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Alexandria hopes cutting parking requirements can boost city’s auxiliary dwellings

The City of Alexandria is considering increasing the number of auxiliary dwellings allowed in commercial buildings and nixing the parking requirements for most of them.

One of the biggest behind-the-scenes projects at City Hall has been an effort to make auxiliary dwellings — formerly accessory dwellings, we’ll get into that later — more viable in Alexandria.

The goal is to provide a boost to market-rate affordable housing which has been in freefall in Alexandria for years. A staff report indicated that there were areas for greater flexibility within the zoning ordinance, including changes to parking requirements for the units.

“Currently, the Zoning Ordinance prescribes a very limited number of ‘Accessory apartments’ in each commercial zone,” the report said, “however; staff believes a slight increase in the number of those units and the location of those units within a structure could lead to a greater number of units and housing options for residents.”

The city has been working on codifying residential dwellings in commercial spaces — one of the oldest housing types in the city — and adjusting that language to “auxiliary dwelling” rather than “accessory dwelling” to avoid confusing overlap with other “accessory” zoning uses.

One of the obstacles to creating auxiliary units has been parking requirements, which the staff report are said on ratios meant for fully-residential developments.

“Currently, parking requirements for ‘accessory apartments’ are based on multi-family parking ratios,” the report said. “In many areas of the city, multi-family parking requirements disincentivize the creation of ‘Auxiliary dwelling units’ due to a lack of available land to meet the parking ratios. Additionally, parking increases the cost of housing, leading to higher housing costs. ”

The staff report said many of the auxiliary apartments are located on dense commercial corridors, like along King Street, which have frequent transit services. The staff report proposed that auxiliary dwellings that are within places classified as “enhanced transit areas” will not require parking.

According to a map in the staff report, though, areas of the city listed as an “enhanced transit area” covers much of the city. Commercial zoning is marked in red, meaning auxiliary dwellings in the red blocks within the larger grey zones are the ones that would have no parking requirement.

Map outlining enhanced transit areas in gray with commercial areas in red (image via City of Alexandria)

“Because most of the ‘Auxiliary dwellings’ will be located within the Enhanced Transit Area and require two or less parking spaces, parking would often not be required,” the report said. “Given this, staff is proposing to not require parking for any square footage dedicated to ‘Auxiliary dwellings’ within the Enhanced Transit Area.”

The report said eliminating the parking requirement would both reduce the cost of creating the unit and would, in theory, draw residents that do not own cars and would rely on transit, walking and other modes of transportation.

The changes are scheduled for review at the Planning Commission (item 2) on Thursday, June 23.

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