Arlington Officials Approve Missing Middle Proposal, Targeting Single-Family Zoning

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After a lengthy and highly charged process, Arlington County planning officials passed the Missing Middle Housing proposal, a revised upzoning plan that would essentially undo the county’s single-family zoning.

The Arlington Planning Commission voted 8-0 to recommend option 2A, which would allow the by-right development of two- to six-unit buildings on lots currently zoned for single-family homes. Other options had different rules on sizing and number of units, and different minimum site area standards. 

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The 2A option will counteract the exclusionary housing policies that have been in place and increase the supply of affordable homes, the commission noted. It would offer options to people looking to buy a smaller, more moderately priced home rather than the expensive, large single-family homes that have become the norm throughout the county.

“We want to provide affordable homes for essential workers and the most vulnerable members of our community,” Natalie Roy, a candidate for the Arlington County Board, said in a prepared statement. “We also welcome and embrace diversity in our neighborhoods. What many of us do not embrace is the board’s current sweeping, haphazard housing approach that has no clearly stated goals or guardrails against unintended consequences.” 

It’s expected that the County Board will approve the proposal March 21 after holding a final public hearing on March 18.

A number of residents — most notably the Arlingtonians for Upzoning Transparency — have opposed the Missing Middle proposal, claiming it would lead to developers tearing down single-family homes to build duplexes, townhomes and apartment complexes. But the Planning Commission believed it was in best interest for Arlington. 

“This has been a multiyear process,” Devanshi Patel, Planning Commission chair, said at the meeting. “Staff has labored on this for many, many, many years, and many, many, many hundreds of hours have been put into this process, including lots of hours by this commission itself.”

Arlington’s tortuous process is illustrative of the wider resistance to changes to single-family zoning, which has dominated American cities and suburbs for the better part of a century. 

Two other recommendations by the commission that passed concerned the creation of a design guidebook with conceptual designs for expanded housing option conversions and new construction, and a future study of ways to tackle policy concerns such as the proliferation of oversize dwellings, including single-family homes nicknamed “McMansions.” 

Keith Loria can be reached at Kloria@commercialobserver.com.