Author: Emily Maurer

RELEASE: Best Smart Growth Plan for ALB & Beltway

Press Release 

For Immediate Release: 

April 9, 2021 


Stewart Schwartz, CSG, 703-599-6437, 

Eliza Cava, ANS, 202-503-9141, 

Kyle Hart, NPCA, 202-400-1193, 

Josh Tulkin, Sierra Club Maryland Chapter,, 650-722-3171 Douglas Stewart, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, 703-407-2790, 

Environmental Advocates Release “Best Smart Growth Plan” for American  Legion Bridge and Capital Beltway 

Sustainable, Equitable, and Effective 

Today, in advance of pending decisions in Virginia and Maryland, leading environmental  organizations released a “Best Smart Growth Plan” for the American Legion Bridge and Capital  Beltway. The document reviews the current situation and summarizes the consensus  recommendations of the groups. 

Citing the rush by Governor Hogan and Governor Northam to a pre-ordained conclusion to widen the bridge and the Beltway, including Hogan’s push for a premature development contract with TransUrban and his YouTube video trumpeting the Maryland toll lanes, the groups are calling for an immediate pause in the projects and offering a comprehensive land  use, transit and demand management solution that will be more sustainable, equitable, and  effective.

“Governor Hogan has not kept faith with his public promises to complete a solid environmental  study of impacts and alternatives before moving forward with private toll lanes,” said Eliza  Cava, Director of Conservation, Audubon Naturalist Society. “He has instead pressed forward  with a proposal that ranks as highway robbery — not just high tolls, but the theft of national and local parks, historic sites, community peace, wildlife, and a sustainable planet.” 

Meanwhile, the powerful TransUrban corporation, a major donor to politicians on both sides of the river, has been sending out expensive mailers to thousands of Northern Virginia households as part of their lobbying push for the lucrative private toll lanes deal. 

The Fairfax County Board will be meeting on April 13 to discuss their position on 495Next and  the Virginia Commonwealth Transportation Board will act on the proposal at their April 21 meeting. The Maryland Board of Public Works is scheduled to meet in May to approve the pre-development contract for 495/270, even though the environmental studies are not yet  complete. 

“We are calling for a pause on the interconnected Maryland and Virginia toll lane projects, and are setting forth a sustainable, equitable and effective alternative that should be studied and ultimately adopted,” said Douglas Stewart, Transportation and Smart Growth Co-Chair of the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter. “This project should not move forward without plans for high capacity transit and robust, dedicated transit funding from both Maryland and Virginia, in order  to reduce congestion and help jurisdictions meet their goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” 

“We decry the conclusions-first approach of Virginia and Maryland and the way the state’s Public-Private Transportation Acts undermine fair and objective alternatives analysis,” said  Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “Our groups offer here, and have offered before, a comprehensive, integrated land use (transit-oriented  development), transit, and demand management alternative, but both states have refused to  consider such an alternative.” 

“The DMV needs more green space, not less. Governor Hogan’s proposed toll lanes could  bulldoze valuable national parkland and damage delicate ecosystems just to make room for  more fumes, noise, and cars. This proposal threatens local communities of color and a historic African-American church cemetery. This is not a solution to traffic congestion in the area; it’s  another problem,” said Kyle Hart, National Parks Conservation Association. 

“We have the time and must take the time to build the best bridge for people and wildlife. This is a decision that will affect our environment and climate for the next hundred years.” said  Cava. 

“Our plan would improve transportation and reduce traffic, while directly addressing the racial  and socio-economic inequity that continues to mark our region. Investing in transit-oriented development, particularly in the underinvested east side of the region would reduce long  commutes for residents and also create jobs and generate revenue for schools and fund other community benefits, unlike Gov. Hogan’s toll lane proposal,” said Josh Tulkin, Director, Sierra Club Maryland Chapter. 

“WMATA’s Connect Greater Washington study showed that building out transit-oriented  development would reduce driving and traffic on the Beltway, while increasing transit ridership  and converting WMATA’s rail operating subsidy to a surplus.” said Schwartz. “We are calling on all of our elected officials to support a pause, and analysis and adoption of our more  sustainable, equitable and effective alternative,” concluded Schwartz. 

The “Best Smart Growth Plan” can be found here.  


Best Smart Growth Plan for ALB & Beltway

Best Smart Growth Plan for the American Legion Bridge and Capital Beltway

This is a 100-Year Decision – Let’s Take Time to Create the Most Sustainable, Equitable, and Effective Solution


As our metro area continues to grow, we must address the transportation issues at the American Legion Bridge and the Capital Beltway. Contrary to road booster’s hopes, however, an upper Potomac Bridge is not the answer, as demonstrated by previous studies. Further, while Maryland and Virginia are right to be focused on improving the American Legion Bridge and the Capital Beltway corridor, they have been rushing to implement a pre-ordained conclusion as to the best approach,and the resulting proposal–adding four toll lanes with massive connecting (double) interchange ramps and doubling the size of the American Legion Bridge — will harm adjacent communities and the environment. The two states have so far refused to study a comprehensive, integrated land use (transit-oriented development), transit, and demand management alternative, and they have failed to develop a sustainable, equitable, and effective solution.

As leading conservation organizations, we have come together to bring clarity to the issues at stake, and to make the case once again for a more sustainable, equitable, and effective approach. This is a multi-billion dollar, 100-year + decision, and we face a climate emergency, so officials must take a second look.

Why an upriver Potomac River bridge crossing is not the answer:

  1. The VDOT 2015 Potomac River Crossings Study showed that less than 4% of trips that currently use the American Legion Bridge might benefit from a potential upriver bridge.
  2. The 2003-2004 VDOT/TPB origin-destination study showed similar results.
  3. A 2001 proposal for an upriver bridge prompted outcry on both sides of the river because of impact on neighborhoods, environmental and historic resources, prompting cancellation of the study.

Why the American Legion Bridge crossing should be addressed:

  1. The VDOT 2015 Potomac River Crossing Study showed that the American Legion Bridge is the most important crossing in need of investment outside of the Rosslyn Metro tunnel crossing into DC.
  2. Reportedly due to age, the American Legion Bridge needs significant rehabilitation or replacement by 15 years from now.

Why there should be analysis of a comprehensive, sustainable and equitable land use, transit, and demand management alternative to the public-private toll lane proposal:

  1. There is time to conduct a thoughtful analysis of alternatives since MDOT has confirmed that we have 15 years before the bridge structure needs replacement.
  2. Virginia and Maryland have used a conclusions-first focus on high-occupancy (HOT) toll lanes via public-private partnerships, without full alternatives analysis or completion of all environmental studies. In Maryland, a series of very limited, isolated transit alternatives were assessed, but not a comprehensive, integrated land use (transit-oriented development), transit, demand management alternative.
  3. There are environmental and historic resources that must be considered at the American Legion Bridge crossing including the Potomac River, and National Park sites at Plummer’s Island research center, the C&O Canal, Potomac Heritage Trail, and GW Memorial Parkway.
  4. With just 10 years to dramatically reduce the emissions that cause climate change, highway expansion is exactly the wrong way to go, as studies show that metropolitan regions must significantly reduce vehicle miles traveled in addition to achieving a dramatic increase in electric vehicle use by 2030.
  5. The significant increase in telecommuting expected post-pandemic by those who work in offices will lead to a significant drop in peak hour demand for road space.
  6. A strategy of buildout of transit-oriented development at our Metro, Purple Line and Bus Rapid Transit corridors, especially on the east side of the region, would be more equitable and would reduce vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions compared to high-priced private high-occupancy toll lanes.
  7. The increase in flooding and stormwater runoff from highway expansion — adding more pavement, even treated to current standards, will degrade the water quality in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, preventing the region from meeting its water pollution reductions by 2025, as required by the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load.

Summary of our Alternative for the American Legion Bridge and Capital Beltway:

  1. We support appropriate investment at the American Legion Bridge crossing.
  2. We oppose any efforts to revive proposals for an upriver bridge.
  3. We urge all efforts to reduce vehicle miles traveled and single-occupant vehicle trips in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from surface transportation by at least 45% below 2005 levels by 2030, and 100% by 2050.
  4. We urge an immediate pause in pursuit of the 495Next HOV extension and American Legion Bridge/495/270 toll lane proposals and P3 contracting until evaluation of a comprehensive land use/transit/demand management alternative, and we urge adoption of a less destructive and more sustainable and equitable solution.
  5. We request evaluation and adoption of a land use, transit, and demand management alternative to include:
    1. Buildout of transit-oriented development at Metro stations, Purple Line stations, and BRT corridors. The WMATA Connect Greater Washington Study shows that TOD buildout – particularly in Prince George’s – would help correct the east-west jobs/housing imbalance, increasing transit trips, reducing vehicle miles traveled, and reducing demand on the Beltway in both Maryland and Virginia.
    2. Prioritization of a dedicated “Purple Line” transit connection across the river including Metrorail or light rail connecting between the Silver Line and Red Line and Maryland Purple Line, along with dedicated bus-only or bus-HOV3 lanes.
    3. Demand management tools:  parking pricing, employer transit benefits and parking cashout, telecommuting, and (potentially) pricing existing lanes rather than expansion with priced lanes.
    4. Inclusion of well-designed bicycle and pedestrian connections to and across a rehabilitated or new American Legion Bridge.
    5. We seek clear environmental justice considerations to be brought into the highway expansion planning.
  6. Should officials proceed with the HOT proposal for the American Legion Bridge and connections at each end, AFTER full and objective consideration of our comprehensive alternative, then the project must:
    1. Include bike/pedestrian connections.
    2. Provide significant funding for transit operating and capital needs to ensure frequent, high-capacity transit.
    3. Incorporate a bridge design that supports Metrorail.
    4. Incorporate a bridge design that minimizes impacts to the sensitive natural and historic assets in the Potomac Gorge including water quality, forests, native species, National Park sites like Plummer’s Island, and historic assets. In contrast to the significant widening required by four HOT lanes (as much as 80 feet or more), other alternatives such as pricing existing lanes, converting existing lanes to bus-only or bus/HOV3-only lanes, and vertically separated rail could result in less impact.
    5. Furthermore, while we do not recommend private tolled HOT lanes, if new lanes are added, they should be added to the upriver side of the bridge so as not to require use of Plummers Island for the construction, and additional mitigation measures should also be taken to protect this historically important site of ongoing, long-term research.

CSG Sign-on letter in support of SB361

March 24, 2021

Please Support SB 361, P3 Reform

Dear Members of the Budget and Taxation Committee:

Our organizations urge you to vote to give a favorable recommendation to SB 361, which would reform the process for establishing future public-private partnerships (P3s).

The need to reform the P3 process has become more evident with the challenges related to the Purple Line P3. The withdrawal of the construction contractor, the $250 million in added costs and the lengthy delays make clear that the existing P3 process does not protect the State and its taxpayers from the substantial risks inherent in public-private partnerships.

The establishment of a review board under SB 361 would provide the General Assembly with oversight of future P3 projects. The requirement for a risk analysis and independent assessment of a project’s impact on the State’s credit rating would protect taxpayers. The revised non-compete clause would prohibit P3 developers from blocking transit or road improvements initiated by local governments, similar to an existing prohibition for State transportation projects.

For P3s estimated at over $500 million, SB 361 would require that a presolicitation report include a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). This provision would ensure that we have the best understanding of the fiscal, environmental and social impacts of a proposed P3 before any contracts with a developer are signed. We urge the Committee to retain this critical provision.

Unfortunately, the I-495/I-270 P3 exemplifies the need for the FEIS requirement. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the I-495/I-270 project had numerous deficiencies. For example, while it estimated that the project could require a subsidy of up to $482 million to the developer, it does not account for the cost of moving water/sewer and other utility infrastructure. The DEIS failed to analyze transit alternatives or smaller scale road improvements. It failed to assess whether the project’s adverse impacts would be disproportionately borne by communities of color and low-income communities. Yet, MDOT plans to sign a predevelopment agreement months before the FEIS is completed and before these important questions are addressed.

On Friday, the House Environment and Transportation Committee added a provision requiring MDOT to submit an analysis of the impact of recent increases in telework to the Board of Public Works. The Committee also made its bill an emergency bill to accommodate the added study. The addition of this study is a smart improvement to the bill and we urge the Budget and Taxation Committee to adopt it.

Given the experience with the Purple Line and the I-495/I-270 P3, it is clear that the process must be reformed for future P3 projects to protect the State and its residents. We urge you to vote for SB 361 with the addition of the traffic study and change in effective date.

AFSCME Council 3, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Citizens Against Beltway Expansion, Climate Change Task Force, Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Maryland, Coalition for Smarter Growth, Don’, DoTheMostGood, Glen Echo Heights Mobilization, Greater Farmland Civic Association, Greenbelt Climate Action Network, Howard County Climate Action, League of Women Voters of Maryland, Maryland Campaign for Environmental Human Rights, Maryland Conservation Council, Maryland Sierra Club, National Parks Conversation Association, SaveOur Seminary at Forest Glen Inc., Sligo Creek Golf Association (SCGA), Washington Area Bicyclist Association, Woodside Forrest Civic Association

CSG Sign-On Letter Re: Failure to Pay Rent Cases in Montgomery County

March 19, 2021 

The Honorable Mary Ellen Barbera, Chief Judge  

Court of Appeals of Maryland  

361 Rowe Boulevard  

Annapolis, Maryland 21401  

The Honorable John P. Morrissey, Chief Judge  

District Court of Maryland  

Maryland Judicial Center  

187 Harry S. Truman Parkway  

Annapolis, Maryland 21401  

Re: Clearing a Backlog of Failure to Pay Rent Cases 

Dear Chief Judge Barbera and Chief Judge Morrissey: 

We are writing to make you aware of some jurisdictions’ unreasonable treatment of the  extraordinary backlog of Failure to Pay Rent cases. The problem primarily concerns Montgomery  County, but other jurisdictions are likely to adopt similar practices to Montgomery County in  dealing with their backlog. We propose a simple solution that creates automatic, “on-the-record”  dismissal for very old summonses filed unless the plaintiff takes one minor step to preserve it.  Since the backlog consists primarily of cases filed before December 1, 2020, the approximate date  that the courts closed again to most landlord-tenant actions, that is the relevant date for purposes  of defining what a “very old” case is. We urge you to adopt this proposal statewide. 

The Problem: An Unreasonable Schedule to Clear Substantial Backlogs In order to get through more than 14,000 backlogged Failure to Pay Rent (FTPR) cases in  Montgomery County landlord-tenant court, the administrative judges have proposed opening the  Silver Spring courthouse to a “rocket docket”—three courtrooms, four dockets per day, sixty cases  per docket, five days a week, for more than a month. This equates to 3,600 cases per week, or 720  cases per day. This does not include all the cases that will continue in the Rockville courthouse for  Tenant Holding Over, Breach of Lease, and other landlord-tenant actions. And it represents a  2500% increase in the number of FTPR cases typically heard in a given week. This rocket docket  is scheduled to begin April 5, 2021. We have recently received a docket grid confirming that the  County is proceeding with this plan. 

This volume of cases imposes an unreasonable burden on members of the bar representing both  landlords and tenants, and does not serve the interests of justice. Lawyers cannot be expected to  spend a full day, five days a week, litigating cases without attending to their other duties. They  cannot attend hearings in both Silver Spring and Rockville courthouses at the same time. They  cannot provide competent representation to clients when their workload balloons to four or five  times their normal level for an extended period of time. 

On the tenants’ attorneys’ side, this proposal has meant mobilizing nearly all of the attorneys at  nonprofit organizations providing legal services in Montgomery County to try and cover just this backlog alone. Maryland Legal Aid is more than doubling their presence in landlord-tenant court,  and both the Homeless Persons Representation Project (HPRP) and CASA are using all of their  available attorney resources to try and cover these cases.  

On the landlords’ attorneys’ side, one firm typically represents a given landlord for all of its  eviction cases, but that firm’s attorneys appear in various courthouses across Maryland as well as  Virginia and the District of Columbia. Thus, the five-days-a-week scheduling mandate will mean  that attorneys will not be able to represent landlords in these cases, or will have to propose  rescheduling, which threatens to make the proposed schedule ineffective in the first place.  Alternatively, they will have to represent their client on hundreds of cases in a single day. 

Most of these 14,000 cases will be moot or dismissed anyway. Landlords of tenants who still owe  money will be almost certain to refile soon if they haven’t already, given that the courts have  returned to Phase IV. Landlords are almost certain to refile because, for many months, they have  been unable to proceed on eviction cases for a tenant’s failure to pay rent between December 2020  and March 2021. If rent from prior to December is still owed, a landlord’s refiling will likely also  include a demand for such rent. That fact would make the vast majority of cases filed prior to  December moot as duplicative. If rent from prior to December is not owed, because the tenant has  paid something towards their rental debt, then these cases are also moot. And if the tenant has  vacated the unit, then the case should be dismissed for a third reason. Thus, almost all of these  cases should be dismissed even if a hearing is held. In light of this fact, the reasonable solution is  not to hold individual hearings on every individual case, as Montgomery County plans to do in  rushed form, but to flip the default to automatic dismissal unless the landlord states formally that  they wish to proceed. 

The proposed 3,600-cases-per-week schedule is also an enormous administrative burden to the  courts. Hearing each case individually threatens to consume court staff with long days and  hundreds of cases in a short timeframe. It is not clear to us how quadrupling their work for a month  will do more than simply clog the pipeline for future cases. Moreover, justice cannot be done in  two minutes, yet that is the amount of time each case will have in each courtroom, if proposals like  these are to be adopted. When faced with this question, the bench seems to be counting on upwards  of 95% of defendants to miss their hearings. Respectfully, we should be doing the exact opposite:  encouraging tenants to show up for their court dates to make sure that their case is heard by a fair  and neutral arbiter of justice. 

Finally, this proposal threatens to be a public health disaster. Despite decreasing case rates and  increasing access to vaccinations, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to present very real public  health concerns. Maryland continues to operate under a State of Emergency declared by Governor  Hogan. Montgomery County is properly retaining protections such as capacity limits in businesses,  a mask mandate and other common-sense public safety protocols. Tenants’ and landlords’  attorneys are not in line to receive the vaccine imminently, as many court personnel are, yet they  are expected to meet with and represent dozens of clients each day. Even a small fraction of the  720 tenants showing up for their court date on a single day will almost certainly violate public  health orders, especially in the Silver Spring courthouse, where there is less space and it is nearly  impossible to keep six feet of social distance. Other courthouses are sure to face similar problems.

The Solution: On-the-Record Dismissal 

Our proposal of “on-the-record dismissal” is simple. Some of the signatories to this letter have  proposed legislation, a copy of which is appended to this letter, which could potentially be helpful  in dealing with situations like this in future, but will not likely be enacted in time to deal with  today’s crisis. Only you have the authority to take the bold and immediate action necessary to  resolve this problem, as it deals solely with the administration of the courts. 

The proposal is as follows: For each FTPR complaint or summons filed prior to December 1, 2020,  the landlord must reassert, in a signed declaration, that the statements in the summons are still  correct and valid. Then the landlord must serve this declaration on the tenant by regular mail at  least ten days before the hearing. If the landlord fails to sign this declaration or serve it on the  tenant, or if any change in circumstances vitiates the original cause of action, the case will  automatically be dismissed. 

Under this proposal, there is no need to conduct a hearing. There is no chance of an erroneous  eviction judgment against a former tenant who has already vacated the apartment, as often happens  in very old landlord-tenant filings. At the same time, if the landlord’s claim is still viable, the  landlord may take this very small step and proceed with the hearing on the scheduled court date.  And if the landlord does not take these steps, they are not prejudiced in refiling. In fact, they likely  already have refiled by the time of this court hearing. 

Addressing Potential Concerns 

Under the current proposed process for dealing with old landlord-tenant cases, everyone loses.  Under our proposal, everyone wins: the landlords focus on renewed efforts to obtain eviction  judgments; the tenants do not have to go to court to answer for debts they’ve already paid; the  attorneys do not have to quadruple their workload for mostly moot cases; and no one has to expose  themselves unnecessarily to COVID-19 in a crowded courthouse. 

This proposal does not seriously burden landlords. In essence, it simply asks them to redeclare the  validity of their debt, which is already a prerequisite to obtaining a judgment in the first place. It  may even be a financial boon to landlords who do not have to deal with two, three, or four separate  eviction cases, paying their attorneys and trying to collect on piecemeal debts. At the same time,  it does not unreasonably favor tenants, even though many signatories to this letter have advocated  for stronger tenant protections in other forums. Landlords can still proceed against tenants on the  complaints they have made, if desired.  

This proposal enhances the efficiency of the courts. Instead of conducting hundreds of individual  hearings each day, risking unjustified default judgments against tenants, judges can order  automatic dismissals within a few seconds. This procedure is very similar to one of the provisions  in the CARES Act from April 2020, which required dismissal if certain landlords did not make  appropriate declarations in their complaints. 

Finally, this proposal is temporary. As it only applies to cases from before the courts closed, there  will be no threat of a landlord failing to abide by an additional procedural requirement in the future.  This is merely a matter of administrative convenience.

We would be happy to meet and discuss this proposal at your earliest convenience, but as we have  stated above, time is of the essence. Once this “rocket docket” is implemented in Montgomery  County, it will have a devastating negative impact on our members and clients, as well as their  families. Correcting the errors and miscarriages of justice that will result from this system will  become an entirely separate problem, which will only add further burden to attorneys and the  courts.  

We urge you again to immediately use your inherent powers to control the functioning of the courts  and adopt our proposal. If the proposal cannot be accepted in its current form, we urge you to make  other arrangements as soon as possible to drastically reduce the number of cases scheduled, such as ordering a cap on the number of FTPR cases that can be heard per day. An ordered and efficient  clearing of the FTPR backlog is essential to the administration of justice. 


CASA, Housing Initiative Partnership, The Latino Economic Development Center, Homeless Persons Representation Project, Coalition for Smarter Growth, Renters Alliance, Jews United for Justice, IMPACT Silver Spring, Progressive Maryland, Sisterhood of Salam Shalah, Silver Spring. Public Justice Center, Takoma Park Mobilization, Global Land Alliance, Everyday Canvassing, Disability Rights Maryland, Montgomery County Racial Equity Network, Montgomery County Democratic Socialists of America

Addendum 1: Proposed Legislation to Deal with Administrative Backlog in Failure to Pay  Rent cases 

(a) For any pending Failure to Pay Rent case filed by a landlord prior to December 1, 2020, a  landlord shall: 

(1) sign a sworn statement confirming that 

(A) upon information and belief, the tenant is still in possession of the unit; 

(B) the amount of the rent owed, as declared in the summons, is still accurate, or,  if not accurate, the new amount owed for that specific period of time; AND 

(C) the time periods for which rent is owed, as declared in the summons, are still  accurate, or, if not accurate, the months owed for that specific period of time; Provided, however, that a landlord may not declare rent owed for any amount of time  after the last month requested in the original summons. 


(2) serve the statement in subparagraph (1) on the tenant and his or her attorney via first class mail or certified mail at least ten days before the hearing. 

(b) The court shall dismiss any case in which 

(1) a landlord fails to properly file and serve the statement referred to in paragraph (a); or (2) the amount of the declared debt for the months declared is $0. 

(c) If the court dismisses a Failure To Pay Rent case based on the landlord’s failure to comply  with these provisions, nothing in this bill shall prevent a landlord from refiling for the months  and amounts owed.

The Case for Fare Free Ride On

The Case for Fare Free Ride On

Fare-free public transit has recently gained momentum across the globe. As of 2018, there were 97 cities and towns with fully fare-free public transit, mostly in Europe. There are 27 fare-free systems in the United States, “mostly in small towns and colleges.” Reasons for this move include climate, congestion, equity, and economic development.

CSG Comments on ALU proposal in zMOD

March 9, 2021 

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors 

12000 Government Center Parkway 

Fairfax, VA 22035 

RE: Testimony in Support of Accessory Living Unit Provision of zMOD

Chairman McKay and Members of the Board: 

Please accept these comments on behalf of the Coalition for Smarter Growth (CSG), the leading organization in the DC region advocating for walkable, bikeable, inclusive, and transit-oriented communities as the most sustainable and equitable way for the Washington, DC region to grow and provide opportunities for all. CSG appreciates Fairfax County’s efforts to update its zoning ordinance. Our comments focus primarily on the proposed accessory living unit (ALU) provisions, which we fully support. CSG has become a leading expert on Accessory Dwelling Units through our work in DC and our just-released DC ADU homeowners manual. 

We also support the liberalization of home-based businesses — particularly in view of the advantages we have seen for home-based work during the pandemic. Home-based businesses would be a great benefit to stay-at-home parents, people with disabilities who have trouble traveling, and the Fairfax economy. 

The need: Housing in the county is expensive, shutting out young adults, downsizing empty-nesters, essential workers, teachers, firefighters, and many more. Prices are high and smaller homes can be hard to find. If this pandemic has shown us anything – a home is vital to our health and well-being. Now is the time for Fairfax County to prepare for the future and ensure people have affordable places to live in our county.

Accessory living units can offer less expensive housing options than renting or buying a single-family home because of their smaller size and provide housing opportunities in communities that might otherwise be too expensive. ALUs can also offer a stream of income for homeowners, including lower-income homeowners and retirees on fixed incomes. 

Changes proposed are modest and should not be weakened as the Planning Commission proposes: While Fairfax County staff has proposed some positive changes to the ALU policy, which is a step in the right direction, they are very modest and do not go far enough to truly make ALUs a viable housing option in the county. The Planning Commission is proposing to weaken these further by keeping the special permit process in place for interior units for several more years. This will further delay the wide ranging response the county needs to apply to the affordability crisis we’re facing. 

Supporting ALUs is in line with Fairfax County’s goals. The Communitywide Housing Strategic Plan developed in 2018 at the request of the Board of Supervisors recommends that the zoning update modify the county’s accessory dwelling policy, now known as accessory living units, and to explore zoning districts for missing middle housing types. However, this zoning update does not tackle ALUs robustly enough and does not consider missing middle housing options at all. 

Looking at the comparison chart in the ALU fact sheet provided on the zMOD website, you can see that Fairfax County is lagging behind other local jurisdictions that are doing more to embrace accessory dwellings as a tool to provide more housing options. Meanwhile, Arlington, Montgomery, and DC are all taking steps to study and expand missing middle housing. 

Recommendations: CSG supports the county’s proposal to remove the current age and disability requirement for all ALUs. No other local jurisdiction has this requirement. Removing the age and disability requirement is more equitable so people of varying ages can take advantage of these types of apartments. It provides greater flexibility to a homeowner to provide a home for an adult child and other family members or friends needing a moderately priced apartment.

Streamlining the process for interior ALUs located within the main home by allowing for administrative approval will make the process less burdensome and costly for homeowners. ALUs, like the principal home, must meet all required building and zoning codes and are subject to inspection. According to the ALU fact sheet on the zMOD website, Loudoun, Arlington, Montgomery, and DC have moved to allow ALUs by administrative approval. 

The 2-acre requirement for detached units is unfortunate and retains an inequitable requirement by only allowing detached ALUs for those who can afford 2 plus acres. It also puts these detached units in car-dependent locations. Homeowners throughout most of the county should have the right to build a detached unit on their property. 

In fact, Fairfax County should particularly encourage detached ALUs near transit stations and transit-rich corridors. This can be done by removing the 2-acre requirement for detached accessory dwellings and allowing them on smaller lots closer to activity centers and transit. In addition, removing the parking requirement when ALUs are within a mile of frequent transit helps to remove another regulatory and cost barrier and incentivizes housing in the right places. 

The Board should accept the staff recommendations for ALUs and home-based businesses, and reject the Planning Commission’s proposed rollbacks. The county can then monitor the implementation of these changes as part of a more robust study to expand the creation of ALUs and evaluate missing middle housing needs and solutions. 

Conclusion: We encourage the County to take the necessary steps to further expand opportunities for accessory living units and missing middle housing in the county as a way to make more affordable homes available in our communities. Creating more housing opportunities near transit and jobs is essential to ensuring an inclusive and economically prosperous Fairfax County where people are able to live near their work, helping to reduce long commutes through the county, and contributing to a diverse and vibrant community. 

Thank you for your time and consideration. 

Sonya Breehey 

Northern Virginia Advocacy Manager