North Carolina Sustainable Communities Grant Program announces first round of grant projects

North Carolina Community Practices Assessment

North Carolina’s Sustainable Communities Task Force recently announced the recipients of the new Sustainable Communities Grant Program, which supports regional sustainable development partnerships and makes the connection between land use, housing, and transportation issues. Recognizing that regional planning and collaboration are critical to implementing sustainable economic and community development, the state of North Carolina created the grant program to encourage cross-border efforts.

The grant program is a great example of state government recognizing the significance of regional partnerships in sustainable development. By creating incentives to strengthen regional collaboration and providing tools to assess implementation, the program helps communities become more resilient through tough economic times and create innovative solutions to sustainable development.

Nine applications were selected in April 2011, with each grantee receiving between $10,000 and $50,000. Grant applications were evaluated based on four factors: regional collaboration, evidence of need, implementation of sustainable development principles, and project effectiveness.  The Task Force awarded funds to the following entities:

City of Raleigh
Town of Morrisville
Centralina Council of Governments
Triangle J Council of Governments
City of Durham
Town of Fuquay-Varina
Town of Robbinsville
N.C. Eastern Region Military Regional Growth Task Force
Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization

The winning applications vary from revitalization projects to transit-oriented development studies.

Centralina Council of Governments, which serves nine counties in the Charlotte region, will use the grant fund to support communities in revitalizing vacant and underutilized properties, currently zoned for industrial purposes. The COG is targeting a total of 150,000 acres across five corridors and identifying existing and potential job centers and regional economic revitalization.

The Town of Morrisville plans on conducting market analysis to assess various options for transit-oriented development along a proposed regional rail line that would stop in Morrisville. They also intend on developing neighborhood compatibility models in order to garner community support for transit-oriented development and to meet the needs of local businesses and communities.

In July 2010, North Carolina passed legislation that established the Sustainable Communities Task Force, six guiding sustainability principles that reflect the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities, and a $250,000 state grant fund to encourage regional planning and collaboration. The grant fund was available to regional bodies, cities, and counties that are part of a regional sustainable development partnership.

In addition to the grant application, applicants were required as part of the submission to complete the Community Practices Assessment (CPA), a scorecard that allows local governments and regional bodies “to evaluate their current practices and identify opportunities for improvement in six areas of sustainable development.” While the CPA did not drive the grant project selection, the assessment tool helps applicants increase their transparency and accountability of investments they make by tracking progress and measuring performance over time as they move their planning efforts and projects forward.

Previously in April 2010, the Governors’ Institute on Community Design hosted a workshop for Governor Bev Perdue, members of her cabinet, state legislators, and local leaders assisting with the legislation development and other sustainability initiatives in North Carolina, such as the development of the CPA.

Read more about each winning project here.

State policy to support Main Street (Part 3 of 3): On the ground in Fowler, Colorado

Fowler, Colorado: Location of the proposed SMSI intersection improvement project at the downtown intersection of St. Hwy 50 and St. Hwy 167 (Main St.). Pictured in the lower righthand corner is a draft intersection improvement plan: click on the image to see the full-size version. (Photo courtesy of Nancy Hazlett)

In the first two parts of this series, we looked at the challenges facing Main Streets and spoke with Susan Kirkpatrick, former Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, about the Sustainable Main Streets Initiative (SMSI) to see how state government can be part of the solution. In this third part, we ask: What impact does this state-led program have at the ground level – on Main Street itself?

The impact of the SMSI can be seen in Fowler, a town of just over 1,200 people, which was one of five Colorado communities selected to pilot the initiative. Being selected as a SMSI pilot community “planted a seed of enthusiasm in the general community that has also carried over and further helped to create positive energy and interest in other local projects, such as the renewable energy efforts currently underway in our town,” writes Nancy Hazlett, Fowler’s SMSI Project Champion. She continued:

The SMSI project not only launched a worthwhile traffic/pedestrian safety project, but has also offered great opportunities for structured community education, which will be beneficial as we proceed with other SMSI project goals related to issues such as housing and health care. There seems to be a renewed sense of community pride surfacing as a result of the overall effort.

An important lesson from Colorado’s SMSI program is that it does not always take new funding to make a difference. SMSI does not have a dedicated funding source. Instead, the initiative is intended to streamline the delivery of existing state programs and resources to local communities. And in Fowler, Nancy explains, the new system works:

Becoming more familiar with the technical assistance that is available and learning how we as a community canutilize it to our benefit has been very worthwhile! The SMSI project has provided great opportunities to break down longstanding barriers, whether perceived or real, that separated government from small town rural Colorado. We’ve learned that a tremendous amount of good can come with better understanding of purposes and processes of government.

Fowler was selected to pilot SMSI in part because the town had embraced sustainability. The town went through a community visioning process in 2009 to develop a 2035 Comprehensive Plan, which reflects the shared vision “to become one of the most sustainable communities in Colorado.”

Fowler residents participate in a public meeting regarding the Main Street intersection improvement project. (Photo courtesy of Nancy Hazlett)

Fowler residents pride themselves on their Main Street, which is infused with Western small-town culture and features many historic structures. They envision a Fowler in 2035 that invests in these downtown assets while embracing new economic opportunities, including alternative energy. Achieving economic, environmental, and social sustainability is a big vision for a small town, and their leadership is gaining recognition – Fowler recently won the Wirth Chair Sustainable Cities Award.

Colorado’s Sustainable Main Streets Initiative is a great example of state government stepping up to support small town downtowns, even during a time of budget constraints. Coordinating and improving the delivery of existing services helps communities like Fowler make sure Main Streets remain a quintessential part of American culture.

Check out the previous posts in this series: