Arlington Changes Bonus Density Rules to Spur Affordable Housing

The Arlington County Board on Saturday, Nov. 16, moved to spur the creation of more affordable housing and meet public infrastructure and facility needs by revising bonus density maximums for site plan projects that would provide those public benefits. The Board also approved a redefinition of “low or moderate income” to allow the Board the flexibility to consider a higher affordability income range.

“In keeping with the goals of our Affordable Housing Master Plan and our Housing Arlington Initiative, the Board’s action today gives us flexibility to approve additional density above the 25 percent maximum we now allow,” Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said. “Bonus density has allowed us to build hundreds of units of affordable housing across Arlington, and particularly in the transit-rich Metro corridors, without relying on County funding. We believe this new flexibility will encourage developers to add more affordable homes in their projects.”

Bonuses are a land use tool that allow for additional density and height above the level indicated on the General Land Use Plan and applicable zoning district standards when the Board makes certain findings about the proposed development.The Board voted unanimously to amend the Zoning Ordinance to remove the current maximum combined bonus of 25 percent above that allowed in the respective zoning district for residential projects, or an additional 0.25 FAR for office projects in return for providing affordable housing and community facilities.

The Board voted instead to give itself the flexibility to consider more density, within the heights specified for each zoning district, for residential, commercial or hotel developments that propose to contribute affordable housing or community facilities. The Board also approved changes to the General Land Use Plan.

The Board’s actions followed a staff zoning study on bonus provisions for special exception site plans. The changes will allow the County to consider what bonus density is appropriate for a special exception site plan development on a case-by-case basis, in accordance with existing sector plans, area plans, other policies, and zoning regulations.

More flexibility in defining what is low-to-moderate income

The County currently defines low-or-moderate-income as at or below 60 percent of Area Median Income (AMI) for rental housing and at or below 80 percent AMI for home ownership housing. Under the changes approved by the Board, the County would also be able to allow “other income levels as determined by the County Board upon consideration of the Affordable Housing Master Plan,’’ giving the Board flexibility to consider higher income levels when it considers approving additional density, or in limited circumstances, additional height.

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