The next step in Arlington’s contentious “Missing Middle” housing-cum-zoning proposal arrives next Tuesday, when County Board members hold a work session with staff to guide efforts on the issue over the coming months.
The meeting, slated for July 12 at 3 p.m. in the board room at 2100 Clarendon Blvd., is open to the public, but there will be no public testimony taken.
Critics of the proposed policy change fear the County Board (soon to embark on its summer recess) will give staff direction at the meeting that will make approval and implementation of the zoning change almost a sure bet. At least one County Board member has publicly pronounced he hopes to have the policy in place by the end of the year, and other board members seem to be of the same mindset.
The proposal – advocated for by housing and civil-rights activists – effectively would end single-family zoning in many Arlington neighborhoods that have had it in place for more than a century. Depending on how the policy changes play out, as many as eight properties might be able to be shoehorned onto existing lots where one property previously had stood.
The community seems to be awakening to the implications of the change, and some are voicing increasing unhappiness. But with one-party rule in Arlington and a majority of board members seemingly on board with changes, it appears unlikely that its implementation could be significantly delayed, let alone derailed.
In a presentation to the Arlington County Civic Federation last month, county housing staff attempted to paint concerns about the implications of changes as overblown.
The number of lots where such changes would take place would be minimal, they contended, and the footprint of multiple units on a single property would be no larger than what currently is allowed for single-family homes. Those who are mobilizing against the policy simply rolled their eyes.
(County staff largely have declined to attend meetings of civic associations in individual neighborhoods to discuss the proposal, citing staff shortages and other reasons.)
County Board members have kept a tight leash on public discourse, declining to host public hearings on the matter until fall and forcing those who wish to speak on the topic at public-comment periods of board meeting to sit down. Critics say it’s another longstanding Arlington government tactic – keep public comment bottled up until a major change is too far along for anything or anyone to stop it.
The Missing Middle issue is likely to be a major one in the upcoming County Board race, where Democratic incumbent Matt de Ferranti is being challenged by independents Adam Theo and Audrey Clement. But neither challenger is likely to have either the campaign cash or have built a community base to force voters to pay much heed, and with two opponents vying for the limited attention span of voters and splitting whatever anti-Democratic vote might remain in the county, de Ferranti is unlikely to face a significant hurdle to re-election.