Alexandria ends single-family-only zoning with housing-supply issues in mind

Neighborhoods in Alexandria, Virginia, that were once exclusive to single-family homes could now include multifamily homes under a bill the city council unanimously passed early Wednesday morning.

The zoning change is part of a controversial housing bill that allows builders to put up homes with up to four units in any neighborhood. The previous housing code restricted around 30% of the city’s land to be exclusively for single-family homes.

The alteration was made with hopes of the city being more inclusive while addressing housing-supply issues, according to Mayor Justin Wilson.

The city has invested in affordable housing, but Wilson said this bill was about influencing private landowners, while addressing “some of the inherent inequities that have been built into our zoning code for generations.”

“In the early parts of the last century, those restrictive covenants went even further than just design issues, they actually restricted the color of the skin of people who could live in those properties,” Wilson said.

While those discriminatory practices became illegal, provisions that limited how many units could be on a property remained codified, Wilson said.

“I believe that we have the ability to digest this kind of subtle change in the interest of undoing some restrictions that had some harmful effects over time on our community,” Wilson said.

The bill didn’t come without controversy. The mayor said some neighbors have expressed concerns that the change would hurt neighborhoods.

“This is a very modest change. Our forecasts say that this will lead to potentially 66 lots being developed into something more than a single-family home over the next decade,” Wilson said.

As far as anxiety over the revised zoning impacting the look of neighborhoods, Wilson said the current restrictions on maximum heights will apply to the new buildings, too.

“We won’t see that dramatic change to the character of our neighborhoods,” he said.

The mayor himself lives in a single-family home.

“We’ve raised both of our kids in a single-family home. I value the neighborhood that we live in,” he said. “I wouldn’t support anything that would destroy the neighborhood that I live in.”

Separately, the bill also attempts to simplify the process of building townhomes. It identifies development patterns that residents enjoy and looks at how those designs can be replicated.

“This was a package of comprehensive changes that were designed to address these housing supply challenges that we have in our community,” he said.

The council will have to pass a final codification ordinance before landowners can operate under the altered zoning.

WTOP’s Neal Augenstein contributed to this report. 

Jessica Kronzer

Jessica Kronzer graduated from James Madison University in May 2021 after studying media and politics. She enjoys covering politics, advocacy and compelling human-interest stories.

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