MAXimizing Smart Growth in Fort Collins
A new Bus Rapid Transit line in Fort Collins, Colo., launched in May is whisking people between the city’s historic downtown and Colorado State University. But is it also strengthening communication and collaborations between REALTORS® and local leaders and helping pave the way for long-term smart growth development?
Dubbed MAX, the Bus Rapid Transit line features 60-foot, accordion-style buses, Wi-Fi and bike storage. Transit officials in this city of 150,000 estimate that MAX will help push bus ridership to over the 3-million mark in 2016, almost doubling bus use since 2000. MAX also promises to drive development along Fort Collin’s Mason Corridor, expanding housing and development opportunities for years to come. REALTORS® in Fort Collins recognize how important it is for city officials and other local leaders to understand the opportunities for and challenges to future development.
NAR Smart Growth Poll
That’s why the Fort Collins Board of REALTORS® (FCBR) has taken a proactive approach to examining the impact of MAX on community planning, housing development and consumer behaviors. Six months prior to the launch of MAX, the FCBR sponsored a tour of the Mason Corridor and brought in smart growth experts to meet with local officials. Then in February, FCBR conducted an NAR® Smart Growth poll to take a closer look at public opinion. FBCR hopes future NAR® Smart Growth grants will help address and advance issues identified in the survey.
The survey helped gauge the potential impact of MAX on transit-oriented housing and examined how public perception could affect long-term smart growth goals. The poll sought to identify possible barriers and opportunities presented by the Bus Rapid Transit program and also create and strengthen relationships between FCBR members and other local stakeholders.
“The survey helped identify opportunities and challenges through the lens of housing and livability,” said Clint Skutchan, CEO and director of advocacy for FCBR. “It has helped identify core issues and created a significant level of community and leadership understanding and awareness. It has helped build a lot of credibility with the city council and city staff.”
Approximately 400 individuals participated in the survey via telephone or online in early February. The survey queried respondents about the city’s quality of life; their familiarity with MAX and the Mason Corridor area; their anticipated use of the Bus Rapid Transit service; and perceived hindrances to future development.
In general, respondents really like where they live. More than 90 percent of respondents give thumbs up to Fort Collins’ quality of life, with 57 percent describing it as “excellent.” Most survey respondents indicated they had some knowledge of MAX and the Mason Corridor and they recognized that MAX will bring a number of enhancements to the city’s quality of life.
However younger, single respondents admitted they were least knowledgeable about MAX and the Mason Corridor. And while they knew the least, the survey indicated that young, single men were also the most likely to be regular MAX riders. The city has hired a marketing firm to help reach out to potential MAX users and Skutchan explained that the firm is using data from the Smart Growth survey to help shape its messages.
The survey also helped identify perceived barriers to development along the Mason Corridor — specifically the availability of parking and community resistance to tall buildings. Fort Collins currently limits building heights in order to maintain the city’s historic views. Those public opinions have now become part of ongoing conversations about housing and future development.
“As REALTORS®, we’ve always taken a ‘protecting our housing future approach’ because we understand that housing is the underpinning of the community,” said Skutchan. “The survey is helping us look at how we can help inform people about the changes that are coming and help them embrace those changes. It’s helping reshape conversations on housing affordability.”
Strengthening Community Relationships
The FCBR Smart Growth survey is proving to not only be a handy tool in helping create future community plans, but it’s positioning FCBR as a go-to source for consumer data. As a direct result of the survey, local leaders recognize FCBR officials and members as experts related to housing and the development along the Mason Corridor.
“We have gotten an amazing response to this survey,” said Skutchan. “We have already been in front of several organizations to present that otherwise wouldn’t have had us. And the City Manager is now calling me to get on his schedule instead of the other way around. I’d say mission accomplished!”
Skutchan says FCBR’s approach illustrates that REALTORS ® are actively committed to giving back to the community. This engaged, progressive approach is also helping diffuse potential political divisiveness. Skutchan said city and community leaders now realize they can embrace smart growth issues without the constant concern about political fallout. It makes it easier for everyone to work together.
While MAX will likely help drive Fort Collins’ current and future quality of life, the recent FCBR Smart Growth survey is putting the Fort Collins Board of REALTORS® in the driver’s seat when it comes to understanding consumer sentiments, assisting in community planning and envisioning housing availability.