F.C. Council Mulls Housing Adds to Work Plan

Mulling changes to the City of Falls Church Work Plan that it may vote on next month, the Falls Church City Council stumbled at its work session Monday night over the addition of an item promoting housing alternatives, such as accessory dwelling units and “missing middle” options, worried about opposition that has developed in Arlington and some other nearby jurisdictions. Still, the matter will move ahead in a final Work Plan document that the Council is expected to vote on later this month.

Falls Church City Hall. News-Press Photo.

In a related matter, the Council has also begun taking up the alternative housing issue in its discussions on revising the zoning code for Transitional Zones to allow for alternatives to the single family homes in those narrow-circumscribed areas.

Concerns were raised at the Council work session this week, however, that pushing for a City-wide allowance for accessory dwelling units (ADUs), as Vice Mayor Letty Hardi urged her colleagues to add to the Work Plan Monday, would run afoul of the kind of resistance that has arisen in Arlington and in Montgomery County, Maryland, where citizens have mobilized to oppose them.

For example, at a June 18 meeting of the Arlington County Board of Supervisors, large contingents of citizens on both sides of the issue packed the Council chambers, and no final decisions are expected to be made for a considerable amount of time.

Among the opponents to the idea were proponents of the preservation of tree canopies, who argued that permitting greater housing densities in the residential neighborhoods would represent a threat. On the other hand, proponents of housing alternatives that would allow smaller-scale multifamily housing in neighborhoods currently zoned only for single-family homes argued having more housing alternatives would “give more people the choice to live in Arlington” and as such is “popular among renters, people of color, and younger generations.”

Wells Harrell stated, “We see 170 homes torn down every single year in Arlington, shouldn’t we choose to let some of those homes be replaced with missing middle homes that will add more variety, increase more capacity and cost less than the big expensive mansions that would go up instead?”

And according to a two-part study by McGuire Woods consulting issued recently, entitled, “Zoning and Segregation in Virginia,” “neighborhoods in the commonwealth remain racially and economically segregated a half-century after the Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibited racial discriminiation,” with one of the primary reasons the segregation continues today is because “zoning laws and policies perpetuate the separation of housing by wealth and income.”

Remedying the segregation “requires significant policy changes at the local and state levels, and laws and policies must be altered to increase housing opportunities for all Virginians and remove barriers for less-wealthy households to live in or near more wealthy communities…with the goal to achieve housing equality by removing legal barriers that continue the economic and racial segregation of communities.”

While the language for the Falls Church Work Plan update is being hammered out at City Hall for inclusion in the plan the Council will vote on next month, a policy will need to encompass the interrelated issues of affordable and diverse housing, tree canopy and storm water issues,” Hardi stated.
The City’s planning chief Jim Snyder said adding such a task to the Work Plan would require an increase in the staffing of his department.

But it would be in concert with the efforts of the City’s Housing and Human Services Department to win the Council OK for a new deal with Wesley Housing that would hand over the operation of the City’s existing affordable housing stock to that entity for management in the context of the creation of a “Acquisition Strike Fund” for the preservation and new construction of units for which persons with incomes at 60 percent of the average median income could afford.

The terms of the deal were discussed at the Council work session this week and should be signed off next month to utilize $3.75 million in grant money gifted to the City and other regional jurisdictions by Amazon.

The plan will give Wesley Homes ownership and operational control of the Virginia Village quadruplexes the City has acquired on S. Maple Street.