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 email@example.com or 757-871-1445, or Debbie M. Werling, its Chief Executive Officer, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 540-347-4866.