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Del Ray accessory dwelling unit proposal raises concerns about short-term rentals

Proposed Del Ray accessory dwelling unit (image via Eustilus Architecture/City of Alexandria)

A two-story, single-unit accessory dwelling unit (ADU) on a Del Ray alley is heading to the City Council with a mixed reception from the community and the Planning Commission.

The project is located on a vacant lot at 404 East Alexandria Avenue, surrounded by single-unit, semi-detached, townhouse and multi-unit residential properties.

ADUs are smaller, independent residential dwelling units located on the same lot as single-family housing. In Alexandria, they can be used as short-term rentals, though not if the main house is also being rented out. Alexandria’s ADU policy has been revised over the years to scale back the requirements, hoping to avoid the lackluster ADU implementation in Arlington.

According to the city’s website, ADUs are prohibited for use as a short-term rental and the homeowner is required to maintain primary residence of the subject property at the time of ADU construction. ADUs are prohibited from being used for short-term rental for more than 120 days per year.

One of the main concerns raised through the bureaucratic process has been the use of the ADU as a rental despite the fact that the owner said they don’t live in the main building and intend to rent the site for long-term tenants. The Del Ray Citizens Association (DRCA) said they were surprised to learn there’s no method of determining primary residence.

According to the letter:

Requiring owner occupancy of either the primary dwelling or the ADU was of paramount importance when the DRCA originally supported the ADU ordinance. This was in order to control the use of the ADU and to discourage both units on a property being used for short-term rentals (VRBO and AirBnBs). Staff revealed that there was no formalized method for determining primary residence and that there was a Staff-level interpretation made on how to handle a proposal for both a new house and new ADU built on a vacant lot. It seems the primary residence requirement is effectively being ignored by this interpretation policy. This was quite a surprise to members of the DRCA and is something that needs clarification to both staff and the community.

According to the staff report, Planning and Zoning inspectors enforce regulations but “there are some enforcement challenges, particularly with the limitations imposed on accessory dwelling units.”

Applicant Eric Teran said that his plan is not to do short term rental for the ADU.

“Ideally our plan would be to rent it long-term,” Teran said. “That’s our plan. May things change? Possibly. But we’re not planning to do short-term rental.”

Several neighbors spoke in opposition to the proposed ADU at an earlier Planning Commission meeting. The Del Ray Civic Association recommended denial of the project.

According to a staff presentation, community concerns about the ADU included:

  • Stormwater management and flooding
  • Tree preservation
  • Emergency an construction vehicle access
  • Alley vision clearance and vehicular access for safety
  • Use as a short-term rental and ADU primary residence requirement
  • Street parking and a lack of street frontage

The Planning Commission recommended approval but in a divided 4-3 vote.

The staff report recommends approval.

Staff supports the applicants’ proposal. As required by Zoning Ordinance section 12-401(C), the proposed development would not impact light nor air supply to adjacent properties, diminish nor impair property values, and would be compatible with existing neighborhood character in terms of height, bulk, and design.

The proposal is scheduled for review at the City Council meeting on Tuesday, March 12.

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