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Alexandria Hopes to Avoid Arlington Missteps on Accessory Dwelling Unit Development

It’s hard to argue that the implementation of accessory dwelling units (ADU) in Arlington was a resounding success, and as Alexandria looks to move forward with implementing its own new ADU policy it is hoping to avoid the mistakes of its northern neighbor.

Tina Stacy, a housing economist at the Urban Institute, said in a meeting on Tuesday that the city is gathering public feedback on hopes or concerns regarding ADUs. So far, there have been 240 responses from Alexandrians. Stacey admitted that conversation right now is largely driven by homeowners in the Seminary Hill area.

“Most of the people who filled out that form live in the 22302 zip code,” Stacey said. “Almost all responses came from homeowners, with only 13 responses from renters.”

Part of the city’s goals for encouraging the development of ADUs is to increase the availability of market-rate affordable housing stock — homes available at affordable prices that aren’t fixed by the city. Most of the feedback, Stacey said, were questions about how the new ADUs would impact neighborhoods, the environment, traffic and parking.

Some of those policies that will shape the ADU impact are still to be determined, but Stacey said the important thing is to keep the laws clear and not to overwhelm potential ADU builders with restrictions.

“In Arlington, only 45 ADUs were developed between 2009 and 2020,” Stacey said, “Just .02% of housing stock.”

For much of that time, however, ADUs were restricted to existing outdoor buildings or converted basements.

Stacey blamed much of that on confusing laws and restrictions. In Arlington, Stacey said ADUs were limited to lots larger than 4,200 square feet and have an owner-occupancy requirement, meaning that the ADUs cannot be rented while the homeowner is away.

Image via Arlington County

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