County Board candidate calls for residents to support Missing Middle lawsuit against county

Attendees at the Arlington County Board meeting Wednesday, March 22 on Missing Middle Housing (staff photo)

Arlington spent $74,000 in two months combating a lawsuit over Missing Middle housing, public records show, drawing the ire of a County Board candidate.

The county, which hired law firm Gentry Locke at the start of this year, paid $49,251 for services in January and $24,536 in February, according to invoices. Meanwhile, a GoFundMe campaign for the lawsuit — which alleges that Arlington failed to adequately study the impacts of Missing Middle before approving the zoning change — has raised about $69,000 since last June.

The change allowing for the development of smaller multi-family homes in previously single-family-only neighborhoods is one of the defining issues of this year’s Arlington County Board race.

One contender for the Democratic nomination, Natalie Roy, asked residents to “please consider contributing to the lawsuit” in a newsletter last week.

“We are in the homestretch, and the lawsuit needs your support,” wrote the real estate agent and outspoken critic of Missing Middle. She told ARLnow that she agrees with the plaintiffs’ assertion that the county should have conducted more impact studies.

“That is what the core of this lawsuit is about, and because I wholeheartedly agree that those studies should have been done, I support the lawsuit,” Roy said.

In the newsletter, she suggests that the county should acquiesce to the plaintiffs and spend the money going to legal costs elsewhere.

“During these tight budget times, when the County Board is about to approve a steep tax rate increase, these monies could be better spent on keeping a nature center or community library staffed full-time or expanding after-school programs,” Roy wrote.

Fellow Democratic primary candidate Julie Farnam says she is also supporting the suit against the county. Farnam said she attended and contributed to a March 24 fundraising event for the lawsuit and plans to attend the next one later this month.

And James DeVita called opposition to Missing Middle, also known as Expanded Housing Option (EHO), “the central issue for my campaign.”

County Board candidate Tenley Peterson, meanwhile, declined to comment on this story because, as Vice-Chair of the Planning Commission, she is a defendant in the lawsuit. The Commission unanimously supported Missing Middle last year.

JD Spain did not respond to a request for comment, but his website says he “successfully pushed the county… to end exclusionary zoning” in his role as president of the NAACP Arlington Branch.

The candidates are all competing in the June 18 Democratic primary. A single County Board seat, that of outgoing Chair Libby Garvey, will be up for grabs in November.

As for the lawsuit, Arlington Neighbors for Neighborhoods — the group responsible for the fundraising campaign — said the county’s attorneys have been filing numerous discovery requests in recent months, adding to their costs.

The county has asked for extensive records about the plaintiffs’ communications regarding Missing Middle as well as “all documents they created or reviewed in the process of purchasing their Arlington homes,” the group said.

“Responding to these requests is very expensive,” Neighbors for Neighborhoods said. “NfN has been raising money through GoFundMe with more than 400 donations made.”

The lawsuit is on track to go to trial in July despite the county’s multiple motions to have it dismissed. Some housing experts believe the litigation may be deterring local developers from filing EHO applications, since a loss on the county’s part could jeopardize previously approved projects.

Even if the county loses the suit, the ultimate impact is unclear. The Virginia Supreme Court struck down a similar zoning ordinance in Fairfax County early last year — but within a couple months the county’s Board of Supervisors re-adopted the same change after fixing procedural issues.