Norman Morris is unaware of another bond like the one his organization, Louisiana REALTORS®, has built with the Center for Planning Excellence (CPEX). “It’s been a wonderful relationship, but I’m not sure if any other state REALTOR® associations have partnered with similar groups,” reports the Baton Rouge-based organization’s CEO.
Louisiana REALTORS® have a wonderful relationship with the Center for Planning Excellence.
REALTOR® groups like the one Morris heads — as you likely already know — focus on protecting property rights for owners nationwide, fostering smart growth, and supporting the professionals in the industry working toward those and other important goals. The Center for Planning Excellence is a Louisiana planning nonprofit that coordinates urban, rural, and regional planning efforts in the state, according to Camille Manning-Broome, its president and CEO.
“Since 2006, we’ve had a very large focus on climate change adaptation,” she says. “In Louisiana, we’re on the front lines of dealing with the impacts related to not only sea-level rise and intensified hurricanes, but also issues around drought coupled with very large rain events. In 2016, 57 of 64 parishes in the state were declared national disasters due to some weather-related event — even our northernmost parishes that had never seen tornadoes and flooding before.”
Planners and developers partner on numerous smart growth initiatives in the state.
It’s no secret that planners and developers can disagree on the best ways to build strong communities. But these two groups have frequently found agreement on growth issues. Over the past 10 years, they’ve partnered on numerous smart growth initiatives in the state.
“A nonprofit planning organization and the REALTORS® may seem to be unlikely partners because our lines of work are very different, but we actually are very closely aligned in our interests and long-term goals,” notes Manning-Broome. “Both of our organizations want to create lasting value in communities by helping them become quality places to live, work and play.”
Manning-Broome considers the affiliation a success. “Our partnership has been both unique and highly productive,” she says. “Bringing together our different skill sets and perspectives has resulted in projects and initiatives that have transformed neighborhoods and communities for the better in very tangible ways.”
Collaborating From the Ground Up
As best they can remember, Morris and Manning-Broome say it was in about 2008 when the groups began investigating whether they could join forces to bring smart development to the state. “We had seen some of the things CPEX was working on and heard of its efforts by talking with local elected officials,” recalls Morris. “We also saw that they were bringing in experts from around the country to talk about growth issues and best practices. So we reached out.
“We believe that if we can partner with other organizations, we can bring new trends to not only help our members represent their clients and customers, but also to build better cities and communities and to make our state better.”
Their inaugural effort was an educational drive on best practices for land-use management. In 2005, reports Manning-Broome, only 15 of 64 parishes — what many other states call counties — had a master plan. It was that year that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit within a month of each other and devastated many Louisiana communities.
The Louisiana REALTORS® supported legislative efforts to institute building codes.
As rebuilding efforts began, many leaders realized Louisiana needed better and smarter planning. The Louisiana REALTORS® supported legislative efforts to institute building codes, reports Morris. “We didn’t have a statewide building code at the time,” he says. “It was something we worked on with a large coalition including the insurance industry and others. That was a totally dynamic culture change. We also worked to lay the groundwork with legislative changes that would keep the property and casualty insurance market viable in Louisiana, to make sure insurance was available and affordable.
“The building codes enacted were stronger and more stringent the closer you got to the coast,” recalls Morris. “We knew there was more cost involved in construction, but we also knew it would protect individuals’ investments. That effort allowed us to bring in, through CPEX, such stakeholders as elected officials and planners to collaborate with our REALTOR® members so when decisions were being made, REALTORS® would be a part of them.”
No Longer Neighborly
Manning-Broome agrees it was the massive rebuilding efforts that helped draw CPEX and REALTORS® together. “In Louisiana, we don’t have an office of state planning, and culturally there hasn’t been a lot of planning and regulating of the land through zoning,” she says. “We’ve been a very strong private-property-rights state, and people were just good neighbors. But for the most part, the state wasn’t growing. After Hurricane Katrina, populations shifted dramatically. There was also a realization that developers were coming in and not being good neighbors.”
Manning-Broome still remembers getting a call from a concerned citizen wanting to know if CPEX could help in a situation in which a developer was building a subdivision next to a dairy farm. There was no infrastructure in the area — the roads were all gravel, and there were no connections to water or sewage systems.
“If there was a fire in any of those homes, there weren’t even water pipes for fire trucks to use to put the flames out,” she states. “People contacted us as the only nonprofit planning organization in the state.”
CPEX created a program, called Louisiana Speaks, that allowed residents to redesign the state’s building, neighborhood, parish, and regional planning. Through the program, CPEX and the Louisiana REALTORS® teamed up to create the Louisiana Land Use Toolkit, intended to give residents the tools necessary to create laws and develop plans that fostered smart growth.
“Our first collaboration began around us creating the toolkit,” notes Manning-Broome. “With the support of the REALTORS®, we conducted massive educational workshops across the state to not only educate the public and leaders on best practices on land-use management tools, but also to build a stronger relationship with the REALTOR® community.
“NAR has a very strong smart-growth platform,” adds Manning-Broome. “We had transparent conversations and robust discussions about the communities of the future, and having that relationship with REALTORS® is critical. You want everybody in the tent to be part of establishing a plan and executing it.”
That “roadshow,” as Manning-Broome dubbed the effort, drew more than 2,500 people to workshops on land use and ordinances in areas covered by local REALTOR® boards. Participants were mostly REALTORS®, she says, joined by key local stakeholders.