I hope the New Year has started well for everyone.
On January 3, the Board had our organizational meeting which is when we elect our leadership team and set our calendar and other administrative items for the year. Christian Dorsey was elected Chair for 2023 and I have the honor of being Vice Chair. Each Board member gave remarks. We all talked about Missing Middle Housing as well as other issues. I discussed how the need for a strategic plan could alleviate many of the difficulties we are having communicating about Missing Middle.
Zoning Changes & Missing Middle
Our regular monthly meeting was held over three days to review regular Board agenda items and accommodate all the people who wanted to speak about our Request to Advertise (RTA) zoning changes to allow housing forms other than single-family homes throughout the County (known as Missing Middle housing, or MMH). The approved RTA will come to us at our March meeting for adoption in the final form. While we can make the zoning changes we adopt more restrictive than the RTA, we cannot make them less restrictive. We are keeping a number of options open for more discussion over the next two months.
We began on Saturday with public comment and next approved two large residential buildings in Crystal City. For more about the project see the Board YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00ph04WxF74&t=3143s. The presentation begins at minute 50:26; 54:40 begins the discussion of park spaces; from minute 55:39 onward are drawings of the buildings.
RTA for Missing Middle Housing Study
Then we turned to the RTA, hearing a summary of the zoning changes our staff recommends. These recommendations for advertisement include options on several issues like the number of units per building, number of trees required, and possible caps on the number of permits issued for these buildings each year.
Afterward, we heard from the first 181 of the total 198 speakers, and on Tuesday we heard from the final 17. We shortened the time for individual speakers from 3 to 2 minutes and for organizations from 5 to 3. I think this was very effective in allowing everyone to be heard. I also found it easier to concentrate on each speaker for their full time. For this discussion move to hour/minute 2:06:00 on our channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00ph04WxF74&t=3143s
While I did not hear anything particularly new from the speakers, I much appreciated hearing people’s reasons for their positions and the suggestions we got. I also was struck by how balanced the sides were, essentially 50% for the RTA and 50% against. We came together again on Wednesday at 4pm to vote on what would be advertised.
The Board voted unanimously to begin a two-month process of public discussion on a proposed set of options and alternatives. We had several split votes, however, on some of the options to advertise. The advertisement we adopted allows small-scale multifamily buildings, from duplexes to townhouses to 6-plexes, in areas that are currently only zoned for single-family detached homes. I was pleased that Matt de Ferranti and Takis Karantonis agreed with me that we should not at this time consider allowing anything larger than a 6-plex by right in our currently single-family neighborhoods. I also was pleased that Matt offered, and the three of us again supported, an amendment to only allow 5 and 6-plexes on larger lots. I believe we need slower, consensus-driven change.
Newly permitted townhouses and duplexes would have to follow the restrictions for single-family houses, from the maximum height and width of a building and setbacks. We also removed the option of having no parking requirements. There are still several parking requirements on the table for March. I was pleased we added an option for setting a cap of 54 buildings per year (which can be lowered at adoption) and for having more location-specific caps set that would help distribute these new housing forms across Arlington County.
Unfortunately, a majority of my colleagues did not agree to take off the option of no caps at all, so that is still a possibility for March. I think it is important to set caps regarding the number of structures because our staff’s analysis of the effects of allowing more housing types was based on no more than 21 new missing middle buildings per year. I am comfortable advertising the higher number assuming that some existing homes will be retrofitted to house more than one family AND assuming we will find a way to require distribution of these buildings. I am not at all comfortable having no caps. I am hopeful at least two of my colleagues will agree with me on this in March.
As we look towards adoption in March, I am focusing more on what comes after that. As I said in my remarks on January 3, I think we must have a community-wide discussion of what we want Arlington to be and look like 30 to 50 years from now. I welcome suggestions on what might be a good process to have that discussion.
Whatever we adopt to add flexibility to our zoning, it is important we monitor housing construction closely. If we have a clear vision of our overall goals for Arlington, the information we gather from that monitoring can help inform future adjustments to get us closer to those goals.
Panel Discussion: Charlemagne Prize: Its History, Arlington Connection & Awards
This coming Tuesday, February 7, I will represent Arlington on a panel along with a political officer from the German Embassy. The International Charlemagne Prize is awarded annually in Aachen, Germany, to recognize exceptional work done for European unity. Since Arlington is a sister city of Aachen, Arlington representatives have been invited to attend the prize ceremonies.
Among other topics, we will discuss the 3 Belarusians who won the 2022 award, as well as President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people who are the 2023 winners. Please see this link for more about the prize and its winners, including Churchill, Clinton, Merkel, Macron and others.
Time: 6:30-7:45 pm
Location: Marymount University Ballston Center Auditorium
1000 North Glebe Road, Arlington, VA 22201
(Corner of Glebe Road & Fairfax Drive)
As always, I hope this newsletter is helpful and welcome comments and questions from my readers.