I hope everyone has been staying cool over this last heat wave. The Board’s July meetings included some usual site plan approvals and permitting as well as our Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) adoption. Probably the item of most interest this month, however, was our work session on the Missing Middle Housing Study.
Permits & Zoning
On Saturday we approved Arlington Public Schools request for below-grade parking with a playing field on top at The Heights building in West Rosslyn. This will provide onsite parking desired by APS for the building which houses the Eunice Shriver special needs programs and the HB Woodlawn middle and high school students.
We also approved a use permit for a private elementary and middle school at Resurrection Evangelical Lutheran Church. There are some neighborhood concerns about parking, but I was comfortable approving the permit because there has been a school there in the recent past and the school will be using the same procedures for pick up and drop off that they are using successfully now at their current location. Also, the permit will be reviewed in just one year.
Finally, we advertised a change to zoning to allow greater height and density at a site near the Courthouse Metro Station. We advertised at a greater height than staff recommended in order to give an opportunity to explore some designs with tapering upper stories. It is possible such buildings could be taller and still be appropriate for specific areas. If we decide the added height and density would not be appropriate when we finally adopt, we will be able to decrease the height and density we advertised.
County Trust Policy
At our Tuesday recessed meeting, we adopted our County Trust Policy that specifies our relationship with ICE in an attempt to reassure our undocumented residents. We always want residents to feel safe and comfortable coming forward with information about crimes. However, undocumented residents can fear reporting on crimes or participating in community activities if they worry their information will be given to ICE. While some people were angry we didn’t do more in our policy, I think it is a good policy and that our Community Oversight Board will be in place for any concerns or complaints about our legal enforcement which provides extra accountability.
Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) Adoption
We adopted our 10-year CIP, the first regular 10-year CIP since 2018. In 2020 we approved a simple 2-year plan because, during the pandemic, it was unclear what our needs and resources might be in the future.
The CIP provides increased funds for stormwater management. Extreme rain events will continue to challenge us. In the early- and mid-20th century, as farmland changed to neighborhoods, about 66% Arlington’s streams were put in underground pipes. Old stream beds were divided into properties and new homes were built over them. Therefore, when we get more rain than the pipes can carry the water surges above ground and flows where it did originally. Now there are houses and commercial buildings erected over where the water flows, the flooding causes a lot of damage. Addressing the problems for stormwater management created by 20th Century development is neither simple nor cheap. Our staff has been doing extensive work to create tools for us to mitigate stormwater flooding. You might enjoy the fascinating background and history on the Flood Resilient Arlington webpage.
Also, this CIP creates a fund for new and emerging sports like pickle ball and mountain biking for the first time. As most of my readers probably know, pickle ball is extremely popular and interest is growing rapidly. This fund will help us respond to new interests and growth more quickly, although not as quickly as some players would like.
Missing Middle Housing Study (MMHS)
Finally our work session earlier this month inspired still more people to write to the Board both for and against the Missing Middle Housing Study (MMHS). While it is a contentious issue and has many people concerned, I am hopeful that the interest and involvement are resulting in good and needed conversations in Arlington about the kind of community we want to be and how best to become that.
This work session was the end of Phase II and began our final phase of the study. The goal of the MMHS, as many of my readers know, is to provide more choices in housing types for people in Arlington. About 70% of the land in Arlington is zoned for single family houses exclusively which suits the traditional nuclear family, but does not fit other family arrangements well.
There are also many apartments in high-rises in our urban corridors, but there is not much else available (such as townhouses, duplexes, quadraplexes, or stacked flats). People have different housing needs as they go through life, and it is good if a community’s housing stock can meet those changing needs. After reporting on research in 2020; collecting public comment in 2021; and looking at what housing types could be appropriate for Arlington, staff presented a framework for the next and final phase of creating zoning amendments that could encourage more housing options throughout the County.
Those options would have to stay within the footprint already required for a single family home and could be no bigger or taller than the specific neighborhood zoning currently allows. Board members indicated that, as staff develops specific changes to zoning, we are interested in parking requirements that are adapted to the needs of the specific location rather than to be the same County-wide. We also expressed interest in having pattern books that show model designs. And, while we all agreed to move ahead and look at recommendations for 6 and 8-plexes, several Board members, including myself, indicated more discomfort with those denser forms. We may consider requiring denser forms to have a permit if we allow them.
Final recommendations for any zoning changes will likely come to the Board in November. Over the next months there will be a lot of community engagement on the Missing Middle issue. I appreciate the time many residents have taken to talk to me about their concerns. While the flood of emails we are getting (both for and against) are helpful to get a sense of people’s concerns, I find them less helpful in understanding what people actually think will happen and what they would like to happen as we grapple with the housing shortage we have. I plan to continue to talk with people about the MMHS and know my colleagues do as well.
Two Personal Notes
My favorite local non-profit, Phoenix Bikes, will be holding its annual Raise ‘N Ride. While I won’t be actually riding, I’ve registered and will be working to help them raise money through the ride. If you’d like to support the ride by riding yourself or putting in some money for my virtual participation, follow this link. The ride will take place on Saturday, August 6th on the W&OD Trail from our shop on Columbia Pike to Purcellville and back.
Finally, last month I wrote about the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe vs Wade. The repercussions of the Dobbs decision continue to create havoc with people’s lives. While people can have differing moral views about abortion, I believe this Supreme Court decision is about power and control over women’s bodies by the government and it is appallingly wrong. I agree with the minority opinion that this Court is not likely to stop here when it comes to curtailing civil rights. I believe the right to contraception, gay marriage and more will soon be threatened. The below links provide some ways you may want to become involved in helping women who need abortion care. It feels to me like we are returning to the time of free states and slave states and an underground railroad to help those trying to escape.
Access to Reproductive Care and Health (ARCH): https://archfund.org/about-us/
Volunteer to provide practical care for those seeking abortions: https://secure.everyaction.com/0EKqu2APtESwUa1OkHrxKw2?ms=Dobbs_Loss_CAN&emci=0c14c006-d1f3-ec11-b47a-281878b83d8a&emdi=6f340c86-d5f3-ec11-b47a-281878b83d8a&ceid=227327
The Board will not hold regular meetings again until September, so Townley and I will take a break from this newsletter in August. I am always happy to hear from my readers, however, so feel free to share thoughts or comments with me at any time.