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Big changes to historic Alexandria housing type headed to Planning Commission

1001 King Street (photo via Google Maps)

An update to one of Alexandria’s oldest housing types is headed to the Planning Commission (item 4) with changes that could make it a little more flexible.

Alexandria is seeking to update its zoning for accessory apartments in commercial zones, that is: housing typically build above commercial spaces as commonly seen in Old Town and other parts of Alexandria.

“The Zoning Ordinance currently allows for ‘Accessory apartments’ across all commercial zones, so the concept of housing above commercial uses is not new, and in fact, dates back hundreds of years,” a staff report said. “Staff found the regulations could allow for more flexibility while staying within the spirit of the Zoning Ordinance.”

According to the staff report, the current ordinance is very prescriptive with a limited number of apartments in each commercial zone. Staff are hoping for a “slight increase” in the number of those units and the location of those units, opening up more housing options for residents.

Some of those suggested changes are:

  • Allow auxiliary dwelling above, below or behind commercial uses
  • Allow up to four auxiliary dwelling units
  • Continue to classify those units as non-residential for some regulation purposes
  • Ground floor dwellings only permitted 50 feet or further from the front wall of the building

According to the report:

Up to four auxiliary dwelling units shall be categorized as nonresidential for the purposes of applying the area and bulk regulations of this zone. Such dwellings shall provide the parking required for a multifamily dwelling unit of equivalent size with the following exceptions: parking spaces may be compact size or tandem; parking shall be located either on the site or within 500 feet of the dwelling. Auxiliary dwellings are allowed behind a first floor commercial use, if the depth of the building is more than 50 feet measured from the front building wall and the building is setback no further than 30 feet from front property line.

Part of the ordinance is a name change that seems deceptively minor. This use is being renamed from “accessory apartments” to “auxiliary dwellings.” That change, though, carries some weight in zoning decisions. In the City code, accessory uses are generally defined as being less than 33% of a building’s principal use or gross floor area.

Photo via Google Maps

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