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Arlington County Civic Federation

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Resolution of Arlington County Civic Federation
On Lot Coverage

Approved by the Federation on October 4, 2005

Whereas the County Board has advertised three proposals to limit lot coverage on single-family home lots in Arlington-the ZORC proposal (Option 1), the County Manager's initial alternative (Option 2), and the County Manager's revised alternative (Option 3); and

Whereas at its April 23rd meeting, the Civic Federation passed a resolution asking the County Board not to adopt either the ZORC proposal (Option 1) or the County Manager's initial alternative (Option 2); and

Whereas at its October 4th meeting that considered the County Manager's revised alternative (Option 3), only 27% of Civic Federation delegates and 29% of all who attended the meeting checked, "I support Option 3" in a written survey;" and

Whereas at its October 4th meeting, a majority of delegates also indicated that it would not be productive to refer the matter back to staff and a community committee to examine how the zoning rules might be changed in a way that takes into account the special characteristics, circumstances, desires, and concerns of individual neighborhoods; and

Whereas Option 3 is responsive to concerns the Civic Federation raised about the current language of the zoning ordinance that describes property owner's rights to rebuild homes if they are destroyed and to expand homes on undersized lots;


    (1) That the Arlington County Board not adopt any of the three lot coverage options that have been advertised.

    (2) The Arlington County Board adopt the revisions to Section 35-A-4 related to rebuilding of destroyed homes and the deletion of Section 35-A-3 related to expansions of homes on undersized lots.

Response from Arlington County Board Chairman Jay Fisette

Arlington County Board

October 31, 2005

Mr. Patrick A. Smaldore, Jr.
Arlington County Civic Federation

Dear Patrick:

On behalf of the County Board, thank you for sharing with us the Arlington County Civic Federation's recently adopted Affordable Housing and Lot Coverage Resolutions. We appreciate the time and effort the Civic Federation has put into studying these two important issues that affect the quality of life of Arlington residents.

As background, at our February 12th meeting, the Board authorized advertising for public hearings on this proposal before the Planning Commission on April 25th and the County Board on May 7th. This action established the limits within which the Board may subsequently act. However, at our May 7th meeting, the Board deferred this matter to the June 6th Commission meeting and June 18th Board meeting. The item was subsequently deferred to the November 7th Planning Commission meeting and the November 15th Board meeting. The Board felt additional time was needed to share more details about the lot coverage proposal with the public and to receive more input from the community. An additional option was brought before the Board on July 9th, and has been advertised for the previously mentioned November 7th and 15th meetings. Since February 2005, staff has been meeting with civic associations; has developed an extensive website on the proposal (visit www.arlingtonva.us, click on Development and under the topic Zoning click on "lot coverage"); has participated in a community-wide forum sponsored by the Civic Federation; and continues to analyze the comments received. More time is needed by staff to complete this analysis and make a recommendation to the Board.

As background, at the direction of the County Board, the ZORC and County staff conducted a study to determine reasonable coverage limits that would protect communities from oversized houses in the future that are out of character for a neighborhood. At the same time, we want to still allow for renovations and appropriately sized new houses for today's market. The Board received two proposals - one from the ZORC and one from the County Manager as described below.

ZORC PROPOSAL: The proposed coverage requirements are on a sliding scale based on the residential zoning category ("R" districts). The current Zoning Ordinance permits 56 percent coverage for one-family residential lots in all five "R" Districts regardless of the minimum required size of the lot. The proposal would reduce the permitted maximum coverage of one-family dwelling lots from the current 56 percent to a sliding scale for the five zoning districts ranging from 45 percent for the "R-5" District to 25 percent for the "R- 20" District. See the above-referenced website for more information on the sliding scale and ways to calculate how the proposal would impact your property.

The major concern heard from residents is how the ZORC proposal will impact existing homeowners. There would be no impact as long as the size (footprint) of a house does not exceed the proposed new maximum coverage limit, though some homeowners could be limited in expanding their homes. This would be the case for those lots that are currently at the proposed new maximum, in which case additions that result in an increased footprint would not be allowed, except for the addition of a front porch or a detached garage in the rear yard. Residences that are currently over the proposed new maximum could not be expanded and would become nonconforming with respect to the new regulations; however, the proposal includes a provision that would allow rebuilding the houses to the current size if the houses are damaged or destroyed by fire or other calamity.

COUNTY MANAGER'S FIRST PROPOSAL: The major difference between the ZORC proposal and the Manager's recommendation is that the Manager proposes to retain the current coverage limits of 56% for existing homes. This means that no existing, conforming home will be made nonconforming by the changes. Existing limitations on expansion or renovation will remain in place unless the expansion meets the revised and more strict definition of "new construction". The new coverage limits proposed by ZORC would then apply, for example, when an existing home is totally razed and a new structure built in its place or a larger addition is made. They would also apply to new construction, such as when oversized lots are subdivided.

COUNTY MANAGER'S SECOND PROPOSAL: This revised proposal sets thresholds for coverage requirements on a sliding scale based on the lot size and not by zoning district. The revised coverage will range from 50% or 2800 square feet, whichever is greater, on lots that are 5,000 to 5,999 square feet to 35% or 8000 square feet, whichever is greater, on lots that are larger than 20,000 square feet. In addition, main building footprint coverage will be 35% on lots that are 5,000 to 5,999 square feet to 20% on lots that are larger than 20,000 square feet. Also, the revised proposal would be applied only to new construction.

Additionally a new, extensive nonconforming provision has been added to the second proposal. The proposed Zoning Ordinance amendments for nonconforming buildings and uses include the following changes in response to comments made by the public over the past several months:

  • To exempt existing one-family dwellings from the current requirement that restricts the size of additions and enlargements to less than fifty (50) percent of the floor area of the existing building when the lot is undersized.

  • To permit reconstruction of one-family dwellings that do not comply with zoning regulations when the existing buildings are demolished or damaged by calamity not intentionally caused by the owner, provided that the reconstruction is made within the footprint and number of stories that existed before it was damaged or destroyed.

  • To permit additions to nonconforming, one-family dwellings as long as the additions comply with all zoning requirements.

Further issues have emerged through the public process discussed above, and staff have worked to address them in the County Manager's most recent proposal. However, the height of new single-family homes, which continues to generate concern in neighborhoods, may need to be reconsidered after decisions are made on lot coverage.

Per your Affordable Housing Resolution, the Board has made a priority of providing adequate affordable housing opportunities while encouraging development and redevelopment in Arlington County. As background, at our May 7, 2005, meeting, the Board adopted the attached charge to establish the Affordable Housing Roundtable to examine affordable housing as applied within the site plan process. Composed of for-profit and non-profit developers, realtors, housing advocates, land use attorneys, a member of the General Assembly, representatives of the Housing, Planning, and Tenant-Landlord Commissions, and County staff, the Roundtable has discussed such issues as on-site versus off- site contributions, by-right building, and the application of various formulas to generate affordable housing.

On July 11th, the Roundtable hosted a Public Forum for the community to learn about the work of the Roundtable and offer ideas or express concerns about the topic of developer contributions to affordable housing through the site plan process. Largely attended, the Forum covered topics that the Roundtable has considered, in both small groups and as a whole, and allowed for attendee comments on those subjects.

At its October 25th meeting, the Roundtable unanimously approved a compromise plan in which developers will partner with Arlington to preserve and create affordable housing throughout the County. The enclosed compromise contains major components, including:

  • Developers will contribute to affordable housing. Larger projects with greater density will contribute proportionately more to the affordable housing effort. Smaller projects (less than 1.0 Floor Area Ratio) are not required to make affordable housing contributions;

  • Specific requirements will streamline approvals. New development will follow specific requirements, thus creating a clear path forward and streamlining the approvals process; and

  • Developers have a choice of four options. Developers must select one of four options to meet affordable housing requirements:

      1. Provide on-site units (5% of increased gross floor area above 1.0 Floor Area Ratio);

      2. Provide off-site units nearby (7.5% of increased gross floor area above 1.0 Floor Area Ratio);

      3. Provide off-site units in Arlington County (10% of increased gross floor area above 1.0 Floor Area Ratio); or

      4. Make a cash contribution to the County's Affordable Housing fund (projects with greater densities make a proportionately greater contribution). Developer contributions have supported many affordable housing projects in Arlington, such as the Gates of Ballston in the Buckingham/Ballston neighborhood.

As you may know, the Board will hold a public hearing on this matter at our December 10, 2005, meeting. Please know that your letter has been made part of the public record for the hearing and will be before us as we deliberate on this matter. We will be certain to keep your comments in mind at that time.

Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with the Board. I have made certain that your comments will be part of the public record when these proposals are before us.

Again, thank you for taking the time to share your resolutions with us.


Jay Fisette


This page was last revised on: October 31, 2005.
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