(Updated at 9:55 a.m.) The Arlington County Board has done away with parking restrictions on a handful of streets in two South Arlington neighborhoods, putting to rest a contentious dispute that has dragged on for years between Forest Glen and Arlington Mill residents.
The Board voted unanimously Saturday (Jan. 26) to end zoned parking on eight streets in the area. As part of the county’s “Residential Parking Program,” the county previously barred anyone without a permit from parking on the roads from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. each day.
The following streets, once part of the county’s “Zone 24” and stretching into sections of both Forest Glen and Arlington Mill, are now open for parking around the clock:
- 6th Place S.
- 7th Street S.
- 7th Road S.
- S. Florida Street
- S. Greenbrier Street
- S. Harrison Street (north of 7th Street S.)
- S. Illinois Street
- S. Jefferson Street
Arlington officials first zoned the streets off in 2016, largely due to Forest Glen residents arguing that too many drivers from outside the area were occupying the neighborhood’s limited parking spots. But residents of Arlington Mill said they started to feel the squeeze instead once that change was made, as it cut off street parking near the many apartment complexes in the neighborhood.
“Street parking in Arlington Mill became so scarce that it was rare to find a parking spot anywhere after 7 p.m.,” Austin McNair, an Arlington Mill resident who fought for the change, told ARLnow via email. “Anyone not working a traditional 9 to 5 job was now faced with the extra task of finding parking more than a mile away from their home. I can promise that this is the story for many families.”
Ordinarily, the county likely wouldn’t have waded into such a dispute — the Board put a two-year moratorium on any parking zone changes as it reviews the efficacy of the entire program, a process that isn’t set to wrap up until sometime early next year.
Yet the Board subsequently determined that county staff didn’t follow their usual process for setting up the zoned parking in the area, convincing officials that the parking restrictions both weren’t working well and that they were likely set up improperly in the first place.
“This was not a decision that we take lightly or came to easily… but the status quo is not acceptable,” said Board member Erik Gutshall. “What this is all about, for me, is the efficient allocation of a public resource, which is on-street parking. I’m sorry that this is the least objectionable of lots of other bad options.”
Board members stressed that they’d urged staff to work out some sort of compromise position between the two neighborhoods over the past few months, perhaps by putting restrictions on one side of each street but freeing up the other side. But they could never quite find an acceptable solution to all sides, or manage to find one that county lawyers thought would hold up in court — the county’s parking restrictions were challenged all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1977, and officials have since been careful to limit the parking zones to the narrow intent of keeping commuters out of residential areas.
“While the neighborhood has grown in density, it has never been and is still not a destination for commercial customers or commuters who would be parking their cars to access public transportation,” McNair said.
The dispute has also turned a bit ugly in recent weeks. A community meeting the Board convened to discuss the matter drew plenty of raised voices, with some in Forest Glen arguing that the parking restrictions were necessary to prevent speeding, littering and other criminal activity in the neighborhood. Others in Arlington Mill, particularly some advocates for Latino residents, claimed those concerns were based in some deep-seated racial stereotypes.
That divide was evident at the Board’s gathering as well. Danny Cendejas, an activist on variety of local issues, told the Board that the current parking restriction “has discriminated against our neighbors,” while Forest Glen residents argued that reversing the restriction would harm their quality of life.
“I had to place trash cans in the middle of the street to slow down people who were racing to find parking while my three young children were riding their bicycles,” Brent Newton, a six-year resident of the neighborhood, told the Board. “When we were granted the [Residential Parking Program designation], our neighborhood became quiet, clean and tranquil. With utmost certainty, it will return to what it was before the RPP: speeding cars, trash and noise.”
While Board members sympathized with those concerns, they didn’t believe changing the parking restriction would make a difference on those fronts. Board member Libby Garvey suggested that they may be “related,” but she would rather see police step up enforcement in the area to address those worries.
Gutshall pointed out that his own neighborhood, near Clarendon, has parking restrictions in place, but still deals with its own share of littering issues as people flock to the area to reach nearby bars and restaurants. For him, and the rest of the Board, the parking staff’s missteps in evaluating the neighborhood for earning zone restrictions were more important to address.
Stephen Crim, the manager of the county’s parking program, told the Board that his staff discovered that they didn’t check license plates on the affected streets against records maintained by the county’s Commissioner of the Revenue, which tracks tax payments on property like vehicles. That means that staff didn’t necessarily have a full picture of how many people from outside the county were actually parking in the neighborhoods.
(Updated at 8:15 p.m.) Arlington officials are gearing up to erase parking restrictions on several streets in the Forest Glen neighborhood, angering some residents there but meeting the demands of others in nearby Arlington Mill.
The County Board is set to consider a resolution later this month ending zoned parking restrictions along the following the roads, per county spokeswoman Katie O’Brien:
- 6th Place S.
- 7th Street S.
- 7th Road S.
- S. Florida Street
- S. Greenbrier Street
- S. Harrison Street (north of 7th Street S.)
- S. Illinois Street
- S. Jefferson Street
All of those streets are currently covered under “Zone 24” of the county’s residential permit parking program, barring unauthorized cars from parking there between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. each day.
The Board has generally avoided any changes to the program recently, after declaring a moratorium on applications for new parking restrictions while members weigh potential reforms to the county’s entire zoned parking system. Board members and some community leaders have started to doubt that the current program, originally designed to keep commuters out of D.C.-adjacent neighborhoods, is working as intended.
But the Board could soon make these changes in Forest Glen all the same, given the loud complaints from people in Arlington Mill.
According to a letter sent to Forest Glen residents from the Board, and provided to ARLnow, people in the neighborhood have “experienced great difficult with curbside parking” since the parking restrictions went into effect a few years ago. County staff have worked for months to find an “interim solution” to the dispute, without success, pushing the Board to take this step.
It doesn’t help matters either that staff believe the parking restrictions “depart from the program’s original intent and place an undue burden” on surrounding streets, the letter reads. The Board has since concluded that “the determination for the restrictions deviated from standard staff practices, including data collection and verification,” spurring the need for the change.
“The County Board is unwilling to allow restrictions to the public right of way continue considering the fundamental discrepancies in establishing the eligibility of the above streets for the RPP program,” Board members wrote.
But one Forest Glen resident, who requested anonymity for this article, claimed that neighbors had “myriad reasons” for requesting the parking restrictions in the area. Those ranged from concerns over “out of county parkers, unregistered and abandoned vehicles” to “crime” and “blocked driveways,” all of which, this person believes, meet the standards of the county’s parking rules.
The Forest Glen resident further argues that the Board would be taking an “unprecedented and historic” step by removing the parking restriction, which will “put all other RPP areas in Arlington at risk of being removed.”
“The removal of Forest Glen’s zone parking represents an unprecedented intervention by the County Board into administrative decisions of county government,” they wrote in an email. “Additionally, every RPP area now faces the increased likelihood of removal.”
O’Brien stressed in an email, however, that the Board’s proposed resolution “only applies to these streets in zone 24 and will not impact any other neighborhoods or zones.”
The Board is set to consider the matter at its Jan. 26 meeting, and plans to hold a community meeting on the subject tonight (Tuesday) at 7 p.m. in the Arlington Mill Community Center (909 S. Dinwiddie Street).
Meanwhile, the county is hoping to wrap up its review of the parking program sometime by the end of the year, or in early 2020, according to county spokeswoman Jessica Baxter.
Photo via Google Maps
After two years of design and one year of construction, Tyrol Hill Park has finished the last phase of its construction and is open to the public.
Tyrol Hill Park is a two-acre park adjoining the Forest Glen and Arlington Mill Neighborhoods, with connections branching out into the nature trails of Glencarlyn Park.
Phase Four of the project finalized the park with a new restroom, picnic shelter, and paved plaza. Phase Four also added several furnishings to the site and added accessibility and stormwater management improvements. Earlier phases relocated and upgraded the Basketball and Volleyball Courts on the site, added a new gateway entrance, installed a new playground and added a picnic shelter.
The Tyrol Hill Master Plan was adopted by the County Board in 2003, but after years of inactivity the project was revisited in 2016 when a community survey conducted by Arlington County staff showed there was still support for adding a unisex bathroom to the site and that renovating the paths around the site was a top priority.
Photo via Arlington County Department of Parks & Recreation
A homeowner in Arlington’s Forest Glen neighborhood says she plans to fight a county inspector’s order that the abundant plant life in her yard be dramatically trimmed.
Lori Brent says her front yard at 665 S. Harrison Street has been a certified wildlife habitat for well over a decade and is beloved by many of her neighbors.
But it was a complaint from a neighbor earlier this year that prompted a county inspector to pay her a visit.
“I found it really weird because I’ve lived here for 15 years and everyone loves my yard,” she said.
Acknowledging that her garden had become “a little overgrown” after she had been away for three weeks, Brent said a “very adversarial” inspector stopped by, called the yard “a jungle” and said “you’ll be getting a letter from us.”
According to Brent, the letter ordered her to trim all of the plant life, even bushes and trees (the county disputes that), to a height of 12 inches. A follow-up inspection, to ensure her compliance, is scheduled for tomorrow (Friday).
Brent, however, said she has trimmed all that she intends to trim, making the yard — which now include Halloween decorations — look “more like a proper garden,” even if it might not meet the letter of the law.
“I cut more than I’d like to… in good faith, to be a good neighbor,” Brent said. “It kills me to get rid of the food sources for the animals before the winter. We can’t have just grass, that’s horrible for wildlife.”
“I flat out refuse” to do more trimming, said Brent. “Frankly it’s against my religion, I’m Pagan. You can’t get me to rid our animal habits and put in cement or whatever they want.”
Arlington County officials, as you might imagine, have a bit of a different story.
“Although, it is not our practice to discuss the details of active enforcement cases, I’d like to provide clarity regarding the issues generated at this particular property,” said Gary Greene, Code Enforcement Section Chief for the county’s Inspection Services Division, via email.
“In 1988, the Commonwealth enabled localities to adopt an ordinance to deal with nuisance conditions like excessive vegetation overgrowth and vegetation that encroaches upon sidewalks and streets,” he wrote. “Where adopted, the legislation has been effective in reducing the nuisances and public health hazards created by biting, stinging and jumping insects, increased pollen litter and harborage for rodents and the vast number of predators that prey on them.”
“Arlington’s Condition of Private Property Ordinance limits the height of grass or lawn areas to not more than 12 inch height, a limit consistent with international standards used to control vector related pest issues,” Greene added. “Our investigation of the complaint at the address provided, affirmed overgrowth in excess of five feet, vegetation encroaching onto the sidewalk and even extended onto county property immediately adjacent to the private parcel.”
Long story short: Brent’s personal Garden of Eden could be an inviting home for a bunch of bad critters, and that’s why the county is on her case.
“The enforcement is not arbitrary or onerous, but it is equitable to ensure public health; and yes, there are considerations for cultivated areas,” said Greene. (Similar enforcement has taken place elsewhere in the county.)
“The County’s issue is public health, not manicured lawns,” he said.
Brent, for her part, is left to wonder why the enforcement is taking place now, even though her yard has been chock full of vegetation for a decade. As far as wildlife, she said the yard is primarily home to chipmunks, rabbits and birds — critters that aren’t going to harm humans.
“My neighbors are all up in arms, they’re so upset,” Brent said. “The situation has been surreal to say the least.”
The neighborhood, one of the smallest in the county, spans from Glencarlyn Park to 7th Road S. and Tyriol Hill Park. The Forest Glen Civic Association has grown increasingly concerned over non-residents — specifically, residents of apartment buildings in neighboring communities — taking up available street parking they feel should be reserved for only neighborhood residents.
“Residents even drive a car from the apartment complex, park it on our street, and get into a different car already parked on our street,” Shawn Brown, a Forest Glen resident, wrote in an email to ARLnow.com. “That’s pretty crazy and really unacceptable.”
Forest Glen residents say street parking is nearly impossible to find late at night, with the streets filled not only with cars, but commercial vans and trucks. The civic association has prepared a draft appeal for the county to institute permit parking, citing the source of the problem as “the overcrowded apartments, condominiums, and duplexes that are located to the south of our neighborhood (between 7th Road S. and Columbia Pike and between Carlin Springs Road and Dinwiddie Street).”
However, any parking zone created by the civic association’s request under the current parking ordinance would also include residents of neighboring Columbia Heights West, which includes those apartment buildings. That’s something the civic association wants to avoid.
County Parking Manager Sarah Stott says she considers Forest Glen and Columbia Heights West “basically one community.” The county is currently conducting a study to determine whether, instead of restricting parking, more street parking can be created along the streets.
“Maybe there’s one space here, one space there [to add],” Stott said, adding that the “signs team” is studying if signs can be moved to create spaces. “We’ve got some wide streets there, we could put in angled parking and see if that could work. That could gain you a lot more spaces than parallel parking. We’re having engineers see if there’s a way to do that.”
If the study yields results the civic association finds unsatisfactory, it may submit its draft appeal, which suggests creating its own special parking ordinance for Forest Glen. If it does, Stott says she’s not exactly sure what would come next.
“I don’t know what that process would be,” she told ARLnow.com. “We haven’t had that before where a civic association, or anybody has appealed to the county to write its own ordinance.”
The appeal also references the special parking zones that have been established in the much-larger neighborhoods of Douglas Park and Columbia Forest, which restrict nighttime street parking. Even if the draft were to become an official ordinance, Forest Glen residents may not be too pleased with the results. Connor said he doesn’t see a need to increase parking for Forest Glen homeowners.
“The design folks are going to look at that entire community, but the intent isn’t to create the capacity in Forest Glen, which is a single-family neighborhood” he said. “Ideally the county is going to be able to create capacity in the higher-density neighborhoods.”
The full text of the civic association’s appeal is after the jump.
Update at 9:20 a.m. — Forest Glen Civic Association President Ron Ross said the neighborhood’s “ideas for a possible appeal have not been finalized” and said the appeal sent to ARLnow.com does not reflect the civic association’s official stance. He added, “There is a considerable amount of parking in Forest Glen by non-residents, decreasing the parking space for Forest Glen homeowners. The additional vehicles have also brought peripheral problems, such as trash left on the neighborhood streets and lawns, noise during nighttime hours, as well as blocking driveways of homeowners.”