Board Eases Restrictions on Expanding, Improving Nonconforming Homes

Published on October 23, 2018

The Arlington County Board today acted to make it easier for owners of one- and -two-family homes that do not conform with the Zoning Ordinance to improve or expand their dwellings.

"The Board's action today is an important step toward preserving older, smaller, homes that are such an important element of Arlington's dwindling stock of affordable housing," County Board Chair Katie Cristol said. "Making it easier to renovate and expand nonconforming single-family and side-by-side homes and duplexes is one way we can help preserve the "Missing Middle' housing that is so sorely needed in Arlington."

The Board voted unanimously to approve the amendment to the Zoning Ordinance, which will permit nonconforming one- and two-family dwellings in the R2-7 Two-Family and Townhouse Dwelling District to make by-right expansions and additions less than 50 percent of the size of the dwelling as of July 15, 1950. It also allows nonconforming one- and two-family dwellings in the currently excluded R districts (R15-30T, R10-T) and all RA districts to make structural interior alterations by-right.

[caption id="attachment_19179" align="alignright" width="150"] Arlington nonconforming duplex.[/caption]

For decades, the type of investment and renovations that have been allowed for most nonconforming single-family homes in single-family zoning districts have not been permitted for nearly all the County's side-by-side housing, and some single-family homes in two-family and multi-family zoning districts. The changes adopted by the Board will remove those barriers, and the disincentive for investment in their improvement and expansion.

Nonconforming homes are common across Arlington

There are many one-family homes, semi-detached housing and duplexes across the County that currently do not conform with the Zoning Ordinance requirements for setbacks, lot width, lot area, lot coverage and off-street parking, largely because the homes were built in the 1920 through the early 1940s, before the 1942 Zoning Ordinance, which significantly increased minimum lot width and lot area, was adopted. This includes almost 1,500 two-family homes, both semi-detached and duplexes.

Most of the two-family dwellings whose ability to make exterior expansions and additions today are limited and are located along Lee Highway, Columbia Pike, Wilson Boulevard, and the Nauck neighborhood.

The Code of Virginia permits property owners to operate, use and maintain a nonconforming use after zoning standards are amended. Zoning ordinances, however, often limit the ability to make changes to nonconforming structures. In Arlington, that approach has resulted in limitations on the ability to make interior structural alterations in nonconforming one- and two-family dwellings in the R10-T, R15-30 T and RA Districts, and in Public, Commercial and Industrial districts.

In addition, nonconforming one-family dwellings outside of one-family zoning districts are prohibited from making conforming, exterior additions and/or expansions, along with all nonconforming two-family, townhouse, and multi-family dwellings in any zoning district. Property owners have had to appeal to the Board of Zoning Appeals to make such alterations.

To read the staff report, scroll to Item No. 32 on the agenda for the Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018 Regular County Board Meeting.

Learn more about the County's Affordable Housing Master Plan.