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The county’s ordinance on accessory dwelling units, also known as “granny flats” or “mother-in-law suites,” is set for some changes after staff and a citizen group put together some initial ideas.

Only 20 ADUs — defined as a second place to live on a property, with a kitchen, a bathroom and a separate entrance — have been approved in Arlington since the ordinance first came into effect in 2009.

In a bid to encourage more accessory dwellings, the county convened a working group, which has come up with several proposals, including:

  • ADUs would be allowed in townhomes. (Currently they are only allowed on the inside of a single-family home.)
  • ADUs would be allowed to exist as detached dwellings.
  • The maximum allowed size would be increased from 750 to 1,000 square feet
  • The maximum occupancy would be increased from two people to three to allow for couples with a child or similar circumstances.
  • The requirement that accessory dwellings can also only be added after a year of ownership would be removed, meaning home builders could begin to add them in new homes.

In March, local economist Eric Brescia, a member of the County Housing Commission and the Arlington County Republican Committee’s policy director, said there are too many “poison pills” preventing further approvals of accessory dwellings. He argued that relaxing regulations could help ease the county’s lack of affordable housing.

Staff will share these preliminary ideas and more at a community meeting Saturday, from 10 a.m. to noon at Francis Scott Key Elementary School (2300 Key Blvd).

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Eric Brescia at Arlington GOP housing talkThe County Board’s work group exploring changes to rules around accessory dwelling units could help Arlington add more affordable housing units, according to a local economist.

Rules around the units, sometimes called a “mother-in-law suite” — a second home with a kitchen, bathroom and separate entrance on a single-family lot — were approved less than a decade ago after much local debate. But in the interim, few new units have been approved.

Eric Brescia, a member of the County Housing Commission and the Arlington County Republican Committee’s policy director, said there are too many “poison pills” preventing further approvals.

If regulations are relaxed and more units come online, however, affordability could improve, he said. Brescia discussed his views on affordable housing at the monthly meeting of the Arlington GOP on Wednesday night.

"Backyard cottage" accessory dwellingHe noted that the local GOP was previously opposed to accessory dwellings, but things change over time. The plan to relax rules on accessory dwellings has also received support on the left of the political spectrum.

“I’m of the view that finding places we allow units to be built is a free market solution,” he said.

Brescia added that county staff is “playing around” with a different kind of zoning on Columbia Pike. Under the new zoning, a building would be required to occupy a certain amount of space, but the number of units contained within is not regulated.

That could allow more units to be built, as could the oft-discussed plans to turn vacant offices in Crystal City and other neighborhoods into micro-unit apartments. Brescia said discussions are continuing on that proposal.

And despite the strain on schools, roads and other infrastructure caused by more people moving into Arlington, Brescia said a balance must be struck.

“There most definitely is a trade-off and there is a stress on facilities,” he said. “But then you go to the other extreme in somewhere like San Francisco where they’re not building anything and it’s so expensive to live there.”

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Morning Notes

Blood moon Wednesday morning  (Flickr pool photo by Joseph Gruber)

Tallula, EatBar Closing — Tallula and EatBar, which first opened in 2004 in Lyon Park, will be closing on Sunday, Oct. 26. The restaurants’ owner says they were “unable to reach an agreement with the landlord on renewing Tallula’s lease.” [Eater, Facebook]

Civ Fed Skeptical of Housing Effort — The Arlington County Civic Federation’s revenues-and-expenditures committee released a scathing critique of the county government’s “Public Lands for Public Good” affordable housing effort. The committee’s report said Arlington “couldn’t, and shouldn’t, try to solve all the region’s problems on its own.” It also said that “the county appears to be placing greater weight on the desires of non-residents who wish to move to Arlington ahead of the needs and wishes of its own citizens.” [InsideNova, PDF]

E-CARE This Weekend — Arlington County will hold its biannual Environmental Collection and Recycling Event (E-CARE) on Saturday, from 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The event allows residents to “safely dispose of household hazardous materials, bikes, small metal items, shoes, clothing and other recyclable items.” [Arlington County]

Pop-Up Dinners in D.C. for Ballston Restaurant — Before it officially opens in Ballston early next year, Pepita — a new “Mexican cantina” from former Top Chef contestant Mike Isabella — will be holding a series of “pop-up dinners” to test its menu. The dinners will held starting Oct. 30 be at Isabella’s G Sandwich restaurant at 2201 14th Street NW in D.C. [Washington Post]

Former County Controversy, Now Hardly a Blip — In 2008, Arlington was roiled by a long political fight over accessory-dwelling units, or “granny flats.” The County Board was considering whether to allow homeowners to build ADUs, which often house elderly family members. The Arlington Civic Federation opposed it, with critics warning that ADUs could turn quiet neighborhoods into overcrowded slums. The County Board ended up voting to allow ADUs by permit, but set a limit of 28 approvals per year. Since then, “less than a dozen” have been built. [InsideNova]

Roosevelt Bridge Inspections — The District Department of Transportation is conducting inspection work on the Roosevelt Bridge today and tomorrow. Route 50 drivers can expect some short-term lane closures during non-rush hour periods while the inspections are performed. Work vehicles associated with the inspections will be parked along the GW Parkway.

Flickr pool photo by Joseph Gruber

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