City council’s recent decision to adopt a compromise solution on parking for Chatham Square residents is a welcome development for several reasons.
Foremost, it’s a break in the battle.
Acrimony seems to swirl around every land use decision, large or small, in Alexandria these days. The increasing pattern is a city government that is unyielding in pushing through land uses that are often either environmentally destructive or culturally insensitive. The Karig Estates and Potomac Yard Metro actions are examples of the former and the vote to add lights to the T.C. Williams football stadium is emblematic of the latter.
These decisions embroiled the city in lawsuits over Karig and T.C. They have also left many city residents shaking their heads in disbelief, and reasonably wondering why greater effort wasn’t made to reach real compromise.
In the case of Karig, meaningful accommodation would have involved relatively minor changes in setbacks. Finding a different location for Friday night lights and moving the Metro a short distance would have been more difficult as they would have delayed those projects, but sometimes a delay is a small price to pay for getting a decision right.
So, when Chatham Square homeowners petitioned city council to allow them to park on surrounding streets rather than just in their garages – which the 2002 development special use permit for the project did not allow – it seemed like another contentious council decision was looming.
Residents said their garages were too small to hold two cars. Nearby neighbors said there wasn’t enough room on surrounding streets for Chatham residents’ cars. Others worried about the precedent that changing this DSUP would set, as it might open the floodgates for any development similarly restricted to contest its parking restrictions.
Instead, like the script from a Hallmark movie, the residents themselves worked out a compromise, with an unlikely assist from city council’s marathon Oct. 13 public hearing about lights at T.C. Williams High School.
As those contesting the Chatham petition sat in the council break room for hours during the lengthy debate on T.C. lights, a funny thing happened: they began talking. They realized there was a potential compromise to be had, so they kept talking even after the T.C. lights vote.
The resulting compromise is striking in its apparent fairness to all parties. Chatham Square residents are still required to keep their first car in their garages, meaning most vehicles will still be parked off street. But those with two vehicles will be allowed to park the second one on the street, meaning residents won’t have to continue cramming them into extremely tight quarters. And thus a fairly limited, rather than sweeping, precedent was set.
We wish this course of action could become the norm in Alexandria. Doing so would require more instances where city residents on both sides of acrimonious issues sit down together without city staff or elected officials and attempt to work out their differences.
Real compromise, where neither side gets all they want but the concerns of all are addressed, is possible on many issues. Maybe this is the start of a trend.