Missing Middle Housing Study: Phase 2 Community Engagement

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About the Draft Framework

Creating flexibility for diverse housing types could help address Arlington’s shortfall in housing supply and gaps in housing choices.  

Phase 2 Draft Framework Objectives include:

  • More housing options for more people at more income levels and more stages of life distributed throughout Arlington
  • More equitable housing options 

Here’s how you can get informed.  

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Community Feedback Opportunity

If you missed the online feedback form that closed on May 27, 2022, you can still weigh in on Missing Middle Housing recommendations and share feedback on other potential housing options for the County. Submit your comments below and they will be added to the feedback collected to date.

Note: Work is underway to compile and analyze the data collected through the feedback form that closed on May 27. Staff will present the data to the County Board at the July 12 work session. If you have additional feedback, please use the comment form linked below.

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Next Public Meeting: July 12, 3 pm: County Board work session

 

Community Q&A

Missing Middle Housing Study Draft Framework: Community Q&A

The Missing Middle Housing Study team held a live Q&A session on Tuesday, May 3 to answer questions about Phase 2 Draft Framework.

You can watch the recording of the session by clicking the button below.    

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Virtual Walking Tour

Virtual Walking Tours 

The Missing Middle Housing Study Virtual Walking Tour provides examples of existing diverse, house-scale housing in Arlington's neighborhoods, including Ashton Heights, Aurora Highlands, Ballston-Virginia Square, Cherrydale, Green Valley, and Penrose. The virtual tours highlight and provide an opportunity to explore the following housing types:

  • Small lot single detached homes
  • Duplexes (side-by-side and stacked)
  • Townhouses (side-by-side and stacked)
  • Small multiplexes

Explore Arlington's neighborhoods and take a look at a few examples where diverse housing types already exist, albeit in limited supply.

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More Housing Initiatives

More Housing Initiatives

The Missing Middle Housing Study is one part of a larger effort to improve the County’s housing affordability for people of all income levels and stages of life.  

The Affordable Housing Master Plan establishes the County’s affordable housing policy. The updated Implementation Framework identifies the actions that achieve the County’s policy goals, including: 

  • An emphasis on affordability for lower income households
  • A focus on ‘quality’ of committed affordable units
  • The use of an equity lens on all implementation activities
  • Expanded tenant services
  • The need to rethink the approach to affordable homeownership 

Two new efforts under the Affordable Housing Master Plan are in the works.  

Homeownership Study 
The County is working to develop a more comprehensive and integrative homeownership program. The first step is a study to: 

  • Clarify  the community’s homeownership values and goals. 
  • Determine the needs, preferences, affordability criteria, and barriers for potential homebuyers.
  • Better differentiate County homeownership policies from rental policies
  • Examine effectiveness of County homeownership programs. 
  • Examine availability, conditions, capital needs, and cost of the existing for-sale housing 

Study of Housing Affordability for Older Adults 
The County is examining how an affordability requirement could be structured within the Arlington County Zoning Ordinance to address  both the housing and service costs associated with  age-restricted housing developments and care facilities that are approved by the County Board.  

There will be opportunities for you to learn more about and engage with the County on these efforts throughout 2022.  

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FAQs

General
What is the Missing Middle Housing Study?

The Missing Middle Housing Study is exploring how new housing types could help address Arlington’s shortfall in housing supply and gaps in housing choices. The study, which began in the Fall of 2020, includes three phases. Anticipated outcomes include:


  • A shared understanding of the problem

  • Options for County Board consideration

  • Policy/regulation changes to enable new housing types

  • Identification of issues for further study

The study is one element under the Housing Arlington Land Use Tools Initiative.

What is Phase 2 of the Missing Middle Housing Study?

Phase 2 is a focused study of housing types identified in Phase 1 (duplexes, townhouses, multiplexes with 3-8 units, and small lot single-detached houses) to determine how to expand housing choice in way that could balance community priorities and concerns, also identified in Phase 1. Through development of design parameters, equity and impact analysis, economic and financial evaluation, and locational study, options that address community priorities and concerns are being evaluated and presented to the community for review and feedback.

Some of the high-level questions to be answered in Phase 2 are:

  • How should missing middle housing types be designed to be compatible with Arlington neighborhoods?
  • Where should housing types be allowed within Arlington?
  • How could expanded housing choice meet community priorities? 
  • What are the tradeoffs between the benefits of expanding housing choice and community concerns?
  • How do the expected outcomes of new policies compare to today's "business as usual" approach to housing?



What happens after Phase 2?

County staff is currently conducting outreach and seeking feedback on the Phase 2 Draft Framework, leading up to a County Board work session in July, where staff will summarize community feedback and present a refined policy framework. If directed by Board, the study will move into Phase 3, which is scheduled for the summer and fall of 2022. Phase 3 will include consideration of Zoning Ordinance amendments to enable more housing choice, other policy recommendations such as General Land Use Plan (GLUP) amendments, and recommendations for areas of future study.

NEW! What are the opportunities and timeline for providing feedback on the Phase 2 Draft Framework?

Phase 2 of the Missing Middle Housing Study will continue into the summer—and the community is welcome to provide feedback and comment on the draft framework through that time. The engagement period launched with the release of the draft framework on April 28.

The community currently has until May 27 to provide feedback via an online form. After that period, a general comment form will be posted online to continue to collect feedback.

Throughout May, the Missing Middle Housing Study staff team will be out in the community at pop-up events, providing information and gathering feedback about the draft framework.

On May 3, the study team held a Q&A session to answer questions about the draft framework and provide information. The public can continue to submit questions via an online form. Responses to many questions are posted in this FAQ section. The FAQs will be updated periodically throughout Phase 2.

Outside of the online engagement, virtual Q&A, and community pop-ups, community members and organizations always have the opportunity to provide direct comments to the study team. The Missing Middle Housing Study webpage includes a direct email address to the team—which many members of the public have already used to engage with us.

Team members will also be presenting at the Civic Federation meeting on June 14 and welcome feedback from organizations that participate with the Civic Federation at that time. Team members have also been engaging directly with stakeholders about the framework.

Feedback received in the online feedback form, via direct communication, and at the community pop-ups will be compiled and presented to the County Board during a work session on July 12.

If there is direction from the Board during that session, Phase 3 will occur in summer and fall of this year. There will be additional engagement and feedback opportunities as staff prepares Zoning Ordinance amendments for County Board consideration. Community members will also be able to provide comments directly to the Board as the potential Zoning Ordinance amendments move through the Board’s engagement process.

NEW! How is the County making residents aware of the Phase 2 Analysis and Draft Framework?

The Missing Middle Housing Study team sent a postcard to more than 151,000 residential addresses in Arlington County at the end of April. The team built a new webpage to capture all aspects of the Phase 2 engagement, which is linked to from the main study page.

A save the date for the May 3 Live Q&A was emailed to the Missing Middle Housing Study community partners and CPHD’s e-newsletter (19,000 subscribers). When the framework data was posted, the news was shared to the partner network, both of CPHD’s e-newsletters, and the County’s main Inside Arlington newsletter. The team has worked with other County departments to share the engagement opportunities in their newsletters as well and is sending reminders weekly through e-newsletters. We also continue post on social media (Twitter and NextDoor).

Once the framework was posted, staff reached out directly to some stakeholder and community groups that have not traditionally been a part of community discussions, such as the NAACP and BU-GATA, to share the information, invite them to provide feedback, and ask them to share the information with their networks.

The study staff team is also out in the community sharing information in-person with community members. 

NEW! Can you describe the analysis that was done to inform the Draft Framework?

As a first step in Phase 2, the Missing Middle staff team considered community input from Phase 1 and existing County policy and zoning regulations in developing guidance for the consultant team so that initial two-dimensional (2D) site layouts could be developed for each housing type for further study. Preliminarily, the site layouts were used to explore how different housing types might fit (or not fit) on “minimum” R-5 (50’x100’), R-6 (60’x100’) and R-10 (80’x125’) lots, which are the most prevalent lots for single-detached housing in Arlington.

Based on the initial site layouts, the consultant team then performed economic analysis on each housing type, considering land costs, construction costs, sales/rent prices, and how regulatory standards (setbacks, parking requirements, approval process, etc.) might impact housing costs.  As part of this analysis, the consultant team determined what modestly sized, yet marketable housing units could be developed within each housing type.  The consultant team also compared each housing type to typical new single-detached housing development to determine, among the different housing options, which may be more likely to be built, based on the development costs, complexity, and potential profit of each option. The consultant’s economic analysis and 2D site layouts are summarized in a memo to staff.

County staff representing multiple departments reviewed the preliminary work to examine how County policies and standards were reflected.  Issues such as stormwater, lot coverage, tree canopy, parking standards, and building setbacks were weighed and further evaluated, which led to refinements to the economic analysis.  Finally, the consultant team created three-dimensional (3D) site context illustrations, showing how the various housing types might look, in terms of scale and placement (not architecture) on Arlington streets adjacent to existing homes.

Staff developed the Phase 2 Draft Framework based on this analysis of design and placement parameters, economic feasibility, and opportunities and impacts. Information in the Phase 2 materials on the expected pace of growth, opportunities, and impacts is also based the consultant and staff analysis.

      
About the Draft Framework
What is the Phase 2 Draft Framework?

The Phase 2 Draft Framework presents a preliminary approach for expanding housing choice, in a way that seeks to address and balance the Phase 1 priorities and concerns. It is intended to provide the public with a comprehensive scenario and to focus public engagement on specific policy choices and tradeoffs. Based on community feedback received, the draft framework could be further refined over the course of Phase 2.

The draft framework proposes to regulate new housing types with the same design and building placement requirements as single-detached houses. Within this building envelope, buildings with 2 to 8 units would be allowed, as long as they can meet those standards for issues including height, setbacks, lot coverage. This would apply within the zoning districts that only allow single-detached development today, which are the R-5, R-6, R-8, R-10, and R-20 zones. 

The framework does propose 2 standards that would differ from single-detached development. Minimum parking requirements would be reduced from 1 space per unit to 0.5 spaces per unit.

Finally, the draft framework proposes to limit the overall square footage of a building, to encourage the development of smaller-scale buildings, with  housing options ranging from 1 to4 bedrooms.

The draft framework does not propose any changes to the way single-detached housing is regulated. If there is interest in revisiting those standards, that would have to be included in a follow-on study.

More information on the details of the Phase 2 Draft Framework is provided throughout these FAQs.

What analysis was done to inform the Draft Framework?

As a first step in Phase 2, the Missing Middle staff team considered community input from Phase 1 and existing County policy and zoning regulations in developing guidance for the consultant team so that initial two-dimensional (2D) site layouts could be developed for each housing type for further study. Preliminarily, the site layouts were used to explore how different housing types might fit (or not fit) on “minimum” R-5 (50’x100’), R-6 (60’x100’) and R-10 (80’x125’) lots, which are the most prevalent lots for single-detached housing in Arlington.

Based on the initial site layouts, the consultant team then performed economic analysis on each housing type, considering land costs, construction costs, sales/rent prices, and how regulatory standards (setbacks, parking requirements, approval process, etc.) might impact housing costs.  As part of this analysis, the consultant team determined what modestly sized, yet marketable housing units could be developed within each housing type.  The consultant team also compared each housing type to typical new single-detached housing development to determine, among the different housing options, which may be more likely to be built, based on the development costs, complexity, and potential profit of each option. The consultant’s economic analysis and 2D site layouts are summarized in a memo to staff.

County staff representing multiple departments reviewed the preliminary work to examine how County policies and standards were reflected.  Issues such as stormwater, lot coverage, tree canopy, parking standards, and building setbacks were weighed and further evaluated, which led to refinements to the economic analysis.  Finally, the consultant team created three-dimensional (3D) site context illustrations, showing how the various housing types might look, in terms of scale and placement (not architecture) on Arlington streets adjacent to existing homes.

Staff developed the Phase 2 Draft Framework based on this analysis of design and placement parameters, economic feasibility, and opportunities and impacts. Information in the Phase 2 materials on the expected pace of growth, opportunities, and impacts is also based the consultant and staff analysis.

Which housing types were studied in Phase 2?

Four main categories of housing types were studied in Phase 2 of the Missing Middle Housing Study: single detached homes on smaller lots than required today, duplexes, townhouses, and small multiplexes up to 8 units. Evaluating a range of options countywide provided the greatest opportunity to balance the community priorities and concerns articulated throughout Phase 1.

Which housing types would be allowed under the Draft Framework?

The Phase 2 Draft Framework would allow buildings with two (2) to eight (8) dwellings (e.g. duplexes, triplexes, and other “plexes”) and townhouses. Townhouses would be limited to groupings of three (3), to limit the width of building massing to be comparable to current standards for single-detached houses.

Which housing types aren't included in the Draft Framework, and why?

Two housing types studied in Phase 2 are not included in the draft framework: small lot single detached homes and stacked townhouses taller than 35 feet.

The Phase 2 analysis included consideration of single-detached homes on lots as small as 3,000 sq. ft. While developing zoning provisions that would allow detached housing on smaller lots could bring existing lots that do not meet minimum requirements into conformance, financial analysis indicates that price points for new small lot single detached homes would be significantly higher than other choices, thus less responsive to community priorities for reduced housing costs as compared with other options.  It is also important to note that several options already exist to support owners of nonconforming properties, including Board of Zoning Appeals use permits to obtain relief from setback requirements, by-right ability for owners of non-conforming single and two-family dwellings to build additions and expansions, and by-right development options for owners of non-conforming lots that were recorded under one ownership prior to 1950.

Given the design requirements for stacked townhouses, in which two, two-story dwellings are typically stacked on top of each other, it may be unlikely that stacked townhouses could be built within the draft framework’s 35-foot building height limit.  The County may explore standards for townhouses, including stacked townhouses, through other efforts, such as the Multifamily Reinvestment Study seeking to preserve and expand the supply of multifamily housing options in Arlington’s existing multifamily housing districts.

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Example of stacked townhouses exceeding 35-feet height in Arlington (Source: KGP Design Studio)

Where does the Draft Framework propose to allow missing middle housing types?

The draft framework proposes to permit new housing types within the zoning districts that only allow single-detached development today, which are the R-5, R-6, R-8, R-10, and R-20 zones. See a map of these zones. 

How would missing middle housing types be regulated in these areas?

The draft framework would require missing middle housing to meet the same design and building placement requirements as single‐detached housing. Within these parameters, buildings with two to eight units would be allowed, as long as they meet standards, such as height, setbacks, and lot coverage. The approval process would be the same for missing middle housing as for single-detached housing, meaning that applications that meet all applicable zoning requirements would be approved administratively (by-right) and would not require public hearings or action by the County Board.

NEW! What would the approval process be for missing middle housing? Would there be community meetings like the Site Plan Review Committee (SPRC)? Would civic associations or community members be able to provide feedback?

The draft framework proposes the same approval process for missing middle housing types as for single-detached housing. Building applications that meet all applicable zoning requirements would be approved administratively (by-right) and would not require public hearings, review by the SPRC or Planning Commission, or action by the County Board. (Response added 5-13-2022)

Why does the Draft Framework propose limiting townhouses to groups of 3?

The Draft Framework is seeking to permit housing types that are comparable in scale with other housing types already present in Arlington’s neighborhoods and less costly than current options. A grouping of three townhouses, limited in building size to support smaller, less costly units, is comparable in building width to a large single-detached house, side-by-side or stacked duplex, or multiplex with 3-8 units.

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Rendering of a row of three townhouses, in the context of an existing single-household Arlington neighborhood

Would the Draft Framework allow existing housing to be adapted to allow more than one dwelling?

Yes, existing housing could be adapted to allow more than one dwelling, subject to all applicable Building Code requirements.

The Draft Framework proposes to regulate missing middle housing with similar standards as single-detached housing. Which zoning standards would stay the same, and which standards would change?

As depicted in the chart below, most zoning standards would be the same. The minimum lot size (ranging from 5,000 square feet for R-5 to 20,000 square feet for R-20) and width (50 feet for R-5 to 100 feet for R-20) for the underlying zoning district would still apply. Building heights up to a maximum of 35 feet, as measured by the Zoning Ordinance would also apply. Lot coverage could not exceed the  maximum allowed for single-detached development (ranges from 33% coverage for R-20 to 53% coverage for R-5). Lot coverage is defined in Zoning Ordinance, and generally includes areas covered by buildings, driveways, parking pads, patios that are eight inches or higher above finished grade, and other features. The footprint of the main building on a lot would be limited to the same maximums as single-detached development (ranges from 19% of the lot area for R-20 to 37% for R-5).

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Stormwater management requirements and requirements for areas proximate/within flood zones and Resource Protection Areas (RPAs) are regulated by other ordinances, and these requirements would also be the same for new housing types as for single-detached housing. 

New standards would be established for maximum building floor area and parking. For missing middle housing types, a new standard would set a maximum building floor area (i.e. total square footage of all floors). This standard is intended to encourage construction of smaller, less costly units and reduced impervious surface and to ensure the scale of new housing types is comparable to single-detached housing.

Another new standard that would apply to missing middle housing is on-site parking requirements.  Minimum parking requirements would be reduced from 1 space per unit to 0.5 spaces per unit. So, for example, a fourplex (building with 4 housing units) would only be required to provide 2 spaces, though a builder might choose to provide more spaces based on market demand.

Why are new parking standards proposed?

Arlington’s Master Transportation Plan includes a policy to “provide the parking supply to meet community demands cost efficiently and equitably while being careful not to create inducements to more driving or to reduce the community’s walkability”. The rationale for reducing parking requirements is that some areas have good transit access, and residents may be more likely to choose not to own a vehicle. Other areas that are further away from transit typically have low-utilization of on-street public parking.  Reducing parking requirements encourages use of existing parking areas rather than paving over green space. The proposed parking standards can also help reduce housing costs by reducing the size of a lot needed for a viable development.

NEW! What are the limits on building size proposed for missing middle housing? Would there be minimum lot size requirements?

As indicated in the chart below, the proposed maximum total building floor area (i.e. total square footage of all floors) would vary based on the number of units provided, ranging from 4,800 square feet for a duplex, to 8,000 square feet for a building with 5-8 units. While the sizes of individual units would not be capped, this proposal effectively sets an average unit size that decreases as the number of units increases. This requirement would support the creation of more 1, 2, and 3-bedroom housing options. A goal of the study is to examine how to allow alternatives to 6,000 square foot homes while avoiding unintentionally creating a market for 4,000 square foot duplexes that would not appreciably reduce housing costs.

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The table above also shows the expected viable lot size for each of the missing middle housing types in the draft framework. The lot sizes shown on this table would not be required minimums. However, the current minimum lot size and width requirements (e.g. minimum lot size of 6,000 square feet and minimum lot width of 60 feet in the R-6 zone) would still apply. The expected viable lot size is based is staff’s and the consultant’s estimate of the land area that would be likely be needed for each housing type, based on the proposed height, setback, lot coverage, and on-site parking requirements. It could be possible to achieve a building on a smaller than expected lot, particularly if the building and housing units were smaller than the maximum allowed. 


NEW! Would missing middle housing be owner-occupied or rental housing?

Just as single-detached housing can be occupied by either an owner or a renter, missing middle housing types could be either. There could also be situations where a homeowner lives in one unit within a building and rents the other unit(s) within the same building.

The County’s zoning regulations cannot “discriminate by tenure,” which is discrimination based on whether housing is ownership housing or rental, it is a violation of federal Fair Housing laws.

The County is initiating a comprehensive study of homeownership programs to clarify and better define the community’s homeownership values and goals. This study will also evaluate the effectiveness of the County’s existing programs. Community engagement on this study is expected to begin later this year. 

NEW! Will there be any design standards for missing middle housing beyond the height, coverage, and placement standards in the Draft Framework?

Generally, the Zoning Ordinance does not include architectural design guidance for single-detached development in  residential zones.  However, certain design, layout and placement elements could be regulated for missing middle housing through the Zoning Ordinance amendments that will be considered in Phase 3, to be responsive to the community priority that new housing types be sensitive to their neighborhood context. For example, townhouses could be required to be oriented to a street, rather than oriented to a side yard. Community input received through the Phase 2 engagement process will inform staff’s recommendations in Phase 3.

NEW! Would detached accessory dwellings be allowed in combination with the missing middle housing types proposed in the Draft Framework?

Detached accessory dwellings would not be allowed in combination with a 2- to 8-unit building or a grouping of 3 townhouses.

The Zoning Ordinance currently allows one accessory dwelling on a lot containing one-family dwellings. Current rules that accessory dwellings are not allowed on duplex, townhouse, or multi-family lots are not proposed to change.

NEW! Would it be possible to combine lots to build a larger development?

The draft framework proposes to maintain the same single-detached main building footprint standards for missing middle housing. Lot consolidation would not be prohibited, but it may not be likely due to these maximum building footprint requirements. Because of these requirements, a builder can almost always build more total square footage on two lots than on a single lot.

In review of development over the past ten years, staff could not find an example of two houses being torn down and replaced with a single house. In a small number of cases, a vacant lot was combined with an adjacent single-detached lot to create a larger lot for a larger replacement house.

The proposed limitations on townhouses to groups of three units would also likely discourage lot consolidation.

       
Economic Analysis
What are the expected prices for the housing types that were studied in Phase 2? How do these compare to new large single-detached houses and high-rise condominiums?

Prices for the housing types studied in Phase 2 are anticipated to range from $520,000 for a one-bedroom home in a 6- or 8-unit multiplex to $1.5 million for four-bedroom single-detached home on a smaller lot (e.g., 3,000-3,500 square foot lot). New housing in high-rise condominiums typically cost $670,000 to $1.7 million for one- to two-bedroom units, while new large single- detached houses being built typically cost $1.8 to $2.8 million for five- to six-bedroom units. The chart below provides more detail as to the anticipated sales prices for each type of housing considered in Phase 2 and comparative prices for large single-detached and high-rise condominiums. While stacked townhouses and small lot single-detached housing types are included in the chart, these housing types are not included in the draft framework.

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What income levels would be needed to attain missing middle housing types?

Assuming a 20% down payment, no debt and good credit history, a household would need an income of at least $118,000 to purchase a new unit in a 6-8 plex. The income needed to purchase is highly dependent on many variables. Two mortgage scenarios are shown in the table below for the range of sales prices anticipated for the housing types studied. As a reference, the 2022 Area Median Income for a 3-person household is $128,100.

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What is the expected pace of housing and population growth, under the Draft Framework? How does the compare to the status quo of teardowns and replacement homes?

Teardowns of single-detached housing in Arlington are anticipated to continue at about the same rate that they have been in recent years – about 160 to 190 lots redeveloping per year. Missing middle housing would likely occur on 19 to 21 of those lots producing an estimated 98 to 108 housing units per year. The remaining lots would redevelop as large single-detached houses, producing approximately 152 to 183 houses. The estimated number of single-detached houses would be slightly higher than the number of lots due to lot subdivisions.

After accounting for demolitions of older homes, the total net increase, across 12.2 square miles zoned R-5 to R-20, would be approximately 86 to 101 housing units.

Under the draft framework, with 19 to 21 lots redeveloped as missing middle housing per year, staff estimates that over 10 years, the population of the 12.2 square miles zones R-5 to R-20 could increase by 1,500 residents, while increasing housing diversity in these neighborhoods. To provide context, between 2010 and 2020, Arlington’s total population increased by over 31,000 residents.

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Why does the analysis indicate that most new construction would continue to be single-detached homes?

Developers/builders have an established track record with building single-detached housing within Arlington, and builders who are unfamiliar with housing types that are not allowed today may be less willing to take on the added complexity and risk . Additionally missing middle housing has inherent economic disadvantages, compared to single-detached, including:

  • Increased costs due to building code, interior common areas;
  • Increased complexity for ownership and sales; and
  • Learning curve in the market for new regulations and housing types.

The experiences of other jurisdictions that have allowed for missing middle have indicated that even with incentives to build missing middle housing, builders have continued to primarily build single-detached houses.


Which missing middle housing types would be the most likely to be built under the Draft Framework?

Based on a review of the lot characteristics of recent teardown/rebuilds and the economic return in comparison to large single-detached housing, the study consultants have anticipated that 4-to 8-plexes would be the most likely housing to be built on larger lots of more than 8,000 square feet. Smaller lots are most likely to accommodate side-by-side duplexes, but the economic return might not be sufficient to motivate developers to choose building a duplex over single-detached housing.

NEW! Are there opportunities to reduce housing costs further, through subsidies or by requiring that some units are committed affordable?

Adding an affordability requirement, such as requiring that some units be sold or rented at prices below market rate, would negatively impact profitability and create a strong economic disincentive for homebuilders to choose missing middle development over single-detached development. This would likely result in little to no missing middle housing would be built and would not contribute towards the study goals to increase the housing supply and expand the range of housing options available.

Missing middle housing types, if allowed,  might create opportunities for non-profits focused on homeownership models (e.g., Habitat for Humanity) to develop homeownership products for households at lower incomes.

Separately, the County is beginning an affordable homeownership study that will explore how the County can best support affordable homeownership in the future.

NEW! Would real estate assessments, and annual property taxes based on assessments, increase for existing homes if more housing options are allowed?

The County’s Department of Real Estate Assessments explains the assessment process on its webpage. Residential assessments are based only on a property’s current use and improvements, not what could potentially be built on the lot.

Residential property values have been increasing in Arlington. This trend benefits current homeowners who experience an increase in wealth, but the resulting increase in property taxes can create a burden for some. The County’s Real Estate Tax Relief program provides exemptions or deferrals of property tax payments for qualifying residents who meet certain age, disability, and income requirements.


    
Opportunities and Impacts
How will these changes affect existing homes and neighborhoods?

The expected growth in missing middle housing translates to about 150 new residents a year, distributed across nearly half of the County’s land area. On the ground, it would provide an opportunity to welcome more neighbors within a similar building footprint to a single-detached home. And the draft framework would only apply to areas that are zoned exclusively for single-detached development, so there would be no change to areas that currently allow duplexes, townhouses, and multifamily apartments or condominiums (R2-7, R-10T, R15-30T, and RA zoning districts).

What are the stormwater considerations under the Draft Framework?

Missing middle housing types would be subject to the same lot coverage and setback standards as single-detached development.  As a result, impacts on stormwater management would be comparable redevelopment that would occur through teardowns, regardless of the type of housing being built. Missing middle development would also be subject to the same land disturbance and stormwater requirements as single-detached development. Reduced parking requirements, as proposed in the Draft Framework, can support stormwater management by not requiring more impervious area than necessary.

It is acknowledged that current teardown trends are creating challenges to our stormwater systems. Recent Capital Improvement Plan investments in stormwater infrastructure and upcoming policies from the Flood Resilient Design Guidelines and the Forestry and Natural Resources Plan will be addressing these challenges.

NEW! What would the Draft Framework mean for the tree canopy?

As with stormwater considerations, staff recognizes that current teardown trends are creating challenges for Arlington’s tree canopy.  The state code allows only a 20% minimum tree canopy for single-detached housing in Arlington’s R-5 to R-20 zoning districts.

The Draft Framework proposes a by-right approval process for missing middle housing types to support construction of these new choices rather than the lucrative single household development option. As a result, because state code sets minimum tree canopy requirements based on the number of dwelling units per acre, the minimum canopy requirements for missing middle housing types would likely be 10% or 15%. 

These requirements are specified below (Code of Virginia § 15.2-961.B), and they are adopted as part of Arlington’s Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance. The state does not grant Arlington the ability to impose requirements above these minimums.

“The ordinance shall require that the site plan for any subdivision or development include the planting or replacement of trees on the site to the extent that, at 20 years, minimum tree canopies or covers will be provided in areas to be designated in the ordinance, as follows:

  1. Ten percent tree canopy for a site zoned business, commercial, or industrial;
  2. Ten percent tree canopy for a residential site zoned 20 or more units per acre;
  3. Fifteen percent tree canopy for a residential site zoned more than 10 but less than 20 units per acre; and
  4. Twenty percent tree canopy for a residential site zoned 10 units or less per acre.”

Even though Arlington cannot impose more stringent tree conservation or planting requirements, the missing middle housing type building design analysis demonstrates that tree canopy of 20% to 50% on individual lots is achievable, if the builder or a subsequent property owner chooses to exceed the minimum requirement. This is because current setback and lot coverage standards for single-detached houses are proposed to apply to missing middle housing. 

Requiring tree preservation or planting of additional trees is only possible through a special exception development process in which projects are approved by the County Board. While a special exception development process could support tree conservation goals, production of missing middle housing would become less feasible. The result would be continued production of large single-detached replacement homes and continued challenges for Arlington’s tree canopy.

Through the Forestry and Natural Resources Plan, the County will investigate all tools, from regulation to incentives, to realize the tree canopy goals of 40% across Arlington. The capacity of missing middle housing to provide the potential tree canopy of up to 50% on a lot retains the ability to continue to meet that canopy target through conservation of existing trees and planting beyond the regulatory requirements. 

NEW! Would Missing Middle zoning changes result in lower tree canopy requirements for all development in “R” Districts?

No. While development with more than one dwelling unit on a lot would, in most cases, have a 10% or 15% canopy requirement, the tree requirements for single-detached housing on other lots would be the same as they are today.

As described in the response to the previous question on tree canopy requirements, the state does not allow Arlington to impose minimum tree canopy requirements that would be higher than those set by state code. The state’s tree canopy requirements for residential development vary based on the density, measured in dwelling units per acre. This means that a 5,000 square-foot single-detached house might have a higher tree canopy requirement than a building of the same size with more than one dwelling.

The following table indicates what the tree canopy requirement would be for each of the R-5 to R-20 zones, based on a hypothetical number of units on a development site. 

Chart showing tree canopy requirements

While it is not possible under current state code to require tree canopy that exceed the percentages indicated above, amending the Zoning Ordinance to allow for missing middle housing types would not change the current 20% canopy requirement for single-detached development in these zones.

What are the energy and sustainability considerations for the Draft Framework?

The overarching goal of County’s Community Energy Plan is for Arlington to become carbon neutral by 2050. That means that the County will need to reduce energy, and particularly fossil fuel use, in buildings and transportation as much as possible. At the same time, it will be necessary to add renewable energy inside and outside of the County to clean the grid and get to a carbon neutral state.

Individual missing middle housing units would be smaller and typically use less energy, per household, than larger single-detached housing. Single-detached development is 23% of all housing within Arlington but accounts for 36% of residential energy consumption, while multi-family development is 71% of housing and accounts for 47% of residential energy consumption (Arlington County Building Energy Study, 2015). Green building certification programs, such as Earthcraft, Arlington Green Home Choice, ENERGY STAR, or LEED, are voluntary and cannot be required for by-right development in the state of Virginia.  However, many builders working in Arlington County have experience in building energy-efficient homes, which can be constructed for little to no additional cost compared to a code-built home. Energy-efficient homes will also save residents money over the life of the home through reduced energy bills.

The Draft Framework would also allow for adaptive reuse of existing houses into multi-unit houses, which reduces construction waste and consumption of new building materials.

What are the considerations for infrastructure and facilities (e.g. schools, transportation networks)?

Housing and population growth under the draft framework is expected to be modest, and geographically dispersed across nearly half of the County’s land area. This growth can be accommodated with existing infrastructure and regularly planned improvements through the Capital Improvement Plan. Despite significant housing growth in Arlington’s mixed-use corridors, daily traffic on most arterials declined from 1996 to 2019. The lower amount of growth anticipated from missing middle housing is not expected to have an impact on traffic.

Arlington Public Schools projects that the Draft Framework would result in a net increase of 5 to 7 elementary students, 2 middle school students, and 2 to 4 high school students (total 9 to 13 K-12 students) per year. This estimate is based on the consultants’ estimated pace of housing growth applying APS’s Fall 2021 Countywide student generation rates for different housing types (Fall 2021 Enrollment Projections Report, see Attachment C). Because there are very few buildings with 3-8 housing units in Arlington, the student generation rates for market-rate garden apartments and garden condominiums were used for these housing types.

NEW! What are the considerations for water and sanitary sewer infrastructure?

Existing water and sanitary sewer capacity is adequate to accommodate housing and population growth under the draft framework.

Water usage continues to decrease throughout the County despite consistent population growth. This is a result of the gradual replacement of older plumbing fixtures and appliances with newer ones that use significantly less water. Consequently, the County is seeing decreased wastewater flows being conveyed to the Water Pollution Control Plant (WPCP). Additionally, the teardown of older homes provides benefits from a wastewater perspective because many of these homes have foundation drains and other illicit connections (e.g. roof drains) that outfall stormwater into the County's sanitary sewer mains. These older drains and connections are a driving factor in causing overflows and backups during major rain events. 

Furthermore, while missing middle housing growth is expected to be gradual and dispersed across the County, not causing any water/sewer issues, new residential dwelling units are required to pay fees for each fixture that is added to the County's water and sewer network. The County uses these funds to make localized improvements in the event a neighborhood's demand exceeds capacity.

 

How does the Draft Framework relate to the County's equity work?

The Missing Middle Housing Study began with a Research Compendium tying Arlington’s history of zoning regulations to racial disparities that persist today. Equity has been at the core of the study from the very beginning of the study.  In considering the draft framework through an equity lens, the questions from the County’s Board’s equity resolution have been considered. 

Who Benefits?

Beneficiaries of the Draft Framework include households who need smaller housing options (1 to 3 bedrooms), people with disabilities who could need single-level, potentially accessible, housing options,     and households with incomes from $108,000 to $200,000, or higher. New housing types could be attainable to up to 39% of Black or African American households, 39% of Hispanic or Latino households, and 60% of Asian households in the Washington metro area.  Residents in neighborhoods with limited housing options would also benefit, as multiplexes can create new rental opportunities in areas that otherwise would not have them.

Who is Burdened?

The greatest concern about neighborhood change from an equity perspective is the risk of displacement when properties redevelop, and renters are forced to relocate.  However, the Draft Framework is proposed for R-5 to R-20 zones, and rental rates are lower in these areas than Countywide. Fifteen percent of housing in R-5 to R-20 zones is rental, compared to 62% county-wide. As a result, the displacement risk is lower in zoning districts proposed for missing middle housing than in other areas, and renters in these areas are already at risk for displacement from redevelopment that is occurring under current zoning regulations.  Furthermore, if rental properties redevelop in the R-5 to R-20 zones, the Draft Framework would enable multiplexes in areas that currently only allow more costly single-detached housing. The Draft Framework could offer new rental opportunities and greater opportunity for renters to remain in their neighborhood rather than moving elsewhere to find lower cost housing options.

While areas of the County with lower cost duplexes, townhouses, and multifamily housing - and a higher proportion of renters - would not be impacted by the draft framework, the risk of displacement is still a source of concern.  The County is working through other efforts, such as the Multifamily Reinvestment Study, to identify new opportunities for preservation and increased production of affordable units in these areas. 

Who is Missing or Left Out?

While these new housing choices would provide more rungs on the ladder between mid- and high-rise apartments/condos and single-detached houses, , households with incomes below the levels needed to attain new housing types would not directly benefit from new housing produced as a result of the Draft Framework. Other Housing Arlington initiatives are focused on meeting the needs of low- and moderate-income households.  

        
Other
How does the Missing Middle Housing Study fit in with the Plan Langston Boulevard process?

Plan Langston Boulevard will result in a plan for the core study area directly adjacent to the Langston Boulevard corridor.  The Missing Middle Housing Study will result in recommendations and potentially new policies and zoning regulations for areas outside of the Langston Boulevard core study area.  The study team is currently exploring whether Missing Middle Housing Study recommendations should apply to other areas within adopted special planning districts, or if these areas should be excluded from new missing middle housing tools, to ensure that properties within these special planning areas remain encouraged to follow area-specific adopted plans and policies.