Accessory Dwelling Units - Letter from Walter Tejada

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Arlington County Board
February 11, 2008

Ms. Juliet D. Hiznay

Dear Ms. Hiznay:

        Thank you for your letter regarding the topic of permitting accessory dwelling units (often referred to as "ADs" or "ADUs") in Arlington.  I read your thoughts and I will keep your comments in mind as this proposal comes before the Board later this year. 

    The current effort to consider amending the zoning ordinance to permit ADs began in July 2005 when the AD Subcommittee of Arlington's Housing Commission was formed to study the issue and make recommendations.  The Subcommittee included several Housing Commission members as well as other citizen volunteers.  Their report, which recommends the adoption of an AD ordinance, was released in January 2008 and can be found on the County's website at:  I am also attaching a copy of the one page summary for your information.

        The interest in looking into an AD policy in Arlington has come from many quarters as housing costs have risen and the availability of affordable housing in Arlington has significantly diminished over the years.  Many elderly homeowners, for example, do not wish to leave the neighborhoods in which they have spent most of their lives, but have found it difficult or impractical to sustain a house that was originally sized for the family they raised.  Such residents believe they might benefit if they could either rent out an accessory unit or, alternatively, they might choose to live in the accessory unit themselves, and rent out the main house to a family.  Some seniors would like the option to have their care giver on-site. The Elder Readiness Task Force Report which was completed in late 2006 supported, in fact requested, such a change.  A copy of that report can be found at:        

        In addition, ADs can provide a housing option for young adults.  There are homeowners whose children are college-age students, and who are concerned about the limited options that their kids may face in trying to return to live in the community in which they grew up.  As is true for people of all ages, many young adults enjoy the quality of life that Arlington has to offer, but can not afford to live independently in our community on entry-level salaries.        

        It is important to note that, as with any potential change to the Zoning Ordinance, there are many steps to be taken before the County Board takes any action.  On January 31st, the County Board held a work session with the Housing Commission and the AD Subcommittee to learn more about their report.  At that meeting we directed the County Manager to review the report and provide us with his professional recommendation by May.  We also directed him to conduct an extensive public process to proactively solicit feedback from a wide variety of community stakeholders, including face-to-face presentations/discussions with civic associations and other groups when requested.        

        Once the County Board receives a recommendation from the County Manager, we would follow the normal process of advertising the proposed action, vetting the proposal through our standing advisory commissions - such as the Planning, Transportation and Housing Commissions (which are all open to the public).  Ultimately, a public hearing would be conducted by the County Board when we consider the County Manager's final recommendation.  Board Members will certainly want to have the benefit of all the input we can prior to formal action.         

        As you read the Subcommittee's report it is clear that there are many areas for discussion and refinement to provide the parameters and protections needed to ensure that any AD program is effective.  For example, we must ensure that any code changes are enforceable.  The Subcommittee report would require permits "to ensure that building code, zoning, and parking requirements are met" and that there would be a requirement for owner-occupancy and occupancy limits. These, and others, are all parameters and conditions that need to be fully explored.         

        Again, thanks for your feedback on this important issue facing the Board.  I am hopeful that we will find a way to carefully and effectively design an AD ordinance that meets several community needs and has broad community support.         

        J. Walter Tejada

Attachment:  Accessory Dwelling Report Executive Summary