The Washington Post

Fairfax’s proposal to create low-income housing is likely to be shelved

After months of debate, a proposal to create more affordable housing for low-income residents and young professionals in Fairfax County is expected to be shelved, officials said.

A Planning Commission committee agreed Thursday evening to recommend that the Fairfax Board of Supervisors table the “Residential Studio Unit” proposal after a staff report said there wasn’t enough community consensus for the plan, despite 15 meetings with neighborhood and business groups, nine committee hearings and two public workshops.

The full Planning Commission is scheduled to vote on the recommendation next week.

The housing proposal would have changed the county’s zoning laws so higher-density developments with units smaller than 500 square feet could be built in more places. Studio apartments are allowed in only a few small parts of the county, and officials want to continue to search for a way to allow for more of them.

“We’re still at the point where people would like to do this,” said planning commissioner Ellen J. Hurley (Braddock), a committee member. “We’d still like to see it move forward.”

The measure was conceived as a way to address homelessness and overcrowded housing in a county where poverty is taking hold even though it is among the wealthiest in the country.

It was eventually expanded as a way for developers to build new studios for young professionals whom the county is eager to attract to its revitalizing neighborhoods, notably Tysons Corner.

However, neighborhood groups vehemently opposed the measure, saying that it would lead to higher density and increased parking problems in quiet communities.

“The biggest problem is that they were going to allow [multifamily] housing in low-density residential areas,” said Mark Zetts, chairman of the planning and zoning committee for the McLean Citizens Association, a group that led the opposition to the measure.

The proposal also stirred up anger over the spread of overcrowded housing, situations in which families unable to cover their rent double and sometimes triple the number of occupants in apartments and large single-family residences.

Critics said the studio measure would make such situations more likely, while affordable housing advocates said it was meant to eliminate such problems.

“The violent community reaction overtook the process,” said Michelle Krocker, executive director of the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance. She said the proposal’s bureaucratic requirements were off-putting to developers and added that housing advocates hope to pursue a similar but more palatable measure in the near future.

“The question going forward is how is Fairfax looking into the future?” Krocker said. “We are an urbanizing suburban area. Are we creating housing for our current and future needs?”

Antonio covers government, politics and other regional issues in Fairfax County. He worked in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago before joining the Post in September of 2013.


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