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.