Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Slow Down on ADUs

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Slow Down on ADUs

Dear Mayor Wilson, Vice Mayor Bennett-Parker and Members of the City Council:

The Alexandria Federation of Civic Associations (AFCA) is compelled to address policy being drafted by the Department of Planning and Zoning for City Council's consideration that will make accessory dwelling units (ADUs) a by-right use for single-family parcels. AFCA understands that ADUs take many forms, some of which our member associations might be inclined to support. Still, such a consequential policy, which so significantly affects the residents of Alexandria, merits thorough, rather than limited, public engagement. It is inopportune for the City to consider such a sweeping policy change amid a pandemic that so severely impacts the health and livelihood of many Alexandrians. We note that the survey responses represent a tiny percentage of city residents. Given the extraordinary financial and time demands that citizens face during this pandemic, we are concerned that the tiny response rate may reflect citizens' inability to focus on this issue, not silent assent. We encourage the City to take a more measured approach, preferably postponing any action until post-pandemic normalcy is restored. This would give citizens and neighborhood organizations a fair opportunity to provide thorough and meaningful input, including through in-person meetings. The artificially expedited deadline staff and Council are now pursuing is inappropriate for such a fundamental change to our city.

While AFCA is not advocating a position for or against ADUs at this time, our members have raised numerous concerns. These include ADU qualification definitions; adjoined versus separate structures; sufficiency of setback restrictions; compliance with underlying zoning; occupancy and parking provisions; short- and long-term rental policies; property rights of neighbors; and, most particularly, regulatory enforcement. Above all, the demand signal for ADUs warrants further clarification.

Absent a compelling reason to enact this policy immediately, we recommend taking a pause to facilitate thorough public participation. Accordingly, AFCA requests that the City Council not act on any proposed ADU zoning changes until such time as the public is able to engage fully and collaboratively. At a minimum, the city should publish its proposed ADU policy in its entirety and allow at least 60 days for public comment. We appreciate your consideration and look forward to working with Council and Staff towards a reasonable, inclusive, and equitable ADU policy development process.

Bryan Kirkes

Pete Benavage