Arlington, VA

Arlington is getting a little greener.

Affordable housing developer AHC Inc., in partnership with Arlington County, introduced 342 solar panels at The Apex complex (2900 and 2910 S. Glebe Road) last week. The nonprofit touted the undertaking as “the largest solar panel array on a multifamily apartment building in Northern Virginia.”

The 130-kilowatt installation will ultimately generate electricity to offset common area energy usage. The energy will power the lights, elevators, fitness equipment and power to the apartment community’s leasing office.

“We are delighted to have the opportunity to reduce our operating expenses while also cutting back on carbon emissions,” AHC President and CEO Walter D. Webdale said in a press release. “Converting a portion of our energy source to renewables is a win for everyone – the community, our residents and for us.”

The Apex is a five-story, two-building affordable housing complex that opened for residents this spring. It replaced The Berkeley, a four-story housing complex built in 1961 and located west of Crystal City, along Four Mile Run. The Apex’s 256 units — including one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments affordable for low- and moderate-income households — replaced The Berkeley’s 137 units.

The Arlington County Board gave a final approval to the project, which received around $20 million in loans from the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund, in July 2018. Additional funding came through Low-Income Housing Tax Credits from the Virginia Housing Development Authority.

“The Apex project shows that affordable housing and sustainability can be woven together beautifully to create a climate of change,” said Claude Williamson, Director of Arlington’s Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development.

“Energy efficient construction and solar power are important for containing the costs of affordable living and to reach Arlington’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2050,” he said. “We look forward to working hand in hand with our entire community to create and maintain more sustainable, affordable housing for the future.”

Photos courtesy AHC Inc.

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A study by a criminal justice consulting firm recommends that Arlington, Alexandria and Falls Church keep the Northern Virginia Detention Center, but with some changes.

Over the last decade, detention rates have decreased at the facility, located at 200 S. Whiting Street in Alexandria. It has 70 beds but on any given day houses 20 to 25 youth detainees — from age 11 to 18 — who have committed anything from parole violations to felony offenses.

Recently, officials have been weighing the future of the center, which is falling apart and costly to run. During a joint work session with representatives from Arlington and Alexandria on Monday, D.C.-based criminal justice consulting firm The Moss Group recommended keeping the center, but making it more efficient by moving more programs to the facility and eliminating some staff.

“It is a complex, aging facility, but it is available for other options when you’re thinking about the future of the compound,” said Reginald Wilkinson, the senior advisor for The Moss Group.

In an email, Arlington County said keeping the center open — as opposed to transferring detainees to a facility elsewhere — would “ensure juveniles remain close to their home communities and services.”

The report recommended placing mental-health treatment, substance-abuse services, youth mentoring and specialized placement programs in underused spaces in the facility, which would help make it more financially feasible to maintain.

It also suggested redesigning the facility to accommodate the new services and create a “home-like” feeling.

Cutting some staff and making the program changes could save nearly $600,000 annually, The Moss Group found. That would mean a savings of about $300,000 from Arlington’s current $1.8 million annual commitment.

NVJDC is the second most expensive detention center among Virginia’s 24 facilities, and was allocated $5.8 million to run in Fiscal Year 2020. Of that, about $3.6 million came from localities and $2.2 million from state and federal funding.

A possible alternative would be moving kids to the Fairfax County detention center, but Justin Wilson, the mayor of Alexandria, said Fairfax likely will not take the teens. The mayor said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Jeff McKay told him “the door is not closed, but that the hill is steep.”

The right political movement could change that, Wilson added.

“I think there is some logic to working together again, given [extra] capacity” at the Fairfax County facility, he said. Fairfax County operated the NVJDC with Arlington and the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church before opening its own center in 1994.

Consultants conducted focus groups, interviews and community meetings, and hosted an online survey to gauge support for the center. Although some people want to see it closed, the group concluded there is widespread community support for the center.

The finding raised eyebrows among some political officials. Others asked about opportunities to eliminate juvenile detentions altogether.

“I think there might be a desire to move toward zero detention by closing down that facility,” Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol said. “Certainly I… am interested in pursuing that vision of zero youth detention.”

Arlington’s Director of Court Services Earl Conklin said that without a detention center a judge could still order detention but the youth would have no place to go.

The Moss Group told the municipalities to consider a formal relationship with the Annie E. Casey Foundation and participate in its Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative to reduce reliance on detention.

County Board Chair Libby Garvey applauded the decline in detention rates but said reforms are essential. About 57% kids in the system are Black, while 39% are white. In terms of ethnicity, just over 30% are identified as Hispanic.

“It is our young people of color who are most impacted by this detention facility,” she said. “We would like to do away with [this] disproportionality and continue to lower the number of people there, but there will always be a need for this facility or something like it, and that’s why we’re here.”

The study will be presented at a virtual community meeting on Thursday, Nov. 5 from 7-8:30 p.m. The meeting link will be available on the study webpage.

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Members of the Arlington County Board say that before they enact a local tax on plastic bags, they need time to identify and avoid the unintended consequences of one.

“The most vulnerable suffer the most from pollution and will suffer the most when we try to clean it up,” Board Chair Libby Garvey said during the County Board recessed meeting on Tuesday afternoon. “We’re going to try and do it right and be aware of the pitfalls, and there are a lot.”

In March, the Virginia General Assembly passed SB11, a bill that allows municipalities to collect a tax of five cents on disposable bags. Gov. Ralph Northam signed the bill into law on April 10. The proceeds of the tax would be used for environmental purposes.

“Based upon revenue generated from similar taxes in the District of Columbia and Montgomery, Maryland, the tax proposed in this bill could potentially generate aggregate local revenues between $20.8 million and $24.9 million annually” statewide, the bill’s impact statement said.

The 5-cent tax has the support of EcoAction Arlington, an environmental advocacy group, which launched a petition this fall. The group aims to have 1,500 signatures by the November Arlington County Board meeting.

“Presently, 471 local ordinances have been adopted in cities and counties across 28 states,” the petition said. “We believe Arlington should be the next county to take this important step forward.”

Staff have been and are working through policy issues and how to engage Arlingtonians, with a specific focus on how this would work during the pandemic, said Deputy County Manager Michelle Cowan.

A proposed timeline would start with a “robust” engagement of stakeholders in January, she said. An ordinance could be drafted in February. The law requires it be adopted by April 1 to be effective on July 1, Cowan said.

County Board Member Christian Dorsey said April may be too early, and wants to hold off until the community is optimistic that the pandemic is over. He said he worries that the tax would hurt the vulnerable and low-income residents of Arlington, “during a time when we are all hoping to prioritize getting them safely and healthily through the pandemic.”

Board Member Takis Karantonis encouraged county staff to include the most vulnerable in the county’s outreach efforts.

“It’s a very good point to think about how to introduce multi-use bags and create a culture that helps those who are the most vulnerable,” he said.

Members Matt de Ferranti and Katie Cristol also wanted to pump the brakes and review the potential tax in February or March when they have more information.

“I know there is a strong desire to see this plastic bag tax in effect on Jan. 1, and I associate myself with that impatience to make these big strides on environmental protection,” Cristol said, before adding that additional time is needed for a more thoughtful and equitable approach.

In the same meeting, Dorsey told members about new goals to reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, set by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. The association adopted a plan in 2008 to reduce greenhouse emissions by 80% from the baseline in 2005 by 2050, Dorsey said.

“There was a significant decrease at the start, but that has resulted in a plateau over the last several years,” he said.

Pushing through the plateau will require retrofitting homes, ensuring new home construction is energy efficient and moving buses and passenger vehicles toward zero-emissions, he said.

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Arlington doesn’t have it as bad as other communities, but the pandemic is causing a drop in tax revenue that is likely to result in some budget cuts.

That’s the message from County Manager Mark Schwartz, who presented an update on the county’s finances at last night’s County Board meeting.

The main highlight from Schwartz was the county budget closeout — the allocation of funds leftover from the previous fiscal year’s budget, which closed on June 30. There was $22.4 million left over from the 2019-2020 budget, most of which Schwartz recommended using to boost the current Fiscal Year 2021 budget.

“As proposed, $13.4 million would be used for the FY 2021 budget, $2 million would be put into the County Manager contingency fund, $2 million would support an employee separation contingent, and $5 million would be set aside to address COVID-related expenses in the FY 2022 budget,” said a county press release, below.

The Board is scheduled to vote next month on Schwartz’s recommendations, after receiving public feedback.

While a number of local advocacy groups have traditionally used the budget close-out process to secure additional funding for various initiatives, that is likely to be curtailed this year. Schwartz reiterated his previous warning that the county and Arlington Public Schools are together facing a $56 million budget gap for FY 2021.

“Usually we would already be thinking about our next budget, but instead we must figure out how we will provide the services and programs in the FY 2021 budget and fulfill our primary obligations to Arlington residents,” Schwartz said.

On the table for closing the gap, caused by a revenue shortfall and unexpected pandemic-related costs, is a reduction in county services. Schwartz’s presentation said that the county hopes to save $6.1 million by reducing some services and by not filling some vacant positions.

While holding out hope of saving money with a hiring freeze and preserving currently filled positions, Schwartz recommended that the Board set aside $2 million for “employee separation” costs, potentially including early retirements and buyouts.

From a county staff report:

As we work through development of the FY 2022 budget, we will be considering changes in how we deliver services based on our experience during COVID and due to anticipated revenue declines. This contingent would allow the Manager flexibility in addressing any impacts of these changes. As an example from prior years, we have offered various incentives for early retirement and other buy-out options. It is likely that these options will need to be effective prior to the beginning of FY 2022 (July 2021); thus, funding would be needed in FY 2021.

Other planned sources of savings outlined by Schwartz include debt refinancing ($2.4 million), federal CARES Act funding ($9.3 million) and “operational adjustments” — delayed facility openings ($1.9 million).

More from a county press release, below.

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Morning Notes

Board Shelves Pike Housing Proposal — “Arlington County Board members on Oct. 17… [removed] from consideration a staff proposal to change rules governing affordable housing on Columbia Pike. Board members, who had weathered intense community skepticism of the proposal when it first was heard in June, had placed the proposal back on their October agenda, and had recommendations from both the Planning Commission and county manager to approve it. But when critics again suited up to do battle, board members threw in the towel.” [InsideNova]

Another Top Bond Rating for County — “For the 20th year in a row, all three credit ratings agencies have reaffirmed Arlington County’s debt ratings of Aaa/AAA/AAA — the highest possible rating. Arlington is one of just 48 counties in the United States, and one of nine in Virginia, to receive this designation.” [Arlington County]

Amazon Donates to Antiracism Effort — “Amazon.com Inc. has donated $100,000 to Arlington County’s antiracism initiative. The company, which is setting up a headquarters in the Northern Virginia county, made the donation Oct. 14 and the county board will vote on whether or not to accept the funds on Tuesday.” [Washington Business Journal]

New Sculpture at Arlington Nat’l Cemetery — “A new sculpture honoring military women and military working dogs was unveiled outside Arlington National Cemetery. The life-size bronze sculpture called ‘The Pledge’ is being placed at the Women In Military Service For America Memorial, located at Arlington National Cemetery’s entrance.” [WTOP, DCist]

Arlington Woman Featured as Face of COVID — “One of those laid off was Serenety Hanley, whose career in digital communications included a stint in the White House under President George W. Bush. The 45-year-old single mother was let go from a retail job in March and now makes a living by shopping for Instacart… Hanley said she still can barely make ends meet.” [Thomson Reuters Foundation]

Va. Ventilator Usage Declines — “The number of Virginians being treated on ventilators for COVID-19 fell to a new low Monday, and case levels also declined somewhat from recent trends. The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association reported that just 81 patients were being treated statewide on ventilators, down from 95 the day before and the fewest since the association began publicly reporting COVID-19 data in early April.” [InsideNova]

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As Election Day nears, Audrey Clement, the Independent candidate for Arlington County Board, took shots at her opponent, County Board Chair Libby Garvey, on the county’s Missing Middle Housing study.

Facing a shortage of moderately-priced housing options in the “missing middle” between apartment buildings and single-family homes, the County is kicking off a study to figure out whether it should open up some areas zoned only for single-family homes to denser housing types.

But Clement, a perennial candidate for the last decade, said Garvey has given outsized importance to the racial-justice component of this plan to gloss over economic problems. One problem is the possibility that these new housing options may still be out-of-reach for Black residents, according to Clement.

“The County has been very successful in persuading people it is a social-justice and racial issue, but the people that they are addressing are not aware of the dynamics of the real-estate market,” Clement said.

In the mid-20th century, Arlington began zoning most of the county for single-family homes and forbade the construction of more compact dwellings, which were more commonly inhabited by the county’s Black population because fewer could afford detached homes. There were also deed covenants that explicitly prevented non-whites from buying homes, even if they could afford them.

Today, 75% of the county is zoned for single-family homes. Given the median income earned by Black Arlingtonians, homes in all but a few neighborhoods are out of reach for most.

“What we’ve got now is the result of very intentional systemic racism,” Garvey said of local housing patterns. “Whether this study is going to fix it or not is hard to say. I don’t think we’re saying that.”

Clement agreed that the effects of Arlington’s exclusionary housing policies in the 20th century remain. She said what is disingenuous is framing duplexes, townhouses or other small-scale, multi-family housing as a way to correct Arlington’s racist past, when some data suggest these new options could be unaffordable due to the county’s inflated land values.

“Due to ever increasing land values no one earning less than area median income will afford the housing built on densified lots,” Clement wrote. “In addition many moderate income residents, including people of color, will be forced to sell when real estate assessments escalate in their up-zoned neighborhoods.”

Garvey did not refute the possibility that the study could find that these alternatives would not necessarily be more affordable, but said it is “way too early” to draw conclusions from a study in its infancy.

“The only thing we’ve said is that we have a real issue with sufficient diversity of housing to meet a lot of needs,” she said.

Clement argues that the current unaffordable housing landscape in Arlington is because the county allowed affordable homes to be torn down and replaced with more expensive housing. Renovating existing structures would be a better solution, she said.

This spring, the County Board voted to eliminate a tax credit to landlords who renovate their buildings. Senior Housing Planner Russell Danao-Schroeder said the program had outlived its usefulness: Only large developers were availing themselves of the credit to keep their buildings at the top of the market.

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Morning Notes

‘Open Schools’ Signs Also Being Stolen — “The debate over whether kids should be learning in or out of schools is getting ugly in Arlington. So much so, dozens of signs that said ‘Open Schools Now’ have gone missing. ‘Some of them have gotten stolen and neighbors have found them in trash cans,’ parent Russell Laird said Friday, standing near 100 new signs that had just been delivered. ‘I told people, keep count of how many were stolen, come back with double.'” [Fox 5]

County Getting More COVID-19 Aid — “The Arlington County Board today accepted more than $3 million dollars in additional federal aid to support low-to-moderate-income residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. The aid included more money for housing vouchers and funding for a range of relief programs to support families and small businesses.” [Arlington County]

Restaurant Week Starts Today — “Arlington Restaurant Week will run from October 19-26. During the week, diners can try set menu items from many local restaurants, at a discounted price. The idea is for diners to find a new to-go place for dining out.” [ARLnow]

W&OD Trail Detour Shifting — “The current W&OD Trail detour route just east of Lee Highway (Route 29) will be shifted for about two weeks beginning October 19 to allow additional construction activity. Crews will reconstruct sidewalks on Lee Highway, the Econolodge entrance on Fairfax Drive, and nearby curb ramps on Lee Highway. Trail users will be directed to a new sidewalk and trail adjacent to the new trail bridge during this detour.” [VDOT]

Gutshall Posthumously Honored By Chamber — “The Arlington Chamber of Commerce is pleased to announce that the late Erik Gutshall is our 2020 inductee into the Arlington Business Hall of Fame.” [Arlington Chamber of Commerce]

Local Church Gets Big Donation — “Today, Our Lady, Queen of Peace Church in Arlington received 40 pallets of toiletries and household products worth $250,000 from @FoodForThePoor. They plan to give away the items during their weekly food distribution and through the parish thrift store.” [Arlington Catholic Herald/Twitter]

AED Wins Prestigious Awards — “Arlington Economic Development took home numerous honors at this year’s International Economic Development Council (IEDC) 2020 Excellence Awards, which were announced earlier today at the organization’s annual conference. AED’s programs and partnerships were recognized for Economic Excellence in several categories.” [Arlington County]

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The Macedonia Baptist Church in Green Valley is asking for a three-year extension on its plan to build a new community swimming pool.

The church at 3412 22nd Street S. owns a property across the street that currently includes a two-story preschool and an out-of-commission swimming pool and bath house. The aquatic facilities “were constructed in the 1960s, to serve a Y.M.C.A; however, the pool has been out of use since the late 2000s,” a county staff report notes.

In 2018 the church sought and received approval for a plan to build a new community pool at the site, to include a dome for all-season use. However, it’s still working to secure the funds for the project, and the window for starting construction is closing.

The Arlington County Board this weekend is expected consider a proposal to extend the window for three years, through October 31, 2023. County staff is recommending approval.

More from the staff report:

The applicant (Macedonia Baptist Church) requests a three (3) year extension of two (2) use permits: one (1) for a new community swimming pool, located at 3440 22nd St. S.; and one (1) to allow shared parking on its church parking lot, at 3412 22nd St. S. In October 2019, the County Board approved a one (1) year term extension for each subject use permit. However, neither use has commenced construction or operation since initial approval in October 2018, and the applicant requests additional time to acquire financing for the project. Pursuant to the Arlington County Zoning Ordinance (ACZO) §15.4.5, construction or operation of a use permit shall be commenced within one (1) year of the date of issuance or the use permit becomes void. However, the County Board may extend the period of validity for up to three (3) years upon its determination that additional time may be needed to commence construction or operation. Staff supports the applicant’s amendment request to extend the period of validity to 2023, given the economic challenges presented by the COVID-19 emergency, the County’s recent efforts to revitalize community swimming pool zoning standards, and the applicant’s agreement to the previously approved, mitigating conditions.

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A proposal to return Arlington Court Suites Hotel to its original purpose, an apartment building, is slated to be considered by the Arlington County Board on Saturday.

The 187 guest rooms at 1200 N. Courthouse Road would become 180 homes, possibly condominiums, according to an application filed by the property owner. This hotel-to-residential project is just a couple of blocks south of the Court House Metro station.

County staff are advising the board to approve the plan, which has been amended after Transportation Commission members argued that the original plans provided too much parking.

“Overall, the applicant’s proposal presents an opportunity to provide new housing units within a transit-rich neighborhood through the conversion of an existing building in a manner that is generally consistent with applicable County adopted plans and policies,” the staff report says.

One feature includes an upgraded and expanded pedestrian route making it easier to get to and from the Metro station and the Arlington Boulevard Trail. The route will also connect with nearby apartment and condo buildings, but will not be ADA accessible due to how steep the the grade is, the staff report says.

The project is exempt from providing mandatory affordable dwelling units, according to county staff.

“Given that the proposed density of the subject site plan is decreasing, and is a renovation of an existing building, the ADU provision does not apply,” the document says.

An apartment building was originally constructed on the site in 1962, and was turned into a hotel in 1980. In 2005, the County Board approved a plan to construct 252 new multifamily, townhouse and stacked residential units nearby, known currently as the Vista on Courthouse and the Bell at Courthouse.

The ratio of parking spots to dwellings for the renovated building has been the subject of scrutiny. In February, Transportation Commission members unanimously objected to the first iteration of the plan, which knocked the original 203 spots to 171.

The revised plan includes 150 spaces for a new parking ratio of 0.83 spots per unit. Many of those would be located on a surface parking lot, with the rest in a garage under the building. A county policy adopted in 2017 said parking at residences near Metro stations could be as low as 0.2 spaces per unit.

In a letter to the Board, Transportation Commission Chair Chris Slatt said his commission appreciates the reduced parking and added pedestrian route.

“That said, many commissioners remarked that they would support an even lower parking ratio given proximity to (the) Metro and encouraged the applicant to further reduce the amount of parking on-site, particularly the surface parking,” he wrote.

The County Board will meet virtually this Saturday, Oct. 17, starting at 8:30 a.m.

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A proposal for a large outdoor café in Clarendon is set to be considered by the Arlington County Board this weekend.

The owner of the Clarendon Square office building at 3033 Wilson Blvd is requesting permits to operate an outdoor café and kiosk in an open area of the property, catty-corner from the Clarendon Metro station.

The proposed café would have 125 seats outside and 59 seats inside, according to a county staff report.

“The outdoor café will occupy the majority of the existing plaza and be enclosed by moveable planters,” the staff report notes. “Although all existing trees will be maintained, the existing raised planter walls will be redesigned to accommodate the outdoor seating.”

The kiosk will serve “grab-and-go beverages” to both passersby as well as those dining at the outdoor café. It’s being considered by the County Board separately from the café.

“The kiosk will operate the same hours as the restaurant and outdoor café and will be located on private property at the corner of Wilson Boulevard and North Highland Street,” the staff report says.

The County Manager recommends approving both the outdoor seating and the kiosk, with a County Board review in one year.

Clarendon Square is a 7-story office building constructed in 1987 and managed by Carr Properties, a real estate investment trust with two properties in Clarendon and one in Courthouse. The agenda item was deferred one month because when it came up in September, county staffers were still working with Carr on café furnishings, design and sidewalk width concerns.

The building contains ground-floor retail including a bank, a UPS Store, and a café called Waterhouse Coffee & Juice Bar. The existing plaza is publicly accessible and has raised planter beds with trees, shrubs and flowers.

The proposed café will serve restaurant-goers late into the night, according to the county documents. The building owner is asking for permission to pipe music in until midnight on Friday and Saturday nights. Music will end at 10 p.m. on weeknights.

In August, the Lyon Village Citizens Association asked that the building owner keep noise to a minimum after midnight, manage crowds and have overnight security of the outdoor seating area. The Clarendon-Courthouse Civic Association voted to support the proposal during its August meeting, provided that the 8-foot clear walkway is maintained on Wilson Blvd.

The café proposal comes amid a shift towards outdoor dining during the pandemic, and a spate of redevelopment in parts of Clarendon.

The County Board will meet virtually this Saturday, Oct. 17, starting at 8:30 a.m.

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A stalled affordable housing project near the Ballston Metro station is poised to get a three-year extension.

The Ballston Station project, set to be built on the site of the Ballston Central United Methodist Church at 4201 Fairfax Drive, was previously approved by the County Board in 2017 and again in 2019. The latter approval upsized the project from 119 units, including 48 designated as affordable, to 144 units of 100% committed affordable housing.

The Board previously also allocated $3.1 million in affordable housing loan funds to the project.

The church and its development partner, the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, are now going back before the Board this weekend, seeking to extend the now-closed window for beginning construction through October 2023.

The developers are also seeking a minor change to the affordability mix, switching six units from being affordable to those making up to 30% of the Area Median Income to 60% AMI, to make the project more fiscally sustainable.

The planned eight-story building will still include a daycare facility for up to 100 kids and a church space with up to 200 seats, as well as eight visitor parking space and 0.25 parking spaces per apartment.

County staff is recommending approval of the proposed site plan amendment, but there is some opposition from neighbors in the adjacent Summerwalk condo complex at 1020 N. Stafford Street.

The condo association is concerned about parking, noting that their own building has insufficient parking and condo residents — who are barred from participating in the county’s under-review Residential Permit Parking Program — find parking on the street difficult as it is. The association is also concerned about their future neighbors making the area “less desirable.”

More from the county staff report:

In addition to the previously submitted concerns from the Summerwalk Condo Association, a new comment has been submitted regarding the project having changed in 2019 to a commitment of 100% affordable units on site. The Association notes that the previous proposal of a mixed income housing development would better serve the needs of the entire community and instill a greater sense of equality within the neighborhood. The Association also notes concerns that the project being 100% affordable will make the surrounding area less desirable.

In response, county staff assert that the parking ratio is in line with existing parking policies, while the project “meets multiple affordable housing goals, including units in close proximity to transit.” It also “provides an opportunity for a mixed-income neighborhood as most nearby developments are predominately market-rate,” staff wrote.

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