My View: Task force looks to ‘right size’ city parking

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Nathan M. Macek
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By Nathan M. Macek

Thank you for your recent coverage – “Where to park?” and “Can’t we ‘put up a parking lot?’” in the August 17 Alexandria Times — of Alexandria’s Parking Standards for New Development Projects Study.

Alexandria’s existing off-street parking requirements date to the 1960s, an era prior to the introduction of Metrorail service, when auto-oriented suburban growth predominated.

This study provides an important opportunity to update the city’s parking standards to reflect the modern multimodal city that Alexandria has grown to become.

While the Times’ coverage focused on parking exemptions — whether businesses below a certain size should be exempted from providing any off-street parking —that is but one element of the standards, which generally focus on the range in parking spaces required per 1,000 square feet for particular land uses.

To be clear, our mission is not to reduce parking, but to right-size the city’s requirements for off-street parking to be constructed for new development and offered by businesses.
The study is informed by recently collected data on off-street parking patterns at a cross-section of restaurants, retailers, commercial offices, hotels and other businesses across the city. The data, all of which is published on the city’s web site, show that demand for off-street parking — even when free — is significantly less than the amount required to be supplied by most businesses. That means that existing regulations require businesses to offer parking that patrons aren’t using, a wasteful cost that is passed on to consumers.

One of the most surprising findings from the data is that more than half the patrons of city restaurants surveyed walk or bike to get there. And because most restaurants in the Central Business District are already exempted from providing parking, the survey didn’t include eateries on King Street, the city’s quintessential walking street. Why require a restaurant to build a parking lot larger than the restaurant itself when demand for that much parking doesn’t exist?

Current regulations offer businesses the opportunity to ask for a parking reduction. In the last three years, nine special use permit cases seeking only a parking reduction were heard by city council. That action not only delays the opening of new businesses, but saddles applicants with city fees and attorney costs to successfully navigate the process. The work of the task force will not only reduce the number of businesses requiring council permission to open, but also provide a fair and predictable framework for determining how much parking they should provide.

Our work is not yet complete, and we will continue to refine our recommendations. Members of the public have an opportunity to weigh in at each of our meetings and forthcoming planning commission and
city council public hearings. Additional opportunities for public input will be announced soon.

Far from a “war on cars,” there will continue to be a place for people who wish to drive in Alexandria to park their cars. But the reality is that many people bike, walk, and use transit, taxis and Uber to reach local businesses, and don’t require a parking space when they arrive. Instead of paving over our great city with half-empty parking lots, let’s put precious acreage to more exciting and productive uses.

The writer is chair of the Alexandria Parking Standards for New Development Projects Task Force

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