Land Use & Zoning Tools

The Arlington County Zoning Ordinance contains land use and zoning tools for all land in the County. There is a public review process for special exceptions by site plan or use permit that allow for greater flexibility in use, density and form of development. These affordable housing tools are among the special exceptions that provide incentives for developers.

Affordable Housing Ordinance

Small Nauck map with ribbons tacked on

The Affordable Housing Ordinance offers developers seeking additional density in the site plan process the choice of providing affordable units or contributing to the Affordable Housing Investment Fund. In December 2005, the County Board approved amendments to the Zoning Ordinance that are used in the approval process of site plan projects to increase the supply of affordable housing and to streamline the approval process.

The developer chooses whether to provide a cash contribution or to provide affordable units using a percent of the increased gross floor area (GFA) above 1.0 Floor Area Ratio (FAR). For on-site units, the requirement is 5% of the GFA; for off-site units nearby, 7.5%; and for off-site units elsewhere in the county, 10%. Cash contribution rates in 2021 are: $2.08/sq. ft. of GFA for first 1.0 FAR; $5.56/sq. ft. from 1.0 to 3.0 FAR for residential; $11.15/sq. ft. of GFA above 3.0 for residential; and $5.56/sq. ft. above 1.0 FAR for commercial. Cash contribution amounts are indexed to the Consumer Price Index for Housing in the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria MSA. Read the requirements in Section 15.5.8. in the Zoning Ordinance.

Example of a Mixed-Use Project Applying the Requirements

For mixed-use projects, cash contributions are calculated by applying the proportionate amount of commercial and residential GFA to each tier of GFA. The contribution rates shown below are for 2021.  In the following example, the total contribution would be $687,640. This is because the GFA above 3.0 FAR is 40,000 sq ft and Residential = 90% of the total project.

40,000 x 90% = 36,000 sq ft, so 36,000 is the GFA to which tier three amount ($11.15) is applied.

Mixed-Use Example Applying Requirements
20,000 Square Foot Lot — 5.0 FAR Project of 100,000 Square Feet
Commercial Residential
10,000 sq ft – 10% of project 90,000 sq ft – 90% of project
1.0 FAR = 20,000 sq ft 2,000 sq ft x $2.08 18,000 sq ft x $2.08
1.0 – 3.0 FAR = 40,000 sq ft 4,000 sq ft x $5.56 36,000 sq ft x $5.56
3.0 – 5.0 FAR = 40,000 sq ft 4,000 sq ft x $5.56 36,000 sq ft x $11.15
TOTAL 10,000 sq ft commercial 90,000 sq ft residential

The Special Affordable Housing Protection District (SAHPD)

The Special Affordable Housing Protection District (SAHPD) as outlined in the General Land Use Plan identifies existing affordable housing sites within the County’s two Metro Corridors that are planned for site plan projects of 3.24 FAR or higher. Existing affordable housing units are to be replaced on a one-for-one basis. This has been interpreted as replacing the number of units, bedrooms or the GFA on a one-for-one basis.

Transfer of Development Rights

The Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program allows site plan projects to transfer density and other development rights from one parcel or site plan to another when it preserves affordable housing, open space, historic preservation, community facilities or community recreation. TDRs can be transferred to another location where density is deemed more appropriate by the County Board.

  • Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Special Revitalization District and Neighborhoods Form Based Code: Along with form-driven, prescriptive design standards and affordable housing requirements, the Neighborhoods Form Based Code (FBC) also includes the Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) tool, an additional incentive designed to preserve portions of two historically important garden apartments. The FBC designates areas of these two garden apartments as TDR Sending Sites, and through use of the tool, the property owners and/or developers can transfer density to TDR Receiving Sites, which are other selected areas of Columbia Pike or elsewhere in the County where bonus height can be accommodated. This transfer of density occurs in exchange for commitments to preserve the existing buildings, renovate units and preserve affordability for no less than 30 years. See Part 2 of the Neighborhoods FBC for specific details. Learn more about preserving affordable housing efforts in Columbia Pike.

Bonus Density and Height Exceptions

The County Board may approve additional height and/or residential density for both market-rate and low or moderate income housing where a proposed site plan project complies with all requirements. Read the requirements in the Zoning Ordinance Section 15.5.9.

Bonus density may also be achieved through special provisions for the following specific areas:

  • Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Special Revitalization District and Neighborhoods Form Based Code: Developers and property owners who choose to use the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Form Based Code (FBC), and comply with its base affordable housing requirement that 20 – 35% of their net new units will be affordable for households earning up to 60% of the AMI, can generally build more density than permitted under by-right zoning. See Part 9 of the Neighborhoods FBC for specific details. Beyond the base incentives of the Neighborhoods FBC, it also contains different options for obtaining additional bonus height in specific areas. One way applicants can obtain bonus height is by contributing more on-site affordable units than the base affordable housing requirement described above. Another way bonus height can be achieved is by using the Transfer of Development Rights option described above.
  • Clarendon Revitalization District: The Unified Commercial Mixed-Use Development Special Exception Use Permit is an option for Service Commercial properties on the edges of Clarendon. These properties may obtain up to 1.5 FAR in bonus density by providing affordable housing equal to 10% of the bonus density if that amount is more than 4,000 square feet in GFA. In some situations, a cash contribution of $15 per square foot of the bonus density may be made instead. Read the requirements in the Zoning Ordinance Section 10.2.5.
  • Nauck Village Center (FAR): The Nauck Village Center Action Plan includes an incentive for the creation of affordable housing, for an increase in FAR from a maximum density of 1.5 to 2.0. This Unified Commercial Mixed-Use Development Special Exception Use Permit option is limited to projects on designated residential sites where the developer agrees to provide at least 10% of the units as Committed Affordable Units. Read the requirements in Zoning Ordinance Section 10.2.4.
  • C-O Rosslyn: Developments within the Rosslyn Coordinated Redevelopment District (RCRD) can earn additional density and height up to 10.0 FAR by the provision of an affordable housing contribution, among other community benefits. The Rosslyn Sector Plan recommends that the County “Direct up to 30% of the value of community benefits contributed by RCRD site plan projects towards affordable housing. This value would be evaluated on a site plan basis to determine the best use (e.g. an on-site unit program or a cash contribution).”
  • C-O Crystal City: Developments within the Crystal City Coordinated Redevelopment District can earn additional density and height up to 10.0 FAR by the provision of an affordable housing contribution, among other community benefits. The Crystal City Sector Plan recommends that 20% of the gross floor area above the standard site plan base density be provided as affordable on-site units.
  • Fort Meyer Heights North Special District: The County Board may approve a site plan project where the proposal designates 20 percent of the GFA that is above the General Land Use Plan maximum as affordable housing, in addition to meeting the requirements of the County’s “Affordable Dwelling Unit Ordinance” as outlined in Zoning Ordinance Section 15.5.8.
  • Mixed Use Virginia Square District: Developments within The Virginia Square Sector Plan and the “Special Coordinated Mixed Use District” designation on the General Land Use Plan can earn additional bonus height and density up to 5.0 FAR by the provision of an affordable housing contribution, among other community benefits. The County Board may approve a density of up to 4.0 FAR west of North Kansas Street and may approve a density of up to 3.24 FAR east of North Kansas Street. The County Board may approve additional density up to a further 1.0 FAR west of North Kansas Street and may approve additional density up to a further 1.76 FAR east of North Kansas Street if it finds that the development meets the area plans and policies. Additional information on Special Exceptions to building height in this area can be found in Zoning Ordinance Section 7.8.5.A.2.

Other Incentives

Parking Incentive – Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Special Revitalization District and Neighborhoods Form Based Code: Developers and property owners who use the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Form Based Code (FBC) can optionally choose to provide more affordable housing units than the base-level requirements. Projects that exceed the minimum affordable housing qualify for a parking reduction. The parking ratio for all of the proposed affordable units would be reduced from 1.125 spaces per unit to 0.825 spaces per unit. Any market rate units would be parked at the standard 1.125 spaces per unit. See Parts 8 & 9 of the Neighborhoods FBC for specific details.