Alexandria housing zoning is approved by the Planning Authority

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Zoning for Housing, a massive zoning reform proposal, will head to the Alexandria City Council after approval by the Planning Commission on Wednesday.

Although the Planning Commission unanimously approved several housing zoning reforms, the parking elements of the townhome zoning and single-family home zoning reforms were approved by a 5-2 vote. A motion to remove the term “family” in zoning ordinance definitions was approved by a vote of 5-2.


The Alexandria Housing Zoning Initiative was launched in 2019. The goals of the initiative are to expand access to new housing, expand affordability, and expand housing options in terms of price points, types and tenure.

The Washington Metropolitan Government Council estimates that an additional 75,000 units will be needed throughout the metropolitan area from 2020 to 2030 to meet housing needs in addition to the 240,000 units expected to be built. In March 2020, the City Council passed a housing goal, including Alexandria’s own goal of creating an additional 3,000 units on top of the 8,000 units already projected in the 10-year period.

Amid the demand for more housing, there is also a need for affordable housing. According to a city staff report, US Census data shows that nearly 20 percent of Alexandria’s 80,000 households with incomes of $75,000 are burdened. Of the additional 3,000 units Alexandria needs to achieve its housing goal over 10 years, it is recommended that 75 percent (2,250 units) be affordable to low- and middle-income families.

The Planning Commission’s action came after a plethora of public speakers for and against zoning for housing components. Before the approval, Alexandria Planning Commission Chairman Nathan Macek noted the importance of listening to people who have been “excluded from the city” because of access to housing. He noted that his child’s teachers at Naomi Brooks Elementary School in Alexandria live in Reston and St. Mary’s counties, Maryland. But none of these teachers work in Alexandria public schools anymore due to moving from places where they can afford to live.

“I think we have a precedent here, and I think this is an important step to give people those options, but I don’t think this is something to be afraid of,” Macek said. “It’s not about eliminating single-family homes, it’s about improving what we allow to be built in those parts of the city.”

There are two public City Council hearings at 7pm on November 14 and 9:30am on November 18 before the final City Council vote on November 28. Public comments will be accepted at the Nov. 14 and 18 meetings but not City Council action on Nov. 28.

What is included in the housing zoning proposal

Since housing zoning began in 2019, three reforms have already been approved — accessory dwelling units, co-living units, and assisted living units.

There are eight main components of a zoning proposal for new housing related to single-family home zoning, townhome zoning, multifamily residential zoning, historic development patterns, coordinated development and affordable housing zoning, office-to-residential conversion, industrial zoning, and transit-oriented development.

Item Nine – Additional height changes that allow for additional density while providing affordable housing – is not recommended for approval. The city found that additional height would not help redevelopment in areas of 45 to 50 feet.

Single-family home areas

The types of housing units allowed in single-family home zones may change. The proposal recommended by city staff would add opportunity for two- and three- to four-unit dwellings in the R20, R12, R8, R5 and R2 R2-5 single-family zones. These single-family areas make up 34 percent of the city’s total land area. Under the proposed zoning, the city expects 66 new apartment buildings with 178 units to be developed over a decade.
The second option, which staff does not recommend, is to allow two-unit dwellings in R20, R12, R8 and R5 zones and three- to four-unit dwellings in R2 R2-5 zones. This could produce an estimated 66 buildings with 150 units over a decade.
The estimated increase of students in the school system over a decade with this option is 15.

As for parking requirements, the option recommended by staff is no minimum parking required in an “enhanced transit zone” and 0.5 spaces per dwelling unit elsewhere. The other option is 0.5 spaces per housing unit in the “Enhanced Transit Area” and 1 parking space per housing unit elsewhere. Current parking requirements are two spaces per dwelling unit for single-family detached homes, two-family homes and condominiums or townhome dwellings. Requirements for multi-family units depend on the number of bedrooms and proximity to transportation.

Townhouse division

Recommendations for townhomes focus on lot requirements, setbacks and open space. Quantity requirements may vary depending on location and how similar the portion sizes are. For example, townhouse, bulk, and open space requirements in the RM area have been proposed for old townhouses in areas designated for townhouses.

Side yard setback requirements would be eliminated for lots that are 25 or less wide, while all home lots and residential uses in commercial zones would have a 35 percent open space requirement.
Off-street parking requirements will be eliminated for one- and two-unit units or townhouse units within the enhanced transit zone, while one space per dwelling unit will be required for homes outside the enhanced transit zone.

Multi-family residential areas

The city recommends a policy that supports multifamily residential areas in areas planned for medium or high density development and “other specified locations where the proposed development is compatible with adjacent development and consistent with city policies.” The proposals would still need to go through the same required city approvals.

More flexibility is recommended for ground floor uses and permitted uses that typically require special use permits. Uses such as restaurants, medical care facilities, and fitness studios currently require special use permits in multifamily residential districts but are usually straightforward in other zoning districts.

Patterns of historical development

The city is proposing to remove limits on residential units per acre in multifamily zones to allow for smaller, less expensive units. Additionally, the City proposes to remove zone transition setback requirements when proposing commercial buildings adjacent to residential areas and implement proposed residential zoning recommendations.

Areas of coordinated development and affordable housing

The city seeks to increase affordable housing in landscaped development areas, which are planned areas such as Potomac Yard, Eisenhower East and Landmark Mall. The proposal calls for a standard of one-third additional density in the Coordinated Development District to make housing affordable. City Council policy is recommended to affirm the additional density of one-third to the affordable housing standards in coordinated development areas.

Office for residential transfers

The city has seen a trend of office conversations to residential conversations with examples such as Oronoco, the Foundry, and Park Center. The City recommends continuing to work with developers to support office building conversions permitted under the current zoning code. The city will be encouraged to support the conversion of older buildings but not office buildings that are still competitive. It is proposed to establish a City Council policy to encourage increased residential density for affordable housing, as well as green building conversion standards and a review of the voluntary contribution policy for affordable housing.

Industrial areas

According to the city, much of the city’s industrial park is already planned for mixed-use development, including plans for the Eisenhower West District and the Landmark Van Dorn mini-park. About 2.3 percent of the city is zoned industrial zones.

To this end, the city recommends adding location and building standards to the industrial park so that new buildings are compatible with potential future development at the residential and pedestrian levels.

Expand transit-oriented development

Locating high-density development near transportation has already been a goal for the city. That’s why the city sees an opportunity to land undeveloped or low-density plots of land near metro stations. The city advises looking into undeveloped or low-density land near the King Street Metro, reviewing the Braddock Metro neighborhood’s requirements for non-residential development, and enhancing transportation. – Targeted levels of affordable housing development in the Duke Street Corridor Plan and the West Alexandria Small Area Plan, and a study of removing parking requirements for affordable housing within a half-mile of a subway station.

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