2024-05-23 11:41 PM

Memorial Day 2024 Issue!

Coalition Rallies for Arlington Missing Middle Housing

A politically mixed crowd of about 150 people rallied for countywide expansion of housing options at Arlington’s Courthouse Plaza Feb. 5, assembling civil rights activists, educators, clergy, neighborhood leaders and anti-poverty volunteers.

Bundled up against a snow flurry, the crowd waved placards calling for enactment next month of a plan to permit construction of more “Missing Middle” units (from duplexes up to six-plexes), with slogans such as “Exclusionary Zoning is not the Arlington Way” while chanting, “Yes to people, Yes to housing, Yes to Missing Middle.”

County board member Katie Cristol, who has championed the middle-class ownership plan for three years, acknowledged that “it’s a little unconventional for a board member to speak at an event like this. But our job is to be a custodian of the future. And you didn’t come this far just to come this far.” (Board member Takis Karantonis also attended.)

Katie Cristol addressing Missing Middle rally (Photo: Charlie Clark)

A dramatic moment came during statements delivered by Republican, Democrat and independent leaders. Mike Cantwell, the Yorktown Civic Association president who ran for county board in 2021, announced that he had had “an opportunity to think again” and had changed his mind to back the zoning reforms. “I love Arlington, I love the people here now, and I love the people who might live here in the future,” he said. “I also love personal property rights,” which includes the right to “build a duplex, quadplex or even an eight-plex on my property.” Cantwell said he wants “all types to live in my neighborhood. Throughout our history, Arlington has usually done the right thing. Now is the time to welcome others to our neighborhood, not with a clenched fist or angry words, but with a welcoming hand.”

Former Arlington Young Republican chairman Kipp Chapin appealed to his party mates’ priority of building prosperity, noting that of the county’s 38,000 land parcels, 34,000 are zoned for single families — “so roughly 20 percent own almost 80 percent of the land. Current land-use policies are driving people away from Arlington.”

Katie Cristol addressing Missing Middle rally (Photo Credit: Charlie Clark)

The county’s history of race-based zoning was invoked several times. Democratic leader Tony Striner mentioned the vestige of the 1930s segregation wall in the Halls Hill neighborhood, saying, “It is time to remove all walls to homeownership. We didn’t elect [board members] to make easy choices.”

Bryan Coleman of NAACP said, “We stand at a precipice,” quoting Winston Churchill: “To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for what could have been their finest hour.”

Dean Amel of the Sierra Club, arguing against fears that the new zoning will hurt the environment, said, “the only species harmed by Missing Middle is Jim Crow.”

Single-family homeowner Natalie Roisman said Missing Middle is “not an attack on single-family zoning. It’s an imperfect but important step. A neighborhood is not about one type of housing but the character of the neighbors,” said, adding that she was tired of the opposition’s “scare tactics.”

Critics in the group Arlingtonians for Upzoning Transparency countered the rally with a release of a “reality check” statement. It accused backers of using nationally vetted tactics to mislead locals by presenting Missing Middle as likely to create housing that realistically could be purchased by police, teachers or firefighters. “It has become clear that YIMBYs and the county board are on the same page, wanting residents to think that the plan is about affordability,” said David Gerk, “when in reality, those who will benefit are developers and upper-income earners, many from outside Arlington.”

Some backers of Missing Middle had been upset when the board in January voted to remove the controversial option of allowing seven-eight-unit structures by-right countywide. But this did not come up during the rally. Organizer Jane Green of YIMBYs of NoVa said planners agreed to “move on and stay positive.”

The next step is a March 6 Planning Commission hearing, followed by an expected county board vote March 18.

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