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ArlingtonArlington board brings back Columbia Pike zoning tool

Arlington board brings back Columbia Pike zoning tool

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Who says there’s no such thing as reincarnation?

Even though they wondered aloud if it ever would be used, Arlington County Board members on March 23 brought back from the recently deceased a zoning tool giving the owners of two large Columbia Pike apartment complexes incentives to commit the properties to long-term affordability.

Board members voted 5-0 to reinstate a previous policy giving owners of the Barcroft and Fillmore Gardens apartments on the Pike the option to use TDRs – more on what they are in a minute – if they agree, or a future owner does, to renovate the lower-cost apartments and retain them as affordable for at least the next three decades.

Under the proposal, the owners could sell TDRs (transfer of development rights) to other developers or use them themselves.


Say the owners of the complexes agreed to keep 100 of the units as affordable under county guidelines. Under the plan, they would then garner rights to 300 bonus units for parcels in the Columbia Pike corridor or 200 bonus units for parcels elsewhere in Arlington. They could sell those bonus units for cash or use them themselves.

(Any developer who purchased the TDRs would not be guaranteed the ability to apply those extra units on any specific project; County Board approval would still be required.)

Giving the property owners that incentive represents a desire by the county government to ensure the Barcroft and Fillmore Gardens apartments – some of the last major modestly-priced apartment units in the county – are not razed for high-priced development.

The same policy had been in place from 2013 to December 2020, when it lapsed. In all that time, the owners of the complexes (totaling more than 1,500 units) declined to take the county government up on its offer.

“This is a tool, to me, that’s worth keeping on the books,” said County Board member Katie Cristol. At the same time, Cristol acknowledged that it is “a tool we’re keeping around on a wing and a prayer.”

Both the Planning Commission and the Housing Commission supported reinstating the policy, although Housing Commission members voted in support of a five-year duration compared to the open-ended term proposed by staff. A coalition of civic-association presidents in the Pike corridor also backed a five-year sunset clause.

County Board members, however, went with the staff proposal and enacted the measure in perpetuity.

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