A Virginia City is planning to zone for (not against) housing

1 min read
September 8, 2023
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On Tuesday, Alexandria, Virginia’s city planners proposed scrapping single-family-only zoning by this fall. This follows a trend in urban planning gathering steam and resistance nationwide.

Why it matters: The move is part of Alexandria’s “Zoning for Housing” initiative — a push to tackle soaring housing prices by increasing supply. The median single-family house in this Northern Virginia city recently went for about $851k, a sharp rise compared to prior decades.

Details: The most debated item? Allowing constructions with up to four units in traditionally single-home neighborhoods.

Recommendations include dropping off-street parking rules for residential buildings near Metro stations and rapid bus transits, affecting not just single-family zones but also townhouse-dominated areas like the historic Old Town.

The bigger picture: Alexandria seems to be taking a page from the Arlington County playbook. After a fiery debate, Arlington adopted a “missing middle” policy, greenlighting buildings with up to six units in residential zones.

But, but, but: Not everyone’s on board. Coalition for a Livable Alexandria rallied outside City Hall, suggesting the initiative might be rushed and doubting its efficacy in reducing housing costs.

On the other side, Advocates like Peter Sutherland of the urbanist group YIMBYs of Northern Virginia argue for a more aggressive approach given the skyrocketing housing costs.

What’s next: City planners have presented two choices for the single-family areas:

  • Recommended: Buildings with up to four units throughout.
  • Buildings with up to two units in most areas and “fourplexes” in areas with smaller lots.

For parking, either:

  • Eliminate off-street parking requirements near public transit.
  • Reduce requirements, particularly closer to transit hubs.

By the numbers: Expectations are tempered. If approved, these zoning changes will lead to the redevelopment of roughly 66 properties, introducing an additional 150-178 units over the next decade.

One last thing: The push for revising zoning is also about addressing the city’s legacy of residential segregation and fostering affordability. Other changes in the pipeline target converting vacant office buildings into affordable housing units and nixing restrictions on units per acre.

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