Correspondence between Arlington resident and County Housing Planner on accessory dwellings

Nov 1, 2017


Thank you for your response. I figured that staff would not review HOA or condo rules or covenants before issuing accessory dwelling permits, but I wanted to confirm. So condos and townhouses or any type of development with a homeowners’ association would need to have rules restricting this type of subdivision and/or leasing of the property in place prior to the new AD regulations being approved, right? And then the condo or homeowners’ association would have to fight it out in court, right? Is there anything on the AD application asking the property owner to certify that he/she is not in violation of condo/homeowners’ association rules, bylaws, covenants, etc.?

My question about pipe-stem development isn’t idle. We have a number of pipe-stem-ready lots in Bluemont. I’m concerned that in weakening the zoning ordinance by eliminating the lot width requirement, we will also undermine/neutralize the regulations that had been essentially disallowing pipe-stem development. You appear to be saying that the new regs for detached accessory dwellings (ADs) will weaken the restrictions against regular pipe-stem development, depending upon the circumstances. Is that a fair assessment?

Ultimately, even though staff may see a difference between traditional pipe-stem development and detached ADs, I’m concerned that the courts may feel differently about treating the same lot differently depending upon which type of use (detached AD vs. traditional pipe-stem) the owner selects.

Another frequent question I hear concerns lot coverage. As it is, the lot coverage rules are weak and very easy to circumvent because lot coverage is essentially designed to engineer certain esthetics preferences and not designed to prevent the proliferation of paved/impervious/built surfaces (to minimize/control stormwater runoff and/or preserve the tree canopy and green space).

My understanding is that if I added a little bit of pavement every 2 years (so long as it is less than 8 inches deep) and parked only on the permitted portion of that pavement, then I could essentially pave over my entire lot. [Note: This is already happening in Aurora Hills — see 509 24th Street South, for example.]  With the AD parking requirements, the added footprint of the detached ADs, and sidewalks connecting detached ADs (sidewalks are exempt from lot coverage rules), it would be possible to cover pretty much an entire lot with some kind of impermeable surface. Or, if not, how will staff prevent this from occurring?

There appear to be no meaningful regulations in Arlington County to preserve or conserve Arlington’s remaining mature tree canopy or green space (largely sited on SFH lots). This is a bitter disappointment to citizens who are concerned about tree preservation, improving Arlington’s environmental quality and public health, lessening the impacts of climate change/the urban heat island effect, and avoiding water quality/flooding/stormwater runoff problems. Allowing detached ADs would seem to be yet another nail in the local environment’s coffin.

Thank you for your time and assistance.



Oct 31, 2017

Sorry, for not getting back to you sooner, thought I had already responded.  When HOA regulations are more restrictive than County regulations, it is up to the HOA to enforce the more restrictive requirements.  County staff does not enforce HOA regulations.  Ultimately it depends on the individual pipe-stem and/or the proposed accessory building.  Generally, pipe-stems are a special exception and require a use permit both to create and build up on and changes to the improvements on a pipe-stem could require a use permit amendment, depending on the construction.  For the few nonconforming by-right pipe-stems in the County (i.e. pipe-stems that do not have a use permit because they were created and developed prior to 2003), they would need to be looked at on a case-by-case basis.  


October 19, 2017

Dear Mr. Franklin:

I have been studying the proposed changes to the Arlington County Zoning Ordinance that will revise the regulations for accessory dwellings. There are a couple of questions to which I haven’t been able to find answers. And I’m hoping that you’ll be able to help me.

1)     When HOA (homeowner association) rules or covenants prohibit the subletting or the subdivision of a dwelling or property for the purpose of establishing a second dwelling unit on the property (interior or detached), will county staff refuse to issue an AD permit?

2)     Now that the minimum lot width requirement is being eliminated for accessory dwellings, does this mean that someone will be able to build a detached AD on a “pipestem” lot? If so, how might this change affect existing regulations within the ordinance that govern traditional development of pipestem lots?

I appreciate any light you may be able to shed on these issues.

With kind regards,

Suzanne Smith Sundburg