The latest entrant into the Arlington County Board election sweepstakes thinks the public should have its say prior to implementation of sweeping changes to county housing and zoning policy.
Candidate Natalie Roy said Jan. 26 that if County Board members enact Missing Middle housing changes in the spring as currently anticipated, the public should be asked to authorize the changes in a November referendum.
“This issue warrants taking the pulse of the entire community, to see if this is truly the direction Arlington County wants to go,” Roy said in a statement as part of a rollout of her housing-policy views. “Without support from the community, we will not achieve the vital goals of creating more affordability and diversity.”
In Virginia, getting an advisory referendum of this type on the ballot is complicated at best, impossible at worst. Arlington residents in the past have been asked to weigh in on whether they wanted to create a public-housing authority (voters consistently voted “no”) but the power to hold that referendum is embedded in the Code of Virginia.
The incumbent County Board is unlikely to want to see the measure go to the public, but they could do it in the form of a bond referendum, asking voters to approve some of the potential capital costs for implementing a Missing Middle policy. Any decision rendered by voters wouldn’t bind the County Board, but it would give a good sense of the public’s view on the matter.
That’s a route that could have been taken 15 years ago by supporters of the Columbia Pike streetcar proposal. Had funding for the project been placed on the ballot early in the development stage, it most likely would have passed easily and the transit system would be whooshing up and down the Pike today.
Backers of the streetcar project, those on the County Board on down, opted against that roll of the dice. And as the project’s planning rolled on (and costs ballooned), opposition grew until, in 2014, county officials abandoned the idea altogether.
County Board members on Jan. 25 voted to advertise, for a March public hearing, changes to zoning and land-use regulations that would implement the Missing Middle housing strategy. That strategy aims to effectively replace single-family zoning with a wider array of options that might lead to multiple homes (as many as six in some cases) on what today are one-home lots.
Supporters say the proposal will increase housing diversity and provide more people the chance to live in Arlington. Opponents charge that the changes will stress existing infrastructure while doing nothing to bring down housing costs for those of low and middle incomes.
In her Jan. 26 policy statement, Roy – a local real-estate professional – said she believes that those involved in the Missing Middle debate, on all sides, are participating in good faith. But, she said, it may be appropriate for a time-out.
“We now need to ‘lower the temperature’ of the debate and recognize that sharing ideas is a good thing and should be encouraged,” she said. “That is what makes Arlington great. It is known as the Arlington Way.”
Roy in mid-January announced plans to seek the Democratic nomination for the two County Board seats on the November ballot. (Incumbents Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey are not expected to seek re-election.) The party will select its nominees in a June primary.
Three aspirants – J.D. Spain Sr., Jonathan Dromgoole and Maureen Coffey – already have formally kicked off their campaigns in front of the Arlington County Democratic Committee. Roy and Tony Weaver are expected to do so at the body’s Feb. 1 meeting.