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The Right Note: What is an ADU?

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

Mark KellyYesterday, InsideNova provided a trip down memory lane. Unless you were actively involved in Arlington County Board watching in 2008, you probably missed the acronym. Accessory dwelling units were indeed a hot topic at the time.

As the Arlington Way moved forward on the subject, people seemingly divided themselves into three camps.

Camp No. 1 wanted to increase the amount of affordable housing stock in the county and viewed ADUs as a prime opportunity to do so. Camp No. 2, the biggest and most vocal, wanted to stop the proliferation of living situations that were not in compliance with existing county ordinances, and they did not want to make it easier to create more. And, a smaller camp wanted to protect the private property rights of homeowners to use their homes as they see fit, without government interference.

After months of debate, the final proposal adopted by the County Board made creating ADUs so cost-prohibitive that virtually no one has taken advantage of the new ordinance — “less than a dozen” in total. As an aside, am I the only one who wonders if it’s less than a dozen why they cannot tell us if that means one or 11?

So, at the end of the day, camp three may have been the de facto winner. Some people with illegal units do not realize they are in violation of any ordinance. Some realize they are, but are just taking a chance it will never be enforced.

This outcome was predicted by many at the time, including the then-county manager. Unfortunately, telling the County Board anything related to a common-sense conclusion often falls on deaf ears.

The Newseum moved out of its Rosslyn space in large part because it was not conveniently located for foot traffic. The County Board unveiled grandiose plans for a self-sustaining Artisphere to take its place. Many told them the plan would not work as promised at the time it was passed. And, it didn’t.

The County Board has been given an early warning signal that the Columbia Pike trolley would create financial headaches when the $1 million bus stop came to light. The Board is charging ahead anyway. And, when traffic on the Pike becomes worse not better, Arlingtonians will be left with nothing to do but pay off the bonds and pay a higher tax rate to cover our annual subsidy to keep the line running.

So what is an ADU really? It is a perfect example of how our County Board makes many controversial policy decisions along the Arlington Way — a lot of talk resulting in a outcome that regularly does not achieve the promised results.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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