The End of Single-Family Zoning in Arlington County, Virginia

Arlington County is the latest jurisdiction in the country to effectively end single-family zoning.

2 minute read

March 23, 2023, 9:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Large historic homes and white picket fences line a street.

The Northern Virginia county’s new Missing Middle Housing plan will allow buildings will allow four to six residential units in residential neighborhoods. | lensfield / Shutterstock

Arlington County, Virginia yesterday approved a new missing middle housing plan that will make it easier to build townhouses, duplexes, and small buildings with up to four, even six, residential units on lots previously designated only for single-family detached housing.

“This push to relax zoning rules, first implemented in cities such as Minneapolis and Portland, Ore., marks something of a departure from Arlington’s existing ‘smart growth’ philosophy, which encouraged density along mass-transit lines but generally kept it to a minimum everywhere else,” reports Ted Armus Armus for the Washington Post.

With the County Board vote, Arlington County becomes the first jurisdiction in the D.C. region to end single-family zoning—a form of zoning reform that is becoming more common around the country as locations reverse a century-long preference for sprawling single-family development patterns. The plan will not end single-family development altogether, but it does open up neighborhoods previously restricted to single-family detached housing alone to new forms of development. With the vote, the County Board did adopt amendments to the county’s zoning code and general plan, according to the county website for the Missing Middle Housing Study.

Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey is quoted by Armus crediting the decision to a desire to move beyond the “discriminatory noise” of the county’s previous exclusionary zoning practices. But, housing costs are extremely high in Arlington County. The median home price in Arlington was $645,000 last month, nearly double the national figure, according to Armus.

The county’s new “Expanded Housing Options” (EHOs) take a notable step beyond some of the previous examples of zoning reform from the country, for example in Portland, Oregon; Minneapolis; and Gainesville, allowing up to six units on some lots.

A lot more discussion of the political debate surrounding yesterday’s historic vote are included in the source article, linked below.

The Planetizen archive also presents more historical background on the Missing Middle Housing Study that preceded the vote.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023 in The Washington Post

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