Arlington Heights Civic Association
April 16, 2005
The Honorable Jay Fisette
Chairman, Arlington County Board
2100 Clarendon Boulevard, Suite 300
Arlington, VA 22201
Dear Mr. Fisette,
At its February 22, 2005 meeting, the Arlington Heights Civic Association discussed both the Zoning Ordinance Review Committee and the County Manager proposals for restricting the overall lot coverage that would be allowed on home sites in Arlington. At the end of this debate, the Association voted unanimously to oppose these options and any others that would reduce the amount of lot coverage that would be permitted on home sites in Arlington.
The Civic Association’s rationale is as follows:
- Arlington Heights is undergoing a renaissance powered by residents who have been upgrading their mid-1900s properties to accommodate their 2000s lifestyle. Some of these upgrades are new construction, and some are renovations and additions. All of them have been done under the current zoning policies and procedures, and every one of them has improved the neighborhood.
- Without defining what they mean by “overly large,” proponents of these restrictions state that they were drafted to stop the building of more “overly large” infill homes. Upon questioning, county staff states that examples of current “overly large” homes pointed to by proponents could also be built under either of the proposals.
- In response to questions, county staff and others state that the proposed restrictions will have minimal effect on property values, but they never state clearly what the effects will be, so that the citizens can judge for themselves whether or not they are minimal. Several inquiries to County staff have not provided specific and useful information.
- Both proposals codify an assumed countywide preference for certain architectural features over others by awarding bonus coverage for them. For example, the proposals award bonus coverage for detached garages and large porches. The difficulty with this approach is that there has been no public debate in which this supposed consensus could have been reached, and there is no empirical evidence that homes with these features are better homes than similarly priced and sited homes without them.
- Arlington Heights was built in a time when residents had far fewer cars than they have today. On street parking in our area is becoming inadequate. The proposed lot coverage restrictions will make it impossible to provide the necessary off street parking.
- The Zoning Ordinance Review Committee proposal will limit the ability to enlarge an existing home to accommodate a growing family, and it could force people, who would otherwise stay, to move because they need more room. At the same time, the proposal will limit the ability of aged residents to modify their homes with attached garages, ramps, wider walkways, etc., to accommodate their reduced mobility and could force elderly, who would otherwise stay, to move because their existing homes cannot meet their needs. This initiative threatens the stability that is essential to preserving neighborhoods.
- The County manager’s proposal permits current owners to modify their homes within the current guidelines, but holds new property owners to the reduced lot coverage allowance. This has the effect of restricting the market for our home sales to buyers who can be satisfied with the status quo. Such buyers must be confident that they will never have to enlarge their home to accommodate a growing family or to modify it to accommodate their reduced mobility as they age. Intuitively, a large pool of such buyers does not exist.
We do not believe that “overly large” infill development is a problem in Arlington Heights, and we believe that the current proposals would negatively affect both the character and composition of our neighborhood. We believe that awarding bonus lot coverage for certain architectural features, while denying it for others is a mistake, because it legislates personal home style choices that do not substantively affect the quality of life of the County as a whole. We believe that property owners must be able to modify their property as their needs change, and that the current lot coverage allowances can continue to adequately guide those efforts. Lastly, we believe that laws should meet the purpose for which they were written. These proposals will not stop the development that offends their proponents.
President, Arlington Heights Civic Association
Cc: Sun Gazette Newspapers, The Washington Post