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ArlingtonContentious public hearing on Missing Middle set to resume Tuesday

Contentious public hearing on Missing Middle set to resume Tuesday

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Arlington County Board members on Jan. 21 called it quits for the night, pausing public comment on Missing Middle housing/zoning changes for three days.

Board members sat through about 170 speakers given two minutes each to make their case for or against the contentious policy changes. But at that point, as darkness had fallen on a meeting that began at 8:30 a.m., board members called a halt.

About 18 people who had signed up for three-minute speaking slots, and were placed behind the much larger group of two-minute speakers, were still in the queue when proceedings were halted. Their testimony will be heard (if they still desire it to be) on Jan. 24 in the evening.

“We very much appreciate all of you – appreciate your engagement,” County Board Chairman Christian Dorsey said in calling a time-out to the Jan. 21 proceedings. (Those who had signed up for the three-minute slots had been advised hours before that they would be shifted to Tuesday, so they were not left in the lurch.)

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The delay of several days is likely to only postpone the inevitable. Barring a surprise, County Board members on Jan. 24 are likely to set things in motion for adoption of the new policy in March, following what could be an even more bruising public hearing than the one they currently are enduring.

The proposal to effectively do away with single-family zoning in Arlington has emerged as an issue on par with, or even more heated than, the Columbia Pike streetcar fight of a decade ago. But unlike that battle, where enough County Board members caved to public pressure to scuttle the idea, current board members show no indication they are going to pull back on enacting the zoning changes.

Both supporters and critics came out in force.

“I’m encouraged by the thought that has gone into the [staff] proposal,” said Max Hasbrouck, who turned up to back the plan. “The only option we have to lower housing prices is to increase the amount of housing available.”

But Hank Street, a former member and chair of the Planning Commission, said the County Board was turning its back on a covenant with the community going back a half-century.

During that time, the county government has permitted dense development along Metro corridors, allowing many single-family neighborhoods to remain in a largely suburban landscape.

“That principle has been the bedrock [of planning] – and it has worked,” Street said. “This plan won’t work.”

Street also said the proposal was an affront to the likes of Ellen Bozman – the late 24-year member of the County Board whose name now is emblazoned on the government building where the board meets.

Bozman was among the proponents of what became known as the Arlington Way of bottom-up, consensus-building decision-making by county leaders.
On the Missing Middle issue, “there is no consensus, there is no agreement,” Street said.

If the County Board members move forward absent a broader community agreement, the board “just abandons the Arlington Way and announces its premature passing,” he said.

While speakers were using their time, a back-and-forth was taking place on the county government’s YouTube channel where the meeting was being simulcast.

Missing Middle “is being rammed through without a serious consideration of viable alternatives to achieving its purported goals,” typed Jim Schulman. Cecilia Que called the plan a “recipe for disaster – taxpayers will get stuck with the bill while developers will rake in millions.”

Elizabeth Hopkins said Northern Virginia leaders should focus their efforts to address housing by investing in fast, reliable commuter systems, “like most developed countries.”

“Annandale doesn’t have to be an hour car ride away,” she said.

Just exactly how the County Board decides to frame the legal notice of any policy changes will limit the parameters of what eventually can be adopted.

Not surprisingly, most advocates are pushing for a broad advertisement, while opponents (acknowledging they are unlikely to get board members to defer action) are seeking something more narrowly tailored.

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