Poll: What do you think of the new Zoning for Housing/Housing for All proposals?

Alexandria house in the fall (staff photo by Kalina Newman)

The Zoning for Housing/Housing for All proposals were finally unveiled last night and opinions have been decidedly mixed.

The plan focuses on incremental changes in zoning policy that weren’t quite as ambitious as some hoped and others feared.

The zoning changes could create more housing in industrial zones, reduce parking requirements for housing, and allow multiple residences to be built in single-family zoning.

While a similar change sparked widespread community discussion in Arlington, in Alexandria, city staff noted that the plan does not include recommendations to change lot frontage, square footage, or other restrictions to construction — making the change likely to have a less dramatic impact than might initially be supposed.

City leaders offered tepid support for the proposals and praise for the effort that went into the project. At the same time, Planning Commission Vice Chair Melissa McMahon and others expressed concern that the changes didn’t go far enough.

“I’m a tiny bit underwhelmed,” said McMahon. “That’s not a criticism, it’s more a sense of existential disappointment that the challenges we face are so large… we’re still barely moving the needle. I want to put that on the table because that’s my heartfelt reaction.”

McMahon wasn’t alone. Advocacy group YIMBYs of Northern Virginia released a statement sharing concerns that the incremental changes would be insufficient to address the city’s housing shortage.

“While our grassroots organization’s members welcome the recommendations discussed tonight, they also share the concern expressed by multiple City Council members and Planning Commissioners that these incremental proposed changes would be insufficient to address the scale of our city’s housing shortage and affordability crisis,” the organization said in a release. “We look forward to advocating for their expansion.”

At the same time, the group said they supported the reforms as a critical first step.

“Alexandria is a wonderful city, but it has become prohibitively expensive as demand for living here outpaces the supply of homes available,” said Peter Sutherland, an Alexandria Lead for
YIMBYs of Northern Virginia. “These reforms are a critical first step toward ensuring Alexandria’s future as an affordable, sustainable, and welcoming community.”

But while some advocated for the city to go further, others had previously shared concerns that the planned zoning changes could go too far. Last Tuesday, a rally led by a group called The Coalition for a Livable Alexandria gathered a crowd of supporters outside City Hall to argue against potential increases in density.

“Residents who have a different viewpoint, residents who have concerns, residents who ask tough questions are not the enemy,” said Coalition Chair Roy Byrd at the rally. “We just want to make sure we do it in the best way possible and that we work together.”

The Coalition for a Livable Alexandria could not be reached for comment.

Some at the meeting last night said the proposals struck the right balance between the status quo for zoning and significant changes.

“I have a naturally conservative attitude to fixing what isn’t broken,” said Planning Commissioner David Brown said. “This is not a radical proposal, and they would tell you maybe it’s not radical enough. My sense is this is an incremental proposal… The work is not done. There’s going to be more to do. Your approach here has been oriented toward the nuts and bolts and I think it will be fairly easy to put together the statutory language to implement this.”