Alexandria neighbors debate over proposed zoning policies to create more affordable housing

Residents in Alexandria are gathering at a city meeting tonight to address possible new zoning policies that ignited a heated debate just next door in Arlington. 

The Zoning for Housing Fall kick-off meeting began at 6 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Carlyle just off Eisenhower Avenue in Alexandria. 

The city itself is just 15 square miles and is home to about 155,000 residents, according to the latest census estimate. That makes it the densest city in the Commonwealth. 

White people make up close to 60% and Black people account for just over 20%. The city is looking at new zoning policies to take aim at those numbers, create more affordable housing and knock down barriers to equitable housing access. problem is that not everyone is on board with how to do that.

"We're not Arlington. We're not Fairfax. We have a good mix of housing, all of which could be more affordable," said Roy Byrd with the Coalition for Livable Alexandria. "We don't have a lot of land left to be built. So we're concerned about things like density." 

Just next door, Arlington approved its "Missing Middle" housing proposal in March after months of fierce debate. Arlington residents were concerned that more multifamily structures replacing single-family homes would burden city services like schools, parking, and green space. 

FOX 5 heard the same concerns in Alexandria.

The city's Housing for All plan estimates 15,000 low to mid-income Alexandria renters spend more than 30% of their income on housing and about half of them are acutely burdened spending over 50% of income to have a place to live. 

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So does Arlington's approval mean Alexandria's proposed zoning changes are a foregone conclusion? 

"I certainly hope not. The city is binding nine proposals into one and reviewing those with the community in 2.5 months," said Bill Rossello, president of the Seminary Hill Association. 

Luca Gattoni-Celli who works with YIMBYs (Yes, In My Backyard) of Northern Virginia, a group that pushed for missing middle housing in Arlington. 

"It was helpful that something passed and it passed unanimously. I definitely think there was a sense that Alexandria was waiting to see what would happen," Gattoni-Celli said.

He wants to see the same for his home in Alexandria where he admits he had to have help from his dad to afford his place.

"If we don't fix it, it's going to get really ugly and it's going to get really hard, particularly for young people and older people trying to downsize to live here. My vision for success in Alexandria is a city where firefighters, teachers, police officers, people who work at hospitals, people who are really the essential workers, where they can live here," Gattoni-Celli said. 

But not everyone agrees that Alexandria should be the model for new zoning policies.

"Twenty-five to 33% of our land is dedicated to single family. In Arlington, it's 73%," Rossello said.  "And the taxes are killing them. That's another part of affordability we don't talk about but the city actually has a big part of affordability right within its own control."