Arlington, VA

County Board members enthusiastically and unanimously passed six amendments to the Arlington County Zoning Ordinance intended to open up more elder care housing in Arlington.

Developers can now build elder care facilities across 18 zoning districts, after being limited to a handful of possible location for such facilities before.

The Board also voted to update parking standards and to update definitions for terms such as nursing homes, assisted living facilities, independent living facilities, and continuing care retirement in county code, allowing more types of elder care facilities to be built.

Parking regulations for assisted living spaces and independent living facilities are now set to 0.5 spaces per bedroom, while the minimum parking requirement for nursing homes is now 0.5 spaces per bed.

“It really is good, it’s a need — there are more and more of us in this demographic every day and we need to be thinking about it,” said County Board Vice Chair Libby Garvey.

There are more than 35,000 Arlington residents above the age of 60, according to a county staff report.

“This represents 14% of the County’s population, and this percentage is expected to grow in the coming decades,” the report notes. “Across the nation, one in five Americans will be age 65 or older by 2030.”

The zoning changes were bolstered by the results of year-long study by the Arlington County Zoning Committee. Hundreds of Arlington residents answered surveys and participated in public forums and meetings. During an October community forum, participants were asked to place stickers on a map indicating where they would like to see future elder care housing.

“The study provided a community-wide forum for discussing a host of issues about housing for our older residents,” said principal planner Nick Rodgers. “It’s something that touches all of us — everyone has, or will have, an older loved one who will likely need this kind of extra help at one time or another.”

The zoning changes notably allow a proposed six-story senior living center along the 4300 block of Lee Highway to move forward.  McLean-based developer Artis Senior Living filed plans with the county in March to build a 175-unit property, but per zoning laws, was not permitted to construct in the area.

“I think this is an excellent body of work,” said board chair Katie Cristol. “And it will serve one definitive plan, and I hope with many more to come.”

There are currently 12 elderly residential care facilities in Arlington, all built before 2013 — when the county tightened zoning regulations, effectively limiting elder care facilities to a handful of smaller spaces meant for hospitals. The most recent facility is Mary Marshall Assisted Living, which opened in the Penrose neighborhood in 2011 and is funded by the county.

Photo (1) via sunriseseniorliving.com

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The Arlington County Zoning Committee (ZOCO) is recommending the county open up more areas for potential use as elder care facilities.

During a meeting last night (Tuesday), ZOCO urged the county permit elder care facilities across 18 zoning districts, citing a growing elderly population and prohibitive restrictions on where such facilities can currently be built. The loosened regulations would let developers build nursing homes, assisted living facilities, independent living facilities, and continuing care retirement communities.

“This limitation on potential sites and development standards has become a barrier to licensed residential care facilities seeking to locate in Arlington,” said Nick Rogers, zoning amendment coordinator with the Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development.

Last night, Rogers presented interim results of the county’s study of ways to build more senior housing, particularly in places like Rosslyn, Crystal City, and along Columbia Pike.

“Elder care facilities are an appropriate use for zoning districts which already permit multifamily development,” he said.

There are more than 35,000 Arlington residents above the age of 60, according to a county staff report.

“This represents 14% of the County’s population, and this percentage is expected to grow in the coming decades,” the report notes. “Across the nation, one in five Americans will be age 65 or older by 2030.”

That growing older population will need places to live that support their needs.

“Arlington is really behind in housing for older people and more assisted living facilities are definitely needed,” said Joan McDermott, a former member of the Arlington Commission on Aging, during an October 7 community forum.

There are currently 12 elderly residential care facilities in Arlington, all built before 2013 — when the county tightened zoning regulations, effectively limiting elder care facilities to a handful of smaller spaces meant for hospitals. The most recent facility is Mary Marshall Assisted Living, which opened in the Penrose neighborhood in 2011 and is funded by the county.

Developer Artis Senior Living submitted a site plan earlier this year to build a six-story, senior living facility along the 4300 block of Lee Highway. The plans stalled after the site turned out to be outside the county’s few areas designated in 2013 for elder care facilities, leading the developer request an exemption to move forward with the project.

A representative from the McLean-based company was present during the October community meeting on the issue but declined to comment.

During the community forum, residents were asked to place stickers on a map indicating where they would like to see future elder care housing. The blue dots were dispersed across the the county, with the biggest clusters of dots stuck to the Courthouse and Bluemont areas.

The zoning expansion is scheduled for review with the county’s Planning Commission in December, before reaching the dais of the Arlington County Board later that month.

Photo (1) via sunriseseniorliving.com

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Arlington officials could soon advance zoning changes designed to make it easier for more childcare providers to open up shop in the county, as part of a lengthy push to increase access to daycare options for local parents.

County leaders have batted around a variety of potential changes for months now, but they finally seem ready to pass a suite of zoning tweaks impacting both large childcare centers and smaller “family daycare” homes. The proposals will go before the Planning Commission’s Zoning Committee for the first time tonight (Wednesday), and could make their way to the County Board sometime later this spring.

The Board previously approved a “Childcare Action Plan” last summer laying out some potential changes, including a new subsidy to help families afford daycare services. But it has long planned these additional zoning changes to encourage more childcare providers to move to Arlington, initially hoping to vote on them before the end of 2018 and address what officials see as the exorbitant cost of childcare in the county.

Despite the delay, officials now seem ready to advance the proposals, particularly after soliciting feedback from the community via online surveys and public gatherings in recent months. In all, the main potential zoning changes include:

  • Cutting back on parking requirements for new daycare facilities
  • Expanding the maximum number of children allowed in family daycare homes from nine to 12
  • Allowing small family daycare homes to educate nine children “by right,” without extensive county approval
  • Reducing the frequency of county permit reviews for daycare facilities

The parking changes may well prove to be the most impactful alterations that the county is considering, as many childcare providers say Arlington’s current standards make it a bit difficult for them to open new locations along the county’s Metro corridors.

Currently, the county requires that large childcare centers offer one parking space for each employee.

But staff subsequently discovered that many childcare employees aren’t driving to work — a December study by the county found that roughly 40 percent of parking spaces for childcare centers currently go unused, and a survey of local employees found that 36 percent commuted by using public transit, biking, carpooling or walking.

Accordingly, county staff are proposing requiring one parking space for every eight children attending a center, which should cut back on the number of parking spaces each one needs. The average daycare center in the county currently requires about 40 spaces using the employee-based ratio; the new proposal would cut that number back to about 25 spaces per location.

That would put Arlington more on par with parking requirements in Fairfax and Prince William counties, where daycares generally have 32 spaces and 24 spaces, respectively.

Staff are also suggesting that the Board allow additional parking reductions for centers hoping to locate near Metro and bus stations, letting companies apply for less parking as part of the process of earning a use permit from the county. For comparison, Alexandria lets childcare centers have as few as three spaces if they have access to transit options, while D.C. only requires five spaces for all centers.

The transit advocates over at Greater Greater Washington are especially enthusiastic about that section of the plan. The group’s development director, Pentagon City resident Jane Fiegen Green, praised the county for examining parking requirements in a recent blog post, and urged readers of the site to back changes to such “outdated” standards.

While the parking changes would largely impact centers educating dozens of children, many of the other proposed changes are aimed at loosening standards for smaller family daycare homes.

By bumping up the maximum number of children allowed in each facility to 12, the county would come into alignment with the standard outlined in state law. Arlington and Alexandria are currently the only localities in the D.C. area with a cap of nine children, staff wrote in a report for the zoning committee.

“Expanding the maximum number of children will increase Arlington’s potential child care supply, align with the maximum set by the state, provide potential additional revenue for providers and additional child care jobs in homes that are able to increase their capacity, increase opportunities for children to play together and help address the county’s lengthy child care wait lists,” staff wrote.

The recommendations also call for easing permitting requirements on small providers, as many are “intimidated” by the complex process of earning the county’s permission to set up childcare facilities. Staff found that centers with nine children or fewer regularly operate “without significant disruption to their surrounding neighborhoods,” so it would make sense to allow them to open up “by right” without extensive permits.

The proposed changes also include allowing small daycare homes with up to nine children in more dense sections of the county zoned for apartments, which could “expand the number of units eligible to operate a family day care home by approximately 3,220 units in Arlington County.”

So long as the zoning committee signs off on these zoning alterations, the County Board could order public hearings on the matter at its Feb. 23 meeting. The Planning Commission could then take them up on March 4, setting up a final Board vote on March 19.

File photo

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(Updated at 6:05 p.m.) Arlington County Zoning Administrator Melinda Artman is resigning her post to enter a seminary.

In a statement, released after ARLnow.com first reported the resignation, Arlington County Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development Director Robert Brosnan called Artman “a dedicated and talented public servant.”

“She brought a high level of professionalism and a strong sense of fairness to her work,” Brosnan said. “She arrived in Arlington at a time when the Zoning Office was beginning a transformation into a higher performing organization and she has helped shape the office and the work of the staff in a very positive way. We thank her for her service to Arlington County, and wish her the very best as she embarks on this new challenge.”

Artman plans to leave her position in August to join the Virginia Theological Seminary, where she will pursue her dreams of becoming an Episcopal minister.

Artman became Arlington’s zoning administrator in 2008, after 11 years with the Loudoun County government. She has 37 years of public service experience, including 25 in Northern Virginia. Her tenure in Arlington has been marked by a string of controversies tied to her by-the-books enforcement of the county’s stringent zoning code.

“By many accounts, Artman hasn’t been a favorite person among property and business owners,” TBD.com noted last year, in an article about Artman’s desire to help with the comprehensive rewrite of the county’s zoning ordinance.

Brosnan says he will name an acting Zoning Administrator “soon.”

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Over the past several months, business owner have complained loudly about the county’s confusing and inconsistent zoning code. From stringent sign enforcement to outdoor seating debates to extended delays in getting permits, business owners — particularly new business owners — have expressed frustration with the level of expense and effort required to avoid running afoul of county regulators.

But that may be changing.

Tomorrow night, the county’s zoning committee will meet to plan a comprehensive rewrite of the zoning ordinance. The meeting, which will run from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. in Room A of 2100 Clarendon Boulevard, is open to the public, although the discussion will be confined to the committee.

In a draft proposal, county staff noted that the zoning ordinance was last rewritten in 1950. Because the ordinance has been amended many times on a piecemeal basis, it “contains many inconsistencies” and “includes many sections and regulations that are difficult to understand.”

“There are many administrative practices that are not codified within the Ordinance,” staff also concluded.

See the staff report here.

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Neighbor will be pitted against neighbor at the Arlington Zoning Committee (“ZOCO”) hearing tomorrow night. The issue: parking recreational vehicles in the county.

Currently, the county’s RV parking policy is too stringent for some, who want to be able to legally park large RVs in their driveway, and doesn’t go far enough for others, who see RVs as an ugly, property-value-reducing blight on Arlington’s residential communities.

The two opposing arguments are laid out in excruciating detail in this county document.

The ZOCO hearing is scheduled from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. tomorrow (Tuesday) night at the Navy League Building (2300 Wilson Blvd).

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