The Civic Federation rejected the County Manager’s revised lot-coverage proposal last week, which would restrict the amount of land new homes could be constructed on, and called for the county to retain the status quo.
The Civic Federation had previously rebuffed the two other lot-coverage options the County Board will vote on during its Nov. 15 meeting, and 68 percent of the association representatives voted last Tuesday against recommending that the board adopt the newest proposal.
Supporters of more restrictive laws believe they will make it less attractive for people to tear down existing houses and build sprawling “McMansions,” which dwarf adjacent homes and alter the character of Arlington’s neighborhoods.
Others worry more stringent lot-coverage requirements would drive down the price of land in the county and prevent people from expanding their houses as they so choose.
“This has gone on for eight years now and there never has been any clear consensus as [to] what to do,” said Wayne Kubicki, representing the Arlington County Taxpayers Association, in an interview after the Civic Federation held its monthly meeting at the Virginia Hospital Center. “Even the ‘Arlington Way’ has to have an end at some point.”
The latest proposal, dubbed “Option Three,” would apply only to new construction and not to existing homes, as long as the new construction retains more than 50 percent of a structure’s outer walls. The maximum size allowed for a new house would be calculated on a sliding scale, with individuals able to build on 56 percent of the land on lots smaller than 5,000 feet, and 2,800 square feet, or 50 percent of the lot area, for parcels between 5,000 and 6,000 feet.
“This won’t have a great impact or be overly limiting and provides for reasonable expansion of existing houses,” said Bob Brosnan, Arlington’s planning director.
In 2001 the County Board directed the now-defunct Zoning Ordinance Review Committee (ZORC) of the Planning Commission to “analyze options to control the impacts of new residential development on one-family residential neighborhoods.” The ZORC proposal, or “Option One,” would have applied to all additions to existing homes and was deferred by the county board.
The County Manager proposed a second option earlier this year that was more limited in scope, but that was rejected by the Civic Federation for being too constraining and also deferred by County Board.
John Antonelli, president of the Columbia Heights Civic Association, said the County Board should reject all three lot-coverage proposals and not seek a fourth compromise on the issue.
“It’s a bit like Dracula,” Antonelli said. “Someone needs to take a wooden stake to its heart. We brought the stake and hammer and I hope the board has the good sense to use them.”
NOT ALL REPRESENTATIVES at the Civic Federation were pleased with organization’s support of preserving the status quo. Hans Bauman, president of the Waycroft-Woodlawn civic association, believes the county needs to implement new measures that will limit development. He is irked that a developer recently bought a house in his neighborhood for $950,000 and then razed the structure in order to build two $1.6 million homes on the same property.
“Arlington has a unique character that needs to be preserved,” Bauman said. “These larger, more expensive homes are driving diversity out of the county because fewer people can afford to live here now.”
If the county does not take action soon, neighborhoods may be forced to employ their own tactics to control house sizes, Bauman said.
The county cannot legislate poor taste or unsightly design and many of the community’s concerns deal with the height of houses, which is out of the realm of lot-coverage proposals, Kubicki said.
The community is split down the middle on the issue, making it difficult to forge a compromise, said County Board Chairman Jay Fisette.
“Half of the community is outraged by bad residential in-fills and the bulk of new homes,” Fisette said. “The other half is anxious that any changes will limit their ability to add to their homes.”
Fisette said he has yet to decide how he will vote on Nov. 15, but believes board members now possess enough information on all three options to make a definitive decision next month.