Debate Over “Missing Middle” Housing Heats Up In Virginia


Virginia county board chair Katie Cristol (Getty, Arlington County)

Virginia county board chair Katie Cristol (Getty, Arlington County)

A Virginia suburb’s attempt to create housing for the “missing middle” is sparking heated debate among locals.

Arlington residents flooded a public meeting recently to argue for and against a proposal that would end single-family zoning across the affluent suburb, allowing townhouses, duplexes and multi-unit buildings, the Washington Post reported. On Tuesday, county lawmakers will start discussing the draft framework, which was developed after a years-long study that looked at how medium-density homes could expand housing in an increasingly expensive metropolitan area.

“At the end of the day, the question is: Should we legalize forms of housing other than ‘one house on one lot’ in about 80 percent of the county?” County Board Chair Katie Cristol told the outlet.

Residents opposed to the legislation worry greater density would remove the tree canopy, lead to overcrowded schools and roads and ultimately drive up taxes. Advocates say the plan would lower housing prices and better accommodate the growing number of residents in and around the D.C. area.

Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future has urged the county board to delay any formal discussion until a more thorough effort is carried out to measure public opinion and the potential cost to residents.

“The vast majority of homeowners have absolutely no idea that there is such a proposal, and they have absolutely no idea what it might mean for them,” Peter Rousselot, a leader of the group and a condo owner in Virginia Square, told the outlet. An online feedback survey issued by county staff “is not an objective approach to something that is so profoundly different to the way Arlington has developed until now.”

Supporters say there’s no reason for delay. While the draft framework was released a few months ago, it’s part of a broader effort to address the housing shortage that the county has been looking into since fall 2020, said Jane Green, president of the group YIMBYs of Northern Virginia.

“We’re in a housing crisis. We need more homes,” Green, who rents a two-bedroom apartment in the Radnor/Fort Myer Heights neighborhood, told the publication. “So let’s do everything we can to allow more homes that builders want to build.”

Cristol said residents will have additional opportunities to engage with each other and planners before the framework is drafted into an ordinance.

— Victoria Pruitt

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