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Area Housing Shortage Behind T-Zone Push

“Planning for housing is a central tenet of City Planning, and an adequate supply of housing to meet projected population growth is a necessary component of a sustainable community that meets the social, economic, and environmental needs of current and future generations.” So states the City of Falls Church’s Planning Department in a report describing why it recommended to the City Council passage of a new, revised transitional zone policy that has been the subject of massive heartburn among certain quarters in the City.

After a year of emotionally-charged hearings and forums, the Planning Department-recommended plan, with some revisions, won preliminary approval by a 5-2 vote of the Council (Hardi, Connelly, Schantz-Hiscott, Lian and Duncan voting yes, and Tarter and Snyder opposing) earlier this month, and will come for final adoption next month.

The Planning Department, spearheaded by Planning Director Paul Stoddard, in its report has made it clear that the intense challenges facing the entire region, and nation, to meet an acute housing shortage crisis is what is at issue. Opponents argue that trying to meet this challenge is putting existing homeowners at a disadvantage.   

However, the Planning Department report states that “The City’s latest demographic projections, done pre-Covid in 2019, forecast household numbers to grow from approximately 5,300 in 2020 to approximately 9,300 in 2045 and the first round of post-Covid regional household and population projections prepared by the D.C.-area’s Metropolitan Council of Governments’ (COG) continue to forecast population and household growth from approximately 5.7 million people and 2.1 million households in 2020 to 7.0 million people and 2.7 million households in 2045. So, the need for more housing, and affordable housing in particular, is an issue facing the entire D.C. Metro Area.”

In 2019 the Metropolitan COG unveiled its “75, 125 75, 75” plan to guide future housing growth within the Washington, D.C. region: The report focused on a three-pronged strategy to guide future housing growth in the region. Target 1,  “Amount,” calls for the creation of 75,000 new housing units across the region in addition to those already planned. Target 2, “Accessibility,” describes the need for 75 percent of these 130 new, additional units to be within Activity Centers, with proximity to employment opportunities or access to high-capacity transit.

Falls Church is identified as an Activity Center, which COG defines as “the locations that will accommodate the majority of the region’s future growth and play a central role in achieving the Region Forward Vision’s prosperity, sustainability, accessibility, and livability goals. 

According to the Planning Department report, “The City of Falls Church’s housing vision statement calls for the creation and maintenance of a diverse housing stock to support an inclusive and welcoming community. Diversity in housing is needed not just in unit mix, but in household income, household size, generations and needs.

“It also notes that household composition reflects the available housing stock. To house a complete community and respond to regional demographic trends, the City will need to take action to incentivize homebuilders to provide a range of housing, from small apartments and condos to small single family homes, quads, and townhouses.”

Listed strategies for implementing a housing policy that accommodate this are: 1. Incentivize the maintenance and provision of more workforce, moderate-, and low income housing. 2. Increase entry-level homeownership opportunities. 3. Support aging in place. 4. Revise development regulations to allow a wider variety of housing types. 5. Create policies that encourage the preservation of existing housing stock and tree canopy. 6. Provide housing for people with disabilities. 7. Promote fair access to housing. 8. Monitor regional and local housing markets to identify pressures and opportunities.  Partner with neighboring jurisdictions, non-profits, faith groups, and regional agencies to bring more affordable housing to the City.

The F.C. Planning Department studied programs in other areas, including one in Santa Barbara, Calif. called “The Average Unit-Size Density (AUD) Incentive Program,” It was adopted in 2013 as a trial program to facilitate the construction of smaller housing units by allowing increased density that could not be achieved through existing development standards.

The AUD Program includes additional development incentives, such as reductions to parking, setbacks, and open yard, to increase the city’s workforce housing stock and address Santa Barbara’s housing shortage. Since its launch, the program has developed over 400 new residential units. The AUD Program allows for increased dwellings-per-acre density with corresponding maximum average unit sizes.