Editor: Were you home for the holidays? If you are the owner of a single-family house, next year you could have “homes for the holidays” on your lot, thanks to the County Board’s new initiative to explore housing options in Arlington.

Minneapolis, Seattle and Portland all have upzoned over the past year – adding density in single-family neighborhoods –  hoping to produce affordable housing that preserves the environment and promotes diversity. Minneapolis, in fact, eliminated single-family zoning citywide.

Board member Erik Gutshall’s comments that Arlington would not “do Minneapolis” and other hints from officials imply the County Board already has settled into a zoning solution for a problem that has many potential solutions: vouchers, co-ops, inclusionary mandates, federal housing, streamlined permitting, higher wages. Other clues emerge from presentations by the Housing Conservation District Advisory Board and the Alliance for Housing Solutions. They promote zoning changes to permit duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes in single-family residential zones.

Robust development of past years has brought us choked streets, overcrowded schools, impaired infrastructure, severe flooding and reduced air quality. Can we do better?

The “missing middle” proponents ignore the economic reality of the local area. Arlington has strong job in-migration. Economist Michael Storper of UCLA notes housing prices in such areas will keep climbing absent non-market solutions; Amazon will exacerbate this. Missing Middle thus is not likely to promote diversity.

Consider the “mansion flats” that the Alliance for Housing Solutions described at a Committee of 100 meeting recently. This would be the most radical change to the character of Arlington since 2005 zoning rules ushered in the era of McMansions.

Can we reconsider both models – instead of cutting all mature trees and paving over our green space – and still provide affordable housing with modest growth? Can’t we build more apartments and townhomes along transit corridors, or provide low-cost loans to update older garden apartments and homes?

Let us move beyond the builder-inspired growth model of tear-downs, gentrification and cementification.

Anne Bodine, Arlington

(1) comment


I agree with this opinion on the issue of “up-zoning” in Arlington. Erik Gutshall and others on the County Board should be far more transparent as they devise zoning solutions which will significantly impact county residents. Without a successful up-zoning example in other U.S. counties to emulate, Arlington must identify the best solution given our unique challenges. The board should include residents in a conversation of all the potential solutions that may promote affordable housing without further clear cutting of mature trees and construction of giant housing structures with zero green space. Arlington County's developer-driven zoning changes without citizen input must stop.

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