Success Story

Local Virginia REALTORS® Offer Valuable Resource for Future Land Use and Growth

The 650-member Greater Piedmont Area Association of REALTORS® (GPAAR) in central Virginia takes a panoramic view of the landscape, and a long view of the future.  When Culpeper County, one of the five counties it serves, was beginning the arduous task of updating its Comprehensive Plan, GPAAR found a way to be a valuable unbiased resource.

GPAAR Legislative Consultant Susan Gaston explains that the association has built strong working relationships with the county’s professional staff, including those in the Planning Office.  It was while she was brainstorming with the county’s Comprehensive Planning Manager about the upcoming review of the Comprehensive Plan, a strategic guide governing the municipality’s future land use and growth decisions, that she came upon the idea of applying for a Housing Opportunity grant from the REALTOR® Party to fund some much-needed research.   

“The county needed a snapshot of its current housing situation, and a projection of what its needs would be 25 years into the future,” she explains, “but it didn’t have the resources to get this done on its own.”  Gaston worked with GPAAR to secure a $5,000 REALTOR® Party grant in that enabled it to commission a housing market analysis and housing needs study from a widely respected regional economist, who at the time was attached to the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University.    

According to the association’s President, Charles M. Miller, “GPAAR works hard day-in and day-out to be a reliable, trusted source of information to our local governments, whether by providing housing sales data or policy details.  We were thrilled that, using NAR’s grant money, we could give the county unfettered access to data from George Mason University’s David Versel, who analyzed and assessed what Culpeper County has and needs in terms of housing. The county can’t do that for themselves,” he adds, “and we can’t do that for them, but the expertise and third-party objectivity of David Versel can, and did. That’s really significant.”

Gaston notes that the study’s objectivity was critical:  “We let the author of the report loose to collect and compile his own data, with no pre-determined outcome—we wanted to see the good, the bad, and the ugly.  In order for it to be of use to the county, it had to be absolutely neutral, and not be perceived as having any REALTOR® bias.” 

When the study was delivered to GPAAR, the association handed it over to the county, refraining from any active lobbying for its use.  After the requisite public hearings and the consideration of the Board of Supervisors, it was included, almost in its entirety, as the Housing Chapter of the Culpeper County 2015 Comprehensive Plan, which the Board of Supervisors approved in September.  The report will now inform future land use decisions, such as the updating of local ordinances and the development of housing programs.  As the basis for future public policy decisions concerning housing in Culpeper County, the report provides a focused, data-driven guide on matters ranging from growth in the senior retirement sector to housing for commuters to Northern Virginia.  

“Our members and the county administrators are really pleased at the outcome of this effort,” says GPAAR Chief Executive Officer Debbie Werling. “Our association has gained more credibility with the county, and even with state officials who represent the county. That’s huge. Plus, other counties in the GPAAR footprint have heard what a fabulous tool and resource the housing needs study is to Culpeper County, and they are inquiring how a similar report can be completed for their area. Clearly, we have a good plan and a good tool, and if it can be replicated to help other communities, we are ready to repeat the process.”

Gaston agrees, adding, “We’ve proven, once again, that we’re the trusted resource for housing information, which we bring to bear in so many ways.”  

To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Virginia’s Greater Piedmont Area are helping to guide the planning for their region’s future, contact Susan Gaston, Legislative Consultant for the Greater Piedmont Area Association of REALTORS®, at susan@gastongroup.com or 757-871-1445, or Debbie M. Werling, its Chief Executive Officer, at debbie@gpaar.net or 540-347-4866.

Read more

Heartland Association’s (IL) Land Use Analysis Guides Local Development Ordinance

When McHenry County, a suburban and rural district just northwest of Chicago, rolled out the first draft of its Unified Development Ordinance in April 2014, the Heartland REALTOR® Organization (HRO) rolled up its sleeves and got out its red pencil—so to speak.  Actually, all it had to do was apply for a Land Use Initiative review, and within short order, expert legal guidance was brought to bear on the document that would be governing the growth of the county’s unincorporated areas through 2030. 

According to Conor Brown, Government Affairs Director of the 1,000-member association, the application process was simple and straightforward, and the resulting review was extremely beneficial.  His organization’s Government Affairs Committee was most concerned about two sections in the proposed ordinance having to do with the development of future subdivisions, an issue complicated by the county’s vast disparity in density, with mostly rural land in the west, and highly populated suburbs in the east.

In an initial conference call with Robinson & Cole, the law firm retained by the National Association of REALTORS® to undertake ordinance reviews, Brown provided background and an overview of relevant local politics.  “It was a very collaborative process throughout,” he says.  “After all, they didn’t want to produce a document I couldn’t use, or that wouldn’t have value to our members.” 

Robinson & Cole read through the several-hundred page draft ordinance with a particular focus on the two articles governing subdivision applications and standards, and returned a 15-page report providing a concise analysis of the sections, and recommended revisions.  “They identified multiple issues that were problematic, whether just plain vague and inefficient, or overly restrictive regarding property rights,” says Brown.  The report offered clear guidance and concrete examples from a neighboring county, which elected officials of McHenry County would find relevant, he notes.        

When Brown received the report, he delivered it directly to Joe Gottemoller, who was Chairman of the county’s Planning & Development Committee at the time, and has since been named Chairman of the full County Board.  “Joe is an attorney, and an elected official we’ve supported through RPAC,” says Brown.  “There’s always been a great professional rapport between him and our association, and he didn’t need to be told how to use the report: it was like being a quarterback handing the ball off to our star running back!”  Gottemoller relied on the Robinson & Cole analysis as he guided the draft ordinance through a grueling review and modification process, weathering dozens of proposed amendments.  It was finally approved six months later. 

What HRO achieved through the Land Use Initiative review, says Brown, is an ordinance that is more consistent; preserves responsible development rights; streamlines the development process; and limits regulatory burdens.  In short, “We left it a whole lot better than we found it!” he says, adding, “I would encourage any local REALTOR® association to leverage this resource, particularly if they don’t have access to good legal research.”

To learn more about how the Heartland REALTOR® Organization has contributed to local planning and development policy in McHenry County, Illinois, by making use of the REALTOR® Party’s Land Use Initiative program, contact its Government Affairs Director, Conor Brown, at cbrown@iar.org or 815-319-0943.

Read more

Montgomery AL REALTORS® Knock on 24,000 Doors to Help Re-Elect Their Champion for Mayor

The 1,000-member Montgomery (AL) Area Association of REALTORS® had nothing against any of the five candidates running in the mayoral election this past summer.  But there was only one they knew would offer them a seat at the table where pressing budget issues and property rights decisions are concerned. They put together a bold and energetic ground campaign – including knocking on nearly 24,000 doors – to help re-elect their REALTOR® Champion.

Read more

Washington State REALTORS® Fight Two Tax Proposals and Win!

When small businesses and second home owners became targets for major tax hikes in their state, Washington REALTORS® jumped into action.  Through a multi-faceted campaign called “Recover Washington” the 17,500-member association was able to defeat a 20 percent increase in the gross receipts tax paid by REALTORS®, as well as a 7 percent capital gains tax on investment properties and second homes.

Read more

Houston REALTORS® Host Forum to Help Voters Get to Know Mayoral Candidates

Houston is looking for a new mayor, and there are seven major candidates vying for the job.  Supported by a grant from NAR, the Houston Association of REALTORS® (HAR) held a forum to help members and the voting public sort them out. In addition to its own membership, HAR opened the guest list to like-minded business groups, and about half of the Houston City Council was in attendance, as well.

Read more

Las Vegas REALTORS® Grow New Leaders Across Ethnic Lines

The Greater Las Vegas Association of REALTORS® (GLVAR) does more than talk about embracing cultural differences, it is actually doing something to grow future leaders from diverse backgrounds. The 11,700-member association is drawing local minority real estate partners to their successful Leadership Training Series.  As a result, many of these minority practitioners have gone on to become association committee chairs and a few have seats on the Board of Directors.

Read more

Grand Junction [CO] REALTORS® Hit a Home Run with RPAC Fundraiser

The 541-member Grand Junction Area Association of REALTORS® (GJARA) in western Colorado put baseball and a fundraising grant together to raise $15,200 for RPAC – all in one night!  GJARA booked a sky box at Grand Junction’s new baseball stadium, which hosts the rookie league for the Colorado Rockies, and then planned a fun evening for members who could attend for a $100 investment in RPAC.  The event was so successful, GJARA is planning to open future RPAC fundraising events to surrounding REALTOR® associations.

Read more

Two Chicago-Area REALTOR® Associations Host Housing Expo and Trolley Tour with Housing Opportunity Grant

The City of Aurora, on the west side of Chicago, has been lauded as a highly livable city.  It has a strong down-payment assistance program, and plenty of affordable housing — yet a high percentage of the employees working in Aurora commute from elsewhere. The 15,000-member Mainstreet Organization of REALTORS® and the 1,500-member REALTOR® Association of the Fox Valley partnered with the city and local lending institutions to get the word out. They used a Housing Opportunity Grant from NAR to host a housing expo and trolley tour they called “Experience Aurora.” The positive results are already appearing!

Read more

Richmond (VA) REALTORS® Fight for Good Schools – and Win!

In Richmond, VA, REALTORS® have long understood the strong correlation between good schools and home values.  Last year, they had to fight for it.  The 4,000-member Richmond Association of REALTORS® put a $95,000 Issues Mobilization Grant from NAR to work on a campaign to use a restaurant meals tax on food and beverages to help fund public schools.  Working with other community groups, their successful campaign prevented drastic cuts to the school system budget.

Read more

Texas REALTORS® & Hispanic Real Estate Professionals Find the Fight for the American Dream is One to Build On – Together!

The 83,000-member Texas Association of REALTORS® (TAR) has a long, proud history of embracing the ethnic diversity within the state, but they decided to take it one step further and capitalize on it.  In mid-August 2013, TAR invited the Texas chapters of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals to join them for a summit to focus on affordable housing and other advocacy goals the two groups have in common.  With a $5,000 Diversity Grant from NAR, they found that the fight for the American Dream is one they can build on – together!

Read more