[Sun Gazette editorials represent the viewpoint of Sun Gazette Newspapers, which provides content to, but is otherwise unaffiliated with, InsideNoVa or Rappahannock Media LLC.]

Those who live in Arlington’s single-family neighborhoods traditionally have dominated the direction of local governance. They are the ones who have controlled the selection of local officials and then, through activism, ensured public policy proceeds the way they desire.

But if Arlington’s 2019 election season taught us anything, it was that – given enough cash to barrage apartment-dwellers with campaign mailers of questionable veracity – it’s possible to sway those folks (who often have short-term interests in a community they do not plan to live in forever) to get out and vote in races that previously had been of purely local import.

Anyone think that, absent the hundreds of thousands thrown in by the Soros brigade, Parisa Dehghani-Tafti would have defeated Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos in June? Even given all that moolah to sway the urban-village corridor, Tafti’s victory was relatively narrow.

(Which brings to mind the purported mantra Joseph Kennedy imparted to his bagmen when he was spreading cash around West Virginia in 1960 so his son John could win the Democratic presidential primary. Don’t go overboard with the largess, Papa Joe reputedly said. I just want him to win; I don’t need to buy him a landslide.)

The result of last June, unseemly though it may have been to many of us, may reverberate in one of the next big issues facing the county’s power structure: the upcoming battle between retention of inviolable single-family zoning and the desire of some to see Arlington vastly expand its housing opportunities through more zoning creativity.

The battle currently is being fought out in places like the Committee of 100 and the Arlington County Civic Federation via verbal jousting, but the rubber will not meet the road until County Board members (current or future) decide to address the issue, one way or another.

The best way to describe the current County Board would be “cautious” – they seem (appropriately) too skittish to enact major revisions to turn zoning into a free-for-all (although there was some movement in that direction earlier this month, with revisions to existing zoning rules). Yet that very wariness to go too far, too fast, might embolden interest groups to anoint new candidates and thrust them into office via well-heeled campaign spending.

The 2019 election season changed the way politics is conducted in Arlington. The impact will be felt in many areas, some of them as yet unknowable. But be prepared: The “woke” culture that was swayed to enact purported criminal-justice reform will be gunning for others – perhaps even single-family neighborhoods – next.

(1) comment


I was at the Committee of 100 meeting in November where Michelle McDonough Winters, Executive Director of the Alliance for Housing Solutions, made a presentation on solving the housing affordability problem the county calls “the missing middle,” as in housing for middle income individuals and families unable to afford the McMansions going up in Arlington. One of her prospective solutions was a “fourplex”—a nice looking building given the graphic she put up on the screen-- which could be built in a single-family zoned neighborhood. The presumption is that instead of building a $2.6 million McMansion, a builder buying an existing $700,000 home would turn that into four, single family dwelling units, each of those units being “affordable” to, for example, a millennial family.

Ms. Williams simply proposed the concept. She did not answer any of the many critical questions about either the viability or suitability of a fourplex.

1-What makes anyone think that a developer building a fourplex in walking distance of the East Falls Church metro, for example, would sell those units for $2.6 million (that was the price for the new home built next to mine three years ago) divided by 4, or $650,000? Is a $650,000 tiny house an attractive option for a family? Would that single-family townhome or condo even have as low as a $650,000 price tag? Probably not. The developer is going to “tart” it up so that he can sell it for more than the $2.6 million he could get for a new single-family McMansion. So let’s assume for argument’s sake that each of those units would go for a minimum of $800,000. Is that “affordable” for most of the young people now living in Clarendon condos?

2-What guarantees that the owners of these new, four single-family condos don’t use them as investment vehicles, renting them out on Airbnb?

3-Even if four families buy those four units, what if each has two cars? Where are they going to be park? Is the developer going to clear cut the backyard, cement it over and build a parking lot? Or are those cars going to be parked in front of my house?

4-What about the addition to neighborhood traffic. The strip of Sycamore street heading from the Williamsburg strip shopping center to Lee Highway, a one-lane street recently reduced, for some crazy reason from two lanes, is already a nightmare as 10-car strings amble slowly, often behind construction trucks, toward Lee Highway and the East Falls Church Metro. God forbid they are navigating the traffic circle between 8-9 am on a workday. The stack-up there is unbelievable already.

5-I don’t even want to think about the implications for the Arlington sewer systems.

I have an idea. Why doesn’t the county offer some sort of incentive to baby boomers living in $700,000 homes who are retiring to Florida or wherever? Instead of selling their homes for quick cash to a McMansion builder, maybe the county can incentivize those baby boomers to sell their $700,000 homes for $700,000 to someone from the “missing middle.”

Steve Barlas

3560 N. Nottingham St.

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