By Alexa Epitropoulos | [email protected]
The Alexandria Parking Standards For New Development Task Force and the
Transportation & Environmental Services department brought proposed changes to parking standards before city council at Tuesday’s legislative session.
Transportation & Environmental Services’ Katye North said 10 percent of the city is covered by surface parking lots, which has reduced mobility, been expensive and contributed to environmental issues. She also cited the fact that 40 percent of commercial development applications, such as special use permits and development special use permits, in recent years have included a reduction from current parking requirements, all of which have been approved.
North said one of the major goals of the changes to parking requirements is becoming more small businesses friendly.
“We want to promote and encourage small businesses and parking is often a huge obstacle for small businesses,” North said in her presentation.
With that in mind, North said updated parking requirements will assume people will still drive, but that travel preferences are changing.
North presented findings from a recent parking study, which surveyed 60 commercial sites around the city. The study shows that surveyed parking lots had 59 percent average peak occupancy, that 32 percent of patrons travel to city hotels via taxis, Uber and Lyft, that 52 percent of restaurant trip patrons did not drive to their destination and that some sites are leasing out spaces to utilize excess parking.
The task force wants to introduce new maximum parking restrictions, something the city has never had before. Other recommendations include an exception
from parking requirements for small neighborhood businesses under a certain size.
The introduction of parking changes provoked spirited debate from council members.
Mayor Allison Silberberg expressed concerns about the impacts of the changes, while Councilor Tim Lovain and Vice Mayor Justin Wilson expressed support for the changes.
Councilor Paul Smedberg said the study didn’t give a full view of restaurants, as it didn’t include properties in Old Town.
“I am concerned, at the end of the day. Clearly we all support … mass transit, and clearly we want to encourage making other choices, but we have to recognize that some of these suggestions might end up providing just less parking,” Mayor Allison Silberberg said at the meeting.
“I just find it hard to believe that all these SUPs with their parking reductions, we sort of just stumbled into them as a blind precedent,” Councilor Tim Lovain responded. “I would think in the large amount of cases, these were reviewed by staff and approved by staff and recommended by staff and carefully reviewed and approved by planning commission. To say somehow it’s just developers tag teaming off each other and that these weren’t considered decisions doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Wilson said concerns mostly revolve around the availability of on-street parking.
“Part of the challenge we hear about more often than not is the scarcity of on-street parking and this is a conversation around how much we require in the situation of development, which is not most of these cases. How much we require developers to create offstreet parking, mostly garages and things like that, and then, in the case of new use permits, how much we require them to secure spaces that are already created. You can’t create onstreet spaces,” Wilson said. “A new restaurant opening up, [like] Junction, is not going to be able to build a new parking lot. The real question is how much do we require them to go find parking and secure an agreement.”
City Manager Mark Jinks said the reduction in parking requirements for special use permits and development special use permits is arrived at by city staff and isn’t dictated by developers.
Alexandria Parking Standards For New Development Task Force Chair Nate Macek also spoke at the meeting.
“Our policy mandate is to right-size the parking, anticipate what people are going
to demand and try to meet that to the best of our ability,” Macek said.
Councilor John Chapman was interested in making it easier for businesses to share parking and incentivizing them to do so, as well as opening up parking lots to the public on off hours. He also said there was a perception problem in the city when it comes to parking.
“The 10 percent figure [percentage of the city covered by surface parking lots] that people have talked about is problematic when we don’t have businesses and consumers taking advantage. It’s troubling to have that number out there and not know how to work through it,” Chapman said.
Transportation & Environmental Services will host an open house for the public to review data and ask questions on Nov. 1 and will finalize recommendations next
month and bring them in front of council at the Dec. 16 public hearing.