AEs Fight for Green
How associations are changing public perceptions of Realtors® from mean to green
by Kelly Weingard
Generally, environmentalists assume that Realtors® would rather pave over a tree than hug it. But Realtor® associations from coast to coast are rapidly changing that misconception, in part by backing environmental legislation—even when their advocacy has no direct correlation to the real estate market.
“We Live Here, Too”
Washington state Realtors® are the front-runners in the fight to change the profession’s negative public persona on environmental issues. As Government Affairs Director Bryan Wahl explains, “In our mind there is no separation between real estate and environmental concerns. What’s good for the environment is good for real estate.”
Mike Eliason, association executive and GAD for the Kitsap County Association of Realtors®, Wash., echoes Wahl’s sentiments. Noting the serene environment of the Hood Canal waterfront, Eliason says, “We live here, too—for the same reasons the public does.”
Actions Speak Louder than Words
Located just west of Seattle, Kitsap County boasts more shoreline than any other county in the country. The tranquil waters and nearby Olympic National Forest (which racks up more visitors per year than Yellowstone) lure both tourists and residents to the area. So when a local sand and gravel company wanted to introduce commercial barging into the Hood Canal waterway, the Kitsap County Realtors® sprang into action.
As a peninsula, the weight of Kitsap County’s economy rests on the Hood Canal Bridge. Fear that commercial barges could damage this major motorway is one of the many reasons prompting Kitsap County Realtors® to fight against waterfront industrialization. Other motivators include the potential introduction of invasive species into the canal, homeland security threats posed to the nearby naval base, and noise pollution from the proposed 24-hour operation.
When the Kitsap County Realtors® joined forces with local environmental groups to form the Hood Canal Coalition, it was front-page news in two counties. The Realtors® were the largest group to lend their support to the effort—and the only private sector group to get involved.
The Hood Canal fight has gone on for years now and it may drag on several more, but by demonstrating their association’s values with actions, the Kitsap County Realtors® have won a new respect in the area as environmentalists. In fact, they enjoy one of the highest rankings in the state in terms of public opinion about real estate professionals, according to Eliason. In a pro-environment state like Washington, that is something to crow about.
Coming to the Table
When big rigs rolled into Santa Fe recently in search of oil and natural gas, the Santa Fe Association of Realtors® did everything but lay in front of the trucks to halt any activity.
After reviewing the county’s proposed expansion of drilling rights under the association’s Quality of Life Principles, Donna Reynolds, acting director of the Santa Fe association, had no doubt that area Realtors® would get involved. Applying the values set forth in their guiding document, Santa Fe’s Realtors® weighed in heavily when the county requested public comments on proposed new ordinances to relax drilling restrictions in the area.
While expressing strong support for individual property rights, the association voiced concern that oil and natural gas explorations in the region would harm property values. Quoting the June 2006 Garfield County Land Values and Solutions Study, the Realtors® warned that home values could decline an average of 15 percent during the active drilling phase of gas exploration.
There was also the threat to Santa Fe’s water supply. “Out here,” Reynolds reports, “water is more precious than oil.” Realtors® raised their concerns about contaminated water with the council, as well as worries about the environmental harm that could result from the use of hazardous chemicals in the drilling process.
Banding together with environmental groups, the Santa Fe Realtors® even went so far as to interview county commissioner candidates for their views on drilling. This aggressive campaign paid off. Not only did New Mexico’s governor call for a state moratorium on drilling, but the county also hired a land-use attorney to rewrite the area’s drilling regulations.
“Showing that we have a broader perspective opens the door for other groups to approach us in the future,” Reynolds says.
The Garrett County Board of Realtors®, Md., recently faced an interesting dilemma when a wind-power development company proposed erecting two large-scale wind farms in their region. The catch? The developer proposed installing the series of 400-foot wind turbines along mountain ridges in two Maryland state forests within Garrett County.
A renewable, clean alternative to fossil-fuel energy, wind farms are generally viewed as environmentally friendly. But as Realtors® know best, it’s all about location. Weighing the varying shades of “green,” the Garrett County Realtors® concluded that the adverse consequences of wind farms to their land and its traditional uses—the quality of life in Garrett County, the wildlife, the unspoiled views, and tourism—far exceeded any perceived benefits of industrial wind turbines.
United by a common goal, the Garrett County Realtors® joined hands with an odd assortment of bedfellows, including environmentalists, developers, property owners, timber industry representatives, and elected officials.
In a letter to Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Garrett County Board of Realtors® GAD Paul Durham detailed the potential economic harm of stripping away state forests to erect the unsightly wind turbines in an area that relies on nature-based tourism. Realtors® wrote appeals to the government, and board president Rich Orr testified on behalf of the Realtors® at a public hearing on the proposal. In just a few short months, the governor quickly nixed industrial development in Maryland’s state forests.
Of the association’s advocacy, Durham reflects, “Local environmentalists were very appreciative of our involvement. They now perceive that we share values when it comes to the protection and use of public lands and resources.”
Through all of these environmental advocacy efforts, associations around the country are doing their part to protect their local communities, preserve the environment, and improve public perception about Realtors®’ views on environmentalism along the way. These days they are certainly looking more “green” than “mean.”
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