Our View: Parking vote is about livability

Our View: Parking vote is about livability

This local election season, it’s time to have a discussion about what kind of Alexandria we want, both now and in the future.

Do we want an Alexandria where new development in Del Ray and Old Town is continually allowed to erode the quality of life for nearby residents? Because that’s happening in both neighborhoods. Old Town and Del Ray are the economic heart and cultural soul of our city. They are our treasures – and the essence of each neighborhood is increasingly threatened by bad policies.

There’s a two-pronged strategy being pursued by city staff and city council. First, they cram as much residential density as possible into these areas – and elsewhere in the city – in an attempt to generate more tax revenue. Unfortunately, the increased density means more city services, like schools, police and sewers, are needed. So property taxes increase and more development is pursued. It’s like a Ponzi scheme where we inevitably can’t come out ahead.

Second, city officials are letting developers provide less and less on-site parking through waivers in past years and now through a proposed major overhaul of the city’s parking policy at Saturday’s public hearing. Parking is extremely expensive for developers, so they are cheering this shift. As for residents of Old Town and Del Ray, who have to fight for parking spaces near their homes, not so much.

Here is the crux of the parking issue, and why the city’s approach is flawed:

    •  The city’s recent parking study indicates that garages and surface lots in Alexandria are “underutilized” – though by their methodology any lot that is less than 85 percent full is underutilized. That threshold is not a realistic number on which to base policy decisions.That means if 10 of 12 paces in Pat Miller square are filled on a Friday night, as the Times found when we conducted our own parking survey in December, that lot is “underutilized.” Our survey found that 92 percent of spaces were filled in seven Del Ray lots. (See page 14 for the entire survey result.)
    •  Because existing garages and lots are “underutilized,” the city grants waivers and now is changing its policy so that developers can provide less parking. This is simply going to exacerbate the trend of restaurant and retail patrons parking in nearby neighborhoods, where they take spaces away from residents.
    • These parking changes are being touted as pro-business when they are actually pro-large developer, as the accompanying cap on the amount of parking small businesses can provide makes clear. According to the city’s study, Royal Restaurant in Old Town provides 25 percent more parking than it would be allowed to under the new rules. Does anyone who has been there for breakfast think the Royal’s parking lot is too big?

When there’s not enough parking provided on-site for restaurants and retail, shoppers try to park in nearby neighborhoods. If they are also restricted from parking on the street, they will simply go elsewhere. Alexandria’s businesses lose in this scenario.

And when there’s not enough on-site parking and patrons are allowed to park on the street, then the residents of Old Town and Del Ray lose.

In neither of these scenarios is the public served by less parking being provided.The solution is to require ample on-site or nearby parking (and 1,000 feet away is
not nearby), clearly mark its availability with signage and disallow non-residential
parking on nearby streets. Garages would fill, businesses would not lose customers and residents would be protected. 

Unfortunately, city council is almost certain to reduce commercial parking requirements on Saturday. Which begs the question, “Why do we keep re-electing the same people who vote against our interests?”

During the local election, all candidates are going to say they are concerned about the livability of Alexandria’s neighborhoods. Perhaps it’s time to elect representatives who will actually back their words with votes.