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JBG Smith is asking Arlington County to relieve it of restrictions that it says present serious obstacles to putting up new rooftop signs.

The real estate company is specifically asking the county to remove language restricting the number and size of signs allowed on two office buildings in the Crystal Park development it owns in Crystal City. The proposal is set to go before the County Board this Saturday.

Not everyone is comfortable with the language change, however. Two area civic associations told the county that the restrictions should stay, fearing this would pave the way for more signs going forward.

Currently, Crystal Park offices are governed by a document that “ties certain approved signs to specific tenants, some of which no longer occupy the premises, limits installation of rooftop signs to a single, prescribed rooftop sign and contains outdated requirements for approved signs,” land-use attorney Kedrick Whitmore wrote in an application to the county.

This hamstrings JBG Smith, he continues.

“Collectively, these restrictions complicate the ability to re-design existing signage for new tenants and present obstacles to achieving new rooftop signage,” Whitmore wrote.

JBG Smith is requesting the county remove restrictions for Crystal Park 1 and 3 office buildings, located at 2011 Crystal Drive and 2231 Crystal Drive. Instead, it asks the county evaluate new signage only in accordance to the Arlington County Zoning Ordinance.

In 2012, the zoning code was updated, providing new clarifying parameters for signs and only requiring staff review. This change did not apply to a smattering of older developments throughout Arlington governed by more restrictive agreements.

County staff say this change would make it easier for JBG Smith to compete for tenants.

“As commercial buildings mature and market themselves for new tenants, it is imperative that building owners be able to avail themselves of sign permissions available to other similar buildings so as to not place themselves at a competitive disadvantage,” the report said.

The county notes that other building owners have made similar requests and had the support of staff, as this “allow[s] for fair administration of building signage.”

The report says Crystal City and Aurora Highlands civic associations told the county they do not support JBG Smith’s request because it could allow for more signs.

The other reason, leaders told the county, is that the current provisions were decided through negotiated community benefits during the site plan review process.

“The community accepted less in the way of other benefits to limit the number and size of signs, so they believe that changes to allow more signs would not be fair,” the report says.

The county says it found no evidence that the more restrictive language was related to community benefit packages.

“Rather these were common site plan conditions approved in the absence of comprehensive sign provisions of the [zoning ordinance], which are now in place,” the report said.

Eric Cassel, the president of the Crystal City Civic Association, told ARLnow this morning that, as of now, the issue is “relatively minor.”

“JBGS downgraded the proposal significantly and we are not spending resources to oppose it,” he said.

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Advanced Towing tow truck outside the company’s lot in Ballston (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 8:45 a.m. on 7/4/23) Arlington County says it is enforcing some wayward fencing and gates in a public alley abutting Advanced Towing and American Service Center.

It all started because of complaints about tow trucks for the Ballston company parking in front of “the most famous fire hydrant in Arlington County,” so named by public safety watchdog Dave Statter.

Over the last year, an anonymous Twitter account dedicated to the hydrant has made Freedom of Information Act requests to ascertain the alley’s ownership and highlight the county’s responsibility for overseeing how it is used. This inquiry sparked several complaints about illegal parking last fall.

This week, the information requests unearthed an update: the county said it owns the 5th Road N. alley, off N. Quincy Street in Ballston. It said it is working with Advanced Towing to remove a fence and American Service Center, which operates the Mercedes-Benz dealership, to remove the gates.

The owner of the “Advanced Towing Fire Hydrant” Twitter account, says highlighting the zoning code issues was not because of an ax to grind with the towing company. Instead, it was to highlight the degree to which enforcement decisions lie with the Office of the County Manager.

“You shouldn’t have to crowdsource outrage on Twitter to get the government to enforce existing parking regulations,” the account owner, who wants to remain anonymous, told ARLnow.

In a statement, county spokesman Ryan Hudson confirmed the enforcement would begin and traced the move back to citizen complaints.

“Zoning started enforcement due to the fact that these two businesses are encroaching on public land,” he says. “The genesis was a complaint about illegally parked cars in front of the fire hydrant. That led us to become aware the fence didn’t meet the clearance of 3 feet and didn’t have Zoning approval.”

The fire hydrant account posted about the wayward fence earlier this year.

A spokesperson for Advanced Towing confirmed the company is complying with the request.

“We have been in touch with the County and our fence will be open tomorrow,” an Advanced Towing spokesperson said in an email, adding that the company never put the fence up and it has been there for well over 20 years.

Arlington County approved a certificate of occupancy for the tow company but that did not amount to permission to occupy the alley, according to a copy provided to the Advanced Towing Fire Hydrant Twitter account.

While the company can occupy the alley, Hudson says the fence has to be moved back because it is encroaching into a 10-foot wide public alley. Fences on private property are allowed with proper approval — just not in a public alleyway.

“The County, not adjacent property owners or tenants, will determine how to operate and maintain the public alley,” the county spokesman said.

The alley adjacent to the American Service Center property, meanwhile, is a public alley not owned by the auto repair company.

“Gates need to remain open because they are obstructing public use of and access to the public alley,” Hudson said.

A spokeswoman for American Service Center told ARLnow she was directed “not to discuss anything with anyone.”

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The RiverHouse apartments at 1111 Army Navy Drive (staff photo)

Arlington County is considering changes to its zoning ordinance to encourage the construction of more senior care facilities.

The proposed changes include increasing the maximum building heights for elder care facilities in Pentagon City and allowing the construction of elder care facilities along the Columbia Pike corridor, per a county report.

The report says these changes are needed to ensure the existing zoning code supports the vision of the Pentagon City Sector Plan, adopted last year. During an initial review of proposed redevelopment projects, staff said they identified inconsistencies between the two related to building height codes for elder care facilities.

To address these issues, staff have proposed an amendment clarifying where elder care facilities can be built in areas of Pentagon City that are zoned for multifamily uses — and how tall these buildings can be.

The amendment targets the part of the neighborhood within a “coordinated redevelopment district” within the boundaries of 16th Street S. to the south, S. Lynn Street to the west, Army Navy Drive to the north and S. Eads Street to the east.

This appears to map onto the site of the RiverHouse complex, which is set to be redeveloped with new apartments, including senior housing. The report does not mention this planned redevelopment specifically but it does note that recent redevelopment plans revealed the inconsistencies staff are trying to resolve.

The Pentagon City Coordinated Redevelopment District and where RiverHouse is located within it (via Arlington County, edited by ARLnow)

Doing this analysis, staff discovered that existing ordinances excluded the construction of additional elder care facilities along Columbia Pike, per the report.

To resolve this issue, the report says the amendment also “introduces assisted living facilities, independent living facilities, nursing homes, and continuing care retirement communities as allowable forms of residential use” on Columbia Pike.

The amendment comes several years after the county initially proposed the possibility of opening up some areas zoned for multi-family and commercial buildings to senior centers in 2019.

Some members of the Zoning Committee of the Planning Commission and Crystal and Pentagon Cities Council expressed concerns about whether increasing the height of elder care facilities would complicate evacuation in the event of an emergency, according to the county report.

Other members argued there are a wide range of examples of high-rise elder care facilities, as close as Tysons Corner.

Staff said any new construction would still need to comply with “appropriate” building and fire code standards. Staff did note in the report that they plan to conduct a comprehensive analysis of permitted heights for elder care facilities in other zoning districts and special planning areas.

“Clarifying zoning language… will ensure buildings with elder care uses can be properly considered throughout the County and redevelopment in [multifamily]-zoned properties and property owners/developers can propose uses consistent with recommendations adopted in earlier planning efforts,” the report said.

These changes are set to be discussed during a public hearing by the Planning Commission on Sept. 11 and the County Board on Sept. 23.


In another bid to encourage business growth, the Arlington County Board has made it easier to open shared kitchens and catering and food delivery operations.

On Saturday, the Board voted to amend the zoning ordinance to allow these uses by right in mixed-use, commercial and industrial zones throughout Arlington County. The changes streamline the regulatory approval process for several food-related uses, according to a county report.

“The outcomes of expanding food delivery to a by-right use support small business resilience by relieving businesses of unnecessary work,” the report said. That includes going before the County Board to seek approval for each use.

The changes are part of a flurry of approvals in the last 14 months to allow more uses by-right in these zoning districts. So far, the County Board has greenlit uses such as breweries, micro-fulfillment centers, podcasting studios, indoor pickleball and other emerging businesses to operate where they previously could not set up shop or needed special permission to do so.

All these updates happened in quick succession because County Manager Mark Schwartz debuted a faster zoning approval process that streamlined community engagement. The intent was to help Arlington respond quickly to changing market conditions and, ultimately, tackle the high office vacancy rate.

Food service was the next candidate for an update because, the report says, local regulations treated delivery operations like it was still 1988. (The iPhone debuted in 2007.)

Per the report, the zoning ordinance “does not account for the present-day popularity of modern food delivery services,” requiring food delivery not to exceed 20% of a restaurant’s sales.

Restaurants were relieved of that kind of provision — borne from a concern about delivery vehicle congestion — during the pandemic, the report said.

Food delivery has become a permanent part of how Arlingtonians eat, even after Covid dining restrictions lifted. This new way of doing business was under threat by the expiration of the Covid-era Continuity of Governance ordinance that relaxed delivery regulations.

The changes approved on Saturday, then, came in the knick of time for new and existing businesses, as the ordinance is set to expire in August — meaning the county would have reverted to 1988 delivery standards.

Businesses would have had to obtain County Board approval to continue delivery, had the Board voted down the zoning change. Some already did — Foxtrot in Rosslyn, for instance, went before the Board earlier this year to continue delivering beverages, ready-made food and grocery items.

Saturday’s vote also is helping another player in the app-based food delivery ecosystem: trailer-based ghost kitchens, the kind of which you might see in a parking lot between Clarendon and Courthouse. Ghost kitchen operators will no longer need certain permits to continue cooking.


A collection of garden apartments near Rosslyn are set to be renovated this year.

On Saturday, the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing received the last approvals it needed to repair 62 committed affordable units across six garden apartment buildings in the Radnor-Ft. Myer Heights neighborhood.

These renovations are part of a two-phase redevelopment project of The Marbella Apartments along N. Queen Street near Route 50. Two 12-story, 100% affordable buildings will replace a three-story, garden-style complex north of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall while the other 62 units will be renovated.

These units will get updated windows and façades as well as interiors, new handrails and new wells that protect windows that are level with the ground from soil, known as window wells.

The project had nearly cleared the last design and permitting stages when it was discovered that the property does not conform with present-day Zoning Ordinance regulations, per a county report. That meant some of its repairs, including the window wells, could not proceed by-right.

The apartments were built by-right in the 1940s, a decade before the ordinance was enacted. The buildings now do not meet the ordinance’s requirements for how close a property could be to the street nor parking and density regulations.

Arlington County staff and the applicant argued against trying to make the buildings conform with current zoning rules.

“Bringing the existing buildings into conformance with current parking and setback standards would negatively impact existing units, mature trees, and open space, thus compromising the goals of affordable housing preservation and the historic qualities of the garden apartment property,” the report said.

Instead, on Saturday, the Arlington County Board designated the property with the Marbella Apartments as a “Voluntary Coordinated Housing Preservation and Development District.”

The property joins some eight other buildings in Arlington, the report says. They received this designation between 1992 and 2011.

The Board also approved a related use permit. These two moves allow the planned structural changes to the apartments without making them conform to zoning ordinances.

The buildings consist of mostly 1-bedroom apartments, with some studio, 2- and 3-bedroom units. They are available to people earning a mix of incomes up to 60% of the area median income.

Neither the report nor application materials indicated when renovations would begin.

Arlington County government headquarters (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Arlington County has filed a response to the Missing Middle lawsuit against it.

Ten residents are suing the county, arguing that the recently-passed zoning changes known as Missing Middle were approved illegally and would allow development that harms their lives.

In a response shared with ARLnow, dated last Tuesday, May 23, the county argues that the plaintiffs did not prove they, in particular, will be harmed by any new development. It also disputes the claims that the county broke specific provisions in Virginia law related to zoning deliberations and meeting procedures.

Now that both sides have made their cases in writing, a hearing in the civil division of Arlington County Circuit Court is set for July 11 at 10 a.m. In other recent zoning battles in Virginia courts, the lower courts ruled in favor of the county government, while the state Supreme Court overturned those decisions.

The complaint against the county was filed in April, about a month after the Arlington County Board ratified zoning changes that allow the construction of 2-6 unit homes on lots previously zoned for single-family homes.

The plaintiffs complained their property values will be hurt and their quality of life diminished by any new “Expanded Housing Option” or EHO development.

They also said the Arlington County Board failed to properly advertise what was being considered and did not do the due diligence needed to understand the impact of increased density on the neighborhood level.

Arlington County is challenging the legitimacy of the lawsuit, asking the court to rule that the facts of the Missing Middle saga invalidate the claims and dismiss the case so it cannot come before the court again.

On substantive grounds, the county challenges the 10 residents, saying they failed to show the zoning changes will burden them such that the county must provide relief.

For instance, the plaintiffs predicted several negative impacts as a result of the change: increased flooding, sewage backups, school overcrowding and difficulty driving on narrow streets cramped with cars parked on the street. Arlington County says that is speculative at best.

“No property has been developed under the terms of the Zoning Amendment, and any allegations of harm are pure speculation,” the county said in its lawsuit. “The court cannot be asked to issue an advisory opinion based on hypothetical facts.”

The 10 residents also say the Arlington County Board did not consider a long list of societal impacts of which state code requires consideration prior to zoning code changes.

Just because it did not conduct the “special studies or investigations” the plaintiffs claimed were necessary does not mean the factors were not considered at all, Arlington County argues.

“The Board Report, the testimony of the County’s professional staff, and the testimony of the members of the County’s Planning Commission, Housing Commission, Transportation Commission and other advisory commissions and public speakers shows that the County Board adequately considered the factors in [state code],” the suit says.

The plaintiffs also claim the county exceeded its authority when it instituted tree canopy requirements tied to the number of units on a property. They said it violates the Dillon Rule to require more than what is required in the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance.

Arlington County sees it differently.

“The county amended its zoning ordinance to create an incentive for tree plantings in exchange for increased density, as permitted through its power to administer incentive zoning,” it says.

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Thomas Peters and his wife Natalie found the perfect home in Arlington — one that already had an elevator that Thomas would need to get around in his wheelchair.

It did have one downside, however. The trees on his neighbor’s property, which is at a higher elevation, block natural light from reaching his backyard.

That poses a problem for Peters, whose spinal cord injury — sustained while swimming 10 years ago — left him paralyzed and made it harder for his body to regulate his temperature and stay healthy. The need for accessible sunlight became obvious during the pandemic when he was stuck in his apartment.

“UV light is the best disinfectant and it is hard to get in the wintertime,” he said. “I knew I wanted a place where I could live in the sunlight.”

So Peters commissioned an architect to draft plans for a sunroom. Before those could be realized, however, he learned he would have to get special permission to build it because the home already exceeds the allowable size for a main building on a 10,000-square-foot lot, according to the zoning code.

The last 15 months became a winding legal process that frustrated Peters at times.

“My journey of living with a disability has been one of losing lots of agency,” he said. “I’m a very go-getter type of guy. One of the most frustrating things about living with a handicap is that there are things you just can’t overcome. It’s especially frustrating when you can’t overcome things in your own home after pursuing the dream of independent living.”

Last Wednesday, however, his vision for the property eventually prevailed. He he got the go-ahead for the sunroom when the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) unanimously greenlit a variance for the site. The citizen commission considered not just local zoning ordinances but also the Americans with Disabilities Act and ultimately acted against a recommendation by county staff to deny his request.

ARLnow reached out to some of the five BZA members but did not hear back before deadline.

Barnes Lawson, the lawyer for Peters, said last week’s decision was a rare one that resolved a cordial disagreement with the county over what constitutes a reasonable accommodation for a disability.

“Zoning Division staff does not believe that the applicants have proven an explicit connection between the requested size of the proposed improvements and their ability to remedy a hardship, as they have not shown that the benefits provided by the proposed conservatory could not also be provided elsewhere in the dwelling,” according to a county report.

In a county report, staff emphasized that the Peters home already exceeds the maximum lot coverage allowable for a main building on a lot of its size. The county offered Peters two paths forward that would not require a variance.

He could build a front porch of at least 60 square feet and earn the right to extend the footprint of his house by 3%. The zoning code encourages the construction of front porches — and, as another example, discourages garages near the front of the house — as a way to promote neighborly interactions.

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Attendees at the Arlington County Board meeting Wednesday, March 22 (staff photo)

The lawsuit filed in Arlington County Circuit Court last week against Missing Middle housing comes at a conspicuous time for land-use litigation.

Shortly after the County Board approved 2-6 unit buildings in heretofore single-family home zoning districts, the Virginia Supreme Court overruled a zoning overhaul in Fairfax County on procedural grounds in Berry v. Board of Supervisors of Fairfax County.

The decision demonstrates the courts are watching local governing bodies for procedural violations in its policy-making. People following Berry say this decision was somewhat unusual and could give the Arlington plaintiffs stronger footing — though a victory is far from guaranteed.

When the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the changes in March 2021, local governments operating under Covid-era emergency rules could only take action on time-sensitive matters — such as the budget — in virtual meetings, explains Megan Rhyne, Executive Director of the Virginia Coalition of Open Government.

Three months after the decision was approved, state laws were expanded to allow local public bodies to discuss or vote on topics, like zoning, virtually. But the Virginia Supreme Court forced Fairfax to revert to an older zoning code because of this procedural misstep prior to the new laws taking effect.

The 10 plaintiffs in the Missing Middle suit say it is a point in their favor, arguing the state Supreme Court signaled it takes seriously procedural violations.

The suit alleges six ways the decision violated state law, including some procedural errors regarding how the meetings were conducted and how the policies under consideration were poorly explained and distributed. Additionally, the plaintiffs allege one instance where rights under the Freedom of Information Act were violated.

“These are hard cases to win. They’re not often won but we just had one that was a big surprise to a lot of people,” says Kedrick Whitmore, a land-use attorney with Venable, who has represented developers on numerous Arlington projects but is not involved in the Missing Middle suit. “Maybe it’s not as open and shut as you would normally see for challenges.”

Despite the possibly far-reaching consequences of Berry, it seems to have only slowed down Fairfax. The county is already restarting the process to overhaul its zoning code.

A common blueprint

State law says zoning codes serve a variety of purposes, including to reduce congestion, provide for public safety and ensure that natural lands are preserved. The law says officials only have to “give reasonable consideration” to these and other purposes, however.

In practice, this kind of standard can make it difficult for plaintiffs to allege a locality made substantive missteps. Thus, plaintiffs suing over an unpopular decision may find more success alleging procedural and FOIA violations, according to Whitmore and Rhyne.

“Local governments in Virginia are afforded extraordinary deference by the courts and legislation,” Whitmore said. “That makes the substantive road difficult and that’s why procedural might be most effective.”

Rhyne agrees, particularly as it relates to Freedom of Information Act allegations.

“It’s not unusual for a FOIA meeting violation to be alleged after an unpopular decision. Sometimes it’s true — sometimes it has been a violation — but sometimes it hasn’t,” she said.

“While it’s common to take that route, it’s uncommon for it to undo anything,” she continued, making Berry a “super rare” decision.

In the Arlington lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege the county did not post online all the meeting materials that the Planning Commission and Arlington County Board had access to, including a method Board Chair Christian Dorsey would later introduce, which the Board approved, for temporarily apportioning permits based on zoning district.

But the bar for public access requirements under FOIA is fairly low, according to Rhyne. Governments meet the provision if the public is given materials at the same time members of the government receive them, she said.

“If everybody is getting it at the same time, in-person, it’s not useful but it met FOIA,” Rhyne said. “FOIA doesn’t require meaningful time to digest what’s been given.”

This is a finer point than in Berry, which ruled for the plaintiffs because the March 2021 vote occurred when the law did not allow such decisions to be made using virtual-only meetings. This could limit how much Berry applies in Arlington, Rhyne said.

The plaintiffs, however, take a broader view of the principles at stake in Berry.

“Literally the day after the Board enacted densification and changes that are the focus of this suit, the Court reaffirmed the importance of statutory guardrails by invalidating Fairfax County’s zoning overhaul on procedural grounds,” the suit says. “In so doing, the Court affirmed that compliance with Virginia Code’s procedural requirements is not optional.”

The plaintiffs have made no statements about the case and did not wish to comment for this article, an attorney for them told ARLnow. Outreach about the case has been conducted by an LLC formed by residents, “Arlington Neighbors for Neighborhoods,” in the form of a press release last week. The LLC is also raising money to fund the litigation.

Can the plaintiffs even sue?  

The first tack Arlington County will take will be to argue the harms these plaintiffs claim they face are not specific to them and thus they do not have “standing” to file a suit, according to Whitmore.

“You could argue that this affects everyone in Arlington County,” he said. “What standing does is it requires plaintiffs to show they have particularized harm.”

The county told ARLnow it cannot comment on ongoing litigation, but it has taken this general approach before, when it sued some residents and the Ballston-Virginia Square Association. The county petitioned the court to find the residents would not experience particular harm from a decision to temporarily park Arlington Transit buses nearby.

Another recent state Supreme Court decision indicates this is not a slam-dunk strategy for municipalities, though. The Virginia Supreme Court in February overturned a lower court ruling that found residents suing Hanover County over a Wegmans distribution center built in their historically Black neighborhood did not have standing.

A judge wrote that “standing determines who may file a lawsuit — not who can win one. Winning and losing depends on judicial fact-finding and discretion,” a local TV station reported.

Here, Whitmore says the plaintiffs have made efforts to show “they have been or will be harmed in some different particular fashion differently than the ‘every man’ of Arlington.”

All 10 plaintiffs say they will be hurt by higher tax assessments. Each argued how many of the general criticisms levied during the public process — from crowded streets to higher flood risks — represent unique harms for them.

One of the plaintiffs is Marcia Nordgren, who was active in anti-Missing Middle discourse on Nextdoor and published a letter to the editor in the Gazette Leader lambasting the Board and previewing some of the grievances in the lawsuit.

The suit says Nordgren’s neighbor can build Missing Middle homes by-right and she cannot challenge it because the property is under one acre. Others in her neighborhood can challenge developments near them because they need special permits to build such structures on their properties larger than one acre.

Margaret Fibel, who urged the County Board in March to update its infrastructure capacity before making the zoning changes, says Missing Middle development in her neighborhood would result in more street parking and congestion than in other places.

In her area, close to two Metro stations, developers will not have to provide as much on-site parking, meaning her already-crowded street will see even more street parking, she says.

The suit says the following about their plight and that of the eight others.

By singling out these Residential Districts without providing for adequate infrastructure and neighborhood-specific development, the Residents will suffer a particularized harm not applicable to the public generally in the form of increased traffic and parking, intensified stormwater runoff and sanitary sewer use and volume leading to flooding and sanitary sewer backups, tree canopy diminution, and prohibitively expensive tax assessment increases.

Zoning change proponents react

ARLnow previously reported the statements issued by two groups opposed to the zoning changes, Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future and Arlingtonians for Upzoning Transparency, on Friday. They both said they were not involved but watching the proceedings closely.

Afterward, proponents of the change disputed the idea that the county confused residents in its communications.

“This lawsuit claims improper notification and that people were confused, didn’t know what was going on,” said Missing Middle supporter Pastor Ashley Goff in a tweet. “Housing advocates knew EXACTLY what was going on which is why we pushed so hard for the change. Zero confusion on our end.”

Meanwhile, Grace White, Arlington Vice President of the pro-housing group YIMBYs of NOVA, told ARLnow this week that the organization is not fazed by the suit.

Missing Middle is an important yet incremental change that was approved unanimously by the county board after years of study, public comment, and deliberation. YIMBYs of NOVA is concerned at the moment with building on the policy to ensure better housing options for all Arlingtonians. We invite opponents of Missing Middle to join us in spending their efforts advocating for solutions, rather than challenging the validity of a duly enacted law in court.


(Updated at 12 p.m.) A lone, aging single-family detached home surrounded by townhouses and apartments and close to the Ballston Metro station could be redeveloped to house two families.

If the home at 1129 N. Utah Street were in any of Arlington County’s lowest-density zoning districts, the project could be done by-right — in other words, without seeking special permission beyond standard construction-related permits — starting this summer as part of the “Missing Middle” zoning changes.

Last month, the Arlington County Board unanimously approved the changes allowing the by-right construction of 2-6 unit dwellings, also dubbed “Expanded Housing Options,” in Arlington’s neighborhoods previously zoned only for single-family homes.

But D.C. area developer BeaconCrest Homes is not building in one of these residential zones, and the project instead has to go through the more time-consuming and expensive site plan review process. It’s somewhat ironic given that the zoning of the transit-accessible Utah Street property was intended to be more permissive than the lower-density residential zones now approved for Missing Middle.

“It’s kind of a funny thing: After all the effort put into Missing Middle — that only impacts R zones,” project representative Robby Malm tells ARLnow, musing that the county could have could have incorporated the by-right flexibility afforded by the changes in townhouse districts.

The home is located in a “Townhouse Dwelling District” (R15-30T). This district encourages townhouses as a transition between tall apartment and commercial buildings within Metro areas and neighborhoods with single-family detached housing. Anything beyond a single-family detached home, however, requires a county-approved special exception site plan.

“This aspect of the R15-30T district isn’t really a quirk; rather it’s the express permissions of the district, which was intended to allow townhouse developments in Metro Transit Corridors and on properties with ‘low’ residential and ‘low-medium’ residential General Land Use Plan designations,” Dept. of Community, Planning, Housing and Development spokeswoman Elise Cleva tells ARLnow.

Since districts such as this one already allow Missing Middle housing forms (albeit not by-right) and regulate their height, setbacks and other characteristics, they were not studied as part of the zoning code updates, says Cleva.

Malm says he met with county staff and they have been helpful during the process but he feels he did not get a clear reason why townhouses and semi-detached duplexes cannot be built by-right in townhouse districts.

“They politely shrugged their shoulders and said, ‘That’s the way the code is written,'” he said. “They couldn’t give us a rationale as to why the code was written that way.”

Typically, Cleva says, R15-30T properties were rezoned from a lower-density zoning district and then associated with a site plan to allow for the townhouses to form a transition.

“As County planners analyze the site plan application for 1129 N. Utah St., they’ll learn more about the history of that parcel,” she wrote.

Malm said his firm deliberated building a single-family detached home but decided the additional time, cost and uncertainty involved in a site plan process to build a side-by-side duplex is “what the property deserves, given where it is located and its proximity to everything Ballston has to offer.”

He says he hopes for a speedy process.

“Because of where it’s located and the feedback we’ve received, we don’t foresee a lot of pushback,” he said.

A single-family home in Cherrydale abutting parking identified for infill development (via Google Maps)

While last week‘s landmark zoning decision legalized 2-6 unit homes throughout Arlington’s lowest-density neighborhoods, about 136 properties will be ineligible for such projects.

The exemption applies to certain 5,000-6,000 square-foot lots — the county’s smallest standardized residential lot size, dubbed R-5 and R-6, respectively — located near transit and within planning districts in East Falls Church, Cherrydale and Columbia Pike.

In the nearly 150-page long report on the zoning ordinance changes, Arlington County says the three properties in East Falls Church, 49 properties in Cherrydale and 82 near the Pike could be assembled with other properties that previous planning efforts have identified for redevelopment.

“Within these planning districts, there are locations where reinvestment has not yet occurred and assembly of the R-5 and R-6 zoned parcels with parcels along the corridor frontage could realize identified plan goals for the revitalization district,” per the county report outlining the approved Missing Middle zoning changes.

Assembling these properties with nearby lots could allow developers to realize the vision for these corridors, the report says.

This includes “mixed use development, improvements to the public realm, walkability, increased housing supply, housing affordability, and creation of coordinated buffer or transition zones to lower density residential areas,” the county says.

In East Falls Church, transit-oriented development near the Metro station has languished and many planning goals from a 2011 East Falls Church Area Plan remain unrealized. While there are some new townhouses within walking distance, an empty parking lot and a standalone parking garage are two examples of “prime real estate” awaiting redevelopment.

This includes two single-family homes — across the street from the “Kiss and Ride” lot — identified for potential redevelopment in the 2011 plan, which faced strong opposition from some who said it encouraged too much development, despite the proximity to a Metro station.

Two homes across the street from a Metro station parking lot possibly slated for redevelopment in East Falls Church (via Google Maps)

The other exempted property, though zoned as residential, is home to a telecommunications building owned by Verizon and a parking lot. The back of this surface parking lot is across the street from the East Falls Church Metro station; some commuters use it to cut through the block north of the station, per the 2011 plan.

“The Verizon building is anticipated to remain in use for the foreseeable future,” the 2011 plan notes. “However the rear portion of the lot, which is a largely unused parking lot, has potential for redevelopment.”

The plan envisions townhouses or low-rise multifamily development of three to four stories. Verizon did not return a request for comment about plans for the site.

Such development “should accommodate a dedicated pedestrian path through the entire site from Lee Highway to Washington Boulevard that would formalize this vital connection,” the plan says.

If the Virginia Dept. of Transportation and WMATA move forward with plans to redevelop a commuter lot across the street, the connection could also get a new signalized crossing between the — potentially — redeveloped lots. Around this time last year, neither agency indicated progress toward redeveloping the site, citing barriers such as restrictive zoning.

At the time, a county planner told ARLnow that without higher building heights, there may not be much of an incentive to build.

“Those costs are real,” Natasha Alfonso said. “There has to be enough density to justify that kind of improvement on those sites. If the community wants walkable, transit-oriented development, those are things we have to consider.”

The parking lot behind the Verizon switching station in East Falls Church (via Google Maps)

Another 82 properties are located within the Columbia Pike Special Revitalization District, including some along 12th Street S., a few blocks south of the Pike.

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(Updated at 11:10 a.m.) Last night, the Arlington County Board took a landmark step to allow the by-right development of 2-6 unit buildings throughout the county.

After the unanimous vote around 6:45 p.m., and additional statements by Board members, the room erupted in cheers from supporters, who shook hands and hugged and high-fived each other. There were, reportedly, a few teary eyes.

A slow trickle of opponents left the room as the meeting wore on, but many remained, swapping their yellow signs against upzoning for blue headstones mourning the burial of the “Arlington Way,” the name for the pathways citizens have for influencing policy-making.

Talk of a policy change like this dates back a decade and, for some Board members, was tied to tearful remembrances of conversations with the late County Board member, Erik Gutshall. After Amazon agreed to come to Arlington, the conversation picked up steam.

Arlington’s first step to increase housing stock was to allow accessory dwelling units. Its second step last night culminated more than two years of study that saw the proposal rebranded and modified to respond to some community concerns such as parking, tree canopy, and the pace of development.

There was lots of celebration on Twitter for the changes, which will go into effect on July 1 of this year.

A theme in the speeches County Board members made last night was that change is already here and county leaders have to respond to make sure the real estate market works for more people who want to live in Arlington.

In a statement from the advocacy group Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE), member Pat Findikoglu echoed this sentiment, noting that the county is already changing, with larger, more expensive single-family homes replacing more modest homes.

“Change in the housing market is inevitable,” she said. “How we shape it to meet new needs and still remain livable is the challenge. VOICE believes this Expanded Housing Options proposal does that.”

Board members made a few more compromises, removing a clause that would allow for fewer parking for homes close to certain bus networks, plus approving a five-year cap of 58 units per year and a method of dispersing allowable units by zoning district.

YIMBYs of Northern Virginia co-founder Jane Fiegen Green accepted these limitations on social media but still heralded the decision as a win. She said the limitations could result in “less housing than otherwise.”

“Our organization is concerned that limitations imposed on the policy will yield fewer homes, without any practical or political benefit,” YIMBYs of Northern Virginia said in a statement. “Yet beyond the zoning changes that will help end racial segregation in the County and bring forth more housing, the Missing Middle campaign has shown our neighbors that restrictions on density and growth damage their community’s ability to be welcoming, inclusive and forward-looking.”

One group opposed to the plan did not acknowledge the concessions in its colorful post-mortem.

“This County Board has plopped a half-baked cake on the table that Arlington residents must now eat,” said Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future’s Peter Rousselot. “Arlington County is flying blind on Missing Middle, but it’s Arlington residents who now are headed for a crash landing.”

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