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‘Missing middle’ proposal prompts intense debate, competing signs at County Board meeting

Sparks flew during the County Board meeting on Saturday (June 18), where supporters and opponents of the proposed missing middle housing framework faced off.

Supporters of the proposal like YIMBYs of Northern Virginia, which supports denser housing options, filled rows of seats at the meeting. They held up signs saying “Missing middle yes,” “Arlington is for everyone” and “Won’t you be my neighbor.”

Meanwhile, opponents like Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future (ASF) — an advocacy group against increased housing density — packed the other side of the room. They held up signs saying “The Arlington way has gone astray” and “Save our neighborhood. No upzoning here. No duplexes+ here.”

Wells Harrell, who spoke in support of the proposed changes to housing policy — which would allow smaller-scale multifamily housing in neighborhoods currently zoned only for single-family homes — said it gave more people the choice to live in Arlington. He said the policy was also popular among renters, people of color, and younger generations like Millennials.

“We see 170 homes torn down every single year, do you choose to let some of those homes be replaced with missing middle homes that add more variety, increase more capacity and cost less than the big expensive mansions that would go up instead?” he said during the County Board’s public comment period.

On the other hand, Anne Bodine, who spoke on behalf of ASF, said increasing housing density would displace long-term residents with an influx of “mostly whiter and wealthier newcomers” and raise housing costs “through inflated land values.”

“We ask you to postpone the missing middle work session until September, project total population increase of maximum missing middle buildout along with other density measures taken since 2018, and prepare forecast comparing impacts of current zoning on the environment, the budget and demographic outcomes,” she said.

In a subsequent press release, ASF said its supporters “berated the Board” for “a pursuit of ‘density first’ [that comes] at a very great social and financial cost.”

Emotions ran so high as to elicit boos and shouts for speakers like Harrell and for County Board Chair Katie Cristol, when she cut off another speaker for violating the “one speaker per topic” rule.

(Other speakers were able to get around the rule, however, by talking about their concerns on the effects of increased housing density on schools and the county budget.

Stacy Meyer, representing the Arlington County Civic Federation, said her organization would like to see the County Board reach out to adjacent neighborhoods and their civic associations when reviewing upzoning proposals and General Land Use Plan amendments.

The Civic Federation believes upzoning “frequently entails encroachment into lower density residential neighborhoods” and that “residents have no approval rights and little leverage for negotiation” in the face of proposed upzoning, according to a resolution passed by the organization.

A draft missing middle housing policy framework calls for allowing multifamily housing from townhouses to eight-plexes, depending on lot size, provided the building does not exceed the size currently allowed for single-family homes. Current zoning in Arlington restricts most residential land to building only single-family homes.

The County Board did not respond to the arguments raised on the proposed housing policy during the meeting. A work session on the policy is scheduled on Tuesday, July 12, according to the County Board’s website, while the online feedback form for phase two of the Missing Middle Housing Policy is open, according to the study’s website.

Should the Board vote next month to advance to the next phase of the Missing Middle Housing Study, it could set up a vote on zoning changes by the fall.

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