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Bill Targets N.Va. Policies On Affordable Housing

By Chris L. Jenkins and Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 5, 2005; Page B04

RICHMOND, Feb. 4 -- A House committee Friday passed legislation that would freeze temporarily the processes that three Northern Virginia governments use to negotiate with private developers for the construction of affordable housing units.

House Bill 2167, sponsored by Del. Gary A. Reese (R-Fairfax), would clamp down on the zoning processes that Alexandria, Falls Church and Arlington County follow in negotiations.

The three governments use guidelines that allow them to seek a share of affordable units from builders who want to erect a larger development on property that is zoned for a much smaller project.

But an Arlington Circuit Court ruling in December stated that the requests the county made for affordable housing were in fact requirements and that the county had exceeded its authority.

Arlington changed its guidelines last year so that if a development company wanted to build a much denser project, it could make up to 10 percent of the units affordable. Previously, the guidelines sought 5 percent of the units to be affordable.

Alexandria and Falls Church were included in the bill because they follow similar procedures, although the affordable housing requests they make are not as high.

The bill, which was passed by the House Cities, Counties and Towns Committee and will be voted on by the full House this weekend, would prevent the three jurisdictions from using their processes until July 1, 2006.

"What put the developers over the top is the increasing affordable housing requirements," said Mark Ingrao, vice president of government affairs for the Apartment and Building Association of Metropolitan Washington, which supported the bill before the committee. He said Northern Virginia developers were committed to affordable housing, but in many cases, he said, "the numbers just didn't add up for them at all."

A nearly identical measure sponsored by Sen. William C. Mims (R-Loudoun), Senate Bill 1206, passed a committee this week. The full Senate will debate that bill next week.

Mims said he was concerned that Arlington's policy did not tie affordable housing contributions to new applications by developers, unlike proffer arrangements, in which developers agree to pay for roads if traffic will be worsened or school sites if the development will bring in more children.

"Usually there is a logical link between the burdens placed on the community and the corresponding benefit to the community," he said. "Here, you didn't have that connection."

Reese and Mims said they worked with property owners to write a bill that would conform with the court's decision in the Arlington case.

Officials for Arlington and Alexandria said the bill would cripple construction of affordable units over the next 18 months. They had asked to continue using the guidelines until a compromise was reached.

"This interrupts the process that has worked for two decades in Arlington," said County Board member Chris Zimmerman (D). "It limits the tools to solve one of the most acute problems in Northern Virginia."

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