By Barb Tolbert
In Arlington, we have a big challenge to plan housing for population growth. We have an equally important goal of preserving Arlington’s character.
Although we have focused on encouraging a variety of housing stock, we have not and are not changing our focus on protecting the culture of Arlington.
Demand for housing is outpacing supply, which is driving up prices. To address that, Arlington is encouraging small duplexes, triplexes, backyard cottages, townhomes, accessory dwelling units (“mother-in-law” apartments), and unit lot subdivisions.
Allowing those “missing middle” residences provides more-affordable living options for the one- and two-person households that we are seeing seeking housing in town.
While we work to fill gaps in housing, we also must plan for additional residents.
Arlington is required to submit a Comprehensive Plan to the Department of Commerce and to Puget Sound Regional Council under the Growth Management Act.
The intent of the GMA, a state law adopted in 1990, is to concentrate growth into cities and to stop urban sprawl.
Under the latest population allocation in Snohomish County, Arlington must plan for an additional 7,000 residents by 2040.
Although there is no guarantee that Arlington will grow that much, we are required to plan for that growth, ensuring that we have adequate water and sewer capacity, roads, services and housing.
If we don’t plan for the growth, the city will lose state and federal funding for infrastructure projects. Since the county does not allow for Arlington’s urban growth boundary to expand, we need to plan for higher density housing.
The keys to managing growth are proper zoning, insightful land-use planning and careful development. Arlington has focused on two strategies: mixed-use developments and design standards.
Mixed use developments have existed in Arlington since its founding. A majority of downtown buildings are vertical mixed use, with retail or services on the street level, and housing units on the second and third stories.
A new concept for Arlington is horizontal mixed use, where retail and services are in buildings closest to the street, and a variety of housing options are constructed behind.
These developments can share parking and open spaces. Arlington is already seeing construction applications for mixed use development.
City Council adopted design standards in 2018. These ensure that what is being constructed fits within Arlington’s character. Important are consistent setbacks, construction materials, preserving trees and natural features, and increasing pedestrian access and neighborhood interactions.
We encourage you to attend Planning Commission meetings, held on the first and third Tuesdays each month at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 110 E. Third St. You can also sign up to receive information on our website to keep up to date on the processing of applications and provide input.
Arlington’s sense of community is important, and so is planning for growth. The trick is to protect our culture while adding new residents. I love Arlington’s hometown feel with big-town opportunities, and will protect and support both.
Barb Tolbert is mayor of Arlington. Her column runs monthly.