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County explores tying parking requirements to development density

The Reston Town Center parking garages have a system that tracks the availability of spaces in real time (staff file photo)

As part of the first comprehensive overhaul since 1988, Fairfax County officials are proposing a tiered system for parking requirements based on development density.

The effort, dubbed Parking Reimagined, kickstarted in response to changing patterns of behavior, technology demographics, and 34 years of development, particularly bus service and Metrorail.

At a Land Use and Policy Committee meeting yesterday (Tuesday), the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors concurred that a tiered system would be an appropriate approach to modernize how the county regulates parking and determines requirements for development.

Board Chairman Jeff McKay lauded staff for not pursuing a “one-size fits-all approach.”

In tier 1, which covers most of the county, low density areas would see only minor changes and modest parking rate reductions. Medium density areas — which are not located in transit areas — would be subject to maximum parking requirements.

But in tier three — high-density areas with urban, mixed-use, and multimodal-oriented development — parking requirements would be significantly reduced to discourage the use of cars and encourage walkability and pedestrian-oriented development.

A tiered system sets parking requirements based on density (via Fairfax County Government)

The county kicked off a month-long series of town halls in November, courting pubic feedback on its first comprehensive parking review in decades.

Public hearings are slated to begin in the fall following community engagement on the draft proposal this summer.

“It is recognized that driving a car will continue to be common activity and that parking will continue to be necessary,” a March county memo says. “However, parking should be considered with other community and personal values.”

Parking requirements can be further reduced in Transit Station Areas and Commercial Revitalization Districts, including the Tysons Urban Center, community business centers, and suburban centers like Dulles, Fairfax Center, and Merrifield.

For example, current requirements state that developments must provide one space for every three people served, along with an additional space per employee.

The new system would set rates based on the tiered system and calculate parking based on the structure’s square footage instead of the number of people served:

The county is also contemplating adding other components to its parking regulations, including bicycle parking, parking lot landscaping, off-street loading, and electric vehicle charging.

Parking Reimagined could set a minimum required number of spaces for electric vehicles. Last year, the county allowed parking spaces for EVs to be used in calculations for total parking requirements.

The overhaul could also establish minimum bicycle parking requirements in order to encourage the use of bicycles in specific areas of the county.

“Not every transit center is the same as the one in Tysons,” said Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik.

The county hired consultant Clarion-Nelson/Nygaard to review nine regional and national municipalities to assess best practices used in other communities. That framework was used to guide the county’s effort.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn encouraged the county’s planning and development staff to coordinate changes to off-street parking requirements with other departments. He also suggested that the county consider ways to open up private parking to the public.

“We do have communities in the county that do not have parking shortages and parking challenges,” Alcorn said.

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust suggested establishing a parking authority to enforce parking-related issues and regulations in areas like Tysons.

“I think it’s something we should absolutely be looking at even if its just to come back and say it’s not going to work,” Foust said.

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