County Board Adopts Expanded Housing Options

Published on March 22, 2023

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The Arlington County Board voted to expand housing options in portions of the County that currently only allow single-detached homes on Wednesday, March 22, concluding a multiyear process.

The Board adopted a series of Zoning Ordinance and General Land Use Plan amendments related to the Missing Middle Housing Study. These amendments will allow for Expanded Housing Options (EHO) development for up to 6 units per residential lot—if certain conditions are met, including the same building height, setbacks, and size as allowed for single-detached homes. The adoption also caps annual permits at 58, distributed around the County. The changes will take effect July 1, 2023.

“After years of study, thousands of emails, phone calls, and community conversations, and thousands more staff hours working on this project, I am proud of the sensible framework that the Board has adopted to permit, by right, options for different housing types in every residential zoning district,” Board Chair Christian Dorsey said. “By allowing natural increases in the housing supply, we will lower the barriers of entry into all neighborhoods and, in doing so, address the housing crisis and our history of exclusionary zoning head-on.”

The Board actions came after nearly 250 community members and organizations spoke in two days of public hearings, in addition to the thousands of people who engaged with the County throughout the study, which began in 2019. Many details in the final Board action reflect input received from the Arlington community since the initial framework for EHO development was released almost a year ago.

The Zoning Ordinance text focused on several policy areas. The Board took the following actions:

  • Uses: Allow up to 6 units on a residential lot (duplexes, townhouses, and multiplexes with 3-6 units)
  • Applicability: Allow EHO development by right on properties in the R-20, R-10, R-8, R-6, and R-5 districts
  • Annual Development Cap:
    • Set an annual cap of up to 58 permits with the following distribution method:
      • 21 permits total spread across R-8, R-10, and R-20 districts
      • 30 permits in the R-6 district
      • 7 permits in the R-5 district
    • Set a five-year sunset of the annual cap
  • Maximum Lot Coverage: Duplicate base lot coverage standards for single-detached homes and provides additional allowed coverage even if a detached garage is not built
  • Parking:
    • Vary parking requirements based on transit proximity
      • At least 0.5 parking spaces per unit on sites located entirely within a 3/4-mile radius of a Metrorail station entrance or within 1/2-mile radius of a transit stop along the Premium Transit Network
      • At least 1 space per dwelling unit for all other locations—including those residential lots fronting on a cul-de-sac in transit-proximate areas
  • Trees:
    • For 2-4 units: Require a minimum of 4 shade trees
    • For 5-6 units: Require a minimum of 8 shade trees
  • Minimum Site Area:
    • For 2-4 units: Set minimum site area to the same standards for single-detached homes in all districts
    • For 5-6 units:
      • Set minimum site area to the same standards as single-detached homes in R-6, R-8, R-10, and R-20 districts.
      • Increase the minimum site area to 6,000 square feet for the R-5 district
  • Gross Floor Area:
    • Set the maximum floor area based on the housing types and/or unit type at the following square footage:
      • Duplex: 4,800
      • Semidetached: 5,000
      • 3 townhouses: 7,500
      • 3-unit multiplex: 6,000
      • 4-unit multiplex: 7,200
      • 5- and 6-unit multiplex: 8,000
  • Accessory Dwellings: Allow accessory dwellings (ADs) only in two scenarios (interior units within a townhouse or semi-detached home, exceptions for pre-existing ADs)
  • Design and Site Layout Guidelines:
    • Make the maximum building height, footprint, and minimum setbacks for EHO development the same as currently exist for single-detached homes
    • Require EHO development to comply with site layout and design standards for compatibility with surrounding neighborhood

WATCH: County Board Discussion

The Board’s action marked the end of the Phase 3 of the Missing Middle Housing Study. The study began in 2019, and Phase 1 continued through fall 2021. In the first phase, the study team relied on community engagement to identify priorities and concerns related to expanding housing options in Arlington and prepared a Research Compendium of Arlington-specific data and existing conditions.

Phase 2 was a focused study of specific housing types that sought to balance the community’s priorities and concerns identified in Phase 1. A draft framework for expanding housing options was released in April 2022, and the County embarked on a multifaceted public engagement period that culminated with a Board work session in July 2022. During that work session, Board members provided guidance to staff that resulted in the draft zoning text and amendments presented in the fall. The Board also hosted 20 community conversations throughout fall 2022.

In addition, several County commissions, including the Planning Commission, Housing Commission, Transportation Commission, Disability Advisory Commission, and Commission on Aging, reviewed and made recommendations on the GLUP and Zoning Ordinance amendments.

To learn more about the Missing Middle Housing Study, visit the County website.

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