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Balancing Affordable Housing, Historic Preservation and Progress: The Fort Myer Heights North Plan

The area considered to be inclusive of Fort Myer Heights is basically the down-hill slope from Arlington's Courthouse Sector on the hill above of Route 50 north of Fort Myer, bounded to the north by Clarendon Boulevard and to the south by Route 50, Courthouse Road to the west and Pierce Street to the east.  What makes this area interesting, however, is the plan adopted by Arlington County to try and preserve the area's dwindling stock of aging garden-style apartments, which many find valuable from a historical perspective and others find valuable because of the affordability of these units (whether committed affordable units or as market affordable units).  The County has been unable to prevent the redevelopment of a number of sites in this area because planned densities are not sufficient to induce developers from entering special exception processes, and have instead chosen to move forward with by-right townhouse and condominium projects, effectively omitting the County from the redevelopment process.

In an effort to stem the flow of this trend, the County identified which blocks in the plan area had been assembled and when they were originally constructed to determine which sites were at the highest risk of redevelopment.  Recognizing the likelihood of being left out of the redevelopment process and the inability to preserve certain units without having to buy them, through the Fort Myer Heights North Plan, the County has attempted to incentivize certain strategic sites with higher densities in order to preserve the existing nature and affordability of the area.  To do this, the Concept Plan identifies the northern portion of the plan area as a Conservation Area and identifies the southern portion of the plan area as a Revitalization Area being "...a location for a strategic blend of conservation and redevelopment..."  Also, in case you are interested, the plan has prioritized which sites are the most historically important.

For sites in the Conservation Area, the idea is to not allow any additional density beyond what is allowed by-right, and instead to allow the transfer of development rights (or "TDRs") for historic preservation, affordable housing and open space purposes (for more on TDRs click here and here), pursuant to a series of specific formulas set forth in the plan.  Receiving Sites for TDRs may either be located within the Revitalization Area or outside of the plan area.  Note that there a number of ongoing, perpetual duties to maintain and rehabilitate historic buildings required to allow the transfer of density off of these sites.

Targeted redevelopment is permitted in the Revitalization Area, but to maintain the nature of the plan area it is limited to residential and neighborhood retail uses.  New construction may be permitted at targeted sites up to 3.24 FAR (and may exceed this cap under certain circumstances) through the County's unique 4.1 Site Plan process if the community benefits outlined in the plan are achieved (here's the Density Plan that sets forth the location of these sites) subject to certain height limitations.  Note, however, that the plan contemplates that as much as 20% of any transferred GFA could be required to be committed affordable housing.  It is unclear how this would be reconciled with a Receiving Site going through the 4.1 Site Plan process, which would still be subject to the County's Affordable Dwelling Unit Ordinance requirements.  In the Fort Myer Heights North Special District, it looks like these contributions will be expected to be cumulative.

Sound like a plan that is adequately incentivized?  By way of comparison, here's the massing for the existing conditions, the by-right scenario, and the 3.24 FAR scenario.