By Cody Mello-Klein | [email protected]
Changes to the city’s residential parking permit program are underway and both residents and businesses are concerned about what the proposed changes could mean.
As part of the RPP Refresh initiative, Department of Transportation and Environmental Services staff have been working on changes to the RPP program over the last year with emphasis on posted parking restrictions, permit fees and the RPP process.
The RPP program manages on-street parking for residents on a block-by-block basis and allows neighbors to collaboratively craft restrictions for their block, with approval from the Traffic and Parking Board and city council. Through the RPP program, residents can petition for new RPP districts and specific timing restrictions on their blocks.
After administering community feedback surveys in April to gauge residential interest or concern for the proposed changes, staff presented an initial review of the proposed changes to city code to the Traffic and Parking board on Sept. 23.
The most controversial change, which staff has since removed from its list of recommended changes, would have eliminated the three-hour parking option for non-permit holders in RPP districts. As of now, those without permits can park for three hours on some blocks before they have to move their car. The proposed change would have made all parking districts two-hour zones.
The impact would be seismic for businesses like the Little Theatre of Alexandria, one of the most prominent opponents of many of the RPP changes.
“Those three-hour zones are pretty important for us, for people that are there longer, [including] patrons in some cases, because all of our shows run over two hours, but also for volunteers,” Ashley Amidon, LTA’s governor of seasonal planning, said.
With the elimination of three-hour zones, theater patrons would have to scramble to move their cars during intermissions, Luana Bossolo, an LTA producer and Alexandria resident, said.
“I think particularly by changing from three hours to two hours in some of the surrounding areas near the theatre, [it] could cause undue stress and an inconvenience for elderly patrons and people with disabilities who will need to move their cars during the middle of a show,” Bossolo said.
One of the intentions behind the change was to increase parking enforcement efforts, something residents have requested, by making the RPP program more uniform for parking enforcement officers, Megan Oleynik, a transportation planner with T&ES, said.
Despite the city’s community engagement efforts, Amidon and the other members of the LTA board were unaware of the proposed changes until three days before TPB held a public hearing for the proposal on Oct. 28.
“It was a little frustrating for us because we’ve been here in the city for 85 years,” Amidon said. “We like to think it’s an institution. The city has touted how they did this long outreach process, and this was news to literally every single person at the theatre.”
Amidon and about 14 other members of the LTA community attended the Oct. 28 TPB public hearing to express their concerns about the changes. Seven other LTA volunteers sent in letters to the TPB as well.
Ultimately, staff decided not to recommend the three-hour change when RPP Refresh goes before city council on Dec. 14, Katye North, Mobility Services division chief, said.
“This is good. Staff listened to our objections. We got in there early when we could, when we knew about them and they’ve rethought their position,” Yvonne Callahan, vice president of Old Town Civic Association, said.
A change to RPP zone restriction end times has also drawn concern from residents and businesses. Under current city code, the restrictions around non-resident parking in RPP districts can end at 5 p.m., 9 p.m., 11 p.m. or 2 a.m., depending on the needs expressed in the resident petition.
Staff is proposing to remove the 9 p.m. option, as part of a holistic effort to limit the number of options available to residents during the RPP process.
“Right now, there are more than 30 options that include the days of the week that are included, the time and whether or not the restrictions are two hours or three hours for people without the district permit,” Me- gan Oleynik, a transportation planner in T&ES, said. “We had heard from city council and the Commission on Aging, as well as from some members of the community, that they would like to see fewer options.”
Staff is recommending all zones that previously ended at 9 p.m. change to 11 p.m., which could also impact businesses in the city, Amidon said.
A lot of LTA patrons and Alexandria visitors plan their evenings out in the city around dinner and a show. If parking restrictions extend to 11 p.m. or even 2 a.m., visitors would then have to think about moving their car again, which could stop the consumer snowball effect of walking around the city.
“It’s not business friendly, and for Alexandria that’s trying to attract businesses, continue to attract people who want to spend their evenings and weekends or make this a tourist destination spot, I just think these new parking rules are all about filling the coffers of city hall,” Bossolo said.
(Read more: Council makes Old Town parking pilot permanent)
North clarified that although staff is recommending the removal of the 9 p.m. option, the city will work with neighborhoods to determine what works best for them.
“Yes, we are recommending removing the 9 p.m. end times, and we are recommending that RPP blocks with 9 p.m. end times transition to 11 p.m.,” North said in a statement. “However, we are going to contact residents of impacted blocks via letter and let them know about the change, and if a block indicates they would prefer to transition to 5 p.m. end times, we will accommodate that instead.”
Other proposed RPP changes emphasize streamlining the RPP process.
The creation of RPP districts is currently driven by resident petitions. Residents need to get at least 50 percent of the residential properties on a block to support the creation of an RPP district on that block. If residents get enough support, staff does a parking occupancy survey in the area to ascertain whether parking is being used by residents. It then goes to the TPB and eventually council for approval.
T&ES is recommending a new staff-initiated option for creating RPP districts, which would still involve polling residents and getting a required percentage of support. North said this option allows staff to be more proactive and preempt new development in the city.
“Basically, a parking problem has to exist already before we can create a new parking district,” North said. “So, even if we know an area is going to have parking problems, like around a Metro station, we have to see that there’s a parking problem before we can take it further in the process.”
Under the proposed code changes, RPP restrictions would also have to be the same on both sides of a block and modifications to those restrictions would have to be made by petitioners on a block, not block face.
Although staff heard the concerns of residents and business owners this time around, some residents worry that another change could limit opportunities for community feedback moving forward. The change in question would give the director of T&ES the power to approve TPB recommendations for RPP changes and expansion. That power is currently reserved for the city manager and council.
“From a policy point of view, I don’t like anything that lets staff determine something that city council otherwise now acts upon,” Callahan said. “… It just removes one more opportunity for a citizen to address elected officials.”
All of staff’s recommended changes will go before city council during a Dec. 14 public hearing.