2024-05-27 2:44 AM

Memorial Day 2024 Issue!

Arlington Enacts Disputed ‘Missing Middle’ Housing Plan

Come July 1, home builders and residents in Arlington operate under its most comprehensive zoning reform in more than 60 years. The county board on March 22 voted 5-0 for final approval of a rewrite to allow more “expanded housing options” following three years of fiery debate over the “missing middle housing” to boost construction of more multi-family structures.

    The vote came on the evening of the third day of a twice-recessed hearing at which 248 residents spoke on both sides of the issue, and after the plan—with modifications—was first approved by the county’s Planning, Housing, Transportation and Disability commissions.

     The final amendments to the Zoning Ordinance and General Land Use Plan will allow by-right development across the county of duplexes, triplexes, and quadraplexes, and six-plexes under specified conditions—with the same lot coverage rules as for single-family homes. The plan caps annual construction permits for such structures at 58. On-site parking minimums will vary by proximity to transit, and requirements for replanting of destroyed trees were set at four shade trees for 2-4 unit structures and eight shades trees for 5-6-unit structures.

   “After years of study, thousands of emails, phone calls, and community conversations, and thousands more staff hours working on this project, I am proud of the sensible framework that the board has adopted to permit, by right, options for different housing types in every residential zoning district,” said Board Chair Christian Dorsey. “By allowing natural increases in the housing supply, we will lower the barriers of entry into all neighborhoods and, in doing so, address the housing crisis and our history of exclusionary zoning head-on.”

  But critics, both organized and individual, were as opposed as ever. Some in the board room held signs reading “RIP The Arlington Way,” and others threatening “recalls” and making resistance to Missing Middle a theme in this year’s campaigns for two open county board seats.“The county board just approved a poorly-planned and poorly-analyzed set of changes to massively densify Arlington,” said a statement from Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future. “The board’s final Missing Middle plan is a gift to developers with very negative consequences for residents.” Its leader Peter Rousselot added that the “ideologically driven” board “has plopped a half-baked cake on the table that Arlington residents must now eat.”

  Arlingtonians for Upzoning Transparency before the vote had urged the board to “rethink” the plan and consider what it called “factual testimony and data from experts including economists, realtors, mortgage bankers, engineers, and others showing that EHO will actually REDUCE diversity and NOT produce housing more affordable to anyone but upper income people with annual incomes approaching $200,000.”

    Advocates for the plan included YIMBYs of NoVa, who calculated that the majority of speakers before the board were in favor. “We bring a lot of renters who are traditionally left out of the decision-making process, but we don’t have the same diversity of incomes and race that other groups bring to the table,”  president Jane Green said told the newsletter Greater, Greater Washington.  “We are just one piece of this broad, forward-looking, pro-growth, pro-housing coalition. To me, the best thing coming out of this is a real professionalism and leadership that we have learned from our allies.”

    The coalition of religious groups known as VOICE predicted that other jurisdictions would follow Arlington’s example. “This is an historic decision to eliminate a system that, by design or by intent, has disproportionately locked families of color out of Arlington neighborhoods, driven up housing costs that forced many of these families to leave, and prevented them from creating intergenerational wealth through homeownership,” said Rev. Ashley Goff. “Change in the housing market is inevitable,” added Pat Findikoglu of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, pointing to the current spate of construction of larger and pricier single-family homes to replace older homes. “How we shape it to meet new needs and still remain livable is the challenge.”   Board member and major advocate Katie Cristol was asked about the emotional attacks from opponents, including some who accused her of “dividing the county” and then escaping accountability by not seeking reelection. She told the News-Press she is “happy to meet folks up on the high road whenever they’re ready to join me there again.”

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