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Affordable Housing Guidelines Rejected

Arlington Must Cease Requests to Developers

By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 13, 2004; Page B01

Arlington County officials said yesterday that they would attempt to resurrect an affordable housing development program in the wake of a judge's decision eviscerating the effort.

The County Board, responding to what they said is a growing crisis, had been asking developers of residential buildings to set aside voluntarily at least 10 percent of floor space for affordable housing. Board members similarly asked developers of office buildings to volunteer to make substantial monetary contributions.

Friday, Arlington Circuit Judge Joanne F. Alper issued a ruling finding that those requests were in fact requirements, and that as a result, the county had exceeded its legal authority under state law.

"I'm disappointed," board Chairman Barbara A. Favola (D) said yesterday. "There's a lot at stake here."

John G. "Chip" Dicks, who represented a property owner in the case, Kansas-Lincoln LC, the Northern Virginia Apartment Association and the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington, said, "We felt the Arlington County Board had overstepped their bounds and detrimentally affected our members who own property in Arlington County."

He added: "We're pleased that the judge agreed with our assessment. At the same time we recognize that this doesn't solve the problem of affordable housing in the area."

Arlington, like much of the rest of the Washington area, suffers a lack of moderately-priced homes, a shortage that has grown worse with the boom in real estate prices during the past five years. The county has lost more than 5,000 affordable apartments in recent years, mostly because of rising rents.

To qualify to live in one of those dwellings, residents can make no more than $52,200 a year for a family of four.

Fairfax, Loudoun and Montgomery counties have programs similar to the one struck down in Arlington. But lawyers on both sides said those programs probably are not vulnerable to similar lawsuits. Montgomery's initiative is subject to different state laws; Loudoun and Fairfax apply their affordable housing requirements in a different manner than did Arlington.

"My belief is that this is not applicable to what Fairfax County and Loudoun County are doing," Dicks said.

The case involved Kansas-Lincoln's property between Kansas and Lincoln streets near the Virginia Square-GMU Metro station.

The county's plan envisions two buildings on the property: a 13-story building and a nine-story building.

But the county's zoning for the property permits buildings of no more than five stories.

To build the project to the maximum allowed in the plan, the developer would have had to undergo the process in which the county applied its guidelines for affordable housing contributions.

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