Community meeting

City holds community meeting on zone text change


By Olivia Anderson | [email protected]

The City of Alexandria held a virtual community meeting on May 19 to discuss a proposed zoning text change that would allow developers to build taller buildings with more units in exchange for more low-income housing .

The meeting consisted of a presentation, a question and answer period and a consolidated list of changes since the first community meeting which took place on April 12, such as a proposed limitation of applicability which excludes single family, two family and townhouses . the possibility of requesting a bonus height request.

“I think we have a better proposal, and a lot of that is due to the great contribution [community members] have given us,” said Nancy Williams, deputy director of the planning and zoning department.

Common themes from the previous meeting included requests from the community for clearer representations of the maps presented and the definition of housing affordability and need. The meeting also included conversations about potential impacts to neighborhood character, infrastructure, and historic neighborhoods, as well as questions about how the proposal interfaces with planning and other regulatory guidelines, such as height and historic neighborhoods, small area plans and heights, and Coordinated Development Districts. .

Since the April 12 meeting, two meetings have been held on April 18 – one with the Alexandria Housing Affordability Advisory Committee and one with the NAIOP Commercial Real Estate Development Association.

Staff then made several changes to the proposed order, perhaps the most notable of which explicitly states a limitation of applicability. The zoning change will not apply to single-family, two-family or townhouse dwellings and neighborhoods that are 50 feet or less in height, such as the Old and Historic Old Town District. The change also ensures that areas with multi-family uses may be eligible, subject to all other regulatory considerations and site conditions.

More specifically, an amendment to text 7-703 specifies that “additions in application of this article are not permitted for single-family dwellings, two-family dwellings or townhouses”.

The amended text also states that the height cannot be increased more than 25 feet beyond the maximum height otherwise permitted by the ordinance, provided that “no building located in an area where the maximum permitted height is less than 45 feet in height District where the maximum permitted height is 50 feet or less may be permitted to exceed this height limit.

Essentially, the additional height that may be requested cannot be used to exceed the maximum height limit of any area where the maximum height is 45 feet. For height districts, the additional height that may be requested cannot be used to exceed the maximum height limit of any height district where the maximum height is 50 feet or less.

While a zone is intended to regulate many factors such as land use, bulk and surface regulations including height, height districts are specifically intended to further regulate height only in certain areas of the city. The current proposal is only intended to change how the maximum height limits of certain areas prohibit the ability to request a bonus height.

Karl Moritz, director of the planning and zoning department, pointed out that the height district provisions and language in the existing ordinance do not change in the updated text. This means that the current proposal would not change the rule prohibiting the additional height from being used to exceed the maximum height limit in any height district with a limit of 50 feet or less.

“The language that currently exists is retained, and all changes are area-focused,” Moritz said.

Specifically, the height district provisions, special use permits, the addition of a 25-foot height limit, and the allocation of one-third of the additional units to affordable housing remain unchanged.

At the May 19 presentation, staff presented a new map showing where the zoning change would and would not apply. City planner Patrick Silva said the image came from a community request for a “more succinct and easy to read” representation of the map that clearly outlines the impacts of the proposed update.

Silva explained that areas like Taylor Run, North Ridge/Rosemont, and Old Town currently cannot claim bonus height and will not be able to claim bonuses.

The historic districts, represented on this map, will remain unchanged with the current proposal. (Photo/City of Alexandria)

height in exchange for affordable housing offered by the ordinance.

Areas such as Beauregard, Eisenhower East, and Potomac Yard may currently request additional height and may after the update. Significantly, the map shows that most of Mt. Vernon Avenue, including the heart of the Del Ray neighborhood, would be subject to this zoning change.

Additionally, areas like Alexandria West, Northeast, Fairlington/Bradlee, and Arlandria/Chirilagua currently cannot request additional height, but may after the update.

Silva pointed out that the bonus height ordinance would be assessed on a site-by-site basis, on a case-by-case basis.

“The intent of this proposed update is certainly not to increase the height of every building in these … 25-foot areas,” Silva said. “That’s not the case at all. A lot of this update is really trying to make sure that the neighborhood context and compatibility with surrounding sites is something that would be maintained in cases where the bonus height is used.

Attendees of the May 19 meeting posted questions on an online forum, which staff responded to after the presentation. One person asked how the proposed update would affect the SUP process, to which Williams replied that it didn’t at all.

“Anyone making a request under 7-700, whether it’s 703 B or A, must, I will emphasize, ‘must’ go through a SUP public hearing process,” Williams said.

Another questioned how much affordable housing is currently provided by existing plans.

Tamara Jovovic, housing planner with the Office of Housing, said the city’s affordable housing goals, guided by the Housing Master Plan, are to create new affordability in one-third of housing, or approximately 2,000 units, to 2025.

“We emphasize the word ‘new’ affordability because that includes new construction, as well as preservation,” Jovovic said.

The city is also committed to achieving a regional goal of creating additional market-priced housing and affordable, affordable housing for the workforce. That includes an additional 3,000 total units through 2030, Jovovic said, of which three-quarters, or about 225 units, are either affordable or affordable for labor.

“This is in addition to the goal of our housing master plan, and it seeks to create both engaged affordable rental housing and engaged affordable housing for homeownership,” Jovovic said.

Staff raised concerns about the additional density and traffic the proposed update would bring, with Williams again reiterating that each project will involve a SUP process that assesses all regulatory provisions for the given area.

Williams said the ultimate goal is to keep the community safe for all modes of transportation, a goal that is underscored by the Transportation Master Plan and how it is enforced when processing applications for approvals. discretionary.

One question was: “Since everyone wants to live in Alexandria, especially in the old city, and every developer wants to build here, why can’t the city set a new requirement rather than believing that it could face economic difficulties for developers to provide all bonus densities as affordable units?”

Although the ordinance would authorize an exchange of density bonuses for affordable housing, one-third of the units are reserved as affordable and the rest are at market price, Williams said.

“I just want to make sure people understand that any units created below the bonus height aren’t automatically set aside as affordable,” Williams said. “…I think developers see this as a way to further their mission as developers while helping us achieve our goals for our city by strengthening our communities through stronger housing and broader housing opportunities. … It’s not just economic, it’s more than that.

Yvonne Callahan, former president of the Old Town Citizens Association, expressed concern about the changeable nature of the zoning. She argued that the fact that the zoning could change “really hurts” the city.

“People realize again and again that zoning is subject to the whims of ‘process,’ and we have to have some security as well as some adaptability,” Callahan said. “…I really feel a lot for people who are going to look at this map now and suddenly realize, without ever knowing it until tonight, that they are right next to a zoning category that will allow something up at 75 ft. It will be a shock and it will reverberate throughout the political process.

Towards the end of the meeting, staff thanked participants for their questions and attendance. They encouraged community members to seek out eNews submissions and ask additional questions, as well as bring them to subsequent meetings.

The proposed ordinance is due before the Planning Commission on June 23 and City Council on July 5.