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Alexandria looking to expand co-living options

Living room, photo via Patrick Perkins/Unsplash

At Planning Commission and City Council meetings next month, the city is looking to amend the zoning ordinance to allow for more co-living units to be built.

Co-living units are a type of shared living arrangement where individual bedrooms have shared amenities, like communal kitchens or bathrooms. These are usually rental units, for short or long-term stays. It’s the individual bedroom rented out, rather than the unit as a whole, in a co-living arrangement.

The ordinance change is scheduled for review at the Tuesday, Jan. 4, Planning Commission meeting and the Saturday, Jan. 22, City Council public hearing.

“Co-living living arrangements are known by many different names and take on a variety of forms, but all generally offer individuals who are unrelated a private living space as well as access to a communal kitchen, bathrooms, and living apartment and are usually rental units, offering flexible short or long-term stays,” the city said in a report.

Co-living units are technically allowed, but currently require the developer to get a special use permit, which the city says most decide isn’t worth the hassle.

The new policy would allow residential developments to have two co-living units, with up to three bedrooms each, to be built in medium-high density, mixed-use developments without needing a public hearing or special use permit.

There were concerns though, expressed at a previous Planning Commission meeting, that this change doesn’t go far enough.

“What is the likelihood that in a commercial, high-medium density, mixed-use multi-family zone there would be a project that has only two co-living units?” Planning Commission member Melissa McMahon asked. “[Those zones] tend to have large buildings.”

According to the report, city staff said they felt this limit was the best way to address site-specific impacts that an increase in the scale of development might pose to surrounding communities.

Overall, staff said the goal of the new ordinance is to expand flexibility for housing options in Alexandria.

If adopted this amendment will reduce the current regulatory barriers which limit who may share a household in all commercial, high/medium density residential, multifamily, mixed-use, and office zones. The proposal also gives more unrelated adults the flexibility to live together. Further, proposed changes streamline the approval process for these types of living arrangements to provide the market with greater predictability. Lastly, co-living dwellings have the potential to incrementally increase housing supply while maintaining the established character of the existing community.

Photo via Patrick Perkins/Unsplash

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