Ur­ban­iz­ing Fair­fax con­sid­ers ex­pan­sion of park­ing lim­its

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY FREDRICK KUNKLE

Fair­fax County res­i­dents will have a harder time find­ing a free park­ing space in some neigh­bor­hoods if trans­porta­tion plan­ners get their way.

Work­ing to ease traf­fic jams in the steadily ur­ban­iz­ing sub­urb, the county’s Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment is draft­ing pro­posed rules that would limit park­ing in new de­vel­op­ments near Metro lines. Such park­ing lim­its have al­ready been adopted by the Board of Su­per­vi­sors as part of the plan gov­ern­ing Tysons Corner’s trans­for­ma­tion into an ur­ban hub.

But im­pos­ing max­i­mums in other parts of Fair­fax where tran­sit-ori­ented devel­op­ment ex­ists would rep­re­sent a sig­nif­i­cant de­par­ture in a sub­urb where gen­er­a­tions of plan­ners drew up plans around the au­to­mo­bile.

“ This is a ma­jor shift. Other than Tysons, you could say this will be a first,” said Dan Rath­bone, chief of the trans­porta­tion plan­ning di­vi­sion in Fair­fax.

Sim­i­lar mea­sures have been adopted in Mont­gomery County and other ju­ris­dic­tions where pop­u­la­tion growth and new set­tle­ment pat­terns have trans­formed ar­eas from sub­urbs into cities. Fair­fax plan­ners have paid par­tic­u­larly close at­ten­tion to the trans­for­ma­tion of neigh­bor­ing Ar­ling­ton County from a back­wa­ter of park­ing lots into a high-rise Metro cor­ri­dor. Ballston’s tow­ers grew

out of Park­ing­ton Shop­ping Cen­ter, whose name re­flected one of its fa­vor­able at­tributes when it opened in 1951. Yet the num­ber of ju­ris­dic­tions in the United States that im­pose park­ing max­i­mums on de­vel­op­ers is still per­haps fewer than 50, Rath­bone said.

“We of­ten like to say that too much park­ing can be a traf­fic mag­net,” said Ste­wart Schwartz, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Coali­tion for Smarter Growth. “If we’re go­ing to ad­dress traf­fic and make a walk­a­ble com­mu­nity in Fair­fax, it’s im­por­tant to get the park­ing right.”

Still, some builders and county of­fi­cials are wary. In a county that cov­ers about 400 square miles, they won­der whether peo­ple would buy homes with­out hav­ing a place to park.

“I think ev­ery­body rec­og­nizes there’s a need for new park­ing ra­tios and park­ing lim­its, but the chal­lenge is to fig­ure out what are the right num­bers,” said Jon Lind­gren, di­rec­tor of op­er­a­tions for the North­ern Vir­ginia Build­ing In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion. “It’s mostly just mak­ing sure that builders have the flex­i­bil­ity to de­velop and build the kind of units that peo­ple want.”

Flex­i­bil­ity con­cerns

Su­per­vi­sor John C. Cook (RBrad­dock) said he en­dorses the gen­eral con­cept of en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple who re­side near Metro to use mass tran­sit more and their cars less, but he also expressed un­ease about the mea­sure’s po­ten­tial in­tru­sive­ness and lack of flex­i­bil­ity.

“You’re re­ally talk­ing about not al­low­ing de­vel­op­ers to build park­ing spa­ces? How can you limit the num­ber of cars some­body owns?” Cook said.

He and other skep­tics won­der what would hap­pen to peo­ple whop­ur­chased a town­house with limited park­ing but then switched jobs or en­coun­tered some other cir­cum­stance af­fect­ing their abil­ity to com­mute to work byMetro.

“ They can’t take theMetro if it goes the wrong way,” Cook said.

Stud­ies have shown that some­thing as ba­nal as a park­ing space has pro­found ef­fects on whether a com­mu­nity is liv­able, af­ford­able, nav­i­ga­ble and en­vi­ron­men­tally sound. A study by the Trans­porta­tion and Lan­dUse Coali­tion of Sil­i­con Val­ley hous­ing pat­terns found that a sin­gle park­ing space could cost as much as $25,000 and rep­re­sent as much as 20 per­cent of the to­tal cost of build­ing an apart­ment build­ing. In ef­fect, the study found, park­ing spa­ces drove out peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly the el­derly, renters and low­in­come res­i­dents and oth­ers with­out ve­hi­cles.

Don­ald Shoup, a pro­fes­sor of ur­ban plan­ning at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Los An­ge­les who grew up in Alexan­dria, said free park­ing is any­thing but free. Shoup, who wrote the book “ The High Cost of Free Park­ing,” said the true costs of free park­ing are rolled into the cost of a house or of­fice build­ing. If any­thing, Shoup said, Fair­fax has pro­moted cars for too long.

“If you look at it from the air, it looks like a park­ing lot,” Shoup said.

Walk­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties

Schwartz said sur­veys also sug­gest that lim­it­ing park­ing and in­creas­ing mass tran­sit play an im­por­tant role in at­tract­ing younger peo­ple, who are less likely to de­fine suc­cess as the sin­gle­fam­ily sub­ur­ban home with a two-car garage. An anal­y­sis by real es­tate con­sult­ing firm Robert Charles Lesser & Co. found that, com­pared with the rest of the Washington metropoli­tan area, Fair­fax at­tracted a smaller per­cent­age of the fastest-grow­ing seg­ment of house­hold­ers— those with one or two peo­ple per dwelling— in the past decade. Many of them pre­fer walk­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties, Schwartz said.

“ The mil­len­ni­als, in par­tic­u­lar, are sort of the Zip­car gen­er­a­tion,” Schwartz said.

Kathy Ichter, di­rec­tor of Fair­fax’s Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment, un­veiled the draft pro­posal at a trans­porta­tion com­mit­tee meet­ing late last year.

Un­der cur­rent or­di­nances, new town­houses must have at least 2.75 park­ing spa­ces per dwelling. Un­der the draft rec­om­men­da­tions, park­ing would be limited to 1.75 spa­ces per dwelling in a town­house devel­op­ment less than a quar­ter-mile from a Metro sta­tion or 2.5 spa­ces per dwelling if the town­house were lo­cated one-fourth of a mile to a half-mile from the sta­tion. Park­ing at com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ments would be re­duced from 2.6 park­ing spa­ces per 125,000 square feet of space to 2.1 if less than a quar­ter-mile from theMetro and to two spa­ces less than a halfmile away.

The Board of Su­per­vi­sors would be re­quired to adopt the guide­lines as an or­di­nance for them to take ef­fect. The county’s Trans­porta­tion Ad­vi­sory Com­mis­sion has en­dorsed the pro­posal, but only near theMetro lines.

Jef­frey Parnes, for­mer pres­i­dent of the Fair­fax County Fed­er­a­tion of Cit­i­zens As­so­ci­a­tions, said the pro­posed pol­icy is try­ing to catch up to the mar­ket, as many peo­ple who buy nearMetro hubs chose those homes be­cause they wanted to use mass tran­sit. Parnes, who heads the ad­vi­sory com­mis­sion, said the pro­posed change is a mod­est first step, be­cause cars will still be an im­por­tant part of Fair­fax’s liv­abil­ity for many years.

“ There’s no doubt about it: You will need a car,” Parnes said. “You won’t need three cars.”

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