It’s an uphill battle, but those who oppose planned Missing Middle housing changes – or just want the process slowed down to allow for clarification and refinement – rallied Jan. 8 to press their case.
The goal of presenting an “honest and factual conversation” stood in contrast to the county government’s questionable statements and moving of goalposts, said Julie Lee, president of the Glencarlyn Civic Association.
“Over and over, county officials have said this is not an across-the-board upzoning – but that’s exactly where we are,” said Lee, part of a coalition of 16 civic-association presidents who have been meeting with county leaders on the issue.
Missing Middle aims to largely overhaul the century-old Arlington zoning map; some advocates have pressed for a wholesale elimination of single-family zoning and allowing as many as eight units to be shoehorned on lots that currently permit one.
Supporters say the change will help rectify past ills and increase availability of housing options; critics say it is a ready-fire-aim approach that lacks nuance or an understanding of the real-world implications.
The Jan. 8 event was sponsored by two advocacy groups, Arlingtonians for Upzoning Transparency and Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future, and brought out speakers that included several former Planning Commission members, experts in real estate and economics, and a former County Board member, John Vihstadt.
Vihstadt said he hoped County Board members would “get right with the people and resolve to engage,” but fears there are enough votes on the five-member body to ram through changes regardless of community pushback.
He also said board members and staff had embarked in a “very deliberate way” to “divide and conquer” on the way to a final vote.
The theme of a lack of transparency among county officials permeated the meeting.
“We had to resort to state law to compel them to release data,” said Jon Ware, a consumer-protection attorney and member of Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future. He was speaking of Virginia Freedom of Information Act requests that had to be filed to compel release of information.
Ware ran through concerns of opponents: Missing Middle implementation countywide will reduce diversity, raise home prices and taxes, overwhelm parking availability, harm tree canopy and turn neighborhoods that currently largely are owner-occupied into a sea of rentals.
Critics of the Missing Middle proposal held the rally in advance of an expected action by County Board members on Jan. 21 that will start the clock running on adoption of a final plan, perhaps by mid-March.
The Jan. 8 event drew a crowd numbering in the hundreds. “We’re thrilled with the number of people who are here,” Lee said.
The Missing Middle plan dominated the 2022 Arlington County Board election campaign. Independent candidate Audrey Clement, who ran a race focused on stopping the proposal, received less than 30 percent of the vote, while incumbent Democrat Matt de Ferranti (who is supportive of Missing Middle but continues to play coy about how much of it he will support) garnered 60 percent and independent Adam Theo (who wants the county government to implement an aggressive Missing Middle policy) won 10 percent.
The lone bright spot for Missing Middle opponents in the election was that Clement defeated de Ferranti in a number of single-family North Arlington neighborhoods, marking a rare time a Democrat has lost any precincts in recent County Board races. But perhaps nothing less than a Clement upset countywide would have applied the brakes on the proposal.
Vihstadt, who four years ago was defeated by de Ferranti, noted that two incumbent County Board members (Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey) were in the last year of their second four-year terms and are not planning on running again.
“They won’t be around to reap what they have sown,” he told forum attendees. “You will. Let’s marshal our forces to stop the rush.”