Land Use & Zoning Tools

The Arlington County Zoning Ordinance contains land use and zoning tools for all land in the County. There is a public review process for special exceptions by site plan or use permit that allow for greater flexibility in use, density and form of development. These affordable housing tools are among the special exceptions that provide incentives for developers.

Affordable Housing OrdinanceMap of Nauck Neighborhood

The Affordable Housing Ordinance offers developers seeking additional density in the site plan process the choice of providing affordable units or contributing to the Affordable Housing Investment Fund. In December 2005, the County Board approved amendments to the Zoning Ordinance that are used in the approval process of site plan projects to increase the supply of affordable housing and to streamline the approval process.

The developer chooses whether to provide a cash contribution or to provide affordable units using a percent of the increased gross floor area (GFA) above 1.0 Floor Area Ratio (FAR). For on-site units, the requirement is 5% of the GFA; for off-site units nearby, 7.5%; and for off-site units elsewhere in the county, 10%. Cash contribution rates in 2015 are: $1.88/sq. ft. of GFA for first 1.0 FAR; $5.01/sq. ft. from 1.0 to 3.0 FAR for residential; $10.02/sq. ft. of GFA above 3.0 for residential; and $5.01/sq. ft. above 1.0 FAR in commercial. Cash contribution amounts are indexed to the Consumer Price Index for Housing in the Washington-Baltimore MSA. Read the requirements in Section 15.5.8. in the Zoning Ordinance.

Example of a Mixed-Use Project Applying the Requirements

For mixed-use projects, cash contributions are calculated by applying the proportionate amount of commercial and residential GFA to each tier of GFA. The contribution rates shown below are for 2015.  In the following example, the total contribution would be $618,760. This is because the GFA above 3.0 FAR is 40,000 sq ft and Residential = 90% of the total project.

40,000 x 90% = 36,000 sq ft, so 36,000 is the GFA to which tier three amount ($10.02) is applied.

Mixed-Use Example   Applying Requirements
20,000 Square Foot Lot — 5.0 FAR Project of 100,000 Square Feet
Commercial Residential
10,000   sq ft – 10% of project 90,000   sq ft – 90% of project
1.0   FAR = 20,000 sq ft 2,000   sq ft x $1.88 18,000   sq ft x $1.88
1.0   – 3.0 FAR = 40,000 sq ft 4,000   sq ft x $5.01 36,000   sq ft x $5.01
3.0   – 5.0 FAR = 40,000 sq ft 4,000   sq ft x $5.01 36,000   sq ft x $10.02
TOTAL 10,000   sq ft commercial 90,000 residential


The Special Affordable Housing Protection District (SAHPD)

The Special Affordable Housing Protection District (SAHPD) as outlined in the General Land Use Plan identifies existing affordable housing sites within the County’s two Metro Corridors that are planned for site plan projects of 3.24 FAR or higher. Existing affordable housing units are to be replaced on a one-for-one basis. This has been interpreted as replacing the number of bedrooms or the GFA on a one-for-one basis.

Transfer of Development Rights

The Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program allows site plan projects to transfer density and other development rights from one parcel or site plan to another when it preserves affordable housing, open space, historic preservation, community facilities or community recreation. TDRs can be transferred to another location where density is deemed more appropriate by the County Board.

  • Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Special Revitalization District and Neighborhoods Form Based Code: Along with form-driven, prescriptive design standards and affordable housing requirements, the Neighborhoods Form Based Code (FBC) also includes the Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) tool, an additional incentive designed to preserve portions of two historically important garden apartments. The FBC designates areas of these two garden apartments as TDR Sending Sites, and through use of the tool, the property owners and/or developers can transfer density to TDR Receiving Sites, which are other selected areas of Columbia Pike or elsewhere in the County where bonus height can be accommodated. This transfer of density occurs in exchange for commitments to preserve the existing buildings, renovate units and preserve affordability for no less than 30 years. See Part 2 of the Neighborhoods FBC for specific details. Learn more about preserving affordable housing efforts in Columbia Pike.

Bonus Density and Height Exceptions

The County’s 25% density and six-story height bonus for site plan projects allows the County Board to approve additional height and/or residential density for both market-rate and low or moderate income housing where a proposed site plan project complies with all requirements. Read the requirements on page 8 in Zoning Ordinance Section 36.H.7.

Bonus density may also be achieved through special provisions for the following specific areas:

  • Clarendon Revitalization District: The Unified Commercial Mixed-Use Development Special Exception Use Permit is an option for Service Commercial properties on the edges of Clarendon. These properties may obtain up to 1.5 FAR in bonus density by providing affordable housing equal to 10% of the bonus density if that amount is more than 4,000 square feet in GFA. In some situations, a cash contribution of $15 per square foot of the bonus density may be made instead. Read the requirements on page 16 of Zoning Ordinance Section 31.A.17.d. (12)(a).
  • Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Special Revitalization District and Neighborhoods Form Based Code: Developers and property owners who choose to use the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Form Based Code (FBC), and comply with its base affordable housing requirement that 20 – 35% of their net new units will be affordable for households earning between 40 – 80% of the AMI, can generally build more density than permitted under by-right zoning. See Part 9 of the Neighborhoods FBC for specific details.

Beyond the base incentives of the Neighborhoods FBC, it also contains different options for obtaining additional bonus height in specific areas. One way applicants can obtain bonus height is by contributing more on-site affordable units than the base affordable housing requirement described above. Another way bonus height can be achieved is by using the Transfer of Development Rights option described above.

  • Nauck Village Center (FAR): The Nauck Village Center Action Plan includes an incentive for the creation of affordable housing, for an increase in FAR from a maximum density of 1.5 to 2.0. This use permit option is limited to projects on designated residential sites where the developer agrees to provide at least 10% of the units as Committed Affordable Units. Read the requirements on page 13 of Zoning Ordinance Section 31.A.17.c. (12).

Other Incentives

Parking Incentive – Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Special Revitalization District and Neighborhoods Form Based Code: Developers and property owners who use the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Form Based Code (FBC) can optionally choose to provide more affordable housing units than the base-level requirements. Projects that exceed the minimum affordable housing qualify for a parking reduction. The parking ratio for all of the proposed affordable units would be reduced from 1.125 spaces per unit to 0.825 spaces per unit. Any market rate units would be parked at the standard 1.125 spaces per unit. See Parts 8 & 9 of the Neighborhoods FBC for specific details.