Planning Defers on Affordable Housing

Planning Defers on Affordable Housing

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Due to changes in state law, coupled with recent legal decisions, an amendment of Alexandria's zoning ordinance to regulate affordable housing options applicable to developers was under consideration by the city Planning Commission at its October meeting. It was deferred due to lack of data available to the commission.

Until this past session of Virginia's General Assembly, Alexandria, like many municipal governments, gave developers the option of either setting aside a certain number of units in a proposed development for affordable housing or paying an established amount into an affordable housing trust fund based on square footage of the development. In Alexandria that amounted to $2 per square foot.

In December 2004, a court ruling on the issue of "voluntary" affordable housing contributions found the so-called "voluntary" contribution did not meet the definition of "voluntary," even though the contribution was made as part of Arlington's "discretionary site plan."

Then the state legislature introduced legislation that would imposed an 18-month moratorium on the "ability of local governments to receive developer contributions for affordable housing, except pursuant to an ordinance granting bonus density in exchange for such contributions," according to the Planning and Zoning Department's staff report to the commission.

The moratorium bill was withdrawn "when Alexandria agreed to accept developer contributions only where they were voluntarily offered, except in instances where such contributions are provided in exchange for bonus density," staff reported to the commission. Thus, the proposed amendment.

As staff noted, "The Zoning Ordinance has for many years allowed a bonus of increased density or height in a development which committed to include affordable housing units on site." The proposed text amendment would do several things to modernize the affordable housing bonus provisions, according to staff.

* It modifies and modernizes the definition of affordability so that units contributed are in line with other city affordable housing programs.

* It specifies that the number of affordable units required in the event a bonus is approved is one-third the number of units made possible by the bonus granted.

* Affordable units may be located on a site other than the development site.

* The bonus provision would retain the need for a Special Use Permit with added language "to address the concern expressed for additional density or height in inappropriate places."

During the discussion, Mildrilyn Davis, director, Alexandria Housing Administration, told the commission, "Due to the action of the General Assembly the purpose of the amendment is to quantify the level of affordable housing within a development. In some cases it would be desirable to allow developers to provide affordable housing units off site."

Commissioner H. Stewart Dunn Jr., asked Davis, "Was there a cost benefit study done to arrive at the one-third recommendation?" The answer was that it came from the developers.

"It seems we are paying a big price for minimal results. I am not comfortable with this," Dunn said.

Planning Commission chairman Eric Wagner asked if the city had done an economic analysis before recommending the text amendment. Mark Jinks, assistant city manager, Fiscal and Financial Affairs, stated that "a great deal of analysis had been done" and could be provided to the commission. With that the vote on the amendment was deferred until the November meeting.

In other actions, the commission:

* Approved the subdivision of 1226 N. Pegram St. into five lots along with a site plan for four single family homes. The 3.24 acre site now contains only one single family home. The proposed new lots will range in size from 20,004 square feet to 21,159 square feet. This is "comparable to adjoining R-20 lots," according to the staff report.

* Approved a Special Use Permit to operate a convenience store with alcoholic beverages within a residential building at 1201 Braddock Lane, based on the qualification that there would be no access to the store from the street. The site is developed with a 183-unit high-rise apartment building. Access to the property is from Braddock Place.

* Approved extended hours and the sale of liquor at an existing restaurant at 907 King St. owned by Lek's Family, Inc. Present hours are 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Newly approved hours will be 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday.