Update at 9:40 a.m. — The Saturday County Board meeting is underway and 248 people are signed up to speak about Missing Middle. The Board expects to hear speakers today and during its Tuesday meeting before deliberating and potentially voting on Wednesday, according to County Board Chair Christian Dorsey. The Wednesday meeting will start at 4 p.m.
Earlier: The Arlington County Board is set to vote Saturday on zoning changes intended to add housing by allowing greater density in single-family neighborhoods.
The vote is the culmination of nearly a decade of discussion by elected officials that picked up steam after Amazon agreed to come to Arlington.
Since then, the county has taken incremental steps toward increasing housing. First, it allowed accessory dwelling units. Then, in fall 2020, it kicked off the “Missing Middle” housing study.
After more than two years of grassroots advocacy, politicking and vigorous debate — some of it caustic, introspective and divisive — County Board members have a final vote on their weekend agenda. There are no indications, at least as of today, that the discussion will get moved to the Board’s traditional carryover meeting next Tuesday.
The rezoning plan known as Missing Middle has been rebranded and modified in response to some community concerns such as parking, tree canopy, and the pace of development. The county intends it to address the racial, socio-economic and environmental impacts of previous exclusionary housing practices, in addition to allowing more of the moderate density housing currently limited by zoning codes.
Ahead of the vote, a trio of current and former Planning Commissioners, including two architects, published a guidebook with 12 “fixes” they say will help the county meet its goals more effectively. They say the goals of the current proposal are understandable and laudable but they predict numerous problems once the plan is in place.
“We felt that it was important to… not just criticize what the county has, but study what other communities have done and put on the table proposals that address some of what we see as planners and architects as shortfalls in the county plan,” said architect and former commissioner Brian Harner in a meeting of the Arlington County Civic Federation housing committee Thursday night.
The “fixes” range from placing more limitations on height, lot coverage and density to allowing more accessory dwelling units — effectively creating cottage clusters — and building in tools to incentivize affordability and reuse of existing homes, rather than teardowns.
These may come too late, given the vote is set for tomorrow, but Harner chalks this up to the public engagement process once the county had a draft in October 2022.
“The process was teed up in such a way that there was no chance for adequate public discussion,” Harner tells ARLnow.
For instance, the Planning Commission had just over one week to read the document and prepare for three meetings in rapid succession around the Thanksgiving holiday.
“In response, we created the guidebook, hoping to chart a course to a more well-considered EHO,” he continued, using the abbreviation for “Expanded Housing Options,” another term used by the county for Missing Middle. “The Board should pause and improve its proposal before adoption, but if not, we hope our work provides a set of tools to help Arlington get to a better EHO through the follow-on work that will be essential for overall success.”
Specifically, they say the proposal allows buildings that are too tall, too big and too dense, while falling short on affordability, equity, environmental preservation and neighborhood character. The Missing Middle proposal limits multifamily structures on lots to what is currently allowed for single-family detached homes, which the guidebook authors suggested is too big.
“We don’t see it as a zero-sum game where density fights against other qualitative aspects,” Harner said in the CivFed meeting. “We think we can have them both.”
A battle over how to improve public confidence in county government has driven a wedge between two large community organizations in Arlington.
The Arlington branch of the NAACP is leaving the Arlington County Civic Federation after a bitter battle over two resolutions intended to recommit the local government to the “Arlington Way.”
The clash came to a head last night (Wednesday) when delegates to the federation of civic groups voted 75-32 for a resolution, introduced by some former CivFed presidents, that included harsh criticism of county processes.
The NAACP had proposed a milder substitute resolution, focused on improving public engagement.
The tussle is downstream of two shifts in Arlington. The first occurred amid the racial reckoning of 2020, which resulted in CivFed pledging to be more diverse. The second occurred as Missing Middle, the proposal to allow greater density in single-family home neighborhoods, laid bare issues many residents say pervade civic engagement.
“A few years ago, the NAACP joined CivFed in a good faith attempt to assist the organization evolve, transform and grow; however, our organizational mission, vision, and values don’t seem to align well,” NAACP President Mike Hemminger said in an email shared with ARLnow. “We wish the CivFed the very best in the future.”
He said the NAACP has appreciated the chance to engage with members in recent years.
“Our sincere prayer is that your organization will one day accomplish the diversity, equity, inclusion and sense of belonging that so many are craving from leader organizations in the community,” he said.
CivFed President John Ford said he was disappointed to learn of the NAACP’s decision last night, especially after 98% of members voted for its admission to the federation in 2020.
“CivFed and NAACP continue to share many goals, and the many associations and warm, respectful relationships we have built with our NAACP colleagues will endure,” he said in a statement. “We hope they may seek to rejoin us in the future. And I am certain that the two organizations will continue to collaborate in many areas for the benefit of all Arlingtonians.”
While there is one overt reference to Missing Middle, long-standing criticisms of this zoning amendment permeate the text and its 100-plus footnotes, including one resolution.
It urges the County Board to adopt a policy “preventing implementation of plans, policies or projects (new major initiatives or revisions) in the absence of a thorough and data-supported analysis of the potential and cumulative impacts.”
The NAACP instead urged the county to invest “more resources in comprehensive planning and developing a more sophisticated, data-driven toolkit for anticipating, addressing, and communicating likely impacts from County policies.”
The original resolution ruffled feathers of other community groups, too, including YIMBYs of Northern Virginia, a group advocating for more housing that has been vocal in the push for Missing Middle housing in Arlington.
In its own statement, the group said an appendix to CivFed’s motion is a “100-page laundry list of personal attacks, vague accusations of dismissiveness by County staff and Board members, unfounded insinuations of conflicts of interest by Advisory Group appointees, plus multiple direct attacks on YIMBYs of Northern Virginia.”
(Updated 11:45 a.m.) Arlington’s Planning Commission voted 8-0 to recommend the Arlington County Board adopt the most flexible option of the proposed zoning changes, known as “Missing Middle.”
Commissioners Denyse “Nia” Bagley and Leonardo Sarli abstained during last night’s vote. Next, the ordinance to allow the by-right development of 2-6-unit buildings on lots currently zoned for single-family homes is slated to go before the Arlington County Board on Saturday, March 18.
“This has been a multiyear process,” said Planning Commission Chair Devanshi Patel. “It hasn’t been just December to March. Staff has labored on this for many, many, many years, and many, many, many hundreds of hours have been put into this process — including lots of hours by this commission itself.”
The county says this will help counteract the last century’s exclusionary housing policies while increasing the supply of options for people looking to buy a smaller, more moderately priced home than what is commonly built today. Large single-family homes have been replacing smaller, older single-family homes throughout the county for years.
Opponents say it is unclear whether the changes will meet those goals. The group Arlingtonians for Upzoning Transparency, formed to oppose the proposal, blasted the Planning Commission for “recommending [the] most extreme Missing Middle options.”
Arlington County staff presented a number of options to commissioners, with their preferred recommendations. Mostly, the commission supported the recommendations of county staff.
In a deviation from staff, the commission recommended removing parking mandates for lots near transit. Staff had recommended 0.5 spaces per unit for these lots.
The Planning Commission also supported 5- and 6- unit buildings on the widest number of lots, which YIMBYs of Northern Virginia Director of Communications Adam Theo, and former County Board candidate, heralded as “the best option for providing homeowners flexibility” during public comment.
Annual caps on the number of permits for “Expanded Housing Option” projects proved an impasse for the commission. Staff had no recommendation here, and the only consensus the commission could reach was that any cap should have a three-year sunset clause.
Missing Middle proponents had advocated fiercely for no caps. A limit of 58 permits per year was proposed, but opponents did not seem to champion this as a concession.
“We have a responsibility to consider what the impacts will be and how it works with competing policies,” said Commissioner Elizabeth Gearin. We don’t know if this will have the outcome that we want, or if it’ll have negative impacts — if we’ll be displacing potentially low-income minority home owners in favor of moderate-income renters.”
“For this reason,” she continued, “I am definitely supporting caps, either that or some sort of pilot study, until we know more than we originally new and that we examine these impacts as we go forward.”
Member Daniel Weir said there is “no rationale in Arlington County’s Comprehensive Plan, or other planning documents, upon which to recommend annual limitations to EHO permits.”
Vice-Chair Sara Steinberger said she appreciates the sentiment behind this, but caps are “an appropriate way to push us into EHO and see what impact that has on the county.”
When the final vote came, Sarli confessed he “was struggling,” before ultimately abstaining.
“I think it’s really great our community is embracing this — a little trepidatiously — but it is,” he said.
Sarli did make two recommendations that received full approval from the commission. One was the creation of a design guidebook with conceptual designs for EHO conversions and new constructions.
The other was a future study of ways to tackle policy concerns like the proliferation of oversized dwellings, including single-family homes derided by critics as “McMansions.” Commissioners wondered whether it might remain more profitable for developers to simply continue building large single-family homes, undermining the advancement of EHOs.
Sarli had a message for the Arlington County Board, expressing dismay with the unfolding of the multi-year process, which was rife with contention.
Supporters of Missing Middle housing options will rally this weekend in favor of allowing denser dwellings in neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes.
The rally this Saturday, Feb. 25, will be held at 1 p.m. at Courthouse Plaza near the county government headquarters at 2100 Clarendon Blvd. It will include speakers from a half-dozen civic organizations that support the proposed zoning changes, which go before the Arlington County Board for a final vote in March.
“The rally will demonstrate to the Arlington County Board the strong and widespread support for expanded housing options in the County,” Jane Green, co-founder of YIMBYs of Northern Virginia, said in a statement.
“The County Board is considering expanded housing options and will vote in March on zoning reform,” she said. “The question is, will the County Board reverse decades-long exclusionary zoning policy to bring more attainably-priced housing options to Arlingtonians — or will they scale back the expanded housing options which are much needed in Arlington?”
The rally follows one held in January by Missing Middle opponents.
Arlingtonians for Upzoning Transparency and Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future, both opposed to the proposed zoning changes, held a rally that drew several hundred people to hear from several speakers on their predicted effects of the changes.
Representatives from organizations told ARLnow there are no plans to hold follow-up rallies before the Planning Commission is slated to vote on the proposed changes on Monday, March 6 and the Arlington County Board is scheduled to vote on them on Saturday, March 18.
This proposal has been touted as a way to partially undo the lasting impacts of county decisions that excluded people of color from many neighborhoods, such as racially restrictive deed covenants, the decision to ban rowhouses, and a physical wall white residents built to keep out those living in Halls Hill, a Black enclave of North Arlington.
Speakers at this weekend’s rally represent the NAACP Arlington Branch, the League of Women Voters of Arlington and Alexandria City, the Potomac River Group of the Sierra Club, Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement and YIMBYs of Northern Virginia, Green said.
“This rally will feature speakers raising their voices in favor of historic zoning reform — the right thing to do for the environment, Arlington’s tree canopy, and [Black, Indigenous and people of color] and historically marginalized people in Arlington,” she said.
On these points, opponents say these changes will encourage development and thus tree removal, while failing to provide homes affordable to people making less than $100,000, and thus not doing enough to address lower levels of homeownership among people of color.
One critic recently argued a better tool for combating racial inequality would be with “housing reparations,” such as down-payment assistance. (Arlington County has a program like this for first-time home buyers.)
Price is one reason the rallying organizations have advocated for options such as eight-plexes, which the county documents suggest would be more affordable than two- to six-unit dwellings.
Last month, the Arlington County Board removed this ceiling in a 3-2 decision, with County Board Chair Christian Dorsey and member Katie Cristol dissenting. The draft zoning changes, if approved next month, would cap at six-unit dwellings.
The Arlington branch of the NAACP said this preliminary decision could violate the Fair Housing Act, though it has continued generally supporting the Missing Middle proposal.
(Updated at 6:15 p.m.) The Arlington branch of the NAACP — previously a champion of Arlington’s Missing Middle housing proposal — is claiming the proposal now being deliberated is in danger of violating federal and state fair housing laws.
After hearing nearly 200 public speeches and convening three meetings in mid-January, the Arlington County Board approved a request to authorize hearings on proposed zoning changes that would allow small-scale multifamily buildings with up to six homes in districts zoned exclusively for single-family detached homes.
In so doing, the Board removed an option to consider buildings with seven or eight units and retained an option to impose higher lot size minimums for five-plexes and six-plexes outside of major transit corridors.
NAACP Arlington Branch President Mike Hemminger, Housing Committee Chair Bryan J. Coleman and Secretary Wanda Younger decried the move in a letter released yesterday (Thursday) to Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey.
“The NAACP fiercely opposes these restrictions and urges the County Board to enact only the set of options that will supply our community with the highest number of attainable homes across all of Arlington’s residential neighborhoods,” they write. “The NAACP will not be a bystander as government policies recreate discriminatory effects of the past by preventing people of color from enjoying the same benefits as those living in the county’s wealthiest, whitest neighborhoods.”
Arlington County Board members say they support the zoning changes to partially undo the lasting impacts of housing policy decisions that excluded people of color from many neighborhoods, such as racially restrictive deed covenants, the decision to ban rowhouses — popular among Black people but deemed “distasteful” by local leaders at the time — and a physical wall white residents built to keep out Black people from the Halls Hills neighborhood.
But removing eight-plexes and entertaining lot size minimums are “land use policies that have significant, unjustified disparate impacts on people of color,” which the Fair Housing Act prohibits, the NAACP said.
These restrictions will result in more expensive new construction and create “unequal housing opportunities in the same neighborhoods from which people of color have long been historically excluded.”
These policies would result in more expensive new construction, they say, citing an Arlington County presentation indicating six- or eight-plexes would be attainable for households making $108,000 to $118,000, compared to the $124,000 to $160,000 needed for three- and four-plexes.
By its calculations, the NAACP leaders say, increasing the household income needed from $100,000 to $150,000 would result in some 44% of white households able to buy, compared to 20.3% of Black and 24.3% of Latino households.
That means the number of Black households who can afford Missing Middle homes would decrease by 43% and Latino households by 38%, compared to white households, 32%.
The issue of whether to allow seven- and eight-plexes split the County Board. Members Matt de Ferranti and Takis Karantonis and Vice-Chair Libby Garvey supported removing these options while member Katie Cristol and Chair Christian Dorsey did not.
De Ferranti has argued against it on the grounds that these are mostly going to be rental 1- and 2-bedroom properties, which are not the types of units that Arlington is aiming to build more of through Missing Middle.
But the NAACP maintains that this line of reasoning tacitly endorses “‘camouflaged’ racial expressions” made by members of the public. Read More
(Updated at 8:20 p.m.) The Arlington County Board has taken the next step toward potentially allowing Missing Middle housing.
This evening (Wednesday), during its third meeting on a request to advertise public hearings regarding the proposed zoning changes, the Board voted unanimously to kick off two months of public discussion on a proposed set of options and alternatives.
The Board will reconvene to consider adopting a final proposal in March.
Opponents and some proponents of Missing Middle housing expressed disappointment with the proposal, which does not include 7- or 8-unit buildings.
The advertised change would allow small-scale multifamily buildings, from duplexes to townhouses to 6-plexes, in areas that are currently only zoned for single-family detached homes. The Board’s vote took off the option to prohibit additional housing types on sites larger than one acre.
The Board must consider some type of parking minimum going forward, as the only option not to have any minimums was struck from the proposal.
Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said he is “deeply disappointed in the advertised ordinance.”
“I’m disappointed that the limited nature of what will be offered today doesn’t give us the ability over the next two months to do the best policy,” he said. “That’s a profound disappointment for me but not certainly not enough to vote against it.
“The most affordable units that could be made available are taken off the table for the biggest lots in Arlington that could accommodate them, limiting the opportunity to further provide attainability for people being able to achieve economies of scale and subsidize on a per-unit basis in a very cost efficient way,” Dorsey added.
Board member Matt de Ferranti was more supportive.
“My policy goals are the same as they were in December 2019 and in the scope that we wrote in September 2020: affordable homeownership, 3-unit type family dwellings and flexibility in housing types and residential uses in single-family neighborhoods,” he said. “The RTA moves us forward to that goal.”
“I think we need to move forward with what we’ve done,” de Ferranti continued. “We must move forward because my grandparents benefitted from single-family zoning in New Canaan, Connecticut and Pittsfield, Massachusetts and the grandparents and parents of many Arlingtonians of color did not. Move forward because there is never a wrong time to do the right thing. Move forward because if you can build a large home on a lot it is reasonable to build smaller dwellings in the same sized building unless there are outside costs or unreasonable burdens to doing so.”
Immediately following the vote, Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future, an organization opposed to the plan, denounced what the Board approved.
“If County Board members vote to finally adopt this Missing Middle mess, it will permanently stain their legacies,” said ASF leader Peter Rousselot, in a statement. “The County Board has disregarded the testimony and findings of prominent realtors, architects, economists, land use attorneys, engineers, and other experts who all have explained why the Board’s Missing Middle plan won’t work in Arlington.”
In its statement likewise criticizing the decision, Arlingtonians for Upzoning Transparency said the process so far has not been transparent and the result won’t be more modest-sized homes attainable to moderate-income residents. .
“The [Missing Middle housing] will incentivize developers to tear down modest, single-family homes and build $1.5 million townhouses and duplexes or small one-and-two-bedroom rental units,” said Julie Lee, a founding member of AfUT. “The County should not promote the false promise that the free market will produce lower cost housing. Developers will build the most profitable — and most expensive — [Missing Middle housing] possible, using every bit of allowable lot coverage to do it.”
Leaders of YIMBYs of Northern Virginia, which supported a more robust version than what is now on the table, told ARLnow they commend the Board for unanimously approving the hearings but are disappointed with the limitations.
“All five members of the County Board very clearly stated that they wanted to create a new legacy for Arlington, so now, they have a responsibility to make good on that promise,” the group said. “Most Arlingtonians rent. Most Arlingtonians live in multi-family buildings and most of them say ‘Yes’ to new housing and new neighbors. Making sure that the majority’s voice and interests are represented in the final package is extremely important.”
“The big issue we can’t lose sight of is Arlington’s affordability crisis and housing shortage,” the group continued. “The ultimate litmus test will be, ‘Will Missing Middle actually produce new housing?’ There is a risk — if the final proposal narrows down the [request to advertise] even further, that it won’t.”
Mike Hemminger, NAACP Arlington branch president, said the decision to remove the densest buildings from the proposal amounts to “de facto segregation.”
3 board members chopped 8 from MMH, which has the same impact of excluding Black people from owning in modern time. How dare board members say this action begins to right the wrongs of the past. This is de facto segregation and our leaders missed the mark on a such historic vote.
— Mike Hemminger (he/him) (@mike_hemmi) January 25, 2023
(Updated at 12:20 p.m.) Some 200 speakers and seven hours of public comment later, the Arlington County Board will decide whether to authorize hearings on a proposal to allow “Missing Middle” housing later today (Wednesday).
The request to authorize hearings on the zoning proposal was originally placed on the agenda for the Board’s Saturday meeting. After a marathon hearing on Saturday, public comment on the item carried over into the Board’s Tuesday meeting. Rather than make a decision last night, Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said members will take an extra day.
“The matter is with the Board but we’re not going to pick this up right away, colleagues, we are actually going to consider all the testimony we heard on this past Saturday and tonight — the nearly 200 registered speakers — and convene again once we are able to properly deliberate tomorrow afternoon at 4:00 p.m.,” Dorsey said at the conclusion of the meeting.
Last night’s meeting had fewer speakers than Saturday’s but featured a contentious exchange between Dorsey and an opponent of the Missing Middle proposal.
Dorsey intervened twice during the meeting, as some people objected to Missing Middle supporter Jane Green standing behind other advocates of the proposal, holding a sign so it would be visible on camera.
“We had 180 people speak on Saturday and we didn’t have any of this. We’re not going to have it with 20, alright?” Dorsey said. “Let the people speak. You can’t dictate where people stand, so let’s just continue, thank you.”
When it was Green’s turn to speak, a man moved to stand behind her and next to Adam Theo, a former County Board candidate and the co-founder of YIMBYs of Northern Virginia, an organization that supports the zoning changes.
“Sit down, please,” Dorsey can be heard saying off-screen. “This is childish, this is childish. I will clear the room. Stop it, everybody. I know tensions are high. I know everybody’s excited but we can all be grown-ups, okay? You can either sit down or you can be removed. It’s your choice.”
A man can be heard saying “No, you grow up,” in response to Dorsey. Later, he adds that the Board should “put this to a referendum and let the county vote.” (The county can hold referenda on bond issuances but a referendum on a county ordinance or policy would require authorization from the state legislature, as Virginia is a Dillon Rule state.)
A total of 17 speakers took the podium last night, including many representing organizations, thus giving them three minutes to speak as opposed to the two minutes allotted individuals speaking on their own behalf Saturday.
First up was Jon Ware, speaking on behalf of Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future, which opposes the measure.
Saturday embodied a lot of what frustrates folks about this process. In the week prior, the county put out 150 pages of dense materials with new zoning that goes far beyond the core specifics released only on Halloween. On Saturday, the county cut public speaking times, and talked at the people followed by the people often talking past each other.
He asserted that the people who will be able to afford the 2-3 bedroom Missing Middle housing units will mostly be white, and the county has no process or metrics to “track who gets displaced,” a mechanism that Portland, Oregon, which allows these types of dwellings, does have.
NAACP Arlington branch second vice president Bryan Coleman said the “elephant in the room” is the lack of diversity among Missing Middle opponents, especially those who are talking about gentrification and displacement.
Our residential neighborhoods have already gentrified. The average cost of a detached single-family home last year was $1.2 million. Housing in our residential neighborhoods is getting even more expensive, as 170 homes a year are replaced by McMansions. When we’re talking about displacement, we’re usually talking about lower-income residents being priced out or evicted by landlords. The claim here is different: Upzoning will somehow drive property values so high that some homeowners won’t be able to afford the increased property taxes. Neither part of that claim holds up to scrutiny.
He said it’s implausible a few dozen developments per year will cause property values to spike across the county and those who are burdened by taxes can get relief from the county’s property tax relief program.
Proposed Missing Middle zoning code changes are set to go before the Arlington County Board for a first look on Saturday.
The Board is slated to review a request to advertise public hearings on a proposal to allow the by-right construction of duplexes, three-unit townhouses and multi-family buildings with up to six or eight dwellings on lots of up to one acre in Arlington’s lowest-density zoning districts.
The proposal includes several options for regulating the number of so-called “expanded housing option uses” (EHOs) built per year, their density and size, and parking and tree canopy coverage.
If Board members approve this request to advertise (RTA), the Arlington County Planning Commission and the County Board will have two months to pick a slate of regulatory mechanisms before holding hearings and, potentially, adopting the proposal in March.
Ahead of the request to advertise, Arlington County warned that speaking times may be shortened on account of the intense public interest in the wide-ranging changes.
“If 75 or more speakers sign up to speak on one item, speaking times will be reduced to 2 minutes for all individuals and 3 minutes for all organizations,” the announcement said. “Speakers will be notified if speaking times change.”
The County Board members adopted an ordinance allowing such time reductions last month, after droves of residents came out to speak about Missing Middle in meetings over the last year.
In addition to possibly shortening speaking times, the county will prioritize hearing from different speakers this month and in March.
“When people sign up to speak at the March public hearing, the Clerk’s staff will identify those that did not speak in January and place them first in the speaking order, followed by anyone that spoke did speak at the January hearing,” county spokesman Ryan Hudson said. “Anyone that signs up to speak will have the opportunity to do so.”
Ahead of the meeting, Missing Middle proponent group YIMBYs of Northern Virginia said this RTA has been years in the making. It says development under this plan will be as “distributed [and] gradual,” but that the county has to start somewhere.
“To further improve affordability, Arlington policymakers can revisit regulations such as height limits in the future, but they must start by legalizing up to 8 units per lot with minimal regulatory burdens, which requires maximum flexibility in the RTA,” the group said in a statement to ARLnow.
(YIMBY stands for “Yes In My Backyard,” the pro-building counterpart to the build-elsewhere-if-at-all NIMBYs, who generally reject that label.)
YIMBYs of NoVA highlighted other organizations supporting the proposal, including the Arlington branch of the NAACP, the Sierra Club and Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE).
“Arlington faces a fundamental choice between growth and inclusion or stagnation and spiraling inequality,” the group said. “Continuing the status quo would be an unsustainable future for Arlingtonians, forcing more essential workers into long commutes and driving more young families to relocate, often to exurban sprawl.”
Arlingtonians for Upzoning Transparency (AFUT), which opposes the proposal, claims that the plan as written will:
- Make Arlington less diverse;
- Ignore the thoughtful views of experts and its own advisory groups;
- Are not needed to meet the Metropolitan Washington Area Council of Governments’ (COG) goals for housing in Arlington and lack the necessary analysis and planning to begin an iterative process;
- Leave behind low, moderate, and middle-income households — with a one bedroom unit in an 8-plex requiring a household income at 117% of AMI; and
- Are not integrated with our interconnected priorities for transportation, the environment, and job growth.
Several hundred people gathered early Sunday afternoon at Innovation Elementary School for what was dubbed the “Reality Check Rally.”
As others were glued to their TVs for the last day of the NFL regular season and its playoff implications — or going about errands, children’s activities, or jobs — the attendees spent their afternoon hearing a dire picture being painted about the proposal to allow multifamily housing of up to 8 units per property in single-family home neighborhoods, also known as Missing Middle.
As outlined in a press release from organizers Arlingtonians for Upzoning Transparency and Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future, plan critics are concerned that it will “accelerate gentrification, reducing Arlington’s diversity; displace moderate-and low-income households, including seniors, persons with disabilities and renters; raise property values and taxes; reduce tree canopy and greenspace; and further overload schools, infrastructure and services.”
Of course, not everyone agrees.
A handful of Missing Middle supporters also showed up at the event, according to Patch, including those representing the Arlington branch of the NAACP. Supporters have also showed up to pivotal County Board meetings, albeit not in the numbers seen at Sunday’s rally.
Meanwhile, in November’s County Board election, the two candidates supportive of Missing Middle to various degrees — incumbent Matt de Ferranti and independent Adam Theo — took about 71% of the vote to 28% for independent Audrey Clement, who based her campaign around her opposition to Missing Middle.
The Missing Middle debate in Arlington is a particularly pitched version of debates that often play out here and elsewhere across the country, particularly when it comes to proposals to build infrastructure, build new housing, or change the physical built environment in general.
It raises the question of just how local governments should handle such opposition.
Often, opponents of such projects will make the case that their numbers, their passion, and their arguments should be enough to put a stop to what they’re protesting, or at least to grant additional time for more studies and community input. (An online petition against Missing Middle in Arlington has more than 5,000 virtual signatures.)
On the other hand, those who are supportive of building — more housing, in particular — have been saying that there is a well-formed playbook for stopping things from being built and that elected officials should not be so quick to grant those with the loudest voices and largest crowds what they want. They argue that there is a mostly silent majority that’s okay with things being built — a group that does not have the time, desire nor, in some cases, economic ability to wage a support campaign to counter the opposition.
I’ve been really compelled recently by Leonora’s idea to do “community input” for housing/planning through a (mostly) randomly selected, paid, and time-boxed group.
Community input should be more like jury duty, and less like the Nextdoor comments section at Black Friday sales. https://t.co/njrQjGuG3F
— fry (@anniefryman) October 24, 2022
It’s difficult to boil this very fundamental debate about the role of local government and community input — a county-specific form of which is known as the Arlington Way — into a concise poll. But today we’re going to try!
In general terms, how pivotal should community input be to county decision making, when there’s a large contingent that opposes a given proposal?
Missing Middle — and the ongoing side-conversation about civility this topic has prompted — are front and center for the Arlington County Board this year.
Members all opined on the potential zoning changes last night (Tuesday) during their first meeting of the year, when they also unanimously elected Christian Dorsey as the chair and Libby Garvey as the Vice-Chair for 2023.
A lot changed in 2022: Covid was a top priority this time last year but this year, the pandemic barely registered a blip at yesterday’s annual organizational meeting. Instead, increasing housing while bridging divisions in the community dominated their speeches, which are reprinted online.
Board members said they will also prioritize addressing office vacancies — a portent of this year’s uncertain economic outlook — as well as climate change and equity in the new year.
Dorsey committed to ushering in new policies to increase the supply of housing and ensure a range of prices and housing types.
Today, and during my year as Chairman, I plan to lead the community through the development of a set of housing policies to meet the challenge of this generation to make Arlington a place for young families, for seniors and for everyone in between.
I suggest that our housing policies be guided by five principles where I believe there is broad agreement:
- First, Arlington should be open to all. Inclusive communities are dynamic and best positioned to be resilient. Barriers to entry should be identified and dismantled. This is a foundation principle.
- Second, our planning for the future should, as always, be community based, and that means engaging all stakeholders in our community and incorporating thoughtful views.
- Third, planning should be iterative, allowing us to course correct when necessary and evolve over time.
- Fourth, to the greatest extent practicable, living anywhere in Arlington should not be determined by income levels. Our attention to vibrant and diverse communities should span across all our 26 square miles.
- Fifth, planning to meet our housing goals must be integrated with our interconnected priorities of: creating transit and active transportation-oriented communities that are safe for all users, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and attracting and retaining employers that support good jobs for workers.
His vice-chair, Garvey, said Missing Middle is really a conversation about what kind of Arlington residents want, and this has sowed division and upset more people than any other issue she has worked on. (An anti-Missing Middle rally is planned this weekend, for instance.)
Think about the simple phrase, “I love Arlington.” One person says that and is thinking about our quiet, leafy neighborhoods with houses far apart. Another says the same thing, but means the lively, vibrant and noisy urban corridors. They use the same words, but they mean very different things.
To those differing views expressed with the exact same words, throw in the nature of people to hear what they expect to hear rather than what is actually said. Add to that our own government tendency to respond with more and more information, which makes it harder for a clear message to come through. Top it all off with the current climate where opponents like to demonize each other and catastrophize outcomes. Then bake it in a social media stew where misinformation, rumors and fears fly through a community. You have a recipe for a real communication trouble.
A proposal to allow by-right development of “Missing Middle” housing in single-family-home neighborhoods will now head to the Arlington County Board for a first look.
A little after midnight yesterday (Thursday), the Planning Commission voted 7-2 to recommend the County Board advertise hearings on a series of proposed changes to the county’s zoning code, which would allow 2-8-unit buildings in Arlington’s lowest-density neighborhoods.
This is the next step in a years-long process to draft and potentially approve the fiercely debated plan. The County Board is expected to deliberate the request to advertise hearings as early as its meeting on Jan. 21, meaning the proposal could return to the Planning Commission and the County Board for a final vote in March.
Some who voted “nay” last night said they support this effort while others who voted “aye” indicated they may not be voting the same way in March.
“I strongly support what staff are doing and what the County Board is doing,” said Commissioner Leonardo Sarli, who voted against the advertising request. “We just need a little more time to understand what we’re signing up for and what the outcomes are going to be… I find that there’s quite a bit that’s still lacking and missing. There’s a lot left up to chance in the hope of good luck.”
Commissioner Sara Steinberger, who voted for the advertising request, said what happened last night does not necessarily reflect how she might vote in March. Commissioner Denyse “Nia” Bagley, who voted to advertise, said “I personally still am not sure that what we have in front of us now… that we’re there yet.”
Outgoing Chair Daniel Weir, who voted for the request, said he is “so thrilled to give the community the opportunity to continue this conversation.”
“I am mindful of the number of people who spoke to us on Monday, pleading with us to give them hope that they have a future in our community,” he said.
During the five-hour meeting, members of the planning body bounced around a number of recommended changes to the draft. One failed suggestion was a 4-unit cap on Missing Middle-type buildings, which the draft zoning text now calls Expanded Housing Option (EHO) dwellings.
“Notwithstanding the enormous housing crisis we face locally, regionally and nationally, I’m still uncomfortable going all the way up to six or eight units,” said Commissioner Elizabeth Gearin, who voted against the advertising request. “That’s such a dramatic change to a single-family neighborhood. Two seems very reasonable, but even our peer jurisdictions don’t know what that’s going to look like in the long term. Six to eight almost seems like a bridge too far.”
Many of these recommended changes that passed dovetailed from concerns raised by the public during Monday’s Planning Commission meeting. They are intended to promote homeowner-led development and prevent gentrification, locate 5-8-unit buildings closer to Metro, eliminate parking minimums and encourage more tree preservation.
“The many motions we’ve gone through as a group this evening are a reflection of what we heard from the community, in thinking in terms of the appropriate number of EHO dwellings could be, what we can do to protect tree canopy and other resource allocation concerns we heard from the community,” said Steinberger.