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BREAKING: Arlington County Board gives green light to hearings on Missing Middle

The Arlington County Board on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023 (via Arlington County)

(Updated at 8:20 p.m.) The Arlington County Board has taken the next step toward potentially allowing Missing Middle housing.

This evening (Wednesday), during its third meeting on a request to advertise public hearings regarding the proposed zoning changes, the Board voted unanimously to kick off two months of public discussion on a proposed set of options and alternatives.

The Board will reconvene to consider adopting a final proposal in March.

Opponents and some proponents of Missing Middle housing expressed disappointment with the proposal, which does not include 7- or 8-unit buildings.

The advertised change would allow small-scale multifamily buildings, from duplexes to townhouses to 6-plexes, in areas that are currently only zoned for single-family detached homes. The Board’s vote took off the option to prohibit additional housing types on sites larger than one acre.

The Board must consider some type of parking minimum going forward, as the only option not to have any minimums was struck from the proposal.

Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said he is “deeply disappointed in the advertised ordinance.”

“I’m disappointed that the limited nature of what will be offered today doesn’t give us the ability over the next two months to do the best policy,” he said. “That’s a profound disappointment for me but not certainly not enough to vote against it.

“The most affordable units that could be made available are taken off the table for the biggest lots in Arlington that could accommodate them, limiting the opportunity to further provide attainability for people being able to achieve economies of scale and subsidize on a per-unit basis in a very cost efficient way,” Dorsey added.

Board member Matt de Ferranti was more supportive.

“My policy goals are the same as they were in December 2019 and in the scope that we wrote in September 2020: affordable homeownership, 3-unit type family dwellings and flexibility in housing types and residential uses in single-family neighborhoods,” he said. “The RTA moves us forward to that goal.”

“I think we need to move forward with what we’ve done,” de Ferranti continued. “We must move forward because my grandparents benefitted from single-family zoning in New Canaan, Connecticut and Pittsfield, Massachusetts and the grandparents and parents of many Arlingtonians of color did not. Move forward because there is never a wrong time to do the right thing. Move forward because if you can build a large home on a lot it is reasonable to build smaller dwellings in the same sized building unless there are outside costs or unreasonable burdens to doing so.”

Immediately following the vote, Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future, an organization opposed to the plan, denounced what the Board approved.

“If County Board members vote to finally adopt this Missing Middle mess, it will permanently stain their legacies,” said ASF leader Peter Rousselot, in a statement. “The County Board has disregarded the testimony and findings of prominent realtors, architects, economists, land use attorneys, engineers, and other experts who all have explained why the Board’s Missing Middle plan won’t work in Arlington.”

In its statement likewise criticizing the decision, Arlingtonians for Upzoning Transparency said the process so far has not been transparent and the result won’t be more modest-sized homes attainable to moderate-income residents.  .

“The [Missing Middle housing] will incentivize developers to tear down modest, single-family homes and build $1.5 million townhouses and duplexes or small one-and-two-bedroom rental units,” said Julie Lee, a founding member of AfUT. “The County should not promote the false promise that the free market will produce lower cost housing. Developers will build the most profitable — and most expensive — [Missing Middle housing] possible, using every bit of allowable lot coverage to do it.”

Leaders of YIMBYs of Northern Virginia, which supported a more robust version than what is now on the table, told ARLnow they commend the Board for unanimously approving the hearings but are disappointed with the limitations.

“All five members of the County Board very clearly stated that they wanted to create a new legacy for Arlington, so now, they have a responsibility to make good on that promise,” the group said. “Most Arlingtonians rent. Most Arlingtonians live in multi-family buildings and most of them say ‘Yes’ to new housing and new neighbors. Making sure that the majority’s voice and interests are represented in the final package is extremely important.”

“The big issue we can’t lose sight of is Arlington’s affordability crisis and housing shortage,” the group continued. “The ultimate litmus test will be, ‘Will Missing Middle actually produce new housing?’ There is a risk — if the final proposal narrows down the [request to advertise] even further, that it won’t.”

Mike Hemminger, NAACP Arlington branch president, said the decision to remove the densest buildings from the proposal amounts to “de facto segregation.”

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