Dear Arlington Homeowner:
On behalf of the County Board, thank you for your interest in the lot coverage proposal by the Zoning Ordinance Review Committee (ZORC). It is important for the Board to be aware of the community’s concerns before taking action on matters that affect the quality of life of residents.
As background, at our February 12th meeting, the Board authorized advertising for public hearings on this proposal before the Planning Commission on April 25th and the County Board on May 7th. This action established the limits within which the Board may subsequently act. However, at our May 7th meeting, the Board deferred this matter to the June 6th Commission meeting and June 18th Board meeting. The item was subsequently deferred to the November 7th Planning Commission meeting and the November 15th Board meeting. The Board felt additional time was needed to share more details about the lot coverage proposal with the public and to receive more input from the community. An additional option was brought before the Board on July 9th, and has been advertised for the previously mentioned November 7th and 15th meetings. Since February 2005, staff has been meeting with civic associations; has developed an extensive website (www.arlingtonva.us/lotcoverage) on the proposal; has participated in a community-wide forum sponsored by the Civic Federation; and continues to analyze the comments received.
As background, at the direction of the County Board, the ZORC and County staff conducted a study to determine reasonable coverage limits that would protect communities from oversized houses in the future that are out of character for a neighborhood. At the same time, we want to still allow for renovations and appropriately sized new houses for today’s market. The Board received two proposals – one from the ZORC and one from the County Manager as described below.
ZORC PROPOSAL: The proposed coverage requirements are on a sliding scale based on the residential zoning category (“R” districts). The current Zoning Ordinance permits 56 percent coverage for one-family residential lots in all five “R” Districts regardless of the minimum required size of the lot. The proposal would reduce the permitted maximum coverage of one-family dwelling lots from the current 56 percent to a sliding scale for the five zoning districts ranging from 45 percent for the “R-5” District to 25 percent for the “R-20” District. See the above-referenced website for more information on the sliding scale and ways to calculate how the proposal would impact your property.
The major concern heard from residents is how the ZORC proposal will impact existing homeowners. There would be no impact as long as the size (footprint) of a house does not exceed the proposed new maximum coverage limit, though some homeowners could be limited in expanding their homes. This would be the case for those lots that are currently at the proposed new maximum, in which case additions that result in an increased footprint would not be allowed, except for the addition of a front porch or a detached garage in the rear yard. Residences that are currently over the proposed new maximum could not be expanded and would become nonconforming with respect to the new regulations; however, the proposal includes a provision that would allow rebuilding the houses to the current size if the houses are damaged or destroyed by fire or other calamity.
COUNTY MANAGER’S INITIAL PROPOSAL: The major difference between the ZORC proposal and the Manager’s recommendation is that the Manager proposes to retain the current coverage limits of 56% for existing homes. This means that no existing, conforming home will be made nonconforming by the changes. Existing limitations on expansion or renovation will remain in place unless the expansion meets the revised and more strict definition of “new construction”. The new coverage limits proposed by ZORC would then apply, for example, when an existing home is totally razed and a new structure built in its place or a larger addition is made. They would also apply to new construction, such as when oversized lots are subdivided.
COUNTY MANAGER’S FINAL PROPOSAL: This revised proposal sets thresholds for coverage requirements on a sliding scale based on the lot size and not by zoning district. The revised coverage will range from 50% or 2800 square feet, whichever is greater, on lots that are 5,000 to 5,999 square feet to 35% or 8000 square feet, whichever is greater, on lots that are larger than 20,000 square feet. In addition, main building footprint coverage will be 35% on lots that are 5,000 to 5,999 square feet to 20% on lots that are larger than 20,000 square feet. Also, the revised proposal would be applied only to new construction.
Additionally a new, extensive nonconforming provision has been added to the second proposal. The proposed Zoning Ordinance amendments for nonconforming buildings and uses include the following changes in response to comments made by the public over the past several months:
Further issues have emerged through the public process discussed above, and staff have worked to address them in the County Manager’s most recent proposal. However, the height of new single-family homes, which continues to generate concern in neighborhoods, may need to be reconsidered after decisions are made on lot coverage.
Thank you, again, for your interest in this important matter.