Bonus Height Amendment §7-703(b)

Why are you concerned about this change?

  • This change would essentially nullify the Mt. Vernon Business Area Plan and disregard the community input which contributed to the guidelines. The one-size-fits-all approach erodes the unique character of Del Ray and makes it so attractive for people to live, work and visit.
  • The City has made no impact analysis of positive or negative effects this change would bring. This isn’t a plan, it’s a guess. During the public meetings, the City could not list what parcels could be affected and did not have a target on the number of affordable units this would create. While this is being proposed to increase the inventory of affordable housing, Hellen McIlvaine, (Director of Housing) and Nancy Williams (Assistant Director of Planning & Zoning), stated on the April 12th community meeting that this change would not have a material impact on the inventory of affordable units in the City. 
  • Our infrastructure is already stressed. Allowing for these changes without FIRST addressing sewer, street, parking and school capacity will exacerbate these issues and harm the health and livability of Del Ray.
  • By prioritizing an arbitrary, non-binding agreement with a regional non-profit over the current residents of Alexandria, Council would be negligent in their duties and misusing their offices to advance an agenda other than that of Alexandrians.

Critical call to action for anyone volunteering or expressing concern:

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What changes are being proposed?

  • Last year, City Council voted to adopt aggressive targets to increase the housing supply in Alexandria as part of the Housing for All Initiative. This has led to changes such as the allowance of Accessory Dwelling Units (detached buildings on a property in which someone could live) and co-dwelling units (a common living space with independent bedrooms).
  • This year – most notably after the election cycle – Planning and Zoning has embarked on a plan to allow for an expansion of a program to allow developers to ask for increased height and density in zones which have height limits below 50’ (Del Ray has a maximum height of 45’). Currently this is allowed only in areas zoned for greater than 50’ in height.
  • The change – §7-703(b) – allows for developers to use a Special Use Permit (SUP) to disregard the height restrictions (a variance) to add an additional 25’ to their building height. This is done in exchange for committing that an equivalent of 1/3 of the additional space by offered as affordable housing (defined as <60% of area mean income (AMI)).
  • The City doesn’t believe this change will add significant inventory of affordable housing. During the April 12th community meeting on changes to §7-703(b), Nancy Williams, the Assistant Director of Planning & Zoning stated: “We don’t necessarily expect that this will generate a large number of [affordable housing] units.” This acknowledgment confirms the purpose of the proposed change by the City isn’t affordable housing.

We need more affordable housing. Why would you oppose affordable housing?

  • We do not oppose affordable housing. We support affordable housing and other development that conforms to the MVABAP. In fact, increasing affordable housing is an important part of the MVABAP.
  • Del Ray has many private apartments and apartment complexes which are “market rate affordable” meaning that the price of the units falls within the definition of affordable. Examples are the Linden at Del Ray, Mason Arms, and Manor House Apartments in addition to the many privately-owned rental units. Del Ray is comprised of incredibly diverse forms of housing: garden apartments, condos, duplexes, multifamily, townhomes, and single family which meet a wide range of budgets and housing style preferences.
  • The new construction in the area has increased rents substantially. Apartments in Potomac Yard start rents about 25% higher than the complexes mentioned above. New construction is building more “luxury” units and bringing with it the associated higher rents.
  • As new construction replaces existing buildings, the proposed change may actually decrease the amount of affordable housing. The City has not commissioned a study on the impact of the proposal on this topic, but note how other recent large scale projects (such as Del Ray Central, DelRay Tower, The Porter Del Ray, and Potomac Yard) have not increased the percentage of affordable housing or decreased market rate prices through increases in inventory, as asserted by proponents of this change.

Isn’t this just another not-in-my-backyard effort?

  • No. The guidelines of the MVABAP have demonstrated the ability to guide region-leading economic growth by retaining our historic character – we want to see this growth continue. The MVABAP was developed by the City with significant resident and business input has worked – let’s not mess it up.
  • We believe that Del Ray is a unique community which is home to residents across the economic spectrum. We advocate that new development and redevelopment needs to keep with the existing pattern of development rather than focus on maximizing profit to retain our diverse housing options.
  • Del Ray became a unique and highly desirable neighborhood through decades of community engagement not from developers and their marketing campaigns.  
  • Also, Potomac Yard is actually Del Ray’s backyard and we do not take a position on that development.

What is a proffer and how is it used in the Special Use Permit to gain an exception to zoning regulations?

  • A proffer is an offer by a landowner during the rezoning process to perform an act or donate money, a product, or services to justify the propriety of a proposed rezoning.
  • A proffer is a way for a developer or property owner to offer something to the City in exchange for the City allowing them an exception (a variance) to the zoning rules. This includes public art, parks, additional storm water mitigation, increasing energy efficiency, etc. Really, it’s whatever the property owner or developer feels will influence Council to perceive the gives are equal to the takes and approve their deviation from zoning guidelines.
  • Let’s compare that with the Merriam-Webster definition of a Bribe: To influence the judgment or conduct of (someone) with or as if with offers of money or favor.

What is Del Ray Citizens Association’s position on this change?

  • The Del Ray Citizens Association (DRCA) opposes the proposed bonus height text amendment (BHTA) as it is not consistent with the Potomac West Small Area Plan (SAP) and the Mount Vernon Avenue Business Area Plan (MVABAP). The DRCA requests that the City reject the proposed text amendment or amend to specify that the MVABAP govern height constraints within the boundaries of the SAP.

Is this the last land use issue we’ll need to deal with?

  • No. All of the hard work residents and businesses have done has paid off by creating an amazing community that people want to live in. This has developers salivating to profit off it. Our mission is to take these zoning issue from the darkness of City process and shine a light on them to drive community engagement to ensure our neighborhood continues it’s pattern of development and history of prosperity.