Arlington, VA

by ARLnow.com January 10, 2020 at 1:30 pm 0

Local homebuilder Classic Cottages is no longer just building large, custom homes — a new subsidiary will now build a high-end “backyard cottages” as well.

Responding to Arlington’s recent loosening of rules on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) — small structures built in backyards, also known as “in-law suites” — Classic Cottages (an ARLnow sponsor) launched a new venture called Backyard Cottages.

“The ability to now legally add a Backyard Cottage creates a unique opportunity for Arlington County single-family home residents to create a flexible, separate living area,” the company’s website says. “There are many benefits from investing in a Backyard Cottage, including long-term rental income or flexible space to serve immediate or future needs.”

Backyard Cottages has partnered with URBANEER to offer a 510-square-foot ADU model (pictured above) to Arlington residents who want additional living space on their property, starting this spring. URBANEER’s lead investor is Raul Fernandez, who is part of the ownership group for the Washington Capitals and Wizards.

Supporters of ADUs tout them as a way to “fight against the national housing crisis” and provide additional, cost-effective homes in existing neighborhoods. Critics say ADUs, should they become more widespread, could result in trees being cut down, overcrowding and additional traffic in neighborhoods.

It has been a slow start for ADUs in Arlington since county code was first changed to allow them. From 2009-2017, only 20 ADUs were built. Backyard Cottages is banking on loosened rules and more attractive building options spurring a local boom in ADU production.

“There is an immediate need for new, affordable housing stock in the D.C. area, and we see this detached ADU sector as a large, new opportunity to help serve that need in this region for years to come,” said Backyard Cottages CEO Pierce Tracy. “The URBANEER 510 model will be unlike other ADU options on the market. Our ability to showcase one of the first units built in the country… will provide an opportunity for our local residents to see the innovation and quality of these units first-hand.”

“For homeowners, these ‘Backyard Cottages’ help with affordability by providing rental income, or can be used for a family member to live in,” he added. “The flexibility of uses provides value to the homeowner, as family’s needs will change over time.”

Pricing is expected to be finalized in March and will vary depending on site conditions and options selected, a Backyard Cottages spokeswoman said.

by Airey November 15, 2019 at 9:20 am 0

At least one County Board member could be pushing to change setback regulations in a bid to provide more of a buffer between homes.

Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey recently visited an infill residential development on N. River Street, near McLean, with several neighbors she said were upset that a developer clear-cut trees on the lot and is planning to build several homes that could be located close to the neighbors.

Garvey tweeted about the issue last weekend, posting photos of the project in Arlington’s tony Chain Bridge Forest neighborhood, which in September prompted a petition from neighbors concerned about mass tree removal, a loss of privacy and decreased home values.

“This destruction has caused substantial harm to surrounding neighbors who previously had a natural green oasis abutting their backyards,” the petition says.

“I actually went to our top lawyer and said ‘This is really terrible is there something we can do?'” Garvey told ARLnow. “And he said ‘Well, maybe setbacks.'”

Garvey said state laws prevent Board members from intervening on most matters related to tree removal on private property, but the Board could weigh in on the distance required between houses — as members did earlier this year when considering accessory dwelling units.

The idea is that requiring a larger distance between buildings could help preserve existing mature trees instead of incentivizing property owners to cut them down.

Garvey said she believes this type of development — clear cutting trees and building multiple homes or very large homes — is becoming more common as housing prices spike.

“You got a lot of turnover of the baby boomers starting to move on, downsize, leave their home,” she said. “Some of those homes tend to be those smaller homes with a whole lot of yard and not a whole lot of house — and that makes for an opportunity there.” 

However, trees can also help absorb storm runoff — a topic of discussion that gained new urgency after this summer’s flash flood, which sparked conversations about the need for urgent stormwater management solutions.

When asked whether those discussions led her to request the regulatory review, Garvey said she has always been an advocate for preserving Arlington’s tree canopy.

“Looking at a big tree-covered lot turn into a big mud pie is just upsetting to everyone,” she said. “But the community as whole is more aware of [the importance of trees.]”

Garvey said she expects the review of setback regulations to take “a few months” and result in a set of recommendations to the Board.

The Board has been long-criticized by environmental activists before for its failure to preserve trees on private properties, as well as public parks.

Board members have frequently cited state laws that prevent them from interceding on private property, with former member John Vihstadt (I) once describing Virginia as a “‘mother-may-I’ state.”

by Vernon Miles September 10, 2019 at 3:30 pm 0

Arlington County Board incumbents fought to hold their ground against independents over Amazon incentives and housing topics at a debate Monday evening.

At the Arlington Chamber of Commerce’s candidate forum at U.Group in Crystal City (2231 Crystal Drive), Democratic incumbents Christian Dorsey and Katie Cristol faced off against independent challengers Audrey Clement and Arron O’Dell.

One of the moments of back-and-forth criticism among the candidates came over the redevelopment of a number of market-rate affordable housing complexes in the Westover neighborhood. Clement has frequently criticized the County Board for what she said was the “preventable demolition” of the Westover garden apartments.

The redevelopment was by-right, meaning the developer did not need County Board approval. But Clement said the County Board could have designated the apartments part of a historic district and preserved the homes.

Overall, Clement argued that development drives up costs to build housing and that even dedicated affordable housing units come at a steep cost.

“The average cost of a new [Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing] unit is in excess of $400,000,” Clement said. “Most of the units are not affordable. Because the units are not affordable, the income-qualified people who move in, 30 percent of them have to have rent subsidies to pay the nominal amount of rent that they do pay. The taxpayers are hit twice, they have to pay their own rent and their own mortgage and they have to pay someone else’s because the cost of building that unit was astronomical.”

Dorsey fired back that rather than use the historic district designation, the County Board is working to change the regulations to protect affordable communities from redevelopment.

“In the Westover reference that Ms. Clement talked about, while she thinks the Board has done nothing, what we did do was take a courageous stand… and stopped the perverse incentive that led people to take affordable communities and turn them into by-right townhouses,” Dorsey said. “We paused that option and put it into the special exemption process so that we created options to preserve that housing.”

“We’re studying ways that can be better purposed to provide long term, market-based affordable housing,” Dorsey added. So you have to figure out where you’re doing harm and stop doing harm to create new options to preserve affordability both through direct subsidies and through the market.”

O’Dell, meanwhile, said the County should do more to accommodate for “tiny apartments” aimed at people moving to Arlington immediately after college, who may need an affordable place to live but not a lot of space.

“When you talk about housing affordability, you need to have a variety of types of units,” O’Dell said. “We should look at the lower incomes that fall into the 60 percent bracket and give them opportunities to possibly move in and look at places to live.”

Cristol said the County should work to open the door to other types of housing, pointing to the recent legalization of detached accessory dwelling units as an example and noting the large amount of land in Arlington zoned for only single-family housing.

“One of the most important things we can do is legalizing alternative forms,” said Cristol. “There are so many housing forms that could offer folks not only an opportunity to rent but [also to] buy and it’s literally illegal to build them in huge swaths of the county… There’s room for creative ideas, this is an area where we need partnership in the private sector, particularly for those who develop housing.”

(more…)

by Airey September 6, 2019 at 3:30 pm 0

(Updated on 9/11/19) The D.C. area needs 374,000 new homes in the region to keep up with population growth and prevent a Bay Area-like increase in housing prices, according to a new report.

Local leaders will vote on a resolution expanding their housing goals at the next Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) meeting in D.C. on Wednesday, September 11. The vote comes after the Urban Institute’s 130-page report on the region’s housing needs, which predicts 220,000 families could be at risk of displacement if the goals are not met.

Senior Research Associate Leah Hendey, one of the report’s authors, said there exists a “window of opportunity available right now” for leaders to fix the housing unit shortage before it displaces more residents and makes business difficult.

In Arlington, the study noted 20,000 households may be at risk of displacement. Rising housing prices in the wake of Amazon’s arrival combined with the county’s dwindling stock has long worried advocates that lower-income residents could be pushed out.

“The arrival of new businesses, jobs, and residents could intensify today’s housing challenges unless the region’s leaders come together to address them,” noted the report.

“Overall 29% of Arlington residents are cost-burdened,” Hendey told ARLnow today (Friday). “So they’re paying more than 30% of income.”

However, the report also found that many renters could afford higher rents, but chose to live in lower-rent housing units — which likely further exacerbated the affordable housing squeeze for those at lower income levels.

“That didn’t really surprise us,” said Hendey. “People want to minimize their housing costs so they have money for other things.”

The Urban Institute’s data indicates that Arlington would need 9,700 more housing units renting at under $800 a month, and 4,100 units under $1,300 a month, to meet its needs. On the other hand, the report pointed to a surplus in higher-end units: 18,600 more units than needed in the units in the range of $1,300-$3,500 or more a month.

Henley summarized the report’s recommendations for meeting affordable housing needs as a “three-prong framework” to focuses on preserving existing stock, producing more of the right kind, and protecting renter and buyers from displacement.

The authors recommend not just ramping up construction of additional housing stock, but also finding ways to streamline permitting processes and make use of public land and vacant lots.

The report also recommends allowing more multi-family projects on properties zoned for single-family housing, through the use of accessory dwelling units. It found that 73% of Arlington’s residential space is zoned for single-family houses, which is lower than D.C.’s 80%, and Fairfax County’s 95%.

The report itself was funded with grants from the Greater Washington Partnership and JPMorgan Chase.

Earlier this month, Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair at Large Phyllis Randall remarked that area residents needed to start understanding affordable housing as meaning suitable housing for the elderly, people with disabilities, and debt-ridden college graduates.

“I want them in the area,” Randall said of her children seeking housing they could afford. “Not in my basement.”

“I think that people view the word affordable housing as only for poor people, or of people with extremely low incomes, but I think that everyone need housing that is suitable for them.” Henley said. “We need the housing market to work for everyone.”

Graph via Urban Institute

by Airey August 26, 2019 at 4:45 pm 0

The majority of local leaders agree that Northern Virginia needs more affordable housing and bus transit — though they differ on the details.

Local leaders discussed issues ranging from housing to the area’s overall economic health during the Northern Virginia Regional Elected Leaders Summit co-hosted by several local chambers of commerce at George Mason University’s Arlington campus earlier today (Monday).

Affordable Housing

Arlington Board Chair Christian Dorsey said he was working with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments to develop a “policy overlay” to help guide affordable housing across the region.

“We have one,” said Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson. “It’s just entirely not deliberate, not coordinated, and not successful.”

Wilson and Dorsey both said that each jurisdiction has its own issues — like zoning for accessory dwelling units — but a guiding document could help align governments’ goals to fill the region’s growing housing need. One problem leaders believe is better solved together is how to build affordable housing that’s accessible to public transportation.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Vice Chair Penelope Gross said the skyrocketing price of housing near Metro stations bars the people who most need access to Metro from living nearby. Dorsey agreed that building affordable, transit-accessible housing was an important regional priority, and a better idea than building housing away from transit.

“We can’t just continue to grow housing and then try and build the supports with transportation infrastructure to meet where we built the housing,” said Dorsey. “That’s stupid.”

Phyllis Randall, Chair at Large of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, said she has tried to explain to constituents with kids that the people who benefit from affordable housing includes recent college graduates.

“I want them in the area,” she joked of her own children. “Not in my basement.”

Outgoing Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chair Corey Stewart, the only Republican on the stage Monday, was also the lone dissenter in that conversation. He pointed out that Prince William held a “disproportionate” share of affordable housing in the region, but still could not build enough because of restrictions on breaking up large, multi-acre lots that local leaders refused to amend.

“We need to let the private sector solve this problem,” he said.

Metro, Buses, and Shutdowns

Dorsey, who also sits on the WMATA Board of Directors, told the audience that the transit agency expects to conclude its Blue and Yellow line shutdown in Alexandria on time. That was welcome news for Alexandria’s leaders.

“It has been a difficult summer,” noted Wilson, who said that the silver lining of businesses hit hard by the shutdown is that more residents have been using the public bus system than ever.

Due to growing ridership this summer, the mayor announced Alexandria will extend its water taxi service to the Wharf through the December. The water, he said, was the region’s largest “untapped resource” when it came to transit development.

Gross and Dorsey both echoed support for more bus transit to help move more people and alleviate the region’s traffic woes, with Dorsey saying he wants “to see the attention to Metro’s buses that is paid to rail.”

(more…)

by Airey August 9, 2019 at 1:30 pm 0

Arlington County is hoping to launch part of its digitized permitting systems next month.

Starting September 9, residents and businesses will be able to apply for some permits online, as well as ask questions and check on the status of pending applications, in what officials hope will be a “welcome relief” for local businesses.

“The new system will lead customers seamlessly from the County’s website into online permit applications,” said county planning department spokeswoman Jessica Margarit.

“Customers will be able to apply online 24/7 from their computers or mobile devices,” Margarit said in an email Wednesday. “The system will accept completed applications, uploaded plans and supporting documents and online payments. Customers will be able to check the status of their applications, track their permit’s process and receive email notifications about their application(s).”

Officials tested the system over the summer, which found bugs related to how users upload files, search for permits, and receive update notifications. All of those problems have been addressed, according to Margarit.

The September start date will digitize 18 types of permits, including site plans, rezoning requests, and the small cell facilities for 5G providers.

In a second, future phase of the project, the county will digitize 21 additional types of permit, including those for building permits, inspections, and accessory dwelling units (for which the Arlington County Board recently loosened the requirements.) For now, residents will need to continue applying for the second phase permits in person at the county’s Courthouse office.

Arlington Board Chair Christian Dorsey previously acknowledged the digital database was a long time coming, but said it would be a “a welcome relief for many of our community’s businesses.”

Several business owners have said the county’s lengthy permit process delays opening dates and stifles business.

The county is hosting public meetings about the changes at county government HQ in Courthouse on Thursday, August 22 and Tuesday, September 17 from 3-8 p.m., and on Wednesday, September 18 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

by Mark Kelly July 30, 2019 at 2:30 pm 0


The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

The Progressive Voice opined this week that it may be time to take measures that rein in growth.

It is slightly ironic that the growth in high rise housing has helped give Democrats a virtual lock on local elections is also causing consternation among “progressives.” It is also amusing that progressives complain about traffic and parking while many of them are advocating for eliminating travel lanes on already congested streets, stopping scooter rentals and eliminating parking spaces.

Growth is just one of the things Democrats have been fighting with each other about in Arlington.

Also on the list, whether to provide subsidies to big corporations like Amazon; the debate over preserving neighborhood schools when redrawing boundaries versus making diversity the priority when setting new lines; whether a strong, experience prosecutor is more important than an unknown and unproven Commonwealth Attorney who promises to reform the office; disagreements over whether accessory dwelling units were bad for neighborhoods; and changing the name of Washington-Lee to Washington-Liberty high school.

The anti-Trump sentiment that drove Democrats to the polls in 2018 overshadowed the issues facing the county as well as the check to one-party rule that having an independent voice on the County Board provided.

The Board read the results differently. They went on a post-Vihstadt spending spree, including millions to build more bus stops on Columbia Pike. They voted to raise their own pay by as much as 60%. Yet things like ongoing water main breaks and the recent flooding reminded voters that basic local governance decisions on things like infrastructure have often not received enough attention.

There is undoubtedly continued discontent with how our elected officials are making decisions. One option is for Democrats to run more candidates in primary contests against incumbents in future years. But there is tremendous opportunity to partner with the Independents and Republicans who want to see our county run well and in a fiscally responsible manner.

It might even be time for the community to come together and back a write-in campaign for John Vihstadt. And since it’s a two seat County Board year, maybe a Vihstadt-Stamos write-in ticket? If Vihstadt’s win in 2014 sent a shock wave through the establishment, imagine if it happened again without his name appearing on the ballot.

Mark Kelly is a 19-year Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Airey May 24, 2019 at 6:00 pm 0

It’s the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, and everyone seems to be gearing up for the holiday weekend — assuming you’re not already out of town.

Unless you’re one of the thousands of residents who lost power during the storm, or suffered damage to your cars and houses. As of 3 p.m. Dominion was still reporting 4,019 customers out of power in Arlington.

The storm was also a somber affair for Arlington’s arbor amorists who lost one of the county’s most prized trees in the squall.

Memorial Day activities like the Arlington National Cemetery’s annual “Flag-In” and flower distribution are continuing nonetheless.

This weekend also marks the start Metro’s “summer shutdown” of six Blue and Yellow Line Metrorail stations until September, and the last Rolling Thunder parade.

But even aside from the storms, the holiday preparations and latest Metropocolypse, it’s been a busy week for Arlington. Here’s a few tidbits from around town you might have missed:

What are your plans for the weekend? Let us know, and feel free to discuss any other issues of local interest, in the comments below.

by Airey April 26, 2019 at 11:00 am 0

A new county initiative aims to help find ways to solve Arlington’s affordable housing shortage.

County Manager Mark Schwartz introduced “Housing Arlington” during Thursday night’s Arlington County Board meeting. Billed as an “umbrella initiative” for the county’s existing affordable housing programs, Schwartz said it will help officials and the public brainstorm solutions together.

During presentations Thursday night, county staff said Arlington has lost 17,000 market-rate housing units since 2005. With 58,000 more residents expected by 2045 and current rent for a 2 bedroom apartment averaging $3,000 per month, they said the squeeze for affordable housing is likely to worsen.

“If we are successful in this event, we will create and preserve more housing for Arlington residents,” said the Housing Division Chief David Cristeal.

The county currently creates affordable housing in a couple ways, including by subsidizing its construction with the Affordable Housing Innovation Fund (AHIF) and by subsidizing rent for low-income residents.

In 2015, the county officials pledged to create 15,800 affordable housing units before 2040, but have since fallen short of the yearly creation benchmarks.

“Housing Arlington is different first because it’s a County Board priority to bring solutions sooner… and the expectations are higher,” said Cristeal, adding that the initiative means the Arlington will be “even more focused on this challenge” and will be “more proactive” in collaborating between public and private sectors.

The initiative will focus on addressing the shortage of affordable homes for low-income and middle-income residents, per its website, and plans to leverage the county’s existing housing programs along with zoning tools and private-public partnerships to accomplish that goal.

Schwartz noted during last night’s meeting that Arlington’s “dilemmas of costly housing can’t, and should not, be solved with AHIF funding.”

He added that the money he and the County Board increased for AHIF’s budget this year “is a really good step” but that “it will never meet the full scope of the need.”

“We know residents across generations are facing pressures from multiple angles, and this interconnected solution allows our community to be responsive and efficient,” said County Board Chair Christian Dorsey in a press release.  The challenges don’t exist in silos and their solutions don’t either.”

Schwartz says the public has submitted ideas to the county before which are now research-able due to the Housing Arlington initiative. The ideas include:

  • Can publicly-funded housing be created specifically for teachers?
  • Should individuals let public safety staff live in accessory dwellings on their property?

Schwartz mentioned the initiative was also a response to the  “strong headwinds” the county faces in addressing affordable housing with Amazon coming to town.

The hearing to approve Amazon’s incentive package was dogged by activists who fear the company’s “HQ2” will hasten gentrification. Several residents shared how their rent has already increased since the company scouted its new headquarters in Pentagon City and Crystal City.

“What I’m sensing is a real concern about loss and vulnerability,” Dorsey during the March hearing in between protests.. At the time, Dorsey added that the “the history” of Arlington neighborhoods was that of gentrification and increasing property values.

“We never really had a way to stop it,” Dorsey said.

The Housing Arlington initiative will be housed in the Housing Division of the county’s Community Planning, Housing and Development Department (CPHD), per its website. Funding details for the new initiative were not shared.

The Housing Arlington initiative is scheduled to hold its first public engagement forum at Kenmore Middle School on Wednesday, May 29 from 6-9 p.m.

Flickr photo via woodleywonderworks

by ARLnow.com Sponsor April 25, 2019 at 12:45 pm 0

The annual Arlington Home Show and Garden Expo is coming to Kenmore Middle School (200 S. Carlin Springs Road) on Saturday, April 27, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

The home show is a community event — not a commercial event. The goal: to educate Arlingtonians about the best ways to add value to their homes and improve their overall quality of life.

Now in its 13th year, the home show is a one-stop shop for all things related to improving and building homes including permitting, financing and choosing the right contractors. This year the show will focus on informing visitors about value remodeling — making sure that every dollar invested in home improvement achieves the best return.

The free, family-friendly event will include 18 workshops covering a wide spectrum of topics, including Accessory Dwellings (ADUs), Energy Efficiency, Smart-on time and on budget-Contracting, Landscaping, Going Solar and the well established Landlord Seminar that deals with the legal and practical nuts and bolts of being a landlord. The Show features more than 65 exhibitors, including local builders, designers, master gardeners and more.

Attendees can also discuss their home improvement or building plans with representatives from a number of Arlington County agencies, who will be available for one-to-one consultation.

Admission and parking are both free. There will be a raffle for a 50-inch television, free LED bulbs for visitors, many contractor specials and great food will be provided by Cafe Sazon.

The event is organized by Arlington County’s Housing Division and the nonprofit group Resilient Virginia. Gold Sponsor of this year’s show is Alair Homes Arlington.

by Mark Kelly April 16, 2019 at 2:30 pm 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Last year Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated a generally well-liked incumbent with a wealth of seniority and influence in a heavily Democrat Congressional district in New York City. She did it despite being outspent somewhere in the range of 18 to 1. It shocked the media and so-called political establishment.

It also inspired other candidates to forego “waiting their turn” to run for office. This year four sitting Democrats in Arlington are facing intraparty challenges for the nomination to their party’s ballot slot in November. It would not be surprising to see a similar challenge in next year’s 8th Congressional District race as well.

While AOC’s success may be inspiring, it did something that hurts long-shot challengers this year. It eliminated the element of surprise. Seeing such a high profile upset, incumbents generally become sufficiently scared to take these challenges seriously.

Thus far, two of the races stick out based on the only metric we have available to us: campaign finances. Parisa Dehghani-Tafti has raised nearly $108,000 in her race against Theo Stamos for Commonwealth Attorney. However, Stamos holds a $50,000 plus cash on hand advantage.

The school board race between Reid Goldstein and David Priddy is also financially competitive, but only because both candidates reported anemic fundraising. Neither candidate has even $10,000 available to spend as of March 31st.

Surprises could happen, but the safe bet so far is on incumbents to win.

As for election season more broadly in Virginia, it appears as though Democrats looking to take control of the General Assembly may not be able to count on big financial support from their three statewide officeholders. According to the most recent fundraising reports, money has dried up considerably after scandals rocked the Democrats in Richmond. For a visual, check out the Virginia Public Access Project.

The fallout is not limited to fundraising. Governor Northam’s office announced yesterdaythat he is backing out of his scheduled speech for the Virginia Military Institute commencement this spring.

Finally, we are one week away from the County Board’s approval of next year’s budget, including what is almost certain to be a sizeable tax hike and multiple fee increases.

Also of note on the packed April meeting agenda:

  • $11.5 million subsidyto keep the Drug Enforcement Agency offices in Arlington.
  • Pay raises for county staff. The Board report for this item is currently unavailable, so we do not yet know what the raises will be.
  • Advertising public hearingson the modification of accessory dwelling unit (ADU) regulations.
  • Renaming the portion of Route 1 in Arlington from Jefferson Davis Highway to Richmond Highway.

Mark Kelly is a 19-year Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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