Drawing flak from both sides, the lone incumbent County Board member on the Nov. 8 ballot attempted to hew a middle-of-the-road path on Arlington’s contentious Missing Middle housing debate during the opening event of the community’s two-month election sprint.
Matt de Ferranti, a Democrat who is seeking to hold the seat he won four years ago, positioned himself in between challengers Adam Theo (who wants more housing variety than even de Ferranti is willing to support) and Audrey Clement (who opposes Missing Middle as a “scheme” to enrich developers while forcing out poorer residents).
The trio faced off at the Sept. 6 Arlington County Civic Federation debate, a traditional kickoff of campaign season in Arlington.
Proving that it’s often easier to be a challenger than an incumbent, de Ferranti seemed to get rattled about 20 minutes into the event, as his challengers lobbed criticism of the County Board’s policies on housing and other topics.
De Ferranti acknowledged that critics are right when they say “we have not done sufficient outreach [on Missing Middle] to this point,” but promised he at least would keep an open mind as the process moves toward an expected December elimination of single-family zoning throughout much of the community.
“I’ll have a phone call or come to your house or meet virtually,” the incumbent said, reaching out to those who have lingering concerns.
Clement ripped into community-engagement efforts as “woefully inadequate” and derided de Ferranti’s contention that online forums on the matter shouldn’t be made available to the broader public as “truly laughable.” She said that, if elected, “I would first halt the current process,” albeit offering no inkling of how she would get two other County Board members to go along with her.
Theo said that while the Missing Middle concept is “very good,” the process to date is “kinda crappy, isn’t it?”
Proponents of the Missing Middle zoning changes contend they will have negligible negative impacts on the quality of life in neighborhoods, because the footprint of the new housing (be it two, four, six or eight units) would not be allowed to be larger than that currently permitted for single-family homes in any given neighborhood.
Critics of the proposal shoot back that very few single-family homes in Arlington come close to the allowable maximum lot coverage. Developers, by contrast, would have financial incentives to take it to the limit when putting multiple units on a single lot, critics say.
At the forum, which ran about 40 minutes, Theo criticized de Ferranti for ruling out including six-plexes and eight-plexes on current lots. De Ferranti, working to thread the needle among an electorate increasingly polarized on the issue, retorted that he’d only offered opposition to eight-plexes.
Asked if there shouldn’t be a community referendum on the matter, all three candidates seemed to agree that, in Virginia, such things are not possible.
“The only option is to vote the bums out,” said Clement, who is making another in a long succession of runs for public office.
Clement proposed moving forward with the repurposing of office buildings to residential use, which both of her opponents said was not necessarily broadly feasible but did not dismiss entirely. Panelists also sparred over recent upzoning in the Pentagon City area.
Not all were enamored of the night’s often singular focus on Missing Middle and development. Michael Beer, a delegate from Maywood, said it was “really embarrassing” to have such a single focus, as he got in a late-in-the-debate question about climate issues.