A Six Story Apartment Building Coming to Your Neighborhood

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, April 17, 2021.

Here are remarks excerpted from a message to the Board from Suzanne Sundburg:

Staff proposal to amend Articles 12 and 15 of the Arlington County Zoning Ordinance  essentially doubles the maximum permitted building height, which functions as an analogue for doubling the maximum allowable density of existing properties. This doubling of height/density provides a powerful incentive to raze existing buildings.

“Razing existing market-rate affordable housing units (MARKs) will accelerate the displacement of existing lower and middle-income residents—something that staff and the board are, paradoxically, already decrying. Staff has made no cogent public argument as to how incentivizing the loss of remaining MARKs would provide a public benefit. Nor has staff offered any binding, anti-displacement regulatory protections to prevent existing county residents from being displaced by these zoning changes/developer incentives.

“Essentially, staff’s proposal eviscerates the “conservation” component of the Housing Conservation District program. These zoning changes/developer incentives combined with the board’s prior action to eliminate (rather than to tweak) the Multifamily Rehabilitation Partial Property Tax Exemption in 2020 leaves property owners with no incentive to rehabilitate existing MARKs while providing substantial incentives to raze and replace existing buildings.

“With a much higher cost basis, the newly created housing will require heavy subsidies to make units “affordable” to those earning 60% of AMI or less. Staff has identified no new, dedicated revenue stream to subsidize the rents for these costly new “affordable” units for those earning 60% (or less) of AMI.

“In Conclusion, Staff’s proposal lacks sufficient research and provides little or no reasonable rationale for the excessive nature of the bonus height/developer incentives that staff is pushing. Most civic associations have little understanding of the impact that a doubling of height and density would have on current residents, and most probably don’t even realize that these zoning districts lie within their own borders.

“There are other, less radical solutions to remedy the very limited number of potential redevelopments of multifamily sites in these zoning districts while staff is completing its larger multifamily study. I urge the Arlington County Board to return this proposal to staff for additional work and modifications to address the concerns I’ve noted above.”