Guest Commentary, Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Debates and yard-sign shouts over the proposal to allow more “missing middle housing” are highlighting gaps in incomes, perceptions, values and generational loyalties.

The rising public interest prompted the county board to offer 11 in-person or online “community conversations” and three “information sessions” from Sept. 12-Oct. 25. They’re billed as an opportunity for residents to “learn, listen, reflect, and share their perspectives with county board members and neighbors.” Four sessions were added after the first batch quickly filled.

The issue is shaping up as central to November’s county board race, in which Democrat Matt de Ferranti is the only incumbent facing voters. “Missing middle housing types are necessary because the status quo on housing is not sustainable,” he says on his website, calling the plan to loosen zoning “inextricably linked to the inclusive, equitable recovery we need.” De Ferranti has expressed discomfort with the high-end option of eight-plexes in single-family areas.

Independent Audrey Clement has made “Stop Missing Middle” the capstone on her campaign signs, saying the plan will fail economically while bringing “overcrowded schools, increased traffic congestion on neighborhood streets, and additional flood-inducing runoff due to fewer trees and more pavement.”
Independent libertarian Adam Theo supports “expanded housing options for the middle class,” having co-founded the Arlington branch of YIMBYS of Northern Virginia (for “Yes, In My Backyard”).
I queried the Northern Virginia Apartment Association, and Executive Director Patrick Algyer expressed hesitancy about loosening zoning countywide. “NVAA supports thoughtful, increased development by focusing on maintaining and redeveloping existing stock in Metro corridors,” he said, encouraging “creative redevelopment of underutilized commercial and mixed-use buildings.”

Most yard signs you see were distributed by two anti-upzoning volunteer groups, who generated over 3,400 signatures on a change.org petition. Rick Epstein, a retired attorney who lives in Arlington Forest, is a leader of Arlingtonians for Upzoning Transparency, a group of central and south Arlington ians whose website doesn’t list its leaders by name. His group has handed out 600 signs reading: “Save Our

Neighborhoods,” “No Duplexes Here,” and “No “2-8-Units” in single-family areas.
What’s the problem with duplexes? I asked. “Duplexes are fine” as housing options, he said, but not in single-family localities.

Retired attorney Peter Rousselot for two years has criticized missing middle for Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future, which has distributed about 230 of 400-plus illustrated yard signs ordered. They read: “Arlington missing middle vision vote no.” Asked for clarification of the word “vote,” he said it’s a compression of three pleas: that county board members vote no, that citizens vote against board members who voted yes, and that the board consider a referendum on the issue.

The pro-missing-middle forces at the Alliance for Housing Solutions have distributed 125 “Arlington for Everyone” signs, with more on order, staff say. They read: “Yes to Diversity, Yes to Lower-Cost Housing, Yes to New Neighbors, Yes to Missing Middle.”

Luca Gattoni-Celli, a business researcher who founded YIMBYs of NoVA—its youthful leaders are profiled on its website–told me “it is not a pure numbers game. We always expect to be outnumbered by folks opposed to development and new housing. That is partially because many future residents of unbuilt housing do not even know they could end up living in Arlington.” Opponents’ criticisms “are all over the map,” he added. He calls for positive rhetoric, expecting debate to get “uglier and weirder.”
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After months of covid-related delay, the Black Heritage Museum of Arlington will reopen, with a celebration ceremony, in a new location at 3045B Columbia Pike, Sept. 16 from 4-6 p.m.

Museum president Scott Taylor, in sharing space with the Columbia Pike Partnership, will continue the institution’s unique exhibits on the enslaved community at Arlington House, Freedman’s Village, school desegregation and 1960s lunch-counter sit-ins. “We are mixing exhibits with a little art,” he says. “I think I’m safe saying that every time you visit you will learn something new.”