County Board contention became consensus in Arlington’s missing middle battle
On March 22, the Arlington County Board voted to allow “missing middle” homes, like duplexes, townhomes, and small apartment buildings, across the county. Starting in July, you’ll be able to build four, and in some cases six, homes on lots where today you can only build a single-family house.
The joy in the chamber was palpable as the board members finished their concluding remarks. As I watched from the gallery, I felt an overwhelming sense of happiness and hope. While the plan is not as expansive as earlier proposals that allowed up to eight homes per lot, it is still a bold action that will have a positive impact on Arlington and the region, for years to come.
After some debate and discussion, the five County Board members came to a consensus on exactly how the new zoning should work and voted unanimously on the plan. The key features of the package are a clear win for housing. Dwellings with up to four units will be allowed on nearly all lots, while larger properties will be eligible for up to six units. The board agreed to give missing middle homes more flexibility in how much of a lot they could cover, and to require fewer parking spaces for homes near transit.
But the package included many items touted as “guardrails” that will serve to slow down or inhibit the construction of missing middle homes that won’t apply to the teardown McMansions that are being built today. Most notably, the Board capped the number of permits for missing middle projects at 58 per year. This limited number of permits will be distributed based on each zoning district, which could restrict missing middle homes in the most desirable areas located along transit corridors such as Lyon Village.Thankfully, the cap will sunset after five years.
The outpouring of support and citizen engagement has grown over the last few years, and it has really taken off in the last couple of weeks. The tireless work that community activists and organizations such as the YIMBYs of NoVA, the NAACP Arlington Branch, the Sierra Club Potomac River Group, Virginia Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE), the League of Women Voters Arlington/Alexandria Chapter, the Alliance for Housing Solutions, and others have put forward is now paying dividends to enable more diverse and sustainable neighborhoods.
The development of more and denser housing in our region is widely popular. In the Arlington County Board meetings and various commission meetings leading up to the vote, hundreds of people provided testimony, with the majority supporting the expanded housing options. People young and old alike support missing middle housing. The Washington Post came out with an editorial in favor of the reform, and local political leaders are celebrating the outcome. Support is growing exponentially for zoning reform as a critical tool to produce more attainable and affordable housing, as well as the urgent fight against climate change.
The County Board’s action represents a large step forward to a more inclusive, world-class urban community. I am excited for the future growth and prosperity for all in Arlington and our region. Next up, we’ll see how other jurisdictions considering missing middle zoning, such as Alexandria and Montgomery County, use Arlington as an example to make progress on their own housing and development plans.