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Smart Growth Action Grant

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.

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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.

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Maine Association Facilitates Smart Growth for Once-thriving Mill Town

The Stenton Mill

The state of Maine has the nation’s oldest population, the eighth oldest housing stock, low median income, and essentially no public transportation infrastructure. At the same time, the vacant and unused manufacturing spaces in once-thriving mill communities all across the state offer an opportunity for revitalization through mixed-use development of their downtown centers. To help the once-prosperous mill town of Sanford envision a future with walkable affordable housing and fresh economic contributors, the Maine Association of REALTORS® received a Smart Growth Action Grant to support a three-day charrette, or stakeholder-informed design session.

Trish Ohler, a Program Manager at the 5,000-member Maine Association of REALTORS® (MAR), explains that “MAR prides itself on longstanding advocacy for the value of housing choice and opportunity as essential components in a thriving economy. It also continually strives to create smarter alternatives to urban sprawl.” The region is fortunate to have a non-profit called the Workforce Housing Coalition of the Greater Seacoast (WHC) whose work in Sanford was supported by the REALTOR® Party grant. In this case, the municipality had already done a lot of advance leg work: redefining its zoning code, creating a Recreation Master Plan, and hiring a staff member focused on housing. By the time the WHC facilitated the design charrette in Sanford, says Ohler, “the event was a springboard for lots of good ideas that had already been percolating for a while.”

On the first day, participants went on a site walk of the mill complex, and submitted ideas, as well as perceived obstacles to development. The second day saw the professional team of architects and planners organizing and analyzing the community input, from which they created two plans, accompanied by a feasibility document, revealed at the end of the third day. About ten REALTORS® participated in the process, along with dozens of other local stakeholders.

The Lofts at Stenton Mill Design Concept presented during the The Stenton Mill Area Revitalization Workshop: A Workforce Housing Coalition Design Charrette

Greg Gosselin, 2017 MAR President and a current member of NAR’s Housing Opportunities Committee, has been involved in infill development projects in several Maine towns in the past few years; he was on the committee that selected the old mill site as the focus of the Sanford charrette. “The work of the Workforce Housing Coalition is changing communities by providing a vision derived from community input. As REALTORS®, our involvement can help insure that future development includes both market rate and middle market housing.”

Rebecca Lapierre, a REALTOR® living and working in Sanford, and a committee member for the local charrette, agrees. “As a REALTOR®, I was able to advise on the type of housing that would work best for the mill area,” she says. “My professional expertise will have a real impact on this development, which will in turn have an impact on the future of Sanford.”

Since the charrette, the development in Sanford has been progressing swiftly, reports Ohler, with additional funding secured for Brownfield abatement, new interest in the former mill structures, and one being prepped for development, with plans for intown residential units and retail units underway. The civic leaders of Sanford have expressed their gratitude to the REALTORS® for their leadership and support. “This project was a great opportunity to bring REALTOR® knowledge and expertise into the community housing, planning, and development process,” says Ohler, “and the NAR Smart Growth funding was key to this collaboration.”

To learn more about how the Maine Association of REALTORS® is using its leadership, energy, and the resources of the REALTOR® Party to promote downtown revitalization and workforce housing, contact Trish Ohler at or 207-622-7501. See the final report on the Stenton Mill Revitalization Charrette.

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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 https://www.betterblockfaync.com/home.

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Smart Growth Program & Grant

Smart growth is an approach to development that encourages a mix of building types and uses, diverse housing and transportation options, development within existing neighborhoods, and community engagement. The Smart Growth Program offers state and local REALTOR® Associations to way to engage with government officials, community partners and the general public in planning and designing community’s future.

Ten Principles of Smart Growth
Based on the experience of communities around the nation that have used smart growth approaches to create and maintain great neighborhoods, the Smart Growth Network developed a set of ten basic principles:

  1. Mix land uses
  2. Take advantage of compact building design
  3. Create a range of housing opportunities and choices
  4. Create walkable neighborhoods
  5. Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place
  6. Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas
  7. Strengthen and direct development towards existing communities
  8. Provide a variety of transportation choices
  9. Make development decisions predictable, fair, and cost effective
  10. Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions

Questions? Contact Hugh Morris at 202-383-1278.

Smart Growth Action Grant

Smart Growth Action Grants support a wide range of land-use and transportation-related activities. These activities must support REALTOR® engagement in land-use and/or transportation-related community issues with the primary goal of affecting public policies that support development that meets one or more of the 10 Smart Growth Principles. The project should also raise the profile of REALTORS® as community leaders and enhance REALTOR® relationships with local elected officials. There are no program prerequisites to applying for or being awarded a Smart Growth Action Grant.

SMART GROWTH ACTION GRANT EVALUATION FORM
SMART GROWTH ACTION REIMBURSEMENT REQUEST FORM

Grants cannot fund:

  • NAR-sponsored courses except Level 1 grants for the Smart Growth for the 21st Century Class.
  • Activities that will have occurred prior to six weeks after the application deadline.
  • Purchase capital items (tools, park benches, etc).
  • Donations to other organizations unless there is significant REALTOR® activity associated with the collaborative effort.

Level One – Closed for 2018

LEVEL 1 SMART GROWTH ACTION GRANT APPLICATION
SMART GROWTH ACTION GRANT EVALUATION FORM
SMART GROWTH ACTION REIMBURSEMENT REQUEST FORM

Level 1 Smart Growth Action Grants can be used to host the Smart Growth for the 21st Century Class or other educational activity such as a speaker who can address specific growth issues impacting your community. Level 1 applications are accepted anytime from January 1st through October 1st with decisions announced approximately one week later. Grant funds are eligible for up to $1,125. A maximum of one Level 1 grants are awarded per year per association.

  • Expected Financial Participation by Applicant: As needed to meet all additional costs either by admission fee or association contribution.

Level Two – Closed for 2018

LEVEL 2 SMART GROWTH ACTION GRANT APPLICATION
SMART GROWTH ACTION GRANT EVALUATION FORM
SMART GROWTH ACTION REIMBURSEMENT REQUEST FORM

Level 2 Smart Growth Action Grants provide seed funding to enable a state or local association to make the initial efforts to engage local land-use/transportation policy issues with other stakeholders and elected officials. No donations will be to other organizations unless REALTORS® are substantially engaged in the activity. Using a Level 2 grant is appropriate for sponsoring events.

Level 2 applications are accepted on the 15th of each month from January 1 through September 15 with decisions announced approximately one month later. Grant funds are eligible for up to $5,000. A maximum of one Level 2 grants are awarded per year per association.

  • Expected Financial Participation by Applicant: Minimum 10% of requested grant amount.

Level Three – Discontinued

Based on a review of program goals and resources, Smart Growth Action Grants are now offered at two funding levels.

Grant Application & Program Guidance

Grant Payment to Selected Applicants:

  • All grant awards are paid on a reimbursement basis.
  • Funds are distributed when NAR receives:

The Grant Program requires that:

  • The funds be used within one year of the award or be forfeited back to NAR.
  • You submit evaluation form(s) after your activity is complete. If the evaluation form is not returned, your association will not be eligible to receive another grant.
  • Applications should be submitted by the association AE or with the AE copied to Hugh Morris.

The Grant Program allows that:

  • If your association has previously been awarded a grant you may apply again to support a new activity or further development of an existing activity.
  • Funding requests related to green building and energy efficiency be used to advance public policies that support development of green residential and commercial buildings.
  • Proposals that address housing issues must do so from the point of view of land-use public policy issues (zoning codes, community planning, development issues, etc.) and cannot be used to fund efforts such as housing programs or housing construction.
  • Funding of websites is only permissible if the website is integral to the execution of a land-use policy initiative.
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Pacific Southwest REALTORS® Advocate for Transit-oriented Smart Growth

Housing affordability is the top priority for California’s governor.  It’s the principal challenge for the mayor and the San Diego City Council.  And it’s of utmost concern to the Pacific Southwest Association of REALTORS® (PSAR), with 2,000 members in the trenches of the local real estate industry, where rents have skyrocketed in the past decade, and would-be first-time homebuyers are struggling.  PSAR recently used a REALTOR® Party Smart Growth Action Grant to co-sponsor a report that convinced the city to adopt a handful of policy measures to help ease the crisis.

The grant was used to support the work of Circulate San Diego, the region’s leading nonprofit concerned with transportation and sustainable land use issues, as it developed recommendations for transit-oriented development. A prime focus of the plan was updating the city’s existing Density Bonus program, along with other incentives making it easier for in-fill development to move forward.

Tracy Morgan Hollingworth, Government Affairs Director at PSAR, served on the technical advisory board of Circulate San Diego’s Transit-Oriented Development report.  Its goals were to:

  • Reduce costs for new affordable and market-rate mixed-use developments near transit
  • Generate more economic development from region’s transit investments
  • Create better links between homes and jobs through transit
  • Reduce vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions by accommodating future growth near transit

Shortly after receiving Circulate San Diego’s report, the City Council unanimously voted to adopt five new incentives based on its recommendations.  Rather than increasing density rates, the new ordinances make it faster and simpler to build housing units that are already allowed.  The incentives include: an increase in the existing Density Bonus Program, which rewards developers for including a certain number of low-income units in their building projects; reducing the parking space minimum for units built close to transit stations; and allowing low-income units to be built up to a mile away from market-rate units, within a single development project, for construction efficiency.

Hollingworth notes that the beauty of the new ordinances is that they simply remove obstacles that have discouraged building where increased density has already been approved.  “It’s about maximizing density to the allowed limits, not increasing the density rates.  This will add desperately needed housing units where there’s existing infrastructure, and give developers and builders a fair degree of flexibility. And because it covers the entire city, it takes some of the pressure off individual neighborhoods struggling to update their community plans, which can be a lengthy and tortured process.”

Rafael Perez, a PSAR member active in city politics, attended many Circulate San Diego meetings and provided testimony for the City Council.  He notes that the coalition of organizations supporting Circulate San Diego in this complex effort was highly unusual in its diversity. “You’d expect to see environmentally-focused groups getting behind transit-oriented development,” he says, “but the presence of the REALTORS® and other business groups brought valuable angles of expertise, and a critical balance, to the process.  And for the City Council to have found the recommendations acceptable on both sides of the aisle, tells you how universally beneficial they’ll be.  For REALTORS®,” he adds, “our involvement also demonstrates our vested interest in the region, and helps to disprove the all-too-common notion that we’re only interested in sales.”

To learn more about how the Pacific Southwest REALTORS® are working to help San Diego maximize housing density and implement transit oriented development initiatives, contact Government Affairs Director Tracy Morgan Hollingworth at 619-222-8155.

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