Opinion roundup: Arlington is a house divided on ‘Missing Middle’

Aerial view of a row of townhouses near Rosslyn (Staff Photo by Jay Westcott)

Arlington’s “Missing Middle” housing proposal has led to impassioned debates, with locals both for and against the potential zoning changes.

As the County Board gets closer to a vote on the proposal, perhaps as early as December, we’ve compiled a dozen opinion pieces on the topic that have been published elsewhere. Many are letters to the editor or op-eds that have appeared in the Sun Gazette and Washington Post, while others have been features published in policy-focused publications like The Hill and Washington Monthly.

The following are numbered (in no particular order) and broken down by “for” or “against” Missing Middle.

1. For: The ‘missing middle’ is a crucial piece of Arlington’s housing puzzle (Washington Post)

We live in the 22202 area of South Arlington, spanning from original Sears houses to the new Amazon headquarters. Our neighborhood has been recognized for its mix of “single dwellings, twin dwellings, duplexes, apartment buildings, religious buildings, educational buildings, and commercial buildings.” Despite being dwarfed by newly built single-family homes, the dozens of aging duplexes and triplexes would be illegal to build today.

2. Against: What’s at stake with Arlington’s missing-middle housing debate (Washington Post)

It was hard for me to pick a side. Some of the NIMBYs think it’s possible to go back to an era in the 1990s when Arlington felt like an undiscovered oasis next to a booming metropolis. But there is no going back. A do-nothing option will slowly destroy Arlington’s beautiful multiclass, multiethnic mosaic. To be fair, most NIMBYs don’t argue this. However, these logical flaws pale in comparison with the misapplication of economics, blatant conflicts of interest, limited demonstrated understanding of history and selective data presentation from the YIMBYs.

3. For: Arlington’s ‘missing middle’ fight and the struggle for affordable housing (The Hill)

Exclusionary zoning disproportionately impacts the minorities and the poor, who are less likely to be able to afford expensive housing than affluent whites. Historically, restrictions like those currently in force in Arlington were often enacted for the specific purpose of keeping out Blacks and other non-whites. That’s one reason why the Arlington NAACP supports Missing Middle. Liberalizing the construction of new housing is an under-appreciated common interest of racial minorities and the white working class.

4. Against: Missing Middle will devastate Arlington communities (Sun Gazette)

Let us fervently hope that the current Arlington County Board will not be remembered as the group that foisted on unsuspecting residents the destruction of our community’s old, leafy, peaceful, beautiful neighborhoods. I don’t happen to live in one myself, but they are precious and must be preserved. Their tranquility and forests benefit all of us. “Missing Middle” is wrong on so many fronts.

5. For: Why I Can’t Afford to Live Where I Grew Up (Washington Monthly)

Everyone deserves to grow up in a place like Arlington–walkable, transit oriented, full of interesting restaurants and stores, diverse, and with great schools and nice parks. A wonderful place to learn to ride a bike, to develop an interest, and to make lifelong friends. But I know that given my current career trajectory, becoming a homeowner in Arlington is unlikely. If the city had been as expensive when my parents were a young couple looking in the late 1990s, I would have been raised in a farther-out suburb like Woodbridge or Lorton instead.

6. Against: Arlington should not be guinea pig for Missing Middle (Sun Gazette)

I introduced myself to County Board Chair Katie Cristol at the end of the session, and was shocked when she told me that she wants to pass Missing Middle zoning changes because she wants Arlington to be the first county on the entire East Coast to introduce this ordinance. I couldn’t believe what she said. I don’t want Arlington to be guinea pig for an unproven idea. This is not a contest to see who is first. I am assuming the County Board Members are looking for this to be part of their résumés. Changing the zoning planning needs to be done in a methodical and responsible way.

7. For: A divisive Arlington housing proposal can help save the climate and our wallets (Greater Greater Washington)

Who wouldn’t choose a safer climate, more affordable housing, and a diverse community? A divisive proposal to expand “Missing Middle” housing in Arlington could do just that: shrink our carbon footprint, expand our housing options, and save millions of dollars, especially if paired with supportive policies.

8. Against: Proponents of Missing Middle need to stop the gaslighting (Sun Gazette)

Sorry to see the Sun Gazette did not support the legitimate concerns about the Missing Middle plans and instead endorsed the status quo for County Board member. If ever a fresh voice was needed to balance the five like-minded members who rule the county with their densification cudgel, it is now! The world has billions of people who may want to move to Arlington, but we are a small, already dense county surrounded by a large metro area growing in every direction.

9. For: Changes to Arlington zoning will aid wide array of people (Sun Gazette)

I support the Arlington County Board’s proposed changes to residential zoning. Right now, 78 percent of the county is limited to single-family homes. In my neighborhood, bulldozers are plowing up a 9.5-acre site to build 40 homes, selling for at least $2 million each. The site is adjacent to the commercial district of Seven Corners and across the road from an apartment complex. It could have accommodated multiplexes and townhomes, but it was zoned for single-family. It was easier for the builder to comply with the current zoning rather than go through a lengthy process to change it.

10. Against: Missing Middle won’t solve escalating housing prices in Arlington (Sun Gazette)

The Missing Middle issue now before the Arlington County Board is a solution in search of a problem. This proposal would radically replace existing zoning policies to eliminate, or at least reduce, single-family housing in favor of multi-family units. Proponents claim that housing in Arlington is expensive and beyond the reach of middle-class families. They are right. From that, they claim that significantly increasing the number of housing units will create less-expensive housing, thus serving the Missing Middle. This ignores the basic question of why housing in Arlington is expensive.

11. For: Opponents of Missing Middle need to see the forest for the trees (Sun Gazette)

I love the many beautiful trees around Arlington and want to grow our tree canopy, yet there’s an obsession among some about our trees that misses the big picture about protecting our world from climate change. Based on travel-survey data from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the average household in Arlington drives about 30 miles per day. The average household in Fairfax, Prince William or Loudoun drives 66 miles per day, primarily because those places are much farther from jobs and are much more auto-oriented. That difference adds up to 10,400 additional pounds of carbon per year for every household that can’t live in Arlington. The average tree can sequester 50 pounds of carbon per year. So, for every single-family lot in Arlington that does not become a duplex, you’d have to save or plant 209 trees to cancel out the additional carbon of an additional household in the outer counties.

12. Against: Only Arlington development community stands to win with Missing Middle (Sun Gazette)

In responding to the Arlington County Board gift to you that is known as Missing Middle, please be sure to build first on all sides of board members’ homes. Please be sure to build eightplexes on all sides and make them as high as you possibly can, so board members never have sun or privacy in their yards again. Make sure you do not have any off-street parking, so that they will never again be able to leave their homes without having to consider how long they will have to circle their neighborhoods to find an open spot. Also, be sure they can never entertain friends and family again, as guests will be turned off by not being able to park anywhere near their house.

ARLnow no longer publishes unsolicited opinion pieces but will occasionally link to opinion-based content in other local publications.