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Virginia House seeks more data for Fairfax senator’s bill to allow more accessory living units

State Sen. Saddam Salim testifies before the House Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns on his bill to require accessory living units (via Virginia General Assembly)

Final consideration of state Sen. Saddam Salim’s (D-37) proposal to expand the availability of accessory housing units in Virginia will wait until next year.

A Virginia House of Delegates committee voted on Feb. 23 to table Senate Bill 304, until 2025, suggesting that the delay would give Salim and other legislators more time to refine the bill and collect data on existing local policies allowing accessory dwelling units (ADUs), which are known in Fairfax County as accessory living units (ALUs).

In his first term representing the 37th Senate District, which includes Tysons, Vienna, Oakton, Merrifield and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, Salim proposed requiring localities to allow ALUs in residential districts “by right,” meaning the property owner wouldn’t need a special permit that often comes with added fees and public hearings.

Though the bill passed the Senate 22-18 on Feb. 9, it was still being revised up until the House Counties, Cities and Towns Committee’s meeting on Feb. 23. The committee didn’t hear public testimony, but its chair, Del. Candi Mundon King (D-23), noted that seven people had signed up to oppose the bill and three to support it, on top of “extensive” feedback at a subcommittee meeting on Feb. 22.

“There is no concern about accessory dwelling units in concept. I think you saw unanimous support,” Del. Briana Sewell (D-25), who chaired the subcommittee, said. “The issue is fine-tuning the language, and the fact that you even brought forth an amendment today showcases that the work has not been complete.”

Also sometimes known as “granny flats,” ADUs or ALUs are independent, secondary residential units located on the same lot as a single-family house. They can either be attached to the primary dwelling or standalone structures, but as defined by Salim’s bill, they have their own living, bathroom and kitchen space.

Though he doesn’t seem them as a solution to local affordable housing needs, Salim says accessory units are still a useful option for residents who might otherwise be priced out of their neighborhood, including seniors and college students.

“Numerous constituents, including teachers, firefighters, nurses, and other essential workers, have expressed concerns about being priced out of our community,” he said in a statement to FFXnow. “Among the primary impediments to ADUs are local requirements for Special-Use Permits, which substantially inflate costs and delay construction timelines, rendering them financially unfeasible in many cases.”

When talking before the House committee, he recalled how he and his family had to live in other people’s basements after they immigrated to the U.S. from Bangladesh in the early 2000s.

“ADUs would’ve been something that would’ve helped us temporarily, whether it’s a room in someone’s house or a configuration of a bathroom, a kitchen and a bedroom that comes together,” he said. “…Living in those basements allowed us to apply for affordable housing. That took about three and a half years.”

Initially, Salim’s proposal prohibited localities from requiring ALUs to have dedicated parking or an occupant who has a relationship or “affinity” with the people living in the primary dwelling, among other potential restrictions. Some of the provisions would’ve contradicted Fairfax County’s zoning policies, alarming some local officials and residents.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors discussed the bill at a legislative committee meeting on Jan. 26, where staff recommended opposing it for encroaching on local authority to govern land use. The McLean Citizens Association (MCA) also sent a letter expressing concern that the legislation would “nullify” the county’s requirements for ALUs.

Throughout the General Assembly session, SB 304 was significantly amended. The version that went before the House Counties committee allowed localities to require dedicated parking for ALUs, a rental term of at least 30 days, owner occupancy of either the accessory or primary unit, and a size limit of 1,000 square feet or 50% of the primary dwelling, whichever is less.

Salim told the committee that he and his office worked with localities to make “reasonable changes and improvements to the bill,” as long as they weren’t asking to be exempted.

“While I understand local government concerns regarding their jurisdiction, I believe that this bill strikes the right balance, addressing the need for action without imposing too much control from Richmond,” he told FFXnow. “…We remain receptive to stakeholder feedback and will continue to refine the bill over the next year.”

Salim confirmed that King and House Speaker Del. Don Scott (D-88) will send letters to the Virginia Housing Commission, directing it to gather information from localities around the state on their ALU policies. A representative of the commission, which studies and provides recommendations on legislative solutions to housing issues, told the state lawmakers that it should be able to provide that data by July 1.

“I am confident that with this data, the bill will have the votes to become law next year,” Salim said. “Ultimately, Virginia faces a pressing need for expanded housing options, and delay is not an option.”

MCA President Linda Walsh said the citizens’ association hasn’t taken a stance on the amended bill.

“We most likely will take a look during the fall as we start to review the bills that have been held over and any new bills that have been submitted for consideration,” she said.

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