For the second time in as many weeks, candidates in Arlington’s July 7 County Board special election had an opportunity to offer specific thoughts on the future of residential zoning in the county.
And with the exception of one rather imaginative, if perhaps somewhat impractical, suggestion, the trio reverted to generalities:
• “It is important that we have diversity of housing,” independent Susan Cunningham said at a June 16 forum sponsored by the Arlington County Civic Federation. “We need to give folks choices.”
• “Housing affordability is a critical challenge,” Democrat Takis Karantonis said. “We live in a supply-starved market.”
• “I’d like to see more creative thinking to get us all where we need to be,” Republican Bob Cambridge said.
Those boilerplate-style remarks were in line with similar comments made a week before when the candidates faced off in a Committee of 100 debate. The contenders appear disinclined to take a firm stance on whether Arlington’s previously sacrosanct single-family-zoning districts should be opened up to wider development opportunities in order to increase housing stock.
There was some tiptoeing up to the issue, however. But not much.
“Some zoning changes will be appropriate,” said Karantonis, although he suggested efforts should be focused in Arlington’s more urban Metro corridors and the Lee Highway area.
“We need to allow a bit of change,” acknowledged Cunningham, but cautioned that it needed to be “carefully calibrated.”
Perhaps the only tangible out-of-the-box idea in the discussion came from Cambridge, who suggested that rather than going up toward the heavens, development move in the opposite direction by providing underground living spaces.
“It does sound a little flaky,” the Republican nominee acknowledged, but pointed to Terraset Elementary School in Reston, a 1970s-era facility that is mostly below ground.
Despite the recent takeover of the state legislature by Democrats, Virginia remains largely a property-rights state. As long as property owners do not need changes to the existing zoning on a particular parcel, local governments have only a limited say in the design of new properties.
And because of Arlington’s location, the trajectory of growth is likely to continue ever upward.
“I don’t see us stopping,” Cambridge said. “There’s probably going to be a lot of development.”
“Growth is something that the market and our economy demands,” Karantonis acknowledged, but said the county government deserved praise for its efforts over the past half-century.
“Arlington has one of the best records in the nation in managing growth,” he said. “We are really good at this.”