Arlington, VA

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

In her summation at the end of the County Board’s Jan. 12 Amazon “Listening Session” at the NRECA building, Board member Katie Cristol said she wished there were a magic lever to pull which would produce affordable housing. Her regretful conclusion: there is no such lever.

But our Board is focused intently on looking for levers to make housing more affordable — even if those levers aren’t magical.

Several levers the Board has signaled an intent to pull involve parking. Providing parking in various scenarios (e.g., in new, large, multi-unit residential buildings) is very expensive. It may by itself push prices for units beyond the means of some renters or buyers. Several of these actual or potential parking policies are drawing strong resident pushback.

Examples of recent parking policy controversies

  • American Legion Post 139 (Washington Boulevard)

Parking has emerged as a “key concern” relating to APAH’s proposed affordable housing project.

  • Forest Glen (Residential Zone 24)

Residents are “angry” that the County Board could end residential zone parking restrictions in this zone at its meeting on Jan. 26. The most up-voted comment to an ARLnow.com story on this controversy highlighted the County government’s confusion over the scope of the current “moratorium” on adding/subtracting/changing current residential permit parking zones:

BBMS Yesterday’s article: County not likely to change neighborhood permit parking details around Post 139 while county-wide program is being reworked. Today: County changing neighborhood’s permit parking rules immediately.”

  • Red Top Cab

The developer looks ready to “slash parking.”

  • Virginia Hospital Center (VHC)

The County Board ultimately approved the VHC expansion plans. But the final plan cut VHC’s original request for permission to build a parking garage by more than 100 spaces after adjacent neighborhoods protested the damaging spillover parking impact on their residential areas.

Confusion, disputes plague parking policies

In a November 2017 column, I discussed some of the county government’s actual or proposed parking policies which still are the subject of strong disagreement:

  • lower parking minimums for residential projects approved by special exception that are close to Metro corridor station entrances (but how much lower, and how far from station entrances?)
  • allowances for developers to substitute bike parking, carsharing, or investments in Capital Bikeshare for fewer parking spaces (but does this discriminate against the elderly or those with disabilities?)
  • lower dedicated visitor parking minimums (but what about the spillover effect on neighborhoods?)
  • rethinking the residential zone parking program in general (but when, where, and how?)

Philosophical, ideological differences characterize parking policy discussions

We are witnessing a clash of philosophical and ideological differences over parking. To only slightly oversimplify, some want county government to:

  • adopt policies which actively discourage car use within increasingly larger portions of Arlington
  • retain policies (parking minimums for development, zone parking) which actively protect neighbors’ rights to use their own cars where they want to use them, and decide who gets to park in their neighborhoods and when
  • drop existing parking policies which increase developer costs with consequences for affordability and/or
  • reconsider the equity aspects of existing parking policies which preclude residents parking near their homes (e.g., Forest Glen Zone 24)

Conclusion

To date, discussion of the parking issues identified above has neither encouraged nor enabled the broader community to participate adequately in balancing the county-wide benefits and harms likely to result from various alternative policy options.

The current county government management structures (e.g., the county transportation staff and the Transportation Commission) need to be supplemented by a new, more community-centered discussion forum.

The County Board should:

  • consider holistically all these potential changes in parking policies as community-wide issues
  • recruit community members with substantially differing views into a new working group to report directly to the County Board on these policies

Peter Rousselot previously served as Chair of the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission (FAAC) to the Arlington County Board and as Co-Chair of the Advisory Council on Instruction (ACI) to the Arlington School Board. He is also a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) and a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA). He currently serves as a board member of the Together Virginia PAC, a political action committee dedicated to identifying, helping and advising Democratic candidates in rural Virginia.

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