Construction in Rosslyn, Arlington.  Image by Jason OX4 licensed under Creative Commons.

Next Saturday, November 18th the Arlington County Board is voting on two important issues: reforming overly restrictive regulations on accessory apartments (such as carriage houses, basement apartments, etc), and reducing parking minimums near Metro. Let officials you know you support these proposals!

Email the County Board about reduced parking minimums! Email the County Board about accessory apartments!

Some of Arlington’s regulations are outdated, adhering to a vision of the city as a car-based community of single-family homes. The County Board is considering two proposals that would create forward-looking regulations for a growing population that is more likely to live without a car and be open to housing outside of the traditional single-family home model.

Lower parking minimums = more homes and more affordable homes

The cost of parking has a major impact on development in Arlington. With high property values, large apartment buildings typically construct underground garages. Current zoning rules require one parking space per apartment unit.

The parking proposal would lower parking minimums for many buildings in the county's Orange/Silver and Blue/Yellow Metro corridors. The new minimums would vary based on how far a building is from a Metro station and how much affordable housing it provides. This would make housing less expensive to build, reducing housing costs, and increase the incentive to build more dedicated affordable housing.

Reforming overly burdensome regulations on accessory apartments

In 2009, Arlington County created a legal framework for accessory apartments (which they call Accessory Dwellings or ADs) such as basement units that can be rented from a homeowner. Unfortunately the regulations were overly restrictive. Since then only 20 accessory apartments have received approval, although many more likely still operate but without important safety oversights.

Now the County Board will consider improvements to those overly-restrictive regulations that should allow many more homeowners and renters to take advantage of accessory apartments. The changes include legalizing detached structures such as carriage houses, increasing the number of legal occupants from two to three, allowing new homeowners to rent accessory apartments, and removing the annual limit on how many of these units the county could approve. A similar effort by Committee for Smarter Growth to scale up accessory apartments has been going in DC.

Image by Arlington County.

For a better Arlington, make your voice heard

Given the attractiveness of our location, Arlington is changing whether we like it or not. The county now has the opportunity to embrace new residents or continue to use barriers to keep them out, at the cost to everyone. These proposals will further a vision of Arlington as a walkable, transit-oriented community that still maintains single-family home neighborhoods.

The Arlington County Board will consider both of these items at its Saturday, November 18 meeting. I will be there and I hope you’ll join me. Click here to learn more about how citizens can speak at these meetings.

We need the voice of urbanists throughout the region to let the County Board know that we value forward-looking policies to expand affordable housing and transit-oriented communities.

Email the County Board about reduced parking minimums! Email the County Board about accessory apartments!

Want to get a personal tour of an accessory dwelling and learn more about these issues from experts? Come to tour and info session this Saturday with former Arlington Housing Director Ken Aughenbaugh. Click to RSVP and for more details, space is limited!

Update 12/2017: The county board voted to approve lowering parking minimums with some slight alterations. On accessory apartments, the board passed many of the reforms, but elected to postpone the vote on allowing detached units like carriage houses.