Arlington County, Virginia may soon have new tenants to fill their vacant office spaces, thanks to a recently amended zoning ordinance that was approved earlier this year. In an effort to revitalize underused office spaces, these zoning changes will permit—and literally open doors—to tenants of an unconventional nature. These tenants would include urban colleges and universities, urban agriculture, animal boarding facilities, breweries, and artisan workshops in certain zones.
Additionally, newly passed legislation now expands housing options, which should help to alleviate the serious housing shortage in the Northern Virginia communities surrounding Washington, DC. So, what does this all mean to DC-area developers and building owners?
Conversion of vacant spaces
Last year, Arlington County launched its “Commercial Market Resiliency Initiative” to potentially develop and modernize land-use regulations for emerging uses that are not clearly defined in the Arlington County Zoning Ordinance (ACZO). According to the County Board Agenda Item Meeting of Arlington County, VA, significant shifts in where and how people work—and the pace of economic change—have affected land use, business practice innovations and consumer behaviors and expectations. The key to this strategy is to provide a faster and more streamlined approval process for these new land uses.
Zoning changes spur revitalization
Expanding permitted uses to non-conventional businesses may be just what the area needs to boost leasing demand and breathe new life into the walkable neighborhoods of Arlington County.
The zoning amendment will allow by-right conversions for the following types of tenants:
- Animal boarding facilities
- Urban farms
- Colleges and universities
- Distilleries and breweries
- Maker spaces
The updated zoning code indicates that new animal boarding facilities will be required to provide 24-hour supervision. Additionally, new breweries and maker spaces will be required to maintain a storefront to sell goods to walk-in customers.
Converting office space to new uses previously involved navigating a long approval process. The goal of Arlington’s new zoning initiative is to speed up of approval time frames. By removing restrictions on commercial spaces, the hope of growing the economy in this area seems promising.
Alleviating the housing shortage
As Arlington works to recover from the pandemic and solve its housing shortage problem, residents and legislators are pushing for major changes to their zoning regulations. And they are making progress. Last month, the Arlington County Board voted to expand housing options in certain areas of the county, and also adopted a series of Zoning Ordinance and General Land Use Plan amendments related to the Missing Middle Housing Study. This years-long effort—which began in 2019—resulted in historical changes to zoning reform, as it allowed for more housing. Additionally, this became the first jurisdiction in the D.C. region to end single-family zoning. The new amendments will now allow up to six units (including duplexes, townhouses, and multiplexes) to be developed per residential lot, with the provision that certain conditions are met. The changes—to take effect on July 1, 2023—also cap annual permits at 58, which will be distributed throughout certain districts.Aging hotel and commercial properties are also getting into the game. In 2020, the D.C. Office of Planning (OP) evaluated the possibility of converting hotel and commercial properties to housing. This has been a hot topic which Virginia and Washington, D.C. have shown interest in, as both territories would use existing building codes for a change of use for these types of conversions.
Partnering with Milrose Consultants
At Milrose Consultants, we meet you where you are. The staff of professionals at our Washington, D.C. office has the knowledge and experience you can count on when it comes to navigating permitting, code and zoning changes throughout the DMV (District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia) region. Our code and zoning analysts and project managers are skilled in helping project stakeholders map out viable filing strategies to streamline and accelerate your upcoming DMV-area construction projects.
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