Arlington, VA

The Arlington County Board has unanimously approved several zoning changes that could incentivize developers to build more affordable housing units.

The changes, approved at the Saturday (November 16) County Board meeting, modify “bonus density maximums” for site plan projects and alter how the county defines low or moderate income to “provide greater flexibility in facilitating affordable housing.”

Density bonuses are an incentive land use tool regulated in the Arlington County Zoning Ordinance. Currently, density bonus maximums are capped at 25 percent above what is allowed in the zoning district. This means if a developer promises to build affordable housing units, community facilities, open spaces, or environmental amenities with their project, they’ll get up to 25 percent more space to work with.

After much debate — “my head hurts,” commented board member Erik Gutshall — the County Board voted to give itself the flexibility, within the heights specified for each zoning district, to consider added density above the 25 percent maximum on a case-by-case basis.

“Bonus density has allowed us to build hundreds of units of affordable housing across Arlington, and particularly in the transit-rich Metro corridors, without relying on County funding,” said County Board chair Christian Dorsey in a press release. “We believe this new flexibility will encourage developers to add more affordable homes in their projects.”

The revisions have received mixed feedback from developers and civic groups. Jack Spilsbury, the co-chair of the Ashton Heights Civic Association, said the elimination of density caps could “create more boxy buildings, and raise concerns about the preservation of neighborhood characteristics.”

In addition, the Board voted to allow higher income levels for affordable housing when considering new site plans. The County Board currently defines low-or-moderate income for renters as at or below 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) — or about $51,000 per year — and at or below 80 percent AMI — or $68,000 per year — for home ownership.

In 2015, the county officials pledged to create 15,800 affordable housing units before 2040, but have since fallen short of the yearly creation benchmarks. By giving itself the option of considering higher income levels for affordable housing, the County Board hopes to allow the creation of more affordable housing, particularly for those at moderate income levels.

“There is no question that affordable housing is something we are going to work diligently to solve,” said Gutshall during Saturday’s meeting. “But I believe in the long run here, we are going to get to those solutions easier and better by demonstrating to the community that we rely on the planning that it takes.”

The last review of affordable housing bonus provisions occurred in 2001. Earlier this year, the County Board introduced “Housing Arlington,” an initiative for the county’s existing affordable housing program.

The full press release about the bonus density changes is below, after the jump.

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Following years of zoning tweaks, the Arlington County Board says childcare centers may finally be reaping some benefit from local policy changes.

The Arlington County Board approved requests from eight childcare providers this past weekend to expand the number of children they can care for — requests Board members took as a sign of success for their many programs intended to ease the regulatory burden on such businesses and expand childcare options in Arlington.

“The use permits that the Board approved for a number of family daycare homes are evidence that the child care initiative is producing real results for families and small businesses,” said County Board Chair Christian Dorsey during the meeting.

“These established home and child care providers chose to increase their capacity because of changes that we recently enacted to our Zoning Ordinance and County Code, recommended by the child care initiative ably spearheaded by Ms. Cristol,” he added of fellow Board member Katie Cristol.

On Saturday, eight existing daycare operations requested increases in the number of children they are allowed to care for — from nine to 12. The Board unanimously approved all requests through its consent agenda. The facilities include:

  • EliBunny Family Child Care at 5916 5th Road S
  • Singh Family Day Care Home at 5738 N. Carlin Springs Road
  • Yolita’s Daycare at 1509 S. Quincy Street
  • Kumar Family Day Care Home at 6610 19th Road N.
  • Small Angels Child Daycare at 1523 N. Randolph Street
  • Fablis Daycare at 923 N. Edgewood Street
  • Modern Tots at 3110 19th Street S.
  • Andy’s Room Childcare at 2015 S. Monroe St

The requests come after the Board previously changed several zoning ordinances to allow daycares to care for up to nine children by right, and up to 12 children if they obtain a use permit through the county. The changes also reduced parking requirements and standardized child caps across different zoning districts.

The changes were part of the county’s long-discussed overhaul on childcare regulations.

The overhaul required a dedicated staff member and aimed to loosen what some worried were overly restrictive regulations, contributing to Arlington’s sky-high costs of childcare by limiting the number of slots for children in daycares and making it harder to open up new childcare centers.

Parents in Arlington pay the highest average costs in the region — $42,705 per year — for an infant and a 4-year old to attend daycare, leading Board members to consider a subsidy last year to help families afford it. The average cost per child ($21,000) is also among the highest in the region, per the Economic Policy Institute.

Last January, the county reported that there were only 6,984 licensed daycare spaces available for more than double that number of children under the age of five in Arlington.

On Saturday the Board also renewed permits for several larger childcare facilities, including the STEM Preschool on S. Abingdon Street  in Fairlington (which cares for 106 children), and the Feya Preschool (40 children) on S. Walter Reed Drive, south of Columbia Pike.

“This is truly a success story, and we look forward to more of these coming forward,” said Dorsey.

Kalina Newman contributed to this report.

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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 County’s zoning office is undertaking a study to find new ways to encourage affordable housing growth in the county.

The study aims to update the Housing Conservation District (HCD) report — a document which lays out measures to preserve units of affordable housing in several, specially-designated areas across the county.

Zoning staff are currently considering several new “zoning and financial incentives,” like:

  • Allowing developers to add more units to a building, or construct a second building on a property, if the developer reserves some units for affordable housing
  • Changing some zoning rules about setbacks or maximum building heights to make it easier to replace older affordable housing buildings
  • Adopting tax benefits for properties with affordable housing

The 12 areas in Arlington that form the HCD include Leeway Overlee, Glebewood, Waverly Hills, Spout Run/Lyon Village, North Highlands, Westover, Lyon Park, Penrose, Shirlington, and Long Branch Creek.

The original draft of the HCD in 2017 aimed to prevent developers from tearing down older homes in favor of new townhouses.

Earlier this year, the county announced a new “Housing Arlington” initiative to help the county meets its goal of creating 15,800 affordable units by 2040. At the time, staff noted lower-income residents face a housing squeeze given that the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $3,000, and Arlington lost 17,000 market-rate housing units since 2005.

The new study is expected to be completed by early 2020.

County staff are also currently undertaking a study about ways to make it easier to build new elder care facilities, such as allowing developers to build the facilities in more places around Arlington than currently permitted via zoning.

Image (top) via Arlington TV

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This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by Eli Tucker, Arlington-based Realtor and Arlington resident. Please submit your questions to him via email for response in future columns. Enjoy!

Question: How did the Opportunity Zone designation in the Nauck neighborhood come to fruition and what is the expected impact on the neighborhood?

Answer: Last year the U.S. Treasury, with the help of each state, began designating underdeveloped or “economically-distressed” communities as Opportunity Zones (OZ) to encourage residential and commercial development by offering investors preferred tax treatment. There are currently over 8,000 designated OZs around the country and 212 in Virginia.

Arlington’s Opportunity Zones

It may come as a surprise that there were two areas in Arlington that received OZ designations by the Governor/Treasury — Nauck-Shirlington Road and Barcroft-Columbia Pike. Both are located in the area bounded by Columbia Pike to the north, 395 and S. Four Mile Run (link to map and details).

Note: Although the zone is called Barcroft-Columbia Pike, part of it is actually Douglas Park and the rest is an area that I don’t think belongs to either the Barcroft or Douglas Park Civic Associations, but the apartment buildings there do take the Barcroft name.

On a national scale, I don’t think anybody would argue that these neighborhoods are economically-distressed, but within Arlington these designations should help stimulate or expedite development from South to North and West to East instead of the other way around. Both of these areas also have detailed planning documents in place to guide investors.

How Do Opportunity Zones Work?

OZs are a bit outside of my purview because they require commercial development and tax expertise, but the general idea is that investors will put money into Qualified Opportunity Funds and deploy capital to one or more projects in Opportunities Zones around the country in return for preferred tax treatment on their gains. The theme behind the OZs is encouraging long-term, sustained investment from these funds by incentivizing investments of 10+ years.

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Morning Notes

Helicopter Complaints Continue  — “Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), one of the lawmakers who requested the study, said that helicopter noise is ‘our number one constituent complaint’ and that the number of complaints has risen steadily since he took office in 2015.” [Washington Post]

Early Morning Apartment Fire — “Units were called to 2400 blk 27th Ct S for fire in 4 story garden apt. On arrival crews found balcony #fire on floors 1 & 2 being controlled by #firesprinklers. Fire extinguished, no extension inside. No injuries.” [Twitter]

New Election Chief Sworn In — “When Gretchen Reinemeyer was sworn in as Arlington County’s general registrar, she became only the fifth person to hold the position since it was created in 1947. Reinemeyer is succeeding long-time registrar Linda Lindberg who is retiring at the end of the month after serving more than 25 years in the Arlington Voting and Elections Office–16 of them as general registrar. [Arlington County]

YHS Student Helps Improve Pedestrian Safety — “Pedestrians in Arlington, Virginia, may notice flashing yellow lights when crossing the street, thanks to one high schooler who’s working to make streets safer… Jake Smith, who graduated Yorktown High School on Thursday, interned with the Arlington County Department of Environmental Services to help them plan their beacon project and keep cars accountable.” [NBC 4, Arlington County]

Zoning Keeps Parts of Arlington Exclusive — “Arlington does have a decent amount of area zoned for multi-family housing, but it’s concentrated in the more southern parts of the county. This makes North Arlington completely inaccessible to many and is the source of the county’s geographical inequality.” [Blue Virginia]

Dozen New Arlington Police Officers — “The Arlington County Police Department welcomed 12 new officers this week, as Session 140 graduated from the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy (NVCJA) and took their oath to serve and protect the residents and visitors of Arlington County.” [Arlington County]

Local Businessman Sentenced — “A prominent Northern Virginia businessman has been sentenced to more than six years in prison for multiple fraud schemes that cheated investors out of roughly $20 million. Todd Hitt, 54, of Arlington, Virginia, pleaded guilty earlier this year in federal court in Alexandria to soliciting investments in building projects as part of what amounted to a Ponzi scheme.” [Associated Press, Press Release]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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The Arlington County Board this week unanimously approved an outdoor dining area at Burger District in Courthouse, as well as a new outdoor bar in Ballston.

Burger District requested Board members amend zoning rules to allow the Courthouse eatery to seat patrons in four feet of space on the sidewalk outside of its 2024 Wilson Blvd location.

That would leave six feet for pedestrians on the 10-foot-wide sidewalk, which requires County Board approval, according to a staff report.

In return, the eatery agreed to:

  • Only operate the outdoor section from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m.
  • Keep the rest of the sidewalk (6 feet) clear
  • Not exceed more than 24 seats
  • Hold “no live entertainment or dancing”

“Permitting an outdoor cafe along Wilson Boulevard will help achieve the vision of the Rosslyn to Courthouse Urban Design Study where there are ‘vibrant and people-friendly streets and plazas… full of life’ and ‘small businesses prosper,'” county staff wrote.

The Courthouse restaurant opened in August and serves burgers, shakes, hotdogs, and wings.

Last night the Board also approved a new “fixed” outdoor bar in Ballston, at upcoming restaurant The Salt Line, which is planning to open next spring.

Images 1 and 2 via staff reports 1 and 2.

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The Arlington County Board amended zoning regulations last night to allow Ballston Quarter to install large electronic displays outside the entrance to the mall.

The Board’s vote approved developer Forest City’s request for two screens on the Ballston Quarter mall exterior near the outdoor seating area. The vote also amended county zoning ordinances to allow “an increase in the maximum sign height of up to 55 feet for large media screens” in areas around shopping malls.

“Large media screens are an appropriate tool for use by urban regional shopping centers to create a vibrant sense of place, to enhance outdoor community gathering spaces, and to stimulate economic competitiveness,” a staff report to the Board read.

The new rules would only allow screens to be placed as high as 55 feet if they are located within a shopping mall within a quarter-mile of a Metro or major bus station.

Forest City has been planning to install two strips of LED screens: one mid-way up the building wall facing Wilson Blvd and another strip on the wall 49.5 up feet from the ground. But the request was denied because current zoning regulations forbid screens installed higher than 40 feet.

The Board postponed its consideration of the request for months to make time for changing the zoning rule, before moving forward in March.

“The applicant intends to use the screen for family-friendly presentations, the display of public art, charitable events and entertainment, and/or educational opportunities,” one of the staff reports to the Board notes.

Forest City is still required to get a use permit for the screens, so it’s likely at least a few months before the screens will be installed and turned on.

Construction on the revamped former Ballston Common Mall has largely wrapped up and nearly a dozen new eateries have opened or are in the process of opening in the mall and its Quarter Market food hall.

Screenshot via county documents.

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The outside of Goody’s is now sporting eye-watering lime green and red paint after county zoning regulations forced the pizzeria to cover its colorful, culinary mural.

Tomatoes, olives, mushrooms, cheese, slices of pizza, and gyros adorned the creme-colored walls along with an Italian flag after Goody’s commissioned the mural from a local artist.

The county’s planning department warned the Clarendon staple that Arlington’s zoning ordinance requires permits for artwork that “relates to the advertisement of a business and its services” and that without a permit they’d be forced to paint over the mural.

Goody’s is owned by Glenda Alvarez who took the reins from Vanessa Reisis last spring and was unavailable for comment Friday morning.

Alvarez’s husband Danny Sabouni owns Arlington Watch Works next door and told ARLnow that Alvarez had to repaint Goody’s yesterday (Thursday) but she was not fined.

“We can put bicycles or cars outside, whatever else. But we cannot put posters or signs advertising what we sell,” Sabouni said of the zoning ordinance’s requirements. “It’s pathetic.”

A spokesperson for the Arlington County Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development did not respond in time for publication.

Sabouni says Alvarez is considering commissioning a new mural for the eatery, but it’s a difficult process because the language of the ordinance doesn’t clearly distinguish between what’s a sign and what’s art.

“It’s so vague that nobody can understand it,” he said.

Previously, Alvarez said she painted the building to make it more “attractive” to customers, adding “We just wanted to get a little more attention from people walking by.”

County inspectors famously cracked down on artwork judged to be advertising in 2010 when Wag More Dogs on S. Four Mile Run Drive included dogs in their mural.

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Arlington officials could soon approve additional rollbacks to the number of parking spaces required for new apartment developments along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor.

Right now, the County Board is barred from allowing new developments along certain sections of the corridor if they don’t have at least one parking space for every unit planned for the new building. The Board is now considering removing that restriction, which would specifically impact properties zoned as “R-C” districts.

About 105 properties are currently zoned “R-C,” according to a staff report prepared for the County Board, and they’re generally located around the Ballston, Virginia Square and Courthouse Metro stations.

The Board approved similar reductions to parking minimums for apartment developments along the R-B corridor and in Crystal City and Pentagon City in fall 2017, in a bid to increase walkable and transit-accessible development, and staff suggested that this change would be a logical next step for the county.

“In general, the proposed amendment could potentially facilitate multifamily residential projects in the future and that the amendment would provide the County Board the same flexibility it has when considering modifications to minimum parking ratios in other Commercial/Mixed Use Districts on a case-by-case basis,” staff wrote in the report.

Those 2017 changes generally targeted properties in the immediate vicinity of Metro stations, and the newly targeted “R-C” districts are slightly different.

Staff describes the zones as a “transitional mixed-use zone between higher-density mixed-use areas and lower-density residential areas,” and the county’s zoning map shows that the affected properties tend to sit a block or two away from major arterial roads like Wilson Blvd or Fairfax Drive.

Allowing the Board to approve similarly reduced parking minimums on those areas as well would provide “consistency” with those previous changes, staff argue.

Officials have already relied on the tweaked parking requirements to allow smaller parking garages at developments around popular Metro stations on the R-B corridor. Other cities have even taken the more drastic step of banning parking minimums entirely.

The Board will consider this proposal for the first time at its meeting Saturday (March 16). Members are scheduled to set a Planning Commission hearing on the matter for April 8, then hold a public hearing and vote on April 23.

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Ballston Quarter could soon win the county’s approval to install large “media screens” above its public plaza.

The newly renovated Ballston Common mall’s developers, Forest City, have been hoping to construct the new screens ever since the fall. But the company’s lawyers soon realized that the county zoning code wouldn’t allow for the sort of design they envisioned.

Now, the County Board is gearing up to tweak zoning rules ever so slightly to let that construction move ahead. The Board is contemplating changes this weekend that would allow “urban regional shopping centers” like Ballston Quarter to install the screens up to 55 feet off the ground.

“Large media screens are an appropriate tool for use by urban regional shopping centers to create a vibrant sense of place, to enhance outdoor community gathering spaces and to stimulate economic competitiveness,” county staff wrote in a report for the Board. “The signs can infuse increased interest and activity in areas of pedestrian and retail activity at urban regional shopping centers.”

Previously, the county limited such screens to a height of 40 feet off the ground. When Forest City submitted its first round of plans for the screens, the developer and county staff realized the designs called for the screens to be just over 49 feet high.

Accordingly, Forest City asked for a delay in advancing those plans until county officials could come up with a zoning code amendment to allow the higher screens.

The proposed changes would limit the construction of the screens only to shopping malls, and only to those within a quarter-mile of a Metro station or “major bus transfer station.” The Board will also maintain the ultimate discretion to hand out use permits to allow the screens’ installation, and staff write that they could become “one of the most regulated sign types” in all of the county’s zoning code.

The signs will be allowed to display “still, scrolling, or moving images, including video, media broadcasts and animation,” per the report.

The Board will only consider whether to set public hearings on the matter Saturday (March 16). So long as the Board signs off, the Planning Commission will hold an April 8 hearing on the matter, setting up a Board vote on April 23.

If the zoning change passes, Forest City would still need to obtain a use permit to build the screens, so it could be months before shoppers notice them there.

Ballston Quarter has been slowly opening stores to customers since last fall, most recently opening up its new food court for business.

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