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Land Use Initiative Lends 'Horsepower' to Greater Northwest Indiana Zoning Challenge

The Greater Northwest Indiana Association of REALTORS® (GNIAR) has been successful in tapping in to various REALTOR® Party resources in the past few years, including Placemaking Grants, RPAC Major Investor Event-Based Fundraising Grants and Level III Smart Growth Action Grant that is now supporting a county-level Parks Master Plan Update.  But when GNIAR Chief Operating Officer Joe Wszolek read in a local paper about proposed commercial zoning regulations in the town of Munster this past February, he knew a different kind of support was needed, and fast. 

The ordinance was put forth in response to the sensitive issue of a commuter rail line coming from downtown Chicago to Munster, IN, which Wszolek describes as one of the region’s premier communities.  While the council member who introduced it was clearly trying to keep Munster from becoming the same commercial franchise as other towns on the line, the REALTORS® recognized it as artificially restricting free enterprise.  “The intention was understandable,” says Wszolek, “but its effect would ultimately be negative, rather than positive.  It would be detrimental to the mom-and-pop businesses that it was trying to protect.”

Wszolek had read about the REALTOR® Party's Land Use Initiative program, and immediately contacted Maggie McShane, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs at his state association, who helped to get the ball rolling.  Once the request was granted, GNIAR sent the proposed ordinance to Robinson & Cole, the firm retained by the National Association of REALTORS® to review and comment on land use issues.  "We were on a really tight deadline, and I didn't even know if it would be possible," says Wszolek.  "Not only were they incredibly responsive, but they highlighted areas of concern that I hadn't even recognized as issues."  In the meantime, GNIAR reached out to the local homebuilders' association and a network of statewide retail businesses, to join together in voicing opposition to the ordinance.

Wszolek presented the Town Council with a letter from 2017 GNIAR President Nathan Reeder, clearly stating the association's concern that the proposed regulations would have a negative impact on property values and real estate marketability in Munster; as well as expressing GNIAR's desire to help the council and other stakeholders to develop an alternative course of action.  He followed up with the memorandum provided by Robinson & Cole, detailing its findings: the first section outlined various grounds on which the proposal could be susceptible to legal challenge; the second raised issues that could be harmful to the town, should it adopt the proposed ordinance.    

At the next Munster Town Council meeting, much to Wszolek's surprise, the council member who had introduced the ordinance made a motion to reject it, citing objections from the REALTORS® and numerous business owners.  She took the opportunity to comment that her proposal wasn't intended to be 'anti-real estate,' but, rather, an attempt to create the best possible atmosphere in Munster.  The proposed ordinance was defeated by a unanimous vote.

Says Wszolek, "It was the best possible outcome, and we couldn't have done it without the high quality review and technical support provided by the REALTOR® Party.  We were able to maintain a helpful, non-adversarial stance, and our involvement was well received by the Town Council."  As the GNIAR logo says, he adds, "We are the voice for real estate in northwest Indiana: we have all sorts of resources available, and we're happy to sit down and craft a solution for the benefit of all."

To learn more about how the Greater Northwest Indiana Association of REALTORS® is protecting property values and the marketability of real estate in its region, contact Chief Operating Officer, Joe Wszolek, at 219-795-3600.

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