Arlington, VA

Three years after Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia (HabitatNOVA) first reached out to Arlington County with a plan to reuse the Reeves Farmhouse, the plan is scheduled for review by the Arlington County Board tonight.

The home, built in 1900, is a historic property that is currently vacant and owned by Arlington County. The Reevesland property it sits on is notable for being the last operating dairy farm in Arlington, operating through the Great Depression and World War II until 1955.

HabitatNOVA’s plan is to convert the house into a group home for developmentally disabled individuals. The organization would partner with a group called L’Arche Greater Washington, a group in D.C. that serves people with disabilities, as a fundraising partner and to provide residential support for four to five individuals.

Under the agreement between HabitatNOVA and Arlington County, the farmhouse would be preserved, operated and maintained with private funding, according to a staff presentation. The two-acres of parkland around it would remain a public use, including the historic milk shed, the sledding hill, and the Reevesland Learning Center gardens.

At the meeting tonight, the County Board is scheduled to decide whether or not to authorize County Manager Mark Schwartz to go forward with a letter of intent. If approved, the county would host two public meetings about the plan. HabitatNOVA would also start fundraising with the aim of reaching 25% of the $2.3 million required for the project.

Photo via Arlington County

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Morning Notes

Students: Keep the Career Center’s Farm Animals — “A staff proposal to revamp the animal-science program at the Arlington Career Center, including the removal of on-site large non-domesticated animals, is drawing brushback. The proposal calls for focusing more on smaller, domestic animals at the expense of farm animals, which have been part of the program for years and have come to be a beloved part of the Career Center family.” [InsideNova]

NBC 4 Profiles ACFD Mass Shooter Plan — “The Arlington County Fire Department is leading a national shift in how rescue squads respond to mass shootings.” Arlington fire trucks are now equipped with bulletproof vests and personnel are trained to treat victims as soon as possible. [NBC 4]

Arlington Rent on Par with D.C. — “The District and Arlington County are virtually tied for average apartment rent, at $2,233 and $2,236 respectively. Rents in D.C. and Arlington County are both up 4.3% in the last year.” [WTOP]

Local Tech Firm Not Meeting Job Hype, Yet — “Blockchain software developer Block.one promised in September to add 170 jobs in Arlington over three years, so we’re checking in on where its local employee numbers stand. Out of the 231 employees the company has listed on LinkedIn, 24 are now located in the D.C. area.” [Washington Business Journal]

How One Young Resident Affords Housing Here — “In 2013, [Mallory Scott] and one roommate moved into a three-bedroom, World War II-era Arlington house where the monthly mortgage and property taxes totaled $1,200. She had a connection that helped her find the place: Her parents, who now live in Nevada, purchased the home in 1991 for $190,000 when the Army assigned Scott’s father to Arlington. Today, it’s worth roughly $800,000.” [WAMU]

Neighborhood Near Clarendon Profiled — “Lyon Village is a chic, charming neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia, that resides regally just across the river from Washington, D.C. The 191-acre community of 6,000 residents, which was established in the mid-1920s by developer Frank Lyon for whom it is named, still retains a small-town, good-to-see-you feel yet offers access to all the cultural activities and amenities of the nation’s capital.” [Mansion Global]

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Arlington County is in the midst of a “Missing Middle Housing Study,” to determine whether legalizing additional housing types in certain areas could  “address the shortage of housing supply in Arlington.”

So what is “missing middle housing” anyhow?

It’s described by Opticos Design, whose founder claims to have coined the term, as “a range of multi-unit or clustered housing types — compatible in scale with detached single-family homes — that help meet the growing demand for walkable urban living.”

Alternately, Wikipedia describes it as “multi-unit housing types such as duplexes, fourplexes, bungalow courts, and mansion apartments that are not bigger than a large house, that are integrated throughout most walkable pre-1940s neighborhoods, often [on] blocks with primarily single-family homes, and that provide diverse housing choices and generate enough density to support transit and locally-serving commercial amenities.”

In a nutshell, missing middle housing is what’s between single-family detached homes and mid-rise apartment buildings, including duplexes, townhouses and fourplex apartments. And Arlington County is studying zoning changes that would allow it in certain places, to increase housing supply and provide alternatives to moderate-income households that can’t afford pricy detached homes (median sale price in 2019: about $950,000, compared to $575,000 for townhouses and duplexes.)

In a recent webinar, below, county staffers said the study is being conducted as housing costs rise and the county’s population is expected to exceed 300,000 by 2045.

Without finding ways to increase the housing stock and the types of housing in the county, the webinar suggested, Arlington will become more expensive and less diverse.

Current building trends, according to the presentation, are skewed toward the replacement of smaller, older homes with large, luxury houses in single-family home neighborhoods, while developers build small one- and two-bedroom apartments and condos along Metro corridors.

Neither are good options for a family of moderate means.

“We have a gap in housing options here in Arlington,” the presentation said. “Arlington’s Metro corridors offer smaller apartment and condo units in medium to high density buildings, however that style of housing does not suit everyone’s needs. Other neighborhoods offer single-family homes or townhomes and only a very limited quantity of other housing types.”

“If we do nothing to address these challenges, the existing housing stock will continue to get more and more expensive while existing mid-sized homes will continue to be replaced by large single-family homes and very little else,” the presenter continued. “Arlington’s vision to be diverse and inclusive will become less and less attainable. Our lowest income households are at home risk of being squeezed out, while moderate income households will also be at risk, further burdened with rising housing costs and potentially unable… to stay here.”

The webinar went on to explain the history of Arlington’s zoning ordinance, which echoes the history of such zoning decisions in many other communities. Currently, the zoning ordinance prevents duplexes and triplexes in most neighborhoods.

“A recent study found that 73 percent of the land zoned for residential use in Arlington is zoned exclusively for single-family detached housing,” the presenter said. “These zoning restrictions originated in early 20th century decisions that required the separation of different housing types. This enabled patterns of racial and economic segregation and the repercussions of that persist today.”

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Arlington County is currently working through a plan to add more options for housing through zoning changes, but there was disagreement during a recent Transportation Commission meeting over whether greater diversity of housing types will actually help with affordability.

Staff at the Transportation Commission noted that what’s being built these days are typically either condos and apartments or huge single-family homes. Townhouses and smaller, “starter” homes are more rare, resulting in a shrinking supply of housing accessible to young families.

“Neighborhoods are changing,” staff said. “Even without any intervention that will continue to change. New construction is either very large homes or smaller units in Metro corridors. Only 6% are three bedrooms or more, and that creates some tension as people seek to find housing for growing families.”

While affordable, mid-size units are in demand, the most lucrative options for developers are the higher-priced, luxury housing. Without some sort of intervention, staff said the neighborhoods will continue to become more expensive.

A framework for the Missing Middle Housing Study released in late December said the goals of the plan are:

  • A shared definition for the term “missing middle housing” for Arlington
  • A set of policy options to support preservation of existing Missing Middle housing stock and production of new Missing Middle housing types for County Board consideration
  • Identification of additional considerations relating to the Comprehensive Plan and other County policies and practices to be further reviewed in support of the goals of this process
  • The ability for new housing type alternatives to be built that meet Arlington’s definition of ‘missing middle housing”, offering greater affordability and design that is complementary and compatible with the scale and style of their intended neighborhoods

Part of that framework also dealt with “locational factors” for missing-middle housing.

“Building more housing… where people shop and work and have easy access to transit is one of the few things we can do in a small community to lessen our carbon impact,” said Transportation Commission member Chris Yarie. “Really drive the pedal down on that a lot, please.”

Transportation Commission member Audrey Clement was more wary of the plan, saying that it calls to increase types of housing but says nothing about affordability or equity. Instead, Clement echoed concerns of some in Arlington that the plan is an effort to quietly curtail single-family zoning.

“This is about the densification of the county and further gentrification of the county,” Clement said. “Given that is implied in the goals, to implement such a plan would require upzoning. Therefore it is disingenuous to say this is not about upzoning because that’s precisely what would be required to increase housing in residential neighborhoods.”

Clement pointed to the Veitch Street home to be replaced by several townhouses, discussed earlier in that same meeting.

“We’re really replacing every million-dollar home with up to seven million-dollar homes on residential lots,” Clement said. “That will serve the purpose of densifying the county, but it won’t provide more affordable housing and it’s a misnomer to call this a Missing Middle plan.”

Clement’s concerns are echoed by Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future, a group “concerned about Arlington County’s accelerated population growth and density” and its effect on water infrastructure, schools and transportation systems.

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Making Room is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

On January 23, the Land Use subcommittee of the Virginia House of Delegates considered two bills from Delegate Ibraheem Samirah (D-Fairfax) to remove the restrictions of single-family zoning from Virginia neighborhoods.

HB 151 would have overridden local bans on accessory dwelling units and HB 152 would have forbade local authorities from banning duplexes on residential lots.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, these bills failed to launch out of their subcommittees. We need to build support now so they will have better luck next year.

The report on the hearing from WAMU called the proposal “ambitious,” but Delegate Samirah’s bills were very minimal interventions into local housing policy. They would simply allow two units on residential land currently limited to a single unit. This would have permitted smaller, lower-cost, and more land-efficient homes throughout the state, especially in more urban areas where housing costs are increasing rapidly.

But other regulations, such as setbacks and parking requirements that inhibit “missing middle” housing, would have remained.

These bills have something for both liberals and conservative. Democrats can take a stand for affordable housing and neighborhood diversity, as well as sound environmental policy. Republicans can claim a victory for individual property rights. It should be a win-win. My colleague at Greater Greater Washington, Alex Baca, spoke in favor of the bill, as did Emily Hamilton, representing the conservative Mercatus Center.

Yet, as we’ve seen many times, housing policy debates do not fall along party lines. Instead, incremental changes, which actually re-legalize housing types that were common in urban neighborhoods a century ago, are victims of suburban identity politics. It doesn’t help that the Land Use subcommittee has no voting members from Northern Virginia, where the housing shortage is most acute.

But despite the widespread yearning for a yard and your own four walls, I simply don’t understand why anyone would object to a duplex next door. Duplexes can look just like a single-family home. Instead of razing an older home to construct a 6,000 square foot McMansion, the same lot could have two 3,000 square foot homes.

In the urban environment, detached homes are the only hope for middle-income families to purchase a “starter home.” Many desirable neighborhoods, such as Del Ray, already have duplexes and small apartments interspersed with single-family homes. This form of density is necessary for creating walkable neighborhoods with retail, restaurants, and other amenities. An none of this prohibits single-family homes from being built.

I hope more delegates from Virginia’s dense cities and counties, especially delegates who represent Arlington, will help champion Delegate Samirah’s bills when they come to the legislature in 2021. Opening all residential land to duplexes, when the property owner desires, is a simple, modest, and easy step toward addressing the state’s housing shortage.

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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.

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Morning Notes

Trash Collection CancelledUpdated at 8:55 a.m. — Trash and recycling collection is cancelled today, according to Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services. Christmas tree and brush collection will be completed as normal, however. [Twitter]

Rep. Beyer Calls for Peace — Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) tweeted the following after Iran’s airstrike on U.S. military bases in Iraq — a response to the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general: “De-escalate. Exercise diplomacy. Talk. Listen. Give peace a chance.” [Twitter]

Civ Fed Worries About Upzoning — “‘None of us are interested in destroying all our single-family neighborhoods,’ new County Board Chairman Libby Garvey said during the board’s Jan. 2 meeting with the Arlington County Civic Federation… At the forum, Garvey promised that the Civic Federation would play an integral role in any civic-engagement process that transpires in coming months. She reiterated the board’s position that zoning changes are not a done deal.” [InsideNova]

Board Defends Amazon’s Housing Contribution — “Arlington County Board members are defending their decision to trade additional office-building density for affordable-housing funding, but the decision provoked tension with some delegates to the Arlington County Civic Federation. Meeting with board members on Jan. 2, several federation members asked why the county government had decided to allocate all the $20 million contribution from Amazon to affordable-housing efforts.” [InsideNova]

Marijuana Possession Cases Dismissed — In court Tuesday, Arlington’s new top prosecutor successfully sought for judges to dismiss charges against those charged with simple marijuana possession. [Twitter]

Police Investigate Pike Robbery — A portion of westbound Columbia Pike was shut down near S. Glebe Road early Tuesday morning while police investigated a robbery. An ACPD spokeswoman told ARLnow that a victim was robbed and suffered minor injuries; no weapon was involved in the robbery. [Twitter]

New Coworking Space Coming to Crystal City — “Hana is coming to Greater Washington, and it’s going to be neighbors with HQ2. CBRE Group has picked a Crystal City office building to serve as the first East Coast location of its flexible space concept, named after the Hawaiian word for work.” [Washington Business Journal]

Local Pawn Shop Helps Return Lost Ring — “Mary Nosrati, a certified gemologist who works at a pawnshop in Arlington, Va., likes to say that every diamond has a story. This is the story of Marsha Wilkins’s diamond, of how it was lost and how it was found.” [Washington Post]

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Libby Garvey was selected by her colleagues as Arlington County Board Chair for 2020, following a tradition of the Board member up for reelection serving as chair.

Garvey, who’s facing another primary challenge this year, outlined her priorities at the County Board’s annual organizational meeting last night, calling for a focus on “equity, innovation and resilience,” amid the growth of Amazon’s HQ2 and a continued challenges with affordable housing.

More from Garvey’s speech:

We’ve been managing change and growth for some time, and doing it well, but the arrival of Amazon has made the scope of our current challenge large and clear. We need to change a paradigm: the paradigm that the most vulnerable in a society are the first to suffer from change and the last to gain from it — if they ever gain at all. Economic change tends not to be equitable. That’s the old paradigm. We want a new one.

We want to be a model of progress and growth with equity. That’s a tall order. I think focusing on three areas in 2020 will help.

First, Equity. We must commit to an Arlington where progress benefits everyone, not just some. That especially includes our older residents, the people who built the Arlington we have today.

Second, Innovation. We need to double down on innovative thinking. We can’t always keep using the same solutions.

Third, Resilience. The solutions we find must not only be equitable, but they need to last over time.

So, as Board Chair, I will continue to focus on equity in 2020 like our Chair did in 2019. We have a lot of work to do. It is outlined in the resolution we adopted and includes 4 simple questions: Who benefits? Who is burdened? Who is missing? How do we know?

Specific policy focuses for 2020 include affordable housing, cooperation with neighboring jurisdictions, and stormwater management.

“Our July 8 storm showed clearly that our 20th-century infrastructure and approaches will not work well for 21st-century storms,” Garvey said. “When we begin work on our Capital Improvement Plan budget this spring we should see some very different solutions to stormwater management.”

Garvey, who faced a backlash from the local Democratic party after her vocal opposition to the proposed Columbia Pike streetcar and support for independent County Board member John Vihstadt, took a moment after her selection as chair to support another embattled County Board member: Christian Dorsey.

“Christian is a real asset to this board, to this community — we’re lucky to have you,” Garvey said of Dorsey, who last month told ARLnow that he regrets not informing the community that he had declared bankruptcy before the November election.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, Erik Gutshall — who is up for reelection in 2021 and is next year’s presumed chair — was selected as Vice Chair. The priorities Gutshall outlined include making changes to Arlington’s zoning ordinance so as to encourage the creation of additional homes.

More from a county press release:

Amazon’s arrival requires an increased focus, or “leveling up” by the County “how we grow matters.” Arlington’s next level of managed growth, he said, “will focus beyond first-order urban design principles of sidewalk widths, building heights, and traffic circulation, and instead level up to an essential focus on equity, infrastructure like schools and stormwater, and a broader definition of quality of life and livability.”

To achieve that sort of managed growing, Gutshall said, “will require new tools and a modernized zoning ordinance to expand our housing supply in a way that enhances the livability of our existing neighborhoods.” It also requires the development of a long-range, comprehensive Public Facilities Plan “to guide the collaborative, creative, timely and efficient siting and development of County and Schools facilities.” Gutshall said he looks forward to continuing to work with County and APS staff, and the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission to begin drafting the plan by July 2020 and looks forward to working with County staff to achieve the ambitious goals of the County’s updated Community Energy Plan and to conduct a campaign to highlight and profile small businesses.

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(Updated at 11:35 a.m.) Could legalizing duplexes and triplexes in certain areas be a way to provide more affordable, middle-income housing in Arlington?

That’s what Arlington County will trying to determine with a new “Missing Middle Housing Study.”

In announcing the study, the county pushed back on the assertion — made by some activists —  that it was looking to eliminate single-family zoning entirely, as was done in Minneapolis. Instead, county staff said that “neither an across-the-board rezoning, nor an elimination of single-family zoning, would be the right fit for Arlington.”

The study will explore whether allowing more types of housing could “address the shortage of housing supply in Arlington” and will determine where the new housing types could be allowed so as to be “compatible with existing neighborhoods.”

The study — part of the overall Housing Arlington initiative — is expected to begin in 2020.

Meanwhile, a statewide missing middle housing bill has been proposed. HB 152, introduced in the Virginia House of Delegates by a Northern Virginia legislator, proposes requiring “all localities to allow development or redevelopment of ‘middle housing’ residential units upon each lot zoned for single-family residential use.”

The press release on the Arlington County housing study is below, after the jump.

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An editorial in the Arlington Sun Gazette newspaper last week, on the topic of single-family zoning, seems to suggest that renters are ill-informed and should have less of a say than homeowners.

Those who live in Arlington’s single-family neighborhoods traditionally have dominated the direction of local governance. They are the ones who have controlled the selection of local officials and then, through activism, ensured public policy proceeds the way they desire.

But if Arlington’s 2019 election season taught us anything, it was that – given enough cash to barrage apartment-dwellers with campaign mailers of questionable veracity – it’s possible to sway those folks (who often have short-term interests in a community they do not plan to live in forever) to get out and vote in races that previously had been of purely local import.

“Be prepared: The ‘woke’ culture that was swayed to enact purported criminal-justice reform will be gunning for others – perhaps even single-family neighborhoods – next,” the editorial concludes.

The debate over whether the “Arlington Way” — the catch-all term for the county’s system of community engagement — advantages certain types of residents over others occasionally flares up in the halls of local government.

Generally, the most engaged tend to be homeowners, older residents and people outraged about a particular proposal. Renters, younger residents, those who are generally satisfied with local government but not passionate about it, and those busy with work and/or family are less likely to serve on commissions or wait to speak at Saturday morning County Board meetings.

In a democratic election, one vote counts as much as the other, but once elected, officials are able to set their own priorities. As seen in the Sun Gazette editorial, some feel that those who have invested in a community — homeowners — should generally be given more of a voice than those who haven’t put down roots.

What do you think?

Photo courtesy @dcaman

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It has been a big year for affordable housing in Arlington, from the county initiative “Housing Arlington,” to zoning changes, to new studies.

Heading into the new year, with Amazon’s HQ2 taking shape, two local advocacy groups plan on continuing to push officials on the issue. But one believes more density is the solution, while the other claims increasing the housing supply would wreck community character and the environment.

Peter Rousselot, Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future (ASF) 

In April, Peter Rousselot — a board member of the Together Virginia PAC and ARLnow columnist — founded Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future, a group working to advocate against zoning changes and accelerated density in Arlington. Rousselot previously formed a similar group, Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit, to oppose plans for a streetcar along Columbia Pike.

In recent months, flyers spotted across Arlington from ASF argue that “Arlington County has plans to eliminate single-family home zoning and change other regulations” — changes that “would cause a county-wide population surge, escalating taxes, destructive flooding and environmental degradation.”

The flyer cites damage caused by July 8’s historical flooding as evidence that increased development has caused environmental damage.

“Don’t let Arlington become the next Houston,” the flyer says.

“We believe there shouldn’t be any significant further changes in zoning until we have the right planning tools,” Rousselot told ARLnow.

While ASF does not have a website, a copy of its platform provided to ARLnow argues that the county needs the following before implementing zoning changes:

  • A flooding and land use plan utilizing an accepted floodplain management tool
  • A ten-year projected county operating budget for different population and revenue scenarios
  • Community planning tools to assess costs and benefits of different development scenarios

Per the ASF platform, eliminating single-family zoning and adding more density would “transform Arlington from an urban village to a paved metropolis — [affecting] our schools, environment, trees, infrastructure, flooding, taxes, housing affordability, and county budget.”

“Our approach to housing affordability is that we don’t want to see this approach [where the county] accelerates the development of hundreds of new market-rate units in order to create a small number of affordable units,” said Rousselot.

“What we would like to do is redirect county taxpayer money to enable people to afford to live here,” said Rousselot. “That we decide as a community to help them to get the money directly in their hands though things like rental vouchers and housing grants.”

According to Rousselot, there are now more than 100 members in ASF.

Michelle Winters, Arlington for Everyone/Alliance for Housing Solutions 

Founded in 2003, Arlington for Everyone is a public education campaign from the non-profit organization Alliance for Housing Solutions (AHS).

The mission of the group is to “make Arlington a place where people from all walks of life are welcome and can afford to live,” per the organization’s website.

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