Arlington's "Missing Middle"

It's often hard for those who have lived here a long time to find an affordable smaller alternative when they no longer want the responsibility of a single family home. And it's hard for others to find affordable homes when they want to move from a high-rise to a more neighborhood-oriented home with more room.  

The good news is that there is ample opportunity in Arlington for to create new neighborhood-scale housing and retail areas, often called the “Missing Middle.” The Missing Middle framework uses market forces to diversify our housing supply and responds to modern day needs of citizens young and old.

The Missing Middle describes modestly scaled lofts, flats, apartments, condominiums, and townhouses along transportation corridors, designed to preserve neighborhood character. Such buildings can fit into the edges of single-family neighborhoods and along commercial streets, with ground floor retail and restaurants to serve adjacent homes. This kind of infill development both honors and improves the connections between existing neighborhoods and adjacent commercial cores. It also buffers homes, schools, and parks from more intense development. 

Missing Middle development is a natural for Arlington County as we plan for, rebuild and refurbish the County.  Opportunities to build new micro-units, co-Ops, four-plexes and other novel types of homes exist now along our major commercial corridors served by bus and Metro.  In these areas today, we generally see low-density used car lots, gas stations, and old strip malls.  These could be transformed to include new, market-rate housing styles and neighborhood retail. This transformation would be especially friendly to those who want to walk or bike in and around their neighborhoods. 

To harness these new opportunities, we need new zoning and development strategies and incentives that support our community goals for neighborhood preservation, affordability, and economic sustainability.  In order to achieve these new Missing Middle goals, we will have to create new incentives to challenge the ingenuity of architects and developers to design and build new housing forms and development solutions.  This in turn would create new economic opportunities for the development and retail communities.

Missing Middle Principles

  • Are consistent with existing neighborhood character, and modestly-scaled in keeping with neighborhood context;
  • Deploy varied unit sizes within the same building to address different families’ needs;
  • Create housing that should be near to Metrobus, ART Bus, BikeShare, ZipCar and Car2Go stations to provide travel options; 
  • Embrace a strategic approach to parking that support shoppers, retail new residents;
  • Prioritize sustainability, including solar power, rooftop gardens, and rainwater collection, built into plans from outset;
  • Pay attention to attracting the right kind of retail that serves neighbors, so that they can get what they need easily and often on foot;
  • Include planned open and/or green spaces for people to meet and hang out (e.g., Lee Heights shopping strip).

As a County Board member I will:

  • Fully support planning for the Lee Highway corridor and Four Mile Run Valley area, and seek ways to advance Missing Middle principles and how they might be applied in these areas in keeping with the existing neighborhood character;
  • Convene a working group of small home builders, housing developers and housing non-profits to identify potential changes to County zoning, permitting and site planning that could encourage and incentivize Missing Middle redevelopment on identified corridors;
  • Advocate for attraction of retail to the Columbia Pike corridor that serves nearby residents;
  • Ensure that Missing Middle principles are explored and applied appropriately, as other planning processes proceed in the County, including implementation of the Affordable Housing Master Plan;
  • Work with small businesses to identify needs and requirements that would allow them to stay in Missing Middle developments, if they wish, and help new businesses to thrive in these locations;
  • Explore with County staff and our Virginia General Assembly delegation opportunities for tax and other tools that the County could employ to encourage the achievement of the Missing Middle vision.