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At their regular meeting on Tuesday, April 17, Ranson City Council members unanimously approved proposals some two years in the making, enacting a new zoning code and Comprehensive Plan designed to guide growth and redevelopment for decades to come.
“There was never any doubt these measures would pass into law,” said Ranson Mayor A. David Hamill. “That’s because, from the beginning, we involved everybody – property owners, business people, developers and elected officials from both Ranson and Charles Town. We all had a hand in turning our ideas into plans and ordinances. By making them law, we’re signaling to our partners in the federal agencies that funded the planning and to those considering investment in our region that we’re ready for a new era.”
Ranson attracted $6 million in grants and loans from three federal agencies — the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) – and contracted with an international team of consultants. With the EPA money, the planning partners designed proposals for repurposing six brownfield sites into future locations for new businesses. HUD funding provided resources for a rezoning approach to guide smarter growth and redevelopment. And the DOT grant enabled the redesign of a key corridor into a connective boulevard and plans for the transformation of historic Charles Washington Hall in Charles Town into a commuter center, strengthening links between regional rail and regional residents. HUD BEDI funds will assist in the redevelopment of the former Kidde Foundry.
In a series of meetings with community members, staff and officials – including those in neighboring Charles Town – the separate planning efforts were interwoven into a comprehensive strategy. To the federally funded planning projects, the City of Ranson added a revamp of its Comprehensive Plan to bring it into compliance with the new plans and zoning code.
“The whole became greater than the sum of the parts,” said Mayor Hamill.
Each step in the process was documented on this website, unfolding through the posts preceding this one. So citizens, officials and future community investors had open access to follow the progress from beginning until final passage of the proposals on April 17.
Finalized versions of the adopted documents can be found here.
Emerging plans for Fairfax Boulevard will be presented to the Planning Commission on Wednesday, April 18, 2012, immediately following their scheduled 7:30pm meeting. Ranson residents are invited to attend as project team consultants detail Ranson’s first thoroughfare design in conformance with the newly adopted Comprehensive Plan and SmartCode.
These new designs, paid for with Sustainability Grant funding, cover Fairfax Boulevard from Washington Street to Fairfax Crossing. After comprehensive public involvement in September 2011, the design team — led by Hall Planning & Engineering, supported by William H. Gordon and Associates, Stromberg/Garrigan and Associates, PlaceMakers, LLC, Utility Professional Services, Inc. and others — has been transforming the collected ideas and aspirations into detailed plans for public review.
The emphasis includes Complete Street walkability, innovative storm water treatment, sustainable Street Trees and bicycle friendly design. In addition to moving vehicle traffic, pedestrian, bicycle and transit use will be strongly encouraged in the enhanced public places along this 1.6 mile corridor.
The images below set the stage for the presentation.
Project scope - George Street and Fairfax Boulevard. Click for larger view.
Residential section of Fairfax Boulevard with parallel parking, full sidewalks and street trees. Click for larger view.
Innovative stormwater system and underground utilities enable healthy trees and great livability. Click for larger view.
On Wednesday, September 14, Ranson and Charles Town citizens and leaders sloshed into Charles Town’s Old Opera House from a dusk downpour to celebrate the conclusion of an intensive week of planning with their consulting team.
“Unless you were on the third floor of city hall this week to watch these people work,” said Ranson Mayor A. David Hamill, “it would be hard to imagine how hard they went at it.”
Susan Henderson, of PlaceMakers, who led the land use and coding component of the three-component project team, turned the compliment back on the mayor, the staffs of the two cities and the citizens who showed up for so many discussions during the week. “We’ve been overwhelmed at the participation,” she said.
Henderson, Sean Garrigan and Rick Hall — leaders of groups working on former industrial sites and the transportation segment of the project — gave the Wednesday night crowd a peak at how Ranson and Charles Town might look after decades of growth guided by the ideas and plans tested and refined during the previous week.
You can download the complete presentation here (3.9mb .pdf). To get an overview of project goals and the roles of the three federal agencies that funded the effort — the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) — check out the column to the immediate right. And follow the progress of the workshop from the opening night till the closing evening at the Opera House in the posts preceding this one.
Henderson’s portion of the program focused on what she called the project’s “connective thread,” the SmartCode zoning that stitches together all three components with design rules for enabling compact, walkable, mixed-use environments. Watch the video below to get a feel for how the Ranson SmartCode can do that.
Garrigan, partner in Stromberg/Garrigan & Associates, explained how his group attached storm water management issues without sacrificing the goals of responsible land use and transportation planning. “There are ways to site buildings,” said Garrigan, “so that you can not only maximize the economic opportunities but also address important environmental concerns.”
Hall emphasized the same synergy. “We have a saying,” said Hall, “that goes this way: ‘LU1, TR2.’ That means land use planning first, transportation planning second. If you plan first for responsible land use, we can finds several different ways to satisfy transportation goals within that context. If you try to do it the other way around, trying to make land use fit an already designed transportation plan, it’s as if you’re fighting with both hands tied behind your back.”
Illustrations of key segments of the team’s combined work is below. As Henderson cautioned in her introduction, these are illustrative of an array of alternative designs among a great many options. One advantage of the SmartCode is that there can be a broad range of approaches if development and redevelopment adheres to a few simple rules about what’s appropriate in what “character zone.”
It’s also important to remember that the illustrations depict build-out over time, perhaps a long time, depending upon market influences. So while portions of the plans described on Wednesday night can get on track as soon as the cities choose, other aspects await opportunities beyond their control.
The "transect" of Ranson, a visual summary of how Ranson becomes more intense as it moves from countryside to downtown. The "character zones" of the proposed SmartCode zoning overhaul, designated T-Zones 1 through 5, are based on the varying character that occurs along this natural system. Click for larger view.
Development character typical of T5, the most intense zone under the new SmartCode. Click for larger view.
Development character typical of T4, the proposed SmartCode's designation for general urban neighborhoods. Click for larger view.
This T4 animated sequence reflects adaptive reuse and infill development within existing neighborhoods.
Development character typical of T3, the SmartCode's sub-urban designation. Predominantly single family in nature, but still very walkable. Click for larger view.
This T3 animated sequence reflects transportation improvements on an existing segment of Fairfax Blvd.
Existing conditions within the Ranson Old Town project area. Click for larger view.
A revised zoning map, based on the proposed SmartCode zoning overhaul. Darker areas reflect areas of greater intensity; lighter areas, lesser intensity. Click for larger view.
Old Town's five project sites built out under the regulation of the new zoning ordinance. Click for larger view.
Proposed site plan for George Street/Fairfax Blvd, north of the tracks, to complete redevelopment begun by the APUS building. Click for larger view.
The same proposal, built out, viewed from the air. Click for larger view.
Lancaster Circle at City Hall, with enhanced pedestrian access, parking, and redevelopment all around. Click for larger view.
The same proposal, built out, viewed from the air. Click for larger view.
Proposed site plan for Powhatan Place at North Mildred and East Beltline. Click for larger view.
The proposed mixed-use neighborhood center at Fairfax Blvd. and Beltline. Click for larger view.
The same proposal, built out, viewed from the air. Click for larger view.
Proposed site plan for completing the connection between Fairfax Blvd. and Fairfax Crossing, reflecting the oval spec'd out in the original plan of Ranson, circa. 1890. Click for larger view.
The same proposal, built out, viewed from the air. Click for larger view.
A proposed development scenario for the longstanding Clayhill Farms, a walkable, garden neighborhood based on the principles of agrarian urbanism. Click for larger view.
The same proposal, built out, viewed from the air. Click for larger view.
The weeklong Ranson Renewed/Charles Town Connected workshop concludes at 7pm Wednesday evening, September 14, at the Charles Town Opera House with a presentation by the teams working in collaboration with the community on plans and ideas to shape future growth for the region.
Here’s what attendees will see:
A first rough draft of ideas and plans that connect key components of the project – the transformation of Fairfax Boulevard/George Street into a walkable, mixed-use “green corridor;
The revitalization of six former industrial sites; the rehabilitation of historic Charles Washington Hall into a combination civic building/regional commuter center; and
The knitting together of project goals with a regulatory approach that privileges walkability, energy efficiency, environmental responsibility and mixed use.
Starting with a tour of the two downtowns and outlying areas on Thursday of last week, it’s been a week of intensive collaboration between the cities, their staffs, residents, business owners and the consulting specialists.
The consulting team, divided into the three components that generally parallel the federal funding sources, have been working out of meeting space converted into a make-shift studio on the third floor of Ranson’s City Hall. It makes for cozy space for the 30-plus team members but for easier collaboration and cross-pollination among the various specialties. Click an image below to review scenes from the day.
For an overview of project goals, check out the overview in the column to the immediate right. To follow the path of public discussions, presentations and critiques, read the posts preceding this one. And to read background reports, notes from the week’s meetings and explanations of the three federal grants that have made the planning efforts possible, go to the Resources section in the toolbar above.
Dede Christopher's illustration-in-progress shows resulting character under the proposed T3 zoning designation.
If there’s a signature project among those the workshop teams are tackling this week, it’s the North-South Fairfax Boulevard/George Street thoroughfare.
The goal: To create a true boulevard that enables walkable, neighborhood-appropriate mixed uses. It’s intended to be a “green” corridor because it’s designed to make the most of state-of-the-art storm water management systems and other environmentally friendly techniques.
In the video below, specialists from all three project teams – those working on components funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) – explain their roles.
To see how the new green corridor fits within the broader goals of the workshop, check out the overview column to the immediate right and the posts preceding this one.
The 1890 plan for what is now Ranson and Charles Town. Click for larger view.
The inspiration for the green corridor comes partly from history. The 1890 plat of the Charles Town/Ranson area depicts a connective spine integrating neighborhoods and what are now the commercial districts of the two towns. Though Ranson wasn’t incorporated until 1910, the original design for the boulevard seamlessly links the two towns.
Design of the boulevard is funded primarily through DOT. Read more about the overall transportation planning effort here. But because properties within the corridor area are former industrial sites prime for redevelopment, the EPA-funded focus on “brownfield” sites offers an opportunity to combine community and federal agency goals. Read more about the EPA-funded efforts here.
The same goes for the HUD-financed land use planning and zoning component. The goal is to assure that redevelopment follows rules that encourage walkable neighborhoods and appropriate commercial uses mixed in with a broad range of residential options. So the regulatory framework has to support that. And the “form-based” coding approach customized for Ranson/Charles Town by the project’s coding specialists will do just that.
[UPDATED: 09-12-11, 9:55am] There were lots of reasons not to show up Sunday night at Ranson’s Independent Fire Hall to talk about planning and zoning.
It was the 10th anniversary of 9-11-2001, when many families chose to spend the day together. A gulley-washer of a rain storm blew through just before meeting time. And there were the distractions of Sunday sports on the tube. Yet some 60 folks dropped by for the Ranson Renewed/Charles Town Connected open house.
“I want to thank everyone who made this effort,” Ranson Mayor A. David Hamill told the crowd. “Give yourself a round of applause.”
Mayor Hamill and Susan Henderson of the PlaceMakers team address attendees at Sunday evening's community critique.
What the attendees got Sunday night, was a display of workshop progress displayed on table stations at the Fire Hall. Project team members manned the stations, explained the ideas and designs and invited comments and suggestions.
Call this a mid-term examination, with community members as evaluators of progress towards goals they set for key project components: Plans for transforming the Fairfax Avenue/George Street corridor into a vibrant, mixed-use boulevard; designs for redeveloping former industrial sites; and a rewrite of Ranson’s zoning and comprehensive plan.
See how those separate elements are integrated into one planning workshop in the overview column and videos to the immediate right. Follow the path to where we are in the process by reading the posts immediately preceding this one. And to hear directly from participants in the Sunday night open house, click on the video below.
The first step at each station Sunday night was a review of what team members understand to be key community concerns and an explanation of how the team hopes to address those concerns. To see what attendees saw, download the feedback reports on community interests in transportation, industrial site redevelopment, and land use planning and zoning here (375kb .pdf).
Then, project leaders provided a show-and-tell of ideas and illustrations under development. Conversations with community members gave the project team an additional level of feedback. And many of those questions, ideas and suggestions (175kb .pdf) will be incorporated into the status report the team gives to a joint meeting of the Ranson and Charles Town City Councils on Tuesday night and then into the wrap-up presentation on Wednesday night at the Old Opera House. Times and locations can be found here.
Two principal goals of the Ranson Renewed/Charles Town Connected project intersect on the historic corner of Washington and George Streets in Charles Town. That’s the site of Charles Washington Hall.
Looking down on Washington Street from the currently closed off upper floor of Charles Washington Hall.
The building that now occupies that space dates back to 1874, after fires destroyed previous structures. And two of the workshop’s three teams are collaborating on plans for a rehabilitation effort that will accomplish two things at once:
Return the Hall to its status as a major gathering space for civic meetings and entertainment for the citizens of Ranson and Charles Town; and provide a central location for connecting local commuters to regional transit.
“You can arrive by foot or bike from the nearby historic neighborhoods or be dropped off by car,” says Rick Hall, of Hall Planning & Engineering, who is leading the project transportation team. “You can get a cup of coffee and a Danish, then get on a bus or van that takes you to the rail stop. From this commuter center, you can be connected to the entire Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern rail corridor.”
Ranson and Charles Town are already preferred relocation destinations for Washington DC regional workers looking for small town options to high-priced living in more intensely developed areas. Many drive cars from the two towns to Harper’s Ferry to catch the commuter train. Improving the transit connection, while revitalizing an historic downtown building for uses during extended hours, could be a winning strategy for everyone.
On Saturday afternoon, September 10, the other project team associated with the Charles Washington Hall effort — Stromberg/Garrigan & Associates — led a tour of the Hall building. Though currently in a state of disrepair, the structure yielded hints of a rich history, especially with narrative help from preservation architect Terry Necciai and team leader Sean Garrigan. Click on the video for a glimpse of the possibilities.
You can sense how the Charles Washington Hall project fits within the broader goals of the Ranson/Charles Town project by reading the overview to the immediate right and following the progress of the workshop in the posts preceding this one.
By Wednesday evening, when the project team presents its rough drafts of plans for the combined effort, ideas for returning Charles Washington Hall to its formal civic role will be more fully fleshed out. Check here for time and location for the wrap-up session.
It’s this simple, said PlaceMakers’ Susan Henderson, project leader for the regulatory component of the Ranson Renewed/Charles Town Connected project:
“The intent of this new regulatory approach is to make it easier for you to do what you’re telling us is important to you and your community.”
On Saturday, September 10, Henderson and others from the consulting team assigned to the Ranson Renewed/Charles Town Connected project discussed the role of zoning in helping to guide growth in character with the region’s character.
Under current Ranson zoning, many of the homes in the town’s historic section are considered “legally non-conforming.” Which means they’re grandfathered into current regulations but couldn’t be built in the same way today.
Community visioning exercises during the current workshop and before confirm a consensus that the character of historic neighborhoods, both within Ranson and in adjacent Charles Town, is something future planning should emulate, said Henderson. And patterns of convenience and accessibility embedded in the older neighborhoods, patterns that allow for walking and biking to daily needs as well as driving, are worth encouraging through zoning, as well.
The coding segment of the three-pronged project is funded through a grant to Ranson from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This week’s workshop is designed to integrate the HUD component with the brownfields rehab effort funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the transportation components funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). To get a sense of how the goals of the three agencies are combined in the workshop, check out the overview and videos to the immediate right, and read through the posts preceding this one.
The goal of aligning the regulatory approach of Ranson with the community’s vision will be served in two ways by the workshop. While Henderson’s planning team drafts a new zoning ordinance for downtown Ranson and expected growth areas, the specialists are also using conversations with residents and business folks to inform a rewrite of the city’s comprehensive plan to assure regulatory alignment.
Ranson’s new zoning code will be “form-based,” as opposed to “use-based.” That means the organizing theme of regulations is more concerned with the look and feel of development and redevelopment than with what’s going on inside of buildings. It’s an approach designed to enhance the experience of humans on foot by concentrating on public areas, including streets, sidewalks and building frontages. While cars are accommodated, they aren’t given the privileged status that’s complicated living and working in suburban sprawl.
At the Saturday morning session, Henderson and facilitator Jennifer Hurley assured residents and business owners they would not be “down-zoned.” Which means they won’t be subject to any more restrictions than those that apply under current zoning, provided they don’t rebuild or undertake substantial renovations.
The whole idea, as Henderson told residents on Saturday, is to legalize approaches that are currently illegal and that represent what most locals consider crucial to maintaining regional character. Before the workshop’s opening presentation on Thursday night, September 8, attendees were given choices for character elements they admired and those they wanted to avoid. See the results of that survey here (180kb .pdf).
At Sunday evening’s show-and-tell, attendees will get a chance to critique that earlier assessment of preferred development approaches and the work so far by the project team. The event begins at 7 p.m. at the Independent Fire Hall. See you there.
Four meetings, designed to drill down more deeply into hopes and concerns surrounding issues at the heart of the weeklong Ranson Renewed/Charles Town Connected workshop, took up most of the day on Friday, September 9.
Members of the consulting team led discussions about the transformation of Fairfax Boulevard-George Street into a more vibrant gateway into Ranson; about the conversion of historic Charles Washington Hall into a commuter center; about the regional economy; and about real estate development in keeping with a new zoning approach.
On Saturday, the focused topic session will concentrate on how the proposed change in the regulatory framework affects Old Town, followed by a tour of Charles Washington Hall to hear plans for its rehabilitation and reuse. Go here to see the complete schedule of events throughout the week.
Because the real experts on Ranson and Charles Town are the people who live and work here, the consulting designers and planners use these meetings to fill in gaps in the team’s understanding. What they hear informs the evolution of ideas and plans throughout the next five days. By the concluding presentation on September 14, the team will have shaped concepts according to progressive feedback from the community and the staffs of the two towns.
In this post, we talk about Friday’s exploration of a key transportation component of the workshop — the transformation of Fairfax Boulevard-George Street into a vibrant, welcoming corridor. In succeeding reports, we’ll deal with the other two broad categories of work, rehabilitation of former industrial sites and the drafting of a new regulatory approach to enable growth in keeping with the Ranson/Charles Town character.
Rick Hall, president of Hall Planning & Engineering, led the Friday workshop sessions on transportation. The core mission, said Hall, is to recover the principal missing component of community mobility: walkability. After more than a half-century of “motordom,” an era that privileged travel by private automobile over all other modes, said Hall, beginning in the 1980s, a counter-movement began to reclaim some of the territory for pedestrians and bicyclists.
“And we’re not talking about merely introducing the possibility of walking,” said Hall. “We want to increase the probability of walking.”
Making walking a viable alternative enlivens neighborhoods for shopping and civic functions. It supports healthier lifestyles, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and enhances a community’s affordability. If you live in a neighborhood where you can walk to most daily needs, you might be able to get along with at least one less car, freeing up as much as $9,000 a year that goes to owning and maintaining a vehicle for investment in food, housing or other family needs.
The conversion of a thoroughfare like the current version of Fairfax Boulevard into something more than a fast way out of town creates the opportunity for all those civic and economic advantages. It gives folks a reason to hang around, explore the town and support local businesses.
Most citizen questions were about safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, an indication that taming the thoroughfare was already on folks’ minds. Hall explained how good design — narrow lane widths, on-street parking, plantings in the planned median strip — works on the psychology of motorists. Recognizing the need to be alert to their surroundings, as opposed to zoning out on the open highway, motorists automatically slow down.
A thoroughfare designed for 25 mph max speeds, as opposed to highway speeds, allows bicyclists to move with auto traffic without dedicated lanes. And pedestrians, separated from the auto lanes by parked cars, feel an added sense of security. Hall promises that his team’s design for the new boulevard will have sidewalks on both sides.
To get a sense of how all this fits with the goals of the workshop and the goals of the federal agencies funding the projects, check out the overview column on the right and the posts preceding this one.
If you want to catch up on progress so far in the process, set aside some time to come to the Sunday show-and-tell session at 7 p.m. at the Independent Fire Hall. The design team will display their evolving plans and rough sketches of ideas for community critique. Feedback from that event will be used to fine tune work for the concluding presentation on September 14.
Come and take part in person, or just follow along on these web pages. We’re posting every day through the workshop week.
More than 80 folks turned out on a rainy Thursday night, September 8, for the kick-off of a weeklong workshop to shape the future of the Ranson/Charles Town region.
The evening was part celebration of what’s already taken place, the coming-together of the two towns in an historic planning effort, and part introduction to an intensive week of collaboration.
The celebration inched up a notch or two Thursday night when Ranson Mayor A. David Hamill announced to the crowd at Washington High School in Charles Town that Ranson had been chosen to receive an additional $1.5 million grant, plus a $3 million loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The money will help redevelop a former factory site.
Added to the $1.5 million already funding the week’s workshop planning, the new money means federal agencies are investing a total of $6 million in Ranson and Charles Town with the conviction that this region is a good place to leverage taxpayer dollars to create economic opportunity and shape more compact, walkable, livable places for broad cross-sections of people.
“These are cities on the right track,” said the Environmental Protection Agency’s Mathy Stanislaus, one of a half-dozen federal officials on hand for the planning workshop launch.
Ben Brown interviews Mathy Stanislaus post-presentation.
Former Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, president of Smart Growth America’s Leadership Institute, delivered the evening’s keynote address. He lauded the Ranson/Charles Town partnership as a key example of the type of planning that’s necessary in an era in which community ambitions must pass the bang-for-the-buck test before they can be supported by public or private investment.
From the federal agencies to local communities, planning and engineering officials know they have to consolidate efforts and focus on getting the most results from diminished resources. Planning in silos is out; collaboration is in.
The Obama Administration’s commitment to a multi-agency Partners in Sustainable Communities initiative is evidenced in grants like the ones that have made the Ranson/Charles Town project possible. To address the workshop’s goals in a comprehensive way, the towns have combined targeted funding from the EPA, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and HUD.
To get a sense of the goals of specific components of the project funded by the separate grants, check out the column to the immediate right. And follow the path to this point in the posts preceding this one.
Over the next six days, a team of consulting planners and designers will work alongside Ranson and Charles Town city staffs, property owners, developers and residents to test ideas and draft plans that integrate goals for growth in harmony with community character. To see the full array of opportunities to participate directly, check out the week’s schedule. And even if you can’t be with us in person, follow and comment on the daily updates here on these web pages.
Ranson and Charles Town's next 100 years begin now.
From September 8 through the 14th, we're charting the course for our next century. And everyone's invited.
In an unprecedented week-long mega-workshop, city officials, residents, business community and a team of international consultants will be considering ideas and actions to help guide Ranson, Charles Town, and Jefferson County towards a future rich in opportunity for our families and businesses.
The Ranson-Charles Town community has been selected by HUD, DOT and EPA to serve as a national model for how small rural cities on the fringe of a major metropolitan area can foster sustainable economic development, transit, and community livability through targeted and strategic planning and infrastructure investments.
To facilitate this transformative change, planning funds are being used for the following linked and interdependent project components:
+ Develop a new zoning overlay district for downtown, as well as undeveloped, outlying areas of the Cities;
+ Redesign the Fairfax Boulevard-George Street Corridor into a "complete street" with green infrastructure, to promote a better transportation route for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit;
+ Design a new regional Charles Washington Commuter Center in downtown Charles Town that will facilitate access to regional rail and bus transit systems for Ranson, Charles Town and Jefferson County; and
+ Create a master plan for downtown Ranson that spurs job growth and economic development in former dilapidated manufacturing sites.
It all starts with an opening presentation on September 8.
“We couldn’t be happier about the way this process is shaping up,” says Ranson Mayor A. David Hamill. “It is our goal to continue evolving Ranson into a vibrant community where residents can live, work, and recreate within cohesive neighborhoods. Exciting things are beginning to happen, and I expect the next 12 to 18 months to be even more exciting as the real work begins to plan our future.”
Come, and lend your voice. There'll be all kinds of ways to participate, even for events you can't attend in person. So don't miss it.
Review adopted files of our Comp Plan update and new zoning option here.
Moving forward, whenever appropriate, you'll see our news posts identify the respective source(s) of project funding with one or more of these icons:
This video explains the grants, along with the process overall.