Activists who attended the Arlington County Board’s Jan. 22 meeting pressing for quicker action on upzoning residential areas came away with what were almost obligatory words of encouragement, but no firm commitments, from board members.
At the board meeting, activist J.P. Rike called on board members to move forward on changing zoning laws to permit development of two to six units on those lots currently zoned for single-family housing,
Rike said board members should skip upcoming phases on the government’s “Missing Middle” housing study and move forward immediately.
“Let’s get this done now,” he said.
On another front, activist Mike Imbesi pressed county leaders to “significantly upzone all the stuff that’s around Metro stations” to permit taller and more dense development.
“It allows you to house more people; it is significantly better for the environment,” said Imbesi, who moved to the county two years ago.
Although their ultimate support for those concepts seems likely to those reading the political tea leaves, whether County Board members have any intention of moving faster remains an open question. The board’s 2022 chair, Katie Cristol, thanked the speakers for coming but gave no indication she and her colleagues would be heeding their advice, at least in the short term.
“We’ll be continuing the discussion,” she said.
County Board member Libby Garvey said proposals from what she called “the radical middle” of the political spectrum were always worthy of consideration.
For decades, the idea of single-family zoning in Arlington remained sacrosanct and untouched by political leaders fearful of alienating power groups in those neighborhoods. But in recent years, the local political center of gravity seems to have shifted to housing advocates, who envision the ability to shoehorn more housing onto single-family lots as a solution to housing-affordability issues.
Critics scoff at that notion, and push back that the infrastructure costs to the county government – on matters ranging from transportation to schools to watershed-management – by significantly upzoning single-family communities could bankrupt the county government while also damaging home prices among those already living here.