What is Zoning for Housing?
Zoning for Housing is the name of the City’s push to change the composition of the City without the structured community engagement and feedback process involved with updating Small Area Plans or the Master Plan. In 2022 the City approached several components as single topics. The components which passed as independent topics include: Accessory Dwelling Units Policy, Auxiliary Dwellings Policy, and Co-Living Policy.
In June 2023 the Planning Commission voted to defer the Bonus Height Text Amendment (BHTA) which would have allowed for a 50% increase in allowable height along Mt. Vernon Ave. This deferral was largely due to the work the Save Del Ray did to inform and educate our neighbors as to the impacts to commercial and residential structures throughout Del Ray including the increased likelihood of eliminating our market rate affordable housing along Mt. Vernon Ave., Glendale Ave., and Commonwealth Ave. The Planning Commission agreed that the City had not answered basic questions about the impact of the BHTA. At the June 2022 Planning Commission, Planning & Zoning Staff was asked to provide answers to the following questions:
- A study of the number of units to be produced without the BHTA
- A study of the number of units to be produced with the BHTA
- To review both of the above with an additional 25′ of height, with an additional 15′ of height and with a 50′ height limit
- To review and document the displacement effect for existing market rate affordable housing
- To review the potential impact on historic structures
Rather than answering the community concerns, City Council directed Staff to bundle all the proposed components into a single package which is set to come back before Council on November 28th, 2023.
How will Zoning for Housing Affect Del Ray?
Of the components of Zoning for Housing, Bonus Height Text Amendment (BHTA) is the only component for which we have a proposal from the City. The City intends to deliver the draft proposals on September 5th at Joint Planning Commission/ City Council Work Session.
Here’s what we know about BHTA and what we are concerned about in the other components:
Bonus Height Text Amendment – Could incentivize the demolition of commercial buildings along Mt Vernon Ave and residential buildings throughout Del Ray by permitting buildings 50% taller than currently allowed. Preservation Virginia and the Historic Alexandria Foundation both cited these incentives as posing a significant risk to our historic core. Incentivizing redevelopment of our existing garden style apartments would bring increased rents, displacing existing residents.
Expanding Housing Opportunities in Single Family Zones – While this has been promoted as expanding options throughout Alexandria, proponents of upzoning are generally critical of the value of single family homes. City Staff went as far as to characterize single family homes as “an inefficient use of land” during the Z4H sessions this spring. In the last session, the City stated that considerations for reducing parking requirements, allowing a larger structure than is currently allowed (higher Floor Area Ratio (FAR)) and allowing current structures to be subdivided may be included in this component. While Del Ray has a robust variety of housing types, not addressing the impact of additional parking, stressed wastewater infrastructure and overcrowded schools is irresponsible.
Expansion of Transit Oriented Development (TOD) – TOD has the potential to be one of the most impactful changes. While TOD could be a fantastic way to locate or isolate density to areas which are directly adjacent to mass transit, the definition of transit expand the scope to unintended areas. If the City defines TOD to include locations served by busses not just Metro stations, this could allow for density to be placed in areas which are not actually transit hubs. Rather than additional density around the Potomac Yard Metro, categorizing frequent bus schedules could be another incentive to overdevelop areas whos infrastructure cannot support the density. We question if it would allow for increased density and parking reductions for lots near Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) such as the 0.7 mile route along Rt. 1 (a/k/a the Ghost Bus lanes). We would also like to understand how TOD could be layered for even more density and even less parking to support our businesses.
Residential Multi-family (RMF) Zone Analysis – An RMF could bring special zoning to parcels which would allow for extra density and other concessions beyond what is currently allowed. The City has celebrated The Heritage project in South Old Town despite that project being stalled for months leaving a ghost town where people once lived. Like TOD, this could be a powerful tool in areas of the City like Eisenhower corridor but could be detrimental if added to sites like the Walgreens parcel on Mt. Vernon Ave.