Arlington residents facing controversial housing fight over zoning

Arlington is a majority-white, Democratic stronghold in the D.C. suburbs, and its residents are gearing up for a controversial political fight over land.

Download the FOX 5 DC News App for Local Breaking News and Weather

Housing is expensive and prices are only going up. If you live in Arlington, there are essentially two options for housing: a single-family standalone home or a unit in an apartment building.

Now, the county board's Missing Middle Housing proposal would change the zoning rules to allow any home sitting on land that's zoned for single families to allow smaller types of multifamily housing like duplexes, triplexes and even up to 8-plexes.

The county board estimates three-fourths of residential land in Arlington is single-family housing. The goal is to create more housing availability that's more affordable to renters and new residents, making Arlington more diverse and inclusive.

It also aims to reduce the impact of zoning ordinances from the early 20th century that reinforced racial and class-based segregation.

"This proposal wouldn't take anything away from anyone," says Luca Gattoni-Celli from the organization Yes In My Back Yard of Northern Virginia. "It's basically just saying we don't oppose McMansions. We don't think they are evil, but I think the problem with the status quo is nothing else is allowed to be built basically. And so our position is that people should have diverse housing choices and have opportunities that they otherwise wouldn't."

READ MORE: WWII soldier identified after 78 years to be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery

However, a growing group of residents has two problems. The first is that the final framework for the proposal just came out in May, aiming for a final vote in December. Some residents say they haven't had a meaningful opportunity to give feedback.

The second is that they're opposed to the proposal's potential impact on the community, citing already overcrowded schools, the risk of losing tree cover and displacing senior citizens.

Some who oppose the plan question if officials are just looking to cash in on more tax revenue.

"Yeah, we want more diversity of people, we want more diversity of homes. But they're pushing this thing through very quickly and there's all these side effects like we don't want to displace our seniors," says resident Jason Harrier. "There's a lot of older folks who live around me that complain to me constantly, ‘Did you see what the county did to my taxes?’"

A spokesperson for the board says the plan would add 1,500 residents over 10 years, averaging 150 people per year. In schools, that would mean adding 9 to 13 students per year, a number they believe most schools can accommodate. 


The spokesperson also says the board will host 11 community meetings in September or October where people can provide their feedback, and that edits to the zoning regulations would still be possible during and after those meetings.