They tried and they tried, but in the end, Arlington County Board members Christian Dorsey and Katie Cristol were unable to convince their three colleagues to move forward on more aggressive implementation options for the controversial Missing Middle housing initiative.
“I’m deeply disappointed,” Dorsey said on Jan. 25 as board members voted to advertise, for a public hearing and potential adoption in March, a slightly downscaled plan from incarnations that previously had been on the table.
“It’s going to limit our ability to craft what is the best way to move forward,” Dorsey said, though in the end he (and Cristol) put aside their concerns and joined board members Libby Garvey, Takis Karantonis and Matt de Ferranti in advertising the pared-back proposal.
Doing so limits, at least for the present, how far the County Board can go in its plans to effectively end single-family zoning throughout Arlington.
But it’s only a question of degree: County Board members, for instance, advertised a proposal that would allow up to six dwellings on a single-family lot, not the maximum of eight that some others had sought. There also were other limits aimed at easing some fears in the community that the proposal was too much, too soon, and failed to consider real-world implications of actions.
“We have been listeninh to people and doing our best to respond to make this as good a proposal as we can,” said Garvey.
She framed that as a good thing, but Cristol was not so sure. She pronounced herself disappointed that the advertised proposal seemed to “chase public opinion rather than effect the best policy.”
The board was “moving forward with timidity,” said Cristol, who like Dorsey apparently was not irked enough to vote against moving the proposal forward.
(This year likely marks the last on the County Board for both Cristol and Dorsey, who were elected in tandem in 2015 and have served two four-year terms. Neither is expected to seek re-election.)
The County Board’s decision came after nearly 200 people spoke, on all sides of the issue, at public hearings held Jan. 21 and 24. A public hearing also will be required at the March meeting.
Dorsey said it now was key for the county government to clearly spell out what the advertised proposal does (and does not) contain, so that “everyone who has an interest, a stake and a desire to engage on this issue . . . understands what has been done.”
“People can begin to think about the options that are now on the table,” he said.
The board’s vote on the advertisement could be taken as a partial victory for each side in a community debate that seems ready to eclipse even the Columbia Pike streetcar battle of a decade ago in its intensity.
Backers of policy shifts say they will bring more housing options to Arlington and, apparently, atone for past racial discrimination. Critics point to concerns about the impact on community infrastructure, say the measure is a giveaway to developers and will send taxes through the roof, and contend Missing Middle breaks a long-held covenant between the Arlington government and homeowners that has seen density aggregated in Metro corridors, leaving other areas in a more suburban condition.
Proponents of a full-throttle Missing Middle policy came away with probably 75 percent of what they were seeking, while opponents saw some of what they perceived as the most egregious portions of the proposal scaled back.
In the end, there’s little doubt this County Board is intent on implementing some form of a Missing Middle policy in coming months. Garvey, however, said the community conversation needed to be as robust going forward as it had been for the preceding year.
“There’s a whole conversation that needs to happen,” she said. “What we do next is going to be really important.”
And for supporters of a more aggressive approach to zoning changes, any actions taken in 2023 may not be the final word.
“I hope that we can do better,” Cristol said.