Technical Assistance Program

PLANS, POLICIES AND PRACTICES for SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES

Free technical assistance will be available to help communities implement sustainability and livability strategies that attract growth, protect the environment, improve public health, facilitate job creation and economic opportunity, and improve overall quality of life. Competitively awarded grant funds from US EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities’ Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities Program to Forterra (formerly Cascade Land Conservancy) and the Building Sustainable Communities Consortium will provide technical assistance to help communities get the kinds of development they want. 

*NOTE: Funds for 2013 are held up in federal sequestration. The program will be resumed once the project funding is released from sequestration.

As a partner in this consortium, Envision Minnesota was able to offer free technical assistance to 6 jurisdictions in Minnesota in 2012. 

The six communities selected to receive technical assistance in 2012 are Austin, Blue Earth, La Crescent, Lexington, Pine River, and Prior Lake. Read more about these communities and the assistance provided.

The following types of technical assistance were offered in 2012 (full descriptions below):

  • Downtown Vitality
  • Natural Resource Protection
  • Local Food Production and Promotion
  • Complete Streets Regulation/Incentive Development
  • Conservation Development Regulation/Incentive Development

The Building Sustainable Communities Consortium includes Forterra, Greenbelt Alliance, Envision Minnesota and the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance. Technical assistance is being provided to communities in four regions throughout the country: Central Puget Sound and the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, the San Francisco Bay Area in California, the Twin Cities Metro Area and Greater Minnesota and the Greater Boston Area in Massachusetts. The technical assistance will be provided by experienced, locally-based organizations and will help interested communities implement the Livability Principles developed by the Partnership for Sustainable Communities.  

TYPES OF ASSISTANCE AVAILABLE

 Envision Minnesota offered free technical assistance to 6 jurisdictions in 2012.

This assistance was delivered in three phases:

  1. Assessment: Once a community was selected, Envision Minnesota staff worked with an advisory team from the community to assess needs and barriers to successful implementation of the project they wish to implement.
  2. Workshop: The primary assistance was in the form of a two-day workshop to help communities develop a set of action steps and implementation strategies on their specific sustainable land use project. The workshop engaged the community advisory committee as well as other key stake holders in order to identify specific and tangible implementation steps the community has the capacity to accomplish. The workshops included topic expert speakers in addition to sessions on framing the project, identifying financial and non-financial resources, and steps for citizen inclusion.
  3. Implementation follow up: After the workshop, Envision Minnesota provided implementation support through limited access to technical expertise as identified during the workshop. Also, Envision staff met with the advisory committee after the initial workshop to assess progress and troubleshoot challenges. 

The following types of technical assistance were offered in 2012 to eligible applicant communities: 

  • Downtown Vitality - Downtowns are an important component of a community’s character and economic vitality. Communities may consider investing in their downtowns through mixed-use zoning ordinances, historic preservation measures, or strategic redevelopment.
  • Natural resource protectionNatural resource protection helps maintains critical ecological functions and contributes to quality of life through increased recreation and esthetic experiences. Communities may choose to explore natural resource protection through projects that identify and balance the uses of significant natural resources, such as water or wildlife habitat, with other community needs.
  • Local food production and promotion – A robust local foods system supports local economic competiveness through increased connections between farmers and eaters while providing increased access to healthy options. Communities may choose to support local food production through protection of working agricultural lands, modification of local regulations to allow urban food production, or through adoption of policies which allow for greater diversity of local food distribution and sales.
  • Complete Streets regulation/incentive development – Complete Streets help make communities more livable by considering the biker, walker, buser, shopkeeper, and others – not just the automobile driver. Communities may consider development of a complete street through regulation and/or incentive measures for redevelopment or new development projects.
  • Conservation development regulation/incentive development – Conservation development allows for communities to grow while balancing natural resources, agricultural, open space, and green infrastructure. Communities may consider encouraging more conservation minded developments through regulations and / or incentives that make the process easier and more attractive for developers.

ELIGIBILITY 

Local governments (city, county, tribal) in the State of Minnesota are welcome to apply for technical assistance from Envision Minnesota. Non-profit organizations may apply if they have strong support from and will partner with a local government unit. Collaborative partnerships are encouraged.

HOW TO APPLY

A new round of technical assistance may be offered again after program funds are released from sequestration (not yet available as of March 2013). The deadline for applications for 2013 has not  been set. Updates about this program will be announced on this webpage, as well as through the Hot Dish e-newsletter and on our Facebook page. 

Applicants interested in receiving free technical assistance must submit a letter of interest no more than 4 pages in length. The letter of interest must:

  • Identify a policy, plan or project on which technical assistance is requested and outline how it aligns with the Livability Principles;
    • Include details on project location, size, and the affected community in the project description
  • Describe how Envision Minnesota’s assistance would help to advance the project or policy, including the specific tool(s) that you are interested in;
  • Describe your community's need, readiness, potential impact and likelihood of success of the proposed project as defined in the selection criteria, below. In particular, include the following:
    • Describe the level of local community and government support for the specific proposal or for Livability Principles in general;
    • Discuss local and regional impacts and benefits if the proposal is implemented; and
    • Outline your plan and available capacity to implement recommendations and action items after the technical assistance period ends.

In addition, applicants must complete the Application Form. Candidates will be evaluated by a selection committee on the basis of the criteria described below. Those candidates best meeting the selection criteria will be selected to receive technical assistance. Finalists will be asked to submit a letter of commitment from government leadership or elected officials to demonstrate support for this effort.

Applications should be submitted via email to info@envisionmn.org. Applications will not be considered until after the deadline for 2013 applications has passed (not yet set).

Selection Criteria

Applications will be evaluated based on need, readiness, impact, and likelihood of success. Applications will be scored based on following criteria. 

Need (25 points): The Consortium seeks to provide assistance to communities that are under-resourced or lacking experience in implementation of sustainability policies. Applicants will be evaluated regarding the magnitude of their need for technical assistance. Indicators of need include, but are not limited to: limited staff capacity; history of auto-oriented development and rapid growth; high future growth projections; and limited implementation of sustainable communities policies, codes and projects to date. 

Readiness (25 points): The Consortium seeks to provide assistance to communities that are ready to adopt sustainability and livability policies but lack the technical expertise to develop or implement such policies. Applicants will be evaluated on their level of readiness for policy and program implementation. Indicators of readiness include, but are not limited to: existing or emerging political and/or community support for sustainability; inclusion of sustainable communities ideas or practices in adopted planning documents; availability of resources to continue implementation after technical assistance; and evidence that existing or proposed projects in the community align with the Partnership for Sustainable Communities’ Livability Principles.

Impact (25 points): The Consortium seeks to provide technical assistance to communities where such assistance would result in the largest impact.  Indicators of impact include, but are not limited to: potential to improve regional or local development patterns (e.g. increased connectivity, improved access to services, improved access to transit); estimated number of people served by the action; geographic reach of the impact; likelihood of significant community benefits (e.g. increased housing affordability, improved mobility, more open space); and ability for project to serve as a model for other communities in the region and beyond.

Likelihood of Success (25 points): The Consortium seeks to provide technical assistance to communities where sustainability and livability policies and priorities are likely to be incorporated in plans, policies and regulations.   Indicators that technical assistance is likely to lead to adoption of new policies and regulations include, but are not limited to: evidence of support from local community organizations with capacity to assist the jurisdiction in implementation efforts; an identified champion (elected official or community leader) of sustainability programs and policies; support from non-traditional and diversified stakeholders; and a realistic assessment of foreseeable challenges to implementation. 

Additional Considerations

We intend for this technical assistance to reach communities representing a range of contexts, geographies, scales and demographics and will strive to select communities representing this diversity.  To ensure that we are able to assist communities that may not have the capacity to provide as thorough applications as communities with more resources, 20% of the assistance will be targeted to rural or low resource communities with one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Rural - Population less than 15,000 and location outside the metropolitan core
  • High rates of poverty - more than 20% of households are at or below the federal poverty threshold, or the median household income is at 70% or less of the national average;
  • High unemployment - Unemployment rate is greater than the national average;
  • Low affordability - High percentage of population pays more than 45% of household income on housing and transportation costs;
  • Residents face a disproportionate level of environmental degradation, social inequity, historic underrepresentation, economic stagnation, and/or recent economic disruption.