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Some neighbors fought a duplex, and won, as county approves more Missing Middle homes

1313 N. Harrison Street (via Google Maps)

Last month, some neighbors told a developer they would “oppose any attempt to obtain permits” for a duplex in the Tara-Leeway Heights neighborhood, and the developer backed down.

McLean-based BeaconCrest Homes bought a single-family home at 1313 N. Harrison Street, an area residents have dubbed “Larchmont.” When it announced to neighbors its plans to build a duplex, a skirmish over the lot’s future — based on a provision in a deed from 1938 — ensued.

The tiff began in early August and ended with BeaconCrest agreeing to build a single-family home almost two weeks ago, according to correspondence between residents and the developer. The letters were published in an email newsletter authored by former Arlington County Board candidate Natalie Roy, tracking Missing Middle or “Expanded Housing Options” developments.

Two months ago, Arlington County began accepting applications for plans to build 2-6 unit homes where previously only single-family homes were allowed. Staff have approved five projects and 18 are under review, while the Larchmont neighbors fought BeaconCrest and some Alcova Heights residents are asking the county to reject some zoning changes associated with two EHO proposals.

On July 31, BeaconCrest bought 1313 N. Harrison Street for $950,000, according to Arlington County property records. In a letter dated Aug. 3, the developer told neighbors its plans despite an 85-year-old deed attached to the home saying “not more than one house shall be constructed upon the lot.”

Based on its analysis, the developer said it doubted this would be enforceable. Touting their previous experience going up against developers, neighbors disagreed, saying the law and Arlington County zoning code are on their side.

“As you may be aware, the Larchmont neighborhood has a history of successfully halting developers’ attempts to ignore similar existing deeds and covenants… e.g., 1320 Greenbrier and 1500 Harrison, among others,” the letter said.

They pointed to a provision in the county zoning code saying the more restrictive agreement, whether county code or existing agreements, controls what happens on a property.

How Arlington County zoning code handles conflicting provisions (via Arlington County)

Neighbors also accused the project of compounding unsafe traffic conditions on N. Harrison Street. They say drivers will slalom around parked vehicles on the narrow road to get between Washington and Langston Blvd.

“Your proposed development will only exacerbate this, endangering residents, including the many children who live on the block,” they said. “Adding multi-unit housing, which requires mandated space for on-street parking, will result in further traffic and safety issues.”

Street parking has been discontinued on some parts of N. Harrison Street for safety reasons, the letter says, noting other residents have asked the county for more parking restrictions to mitigate these traffic issues.

In her “EHO Watch” newsletter, Roy, who launched her campaign earlier this year opposing Missing Middle, called this a “win.”

“The takeaway from this win is that neighborhood covenants — where they exist and are germane — can be effective in promoting Arlington County’s stated Comprehensive Goals of having a diversity of densities while preserving existing neighborhoods,” she wrote.

“The other key point is it takes considerable volunteer time, energy, and organizing prowess by neighbors, to not only be vigilant but to act fast,” she continued.

Missing Middle advocates, including the leaders of pro-housing group YIMBYs of Northern Virginia, are celebrating their own wins, however. Jane Green recently lauded newly approved plans to turn a dilapidated carriage house within walking distance of the Ballston Metro station into a 6-plex.

An old real estate listing for the property she found had touted that the new owner could build a 5-bedroom, 4-bathroom custom-built home and convert the existing carriage house into a 1-bedroom, 1-bathroom accessory dwelling unit.

The county approved its most recent batch of EHOs on Friday. Those approved, and those in the queue, are tracked on the county’s website.

There are six 6-plexes and triplexes each in the queue, followed by a trio of duplexes as well as a 4- and 5-plex.

The following map shows approved and under-review Missing Middle-type projects, color-coded by the number of units. Click on the window in the upper left hand corner to see the map’s legend.

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