Arlington County Board members on May 14 gave another unmistakable, albeit indirect, signal of their intent to move forward on housing-policy changes that could end, forever, long-sacrosanct single-family zoning in many local neighborhoods.
County Board member Matt de Ferranti perhaps gave away the game, saying he and his colleagues remain “on course to act by the end of the year” on policy changes, which are sought by some housing activists yet vigorously opposed by those who say they ultimately will prove counterproductive and destructive.
His comment came as advocates on both sides of the issue spoke up during a County Board public-comment session, and just days after the Arlington County Civic Federation voted overwhelmingly to request more time for the public to weigh in on the latest phase of the process.
That request garnered little enthusiasm on the board dais.
“Delaying forever is sometimes just a desire to stop progress,” said de Ferranti (D), the only board member to face the electorate this year but one who, given the Arlington electorate’s devotion to the Democratic sample ballot, is likely at little risk of significant political fallout from critics who contend the County Board is moving too fast into uncharted housing territory.
The Civic Federation proposal was not to delay forever, but to provide extra time over the summer for public and civic-association review. By a vote of 35-4, with one abstention, delegates voted to ask the county government to extend its planned four-week public-comment period on the proposal for several additional months.
“This is a complex initiative – civic associations and other county organizations will require additional time to notify their own members, study the likely consequences . . . and develop a membership response in order to provide meaningful feedback,” noted the resolution.
The current phase of the county government’s Missing Middle study mulls the prospect of scaling back protections on single-family neighborhoods (those zoned R-5, R-6, R-8, R-10 and R-20). Proponents say zoning flexibility in those areas will provide more housing options and reduce the cost of housing in Arlington; opponents said gutting single-family zoning would go against long-standing policy, could damage values of existing homes and, paradoxically, make the cost of housing higher.
The proposal called on county officials to extend the public-comment period to late September, but a number of County Board members said they’d rather get the next step in the process rolling now.
“We have to be listening very, very carefully, and we’re doing that,” board member Takis Karantonis said.
To the widespread belief in the community that the fix is in and that county staff will deliver an activist-driven proposal to be rubber-stamped by board members, “I don’t believe this is true,” Karantonis said.
“The way to specific solutions is still to be struggled on,” he said.
The “Missing Middle” effort began in earnest in 2019, a time when activist groups on a host of issues – including more housing of various types – were supplanting single-family communities both as the loudest voices in community discourse and the voices most often followed by elected officials.
But that doesn’t mean the proposals won’t be fully vetted, County Board Chairman Katie Cristol said.
“We are aware of the gravity of the change that is under consideration,” she said.