing in a free market. In both Bartlett, where there is a 0% vacancy rate, and Conway, where the rate is 1%, our teams demonstrated that significant affordable housing could be created, with a reasonable rate of return for the developer, if zoning restrictions were changed, even slightly.” The official report from the October charrettes has been shared with the communities and local legislators, as a first step to address zoning updates. “This wouldn’t have been possible without the support from the REALTORS®,” she says.

Bernhardt, who was one of two REALTOR®-members of the Conway team, says, “It’s a fascinating process, watching completely well thought-out, viable plans being presented at 6:00 PM on what was a blank piece of paper at 9:00 AM. To have all these experts at the same table working on a given project involving real, available parcels of land, was an incredibly efficient and productive way to go about finding options and eliminating others.” She reiterates Laracy’s assertion that zoning was the stumbling block to affordable housing for both town teams: “Under current zoning, we discovered that the seven-acre parcel of land we were working with could only support 28 total units of housing, which was not an economically viable project for any developer. But if zoning were to allow for increased density, then 70 units could be built on the same parcel, twenty of which would be offered as affordable housing, with a near 8% annual return to the developer. Those are the kinds of numbers that make projects like this feasible.  They clearly demonstrate why we need to work with our planning boards to change the zoning ordinances that are restricting affordable housing.”  She adds that, in addition to an open community discussion at the outset of the process, the final charrette presentations were attended by over sixty local residents.  “There is real concern, and real engagement.  The REALTORS® are proud to be part of the group that is seeking solutions and moving them forward.”

An Overview of the October Charrette

The Design Reveal

To learn more about how the White Mountain Board of REALTORS® has been helping to pave the way for more affordable housing in its communities, contact 2018 WMBR President Theresa Bernhardt at 603-986-5286; or Victoria Laracy, Executive Director of the Mount Washington Valley Housing Coalition, at 603-662-5482.

Read more