How Virginia Counties Use Zoning to Stifle Development

Some state legislators are proposing action at the state level as counties block development using zoning and development requirements even as housing prices rise sharply in the region.

Read Time: 2 minutes

January 23, 2023, 5:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Writing in the Virginia Mercury, Wyatt Gordon explains how some Virginia counties are making it more difficult to build new housing, despite the recent spike in home prices and low supply.

While single-family zoning gets the most press for keeping housing costs high, Gordon points out that “Setback requirements, lot coverage guidelines, minimum lot sizes and even inclusionary zoning standards can all be manipulated to make new development nigh but impossible.”

Gordon explains a state rule that requires growing counties to allow ‘cluster subdivisions,’ a type of development that allows for denser housing types and requires the conservation of green space. To limit the impact of the rule, some counties are raising the conservation requirement, making development economically infeasible in many cases and preventing the growth of higher-density housing that could make homeownership accessible for more households. “With land a limited resource, each anti-density policy localities institute increases the amount of land needed to produce a single housing unit and thus raises the price on Virginians seeking long-term shelter.”

One state delegate with experience in land use law suggested that a statewide set of rules and toolkit could help promote more housing development and prevent communities from blocking new housing. No proposals currently in the state legislature address or limit local control over zoning, but HJ 507 “directs the Virginia Housing Commission to study how revisions to the state code could ‘streamline and enhance predictability in local development review processes and alleviate the effects of local policies or ordinances that contribute to increased housing costs and constrain the supply of affordable and workforce housing.’”

Wednesday, January 18, 2023 in The Virginia Mercury

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