The Arlington County government’s Forestry and Natural Resources Commission says some specific staff claims of the positive outcomes of the county government’s proposed Missing Middle housing/zoning changes are “inflated and disingenuous,” while the negative implications are being minimized in a rush to push the proposal through.
The commission, while saying it agrees that a broader range of housing options should be available in Arlington, seems to be joining a growing chorus that the proposed zoning alterations should be phased in over time, to see what works and what doesn’t, before being implemented throughout Arlington’s single-family neighborhoods.
“We worry that staff did not examine opportunities to concentrate Missing Middle housing redevelopment along transit corridors, which would reduce potential traffic and parking issues, or to redevelop older single-story commercial property on transit routes,” the commission’s chair, Phil Klingelhofer, said in a June 23 letter to County Board members.
The commission “doesn’t support the rush to change zoning rules countywide in ways that can’t easily be undone, when all alternatives have not yet apparently been considered, and when concrete policies to protect our natural environment and urban forest have not yet been developed,” the letter noted, asking that County Board members extend the public-comment period and undertake a more robust community conversation.
The Missing Middle proposal calls for effectively eliminating single-family zoning in most residential areas of the county. Supporters say it will provide a wider array of home choices and lower costs; opponents say it’s a giveaway to developers, will overwhelm the county’s infrastructure and is unlikely to do much to address housing costs.
The commission’s most laser-like concern expressed in the letter was that Arlington’s tree canopy will decline under any adopted Missing Middle plan, since state-mandated minimum tree-canopy-coverage percentages are less for multi-family lots than for single-family ones.
“That’s a prescription for accelerating the current alarming loss of trees on private property in the county, which is reducing quality of life and increasing urban-heat-island effects, energy bills, stormwater flooding, and geographical and social inequities,” Klingelhofer’s letter said.
Proponents of the Missing Middle zoning changes say they will have negligible impacts to neighborhoods, because the footprint of the new housing (be it two, four, six or eight units) would not be allowed to be larger than that currently permitted for single-family homes in any given neighborhood. Critics of the proposal shoot back that very few single-family homes in Arlington come close to the maximum lot coverage, while developers would have financial incentives to take it to the limit when putting multiple units on a single lot.