This Wall Street Journal article telling the story of the steep price of single-family homes in Arlington has attracted lots of local attention this week.
The crux of the story: members of the Millennial generation, many of whom first came to the area as apartment-dwelling singles, are increasingly starting families and looking to trade up to single-family homes, but a lack of supply has made it difficult for them to find something affordable in Arlington.
Still, Arlington remains an attractive place to live, particularly for the mix of suburban-style living and urban-style amenities.
But many of those millennials are well paid and want larger homes than they would get in those high-rises, said David Howell, executive vice president and chief information officer with McEnearney Associates in Washington. Others are starting families or moving to Arlington for its good schools, said Mr. Howell, or for new jobs with federal agencies and Arlington-based companies such as Boeing Co. or Nestlé SA’s U.S. headquarters. There is little land for building new single-family housing, he noted. The pandemic worsened the shortage, according to Ryan McLaughlin, chief executive officer of the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors. Older homeowners didn’t downsize, he said, and others renovated houses they now hesitate to leave. Now, he added, owners also balk at trading low mortgage rates for new, higher ones.
“Single-family homes are the hottest ticket in town, for sure,” said Mr. McLaughlin. “The extraordinary price growth has left many homeowners with very expensive homes while leaving first-time home buyers wondering how they will afford to buy one.”
Despite the slowdown in the overall market, the median price for a single-family detached home in Arlington County rose by 16.5% between July 2021 and July 2022, according to Bright MLS. The average number of days homes stay on the market rose from July 2021, but only by two days to 18 days, the service reported. At the end of July 2022, there were 147 detached homes on the market in Arlington, 21 more than in July 2021, according to Bright MLS.
Of course, not everyone needs a single-family detached home. Some would-be homeowners would be happy (or happier) with a single-family attached home, like a townhouse or a duplex.
But those are in shorter supply. The number of townhouses currently on the market is less than half the number of single-family detached homes, according to Redfin data. On the other hand, townhouses and duplexes are, on average, considerably less expensive than single-family detached homes, which have a current average sale price of just over $1.2 million, according to Redfin.
Arlington’s missing middle housing initiative may end up changing zoning to allow for more townhouses, duplexes and other smaller-scale multi-family housing types, but for now the reality is that there’s more to choose from if you were interested in detached homes on one end of the spectrum or condos in larger complexes on the other.
Given the WSJ story about the popularity of single-family detached homes, and the on-going missing middle debate, we were interested in finding out the housing preferences of readers if you take price out of the equation.
If all other things were equal, including price, what would be your preferred home type (detached or attached) and location type (a more leafy, suburban setting, or a more urban setting with amenities like restaurants and transit nearby) within Arlington?
When Marjorie Tarantino was closing on the purchase of her townhouse this spring, she learned there were problems with the deck.
Tarantino had bought a property in the Richard Bassett subdivision, a 1970s-era development in the Waverly Hills neighborhood, just off of N. Glebe Road and Route 29. And when it was being inspected, Tarantino was informed her 10-foot by 12-foot deck was structurally unsound.
“It’s the middle of summer and I haven’t been outside,” she tells ARLnow. “I can’t go out there — it’s too dangerous.”
So she made plans to rebuild it. But when she told her neighbors about those plans, she got a foreboding response.
“My neighbors were like, ‘Good luck,'” she said.
Tarantino is not just rebuilding her existing 10-foot by 12-foot deck. Because she’s got extra space in her side yard, she plans to expand it slightly to be 12-foot by 19.5-foot. Originally, she said her builder was under the impression he could just get started on the project, but her architect said that with the extension, they probably need to go through the proper channels.
Those proper channels ended up more complicated than the trio could have expected. Tarantino had to file for a site plan amendment that needed County Board approval, which she received during its regular meeting on Saturday, and now she could be facing a $4,000 bill for the process.
“They’re discussing huge things like collective bargaining, and renaming Lee Highway, and then there’s my deck request,” she said. “I kept checking back in during an 8-hour meeting, wondering, ‘Did I get my deck? Did I get my deck? I just want my deck.”
Her townhouse is in what Site Plan Review Section Supervisor Matt Pfeiffer calls a “unique, legacy district.” It has a specific zoning code that was used for only a handful of townhouse developments in the newly-renamed Langston Blvd corridor, all built in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
“Not only is this not common, it’s not common for townhouses,” Pfeiffer said. “It appears to me, I don’t know the exact history, to have been a specific tool created in that time to respond to market demand for townhouse development in general. My speculation is that this was a zoning district created to respond to cluster development so as to preserve open space on the site.”
This particular subdivision had similar site plan amendments approved in 2010 and 2012, and in total, he said there have been five site plan amendments for this site.
“I will tell you that some of the site plan amendments at this particular development have been controversial,” he said. “I know, it seems crazy. But there’s a single family home-zoned street abutting this development, and there have been concerns from the neighbors about the impacts of these decks at a higher elevation than their properties.”
The site plan supervisor said he thinks the existing regulations will likely be maintained, in part because these projects are not uncontroversial and it impacts only a few dozen townhouses.
Talking to neighbors, Tarantino said she learned other potential projects were “defeated by red tape and hoops.” Her journey to minor site plan amendment approval involved getting documents notarized, sending disclosures and having her neighbors write to the county, as well as lots of correspondence between her and the county and her architect.
“I understand the need for rules,” she said. “But it’s confusing and seemingly meaningless.”
Tarantino is just looking forward to when she can grow herbs and host dinner parties on her new deck.
“The hard part of this is done [and] it looks like it’s going to happen,” she said.
Now, she just has to get a building permit.
The third time may be the charm for a residential development slated to be built in Ballston where a vacated church stands.
McLean-based Jefferson Apartment Group is taking over plans to build apartments and townhomes at the intersection of N. Vermont Street and 11th Street N. The site used to house Portico Church Arlington, which, according to its website, is now found at 800 N. Illinois Street.
The project at 1031 N. Vermont Street has changed hands three times since the County Board first approved a redevelopment plan in 2018. It has also drawn some backlash from neighbors who said the plan added density to an already congested Ballston neighborhood.
The first developer, NVR, proposed to replace the two-story church and its parking lot with a 72-unit condo building and 12 townhouses. Arlington-based BCN Homes took over the development in 2019 and in June 2020, was granted an additional 4,300 square feet to develop.
With the County Board’s approval, BCN proposed a new plan: a 7-story apartment building with 98 units and 10 townhouses across the street. JAG indicates it will not be making major changes to this configuration.
“We plan to move forward with substantially the same plans that the Board approved last June,” the developer tells ARLnow. “We may pursue a few, minor changes related to the interior programming and unit mix but the project will look largely the same.”
The boutique apartment building will have a rooftop terrace, 120 underground parking spaces and 40 bicycle parking spaces, according to JAG.
Meanwhile, the 10 luxury townhomes across 11th Street N. will each have about 2,000 square feet of space, with three bedrooms, three-and-a-half bathrooms, a private rooftop terrace and a private, two-car garage.
“Ballston is one of the most desired submarkets in the Washington, D.C. region,” noted Greg Van Wie, Senior Vice President and Development Partner at Jefferson Apartment Group, in a press release.
The development, he said, “underscores [JAG’s] commitment to create a contemporary, sophisticated boutique apartment building with top-of-the line finishes and luxe amenities and underscores the strength of the housing market here in Northern Virginia.”
A private, Chile-based real estate company, STARS REI, has invested in the property.
“We are thrilled to be working with Jefferson Apartment Group again on this boutique apartment project in this amazing neighborhood,” said Joaquin Canessa, Vice President at STARS REI in the press release.
Construction is slated to begin this winter and is expected to be done in summer 2023.
Photos (1-2) courtesy Jefferson Apartment Group
Seven townhouses would fill the parcel of land at 1731 N. Veitch Street, each four-stories tall. The new townhouses aren’t part of the Colonial Village development but are considered part of the Colonial Village neighborhood.
The homes are planned to face north and south with a 26-foot setback from the street. In the rear of each building will be a rooftop deck, a balcony on the second floor, and a two-car garage connected to the existing Colonial Village parking lot.
The plans were reviewed last night (Thursday) by the Transportation Commission, where most of the dissent on the project stemmed not from transportation issues, but preservation.
While not typically in the purview of the Transportation Commission, Commissioner Audrey Clement raised concerns about the historic nature of the building being replaced. The staff report notes that the existing single-family farmhouse on the property was constructed a century ago.
“This is a historic property,” Clement said. “The [Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board] was not tasked to hear this item and I want to know why.”
A staff report said the development did go to the HALRB in June, but only as an informational item to receive feedback that led to some redesigns. While the property is surrounded by Colonial Village, which is designated as a historic district, the property itself is not marked as historic and feedback from the HALRB focused on keeping the design compatible with other nearby historic properties.
The townhouses were approved in an 8-1 vote by the Transportation Commission, with Clement voting against the project. The project is scheduled to go to the Planning Commission on Monday, Feb. 10, before being considered by the County Board.
Map via Google Maps
(Updated at 1:40 p.m.) Construction on a row of new townhomes is expected to start this spring in the Buckingham neighborhood.
Los Angeles-based Resmark Companies and Tysons-based Madison Homes is developing “an upscale enclave of 19 single-family townhomes” at 19 N. Trenton Street, a half block from Route 50.
“The project is fully entitled with construction on the first homes expected to start in spring of 2020,” the companies noted in a press release. “Designed in a traditional style, the four-level townhomes at Trenton Square will sit on a tree-lined street, just over three miles from Washington, DC.”
The townhomes will each be just over 2,000 square feet, with 3 bedrooms and 3.5 baths, as well as a two-car garage and a “walk-out terrace” on the fourth floor. Construction on the first nine homes is expected to wrap up by the end of the year, with the other 10 expected to be built by the summer of 2021.
Also in the press release, the developer touted proximity to Ballston and to Amazon’s HQ2.
“Positive economic and demographic trends in the greater D.C. region continue to drive demand for new for-sale housing in Northern Virginia,” said Resmark’s Stephen O’Neil, Vice President, Investments. “Trenton Square enjoys an exceptional infill location in Arlington and provides easy access to employers in the District and Tysons, and to future Amazon offices in National Landing,” he added. O’Neil also noted that future homeowners at Trenton Square will be a mile from the Ballston Metro and diverse shopping, dining and entertainment options at Ballston Quarter.
Andrew Rosenberger, Vice President of Madison Homes, stated that Trenton Square is anticipated to be one of the only townhome communities to be actively selling in Arlington County during 2020. “There is strong pent-up demand for new home communities in this coveted area. The Ballston submarket, along with other Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor submarkets, have experienced considerable economic growth in the last decade, yet the housing supply hasn’t kept pace. We’re thrilled to have Resmark as our partner on this project.”
The lack of new townhomes for sale in Arlington, referenced in the quote above, is notable as officials consider ways to add more “missing middle” housing in the county. Housing advocates have urged Arlington County to facilitate the production of more townhomes, duplexes and other small-scale forms of multi-family housing, to provide more affordable housing options that meet the needs of residents looking for something in-between apartments and traditional single-family detached homes.
The townhouses will be replacing a pair of aging, single-family homes. The project is part of the redevelopment of the adjacent Red Cross site, which will also build affordable apartments along the Arlington Blvd service road.
After a year of silence, plans for the redevelopment of two blocks along N. Vermont Street straddling 11th Street N. could be coming back to the table.
In February 2018, Arlington County Board approved developer NVR’s plans to replace the two-story church and its parking lot at 1031 N. Vermont Street — formerly Grace Community Church and currently Portico Church Arlington — with a 72-unit condominium building and 12 townhouses. Four of the units on-site would be committed as affordable housing.
The plans drew some backlash from the neighbors who said the plan added density to an already congested Ballston neighborhood.
Since its approval, however, there has been no sign of work moving forward on the homes. An employee for NVR confirmed that the company had dropped its plans for the site, while county officials tell ARLnow that a new developer and development plan is forthcoming.
“Yes, NVR has walked away from this site plan,” said Gina Wimpey, spokeswoman for Arlington’s Dept. of Community Planning, Housing and Development. “There is a new contract purchaser and they are planning on submitting new plans as early as next month.”
Wimpey said the contract was purchased by BCN Homes, a developer that has constructed custom homes throughout the Arlington. Brian Normile, president of BCN Homes and a partner in a number of popular local restaurants, told ARLnow it’s too early to comment on the property but more information could be forthcoming in the next few weeks.
“The plans will be processed as a minor site plan amendment, but will still need to return to the Site Plan Review Committee,” Wimpey said. “That should occur sometime this fall or winter.”
Arlington Loses Top Economic Development Official — “Christina Winn, one of the lead Arlington officials tasked with luring Amazon to the county, is taking over as Prince William County’s top economic development official.” [Washington Business Journal]
Marymount Prez Wants to Double Enrollment — “Irma Becerra hit the ground running the moment she took over the Marymount University presidency… her chief goal is as straightforward as it is ambitious: Double the school’s size in the next five years.” [Washington Business Journal]
18th Street Headache — “As they wrap up the demolition of the Clark St. bridge over 18th [Street S. in Crystal City], the eastbound side of 18th will be closed Thursday and Friday this week.” [Twitter]
Howell Gets Fall Challenger — “It’s an uphill battle, to be certain, but Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance president Arthur Purves will take on, as a Republican, seven-term incumbent state Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd) in the Nov. 5 election. The district snakes from Howell’s home turf of Reston eastward into portions of Arlington.” [InsideNova]
Arlington Treasurer Leads State Association — “Arlington County Treasurer Carla de la Pava was sworn in as the President of the Treasurers’ Association of Virginia (TAV) at the association’s annual conference in Arlington.” [Press Release]
Boeing’s Space HQ Moving Out of Arlington — “Boeing will move its space headquarters from Arlington, Va., to the Florida Space Coast as it pursues a number of rocket and spacecraft programs, including one that would launch astronauts from U.S. soil for the first time since the space shuttle retired in 2011.” [Washington Post]
Townhomes Proposed for Crystal House Property — “The proposed expansion of the Crystal House apartment complex is getting a little larger, with 21 townhomes now part of plans at the Crystal City property… The company has already filed for permission to add 798 units across four new buildings on the 29.8-acre site.” [Washington Business Journal]
Nearby: Design of Potomac Yard Metro Revealed — “The city of Alexandria, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and Potomac Yard Constructors, the private joint venture picked to build the station, have submitted a design for an upcoming evaluation by the city’s Board of Architectural Review. The station design calls for a stone base, a metal canopy and metal louvers, a glass curtain wall and exo-skeleton system, a standing seam metal roof and roof skylight panels. There will be bathrooms on the eastern side, between a set of elevators and an electrical room.” [Washington Business Journal]
Photo courtesy Celia Slater
A developer wants to knock down the single-family home near the Colonial Village Apartments complex in order to build several townhouses.
The new Colonial Village Townhouses project aims to to build seven, four-story townhouses on a 15,920-square-foot “sliver” of land located between N. Veitch Street and 18th Street N., according to newly filed preliminary site development plans.
The plans say the townhomes will all have terraces and range in size from 1,468 square-feet to 1,938 square-feet.
“The seven townhouses are designed in a classic urban, Georgetown style, harmonizing with the existing Colonial Village apartments,” said the filing, which was submitted on behalf of the developer on May 6. The developer is listed as 1731 N Veitch Street LLC, which is a subsidiary of Bethesda-based BeaconCrest Homes.
BeaconCrest Homes Managing Partner Robert Malm declined to comment on the project when reached by ARLnow, but he did clarify that the single-family home on the property is “under contract” with BeaconCrest and slated for demolition.
The plans call for several exemptions to the zoning rules of the lot, including:
- A 2-foot exception to the 40-foot height limit zoned for the area, noting that the architectural plans call for the houses to be 41.98 feet high due “to the slope of the property.”
- Each unit is slated to contain a two-car garage and a driveway with space for two more cars for a total of four vehicles per townhouse. The plan notes this exceeds the parking regulations zoned for the area and requests an exemption.
A December county staff report noted that existing the zoning ordinance “does not specify that the County Board can modify building height for townhouse developing” in this kind of lot so that “further analysis” will need to be done on the requested height exemption.
As part of the community benefits requirement of the development, BeaconCrest says in a letter attached to the site plan that it will negotiate with the county to provide some nearby improvements, including:
- Sidewalk, curb, and gutter improvements
- Streetscape improvements
- Affordable housing contribution
- Contribution to utility fund
The winter staff report also asked the developer to create a detailed tree planting scheme to meet county canopy requirements considering some existing trees on the property may have to be felled. (BeaconCrest Homes faced outcry from some neighbors in years past due to tree removal.)
Mariska noted in the newly filed plans that the development will “provide new residential units with high-quality architecture and within easy walking distance to the Courthouse Metro Station and surrounding amenities.”
Preliminary site plan submissions are “the earliest stages of the site plan process,” notes Arlington County’s website. “During this stage, staff review draft applications to ensure that they meet technical filing requirements.”
Later stages in the site plan process typically involve a review from the Arlington Planning Commission followed later by a vote of the County Board.
Photo (2) via Google Maps
The Arlington County Board has signed off on some zoning changes to make it easier for the owners of older townhouses and duplexes to renovate or expand their homes.
The Board voted unanimously yesterday (Tuesday) to amend the county zoning ordinance to allow for more changes to “nonconforming homes” — structures built before the county’s zoning rules took effect back in 1942 that might not match current standards. The move will simultaneously remove some headaches for certain homeowners and help preserve affordable housing options for the county’s middle class.
The county’s old rules have frequently frustrated the owners of certain types of homes, who were previously barred from commissioning even simple renovations without enduring a lengthy county appeals process. That incentivized tear-downs over renovations, which in turn reduced the county’s stock of market rate affordable housing.
“This is the kind of stock we hope will age over time and become more affordable,” Board Chair Katie Cristol said Tuesday. “I feel so strongly that this is a move for the better, not only for these individual homeowners, but for the preservation of this stock, that will allow the current and next generation of Arlington’s middle class to move in and own a piece of this community, or rent a piece of this community.”
County planner Kellie Brown told the Board that the changes could allow for interior “by right” renovations at more than 600 homes, which won’t require extensive county review, and exterior additions or expansions at roughly 1,500 partially detached homes or townhouses. While the changes will impact all nonconforming homes in areas zoned “R2-7,” county staffers say that the bulk of the impacted houses are located along Lee Highway, Columbia Pike, Wilson Boulevard, and in Nauck.
John Quirk, who owns a duplex with his wife in the North Highlands neighborhood near Rosslyn, counts himself among the homeowners who plan to take advantage of the change. He launched a petition urging the Board to make just these sort of zoning changes last December, after the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals denied his family’s attempts to convert an unused attic into a third-story bedroom.
“At first we didn’t even know you were prevented from doing that, so we were really frustrated,” Quirk told ARLnow. “But this is just an example of the government working for people. The Board was very receptive to all this.”
Quirk says he worked with his neighbors and other homeowners to make the Board aware of these challenges, and he credits the county’s “measured approach” in studying the issue in more detail before moving ahead with the changes.
He also lauded the Board for living up to its stated goal of preserving affordable housing in the county, noting that he and his wife were considering moving elsewhere in Northern Virginia, as they “can’t afford a $1.1 million house in Lyon Village.” Quirk fully expects that plenty of others have faced the same problems maintaining a reasonable “work-life balance” of commuting into D.C. while coping with Arlington’s rising housing costs, and he looks forward to starting work on his own duplex sometime early next year.
“By living in these smaller homes, we’re a demographic that creates population density,” Quirk said. “And that makes Arlington the great, walkable community that it is.”
Arlington could soon make it easier for owners of older duplexes and townhomes to renovate the buildings or tack on additions.
Plenty of Arlington homeowners looking to make a change to a home built before the 1940s have encountered a vexing conundrum in the county’s zoning ordinance; the building could well be deemed “nonconforming” with Arlington’s zoning rules, as it wasn’t built to match the standards the county’s been using since 1942. That means any sort of renovation or addition to the home would require extensive county review, and could ultimately be prohibited, restrictions that have persistently frustrated property owners over the years.
But the County Board is weighing a change to loosen some of those restrictions on two-family homes in some sections of the county.
Not only could the change result in less headaches for homeowners, but county staff expect it would help preserve more affordable housing around Arlington, a key conundrum officials have looked to address in recent years.
“Staff finds that the proposed amendments… allow for reinvestment in existing housing stock that contributes to the overall diversity of housing countywide,” staffers wrote in a report prepared for the Board ahead of its meeting this weekend. “These proposed changes are intended to remove zoning barriers that have existed for decades that limit the type of reinvestment and renovation activities for nearly all of the county’s supply of two-family, and some one-family, dwellings.”
County staff estimate that the change, targeted at homes zoned “R2-7,” would affect as many as 1,488 structures around the county, giving those homeowners the chance to make a range of changes “by right” instead of pursuing county approval first.
Staff noted that the Board of Zoning Appeals, which hears requests from the owners of nonconforming homes, has reviewed 12 cases involving “R2-7” homes over the last two years alone. In all, they believe the bulk of such homes are concentrated “along Lee Highway, Columbia Pike, Wilson Boulevard, and in Nauck.”
The county also doesn’t expect that these “proposed amendments will significantly alter existing neighborhood character where these one- and two-family dwellings occur,” a fear frequently cited by zoning officials reviewing previous cases.
Staff added that the county will “consider opportunities to encourage development of new, two-family dwellings” in the future, noting that officials could someday commence a more detailed study of “missing middle” housing in the county, or homes falling in the price range between affordable housing and luxury apartments.
The county’s ongoing review of “housing conservation districts” to promote the preservation, and perhaps redevelopment, of older apartments and duplexes will also offer more clarity on the matter in the coming months.
The Board will take up these zoning changes at its meeting Saturday (Oct. 20).
Photo via Google Maps
Firefighters from Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax battled a townhouse fire in the Columbia Forest neighborhood Saturday evening.
The fire broke out in the attic of a townhome on the 4800 block of 10th Street S., near Columbia Pike and Four Mile Run, around 5:30 p.m.
Firefighters were able to get the blaze under control before it could spread.
#Update Units are remaining on scene to check for further extension. E109 encountered heavy fire, but a quick response kept the fire contained to the attic. Thanks to our partners with @ffxfirerescue and @AlexandriaVAFD to get this fire out quickly! pic.twitter.com/1U40GKGLtc
— Arlington Fire (@ArlingtonVaFD) May 19, 2018
— Arlington Fire (@ArlingtonVaFD) May 19, 2018
ARLINGTON COUNTY | STRUCTURE FIRE | 4800 BLK OF 10TH STREET SOUTH | FIRE IN THE ATTIC NOW UNDER CONTROL | RIT 1 REQUESTED pic.twitter.com/Lh0YXTS2U3
— LincolnACFD (@LincolnACFD) May 19, 2018
Flickr pool photos by TheBeltWalk