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Tysons Galleria parking lot (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

As part of an ongoing review of off-street parking rules, Fairfax County is considering an overhaul of its parking requirements for new development.

Under the proposed tiered system, the number of parking spaces required for a particular development would vary depending on the density of the surrounding area.

Currently, developers must provide a certain amount of parking based on the type of use and how many people their building will serve. The same standards are applied throughout the county, though a special planned district for Tysons has its own rules.

The new system would leave standards for low-density areas largely unchanged, but it would impose a ceiling on the amount of parking allowed in medium-density areas and significantly limit parking in high-density, transit-oriented developments.

Those developments need less parking, because they are designed to be walkable and accessible by transit, so people can get to work, shop, and engage in other activities without having to get into a car, the county’s land-use and planning staff argues.

However, with Metro still reeling from last year’s train derailment and Fairfax County’s efforts to build more pedestrian and bicycle-friendly infrastructure a work in progress, transportation experts say signs point to people driving more frequently than they did before the pandemic as more workers return to offices.

According to The Washington Post, experts attribute the shift toward driving over mass transit to the rise in remote and hybrid work. Commuters might be more willing to drive now — and put up with increasing rush-hour congestion — when they only have to make that trip a couple of times a week.

Do you think having less parking in more developed, transit-oriented areas will help reduce Fairfax County’s reliance on cars, or will it just inconvenience people without producing the desired changes in behavior?

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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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The Reston Town Center parking garages have a system that tracks the availability of spaces in real time

If you’ve ever lost precious minutes circling a parking lot for an available spot or questioned the amount of space devoted to parking in a new development, the time to voice those concerns has come.

Fairfax County kicked off a month-long series of town halls last week for the public to weigh in on its first comprehensive parking review in decades, inviting stakeholders from business interests and nonprofits to tenants and religious groups to provide feedback.

Any recommended changes are expected to go to the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors for votes in late 2022.

“We have lots and lots of privately owned parking, and sometimes it seems we have more than enough parking, and sometimes, we don’t have enough,” Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said during an online town hall meeting on Nov. 10.

Dubbed Parking Reimagined, the county’s initiative focuses on off-street parking. It began last month and could run for 12-18 months. County rules regulate current parking as well as what future developments must build, though exceptions can be made.

The county is partnering with a consultant team, Clarion-Nelson\Nygaard, to study the matter, but a principal with Nelson\Nygaard, Iain Banks, noted that they’re looking at data from 2019 and earlier due to the pandemic’s effects on remote work, the use of transit, and other factors.

“Transportation is changing rapidly, not only as a result of COVID and the subsequent recovery from COVID but also into a future where perhaps traffic peak periods are going to change throughout the day,” Banks said. “It’s not going to be that typical morning and evening rush hour perhaps; it’s going to be more spread out throughout the day as flexible schedules perhaps become the norm.”

Residents expressed the need for parking and observed that parking costs money in the form of taxes, a parking permit, or a parking meter, though Fairfax County currently doesn’t operate any meters for off-street parking.

Michael Davis, parking program manager with the county’s Land Development Services department, said at the town hall last week that the initiative could help people think of parking as a resource.

He said they’re looking at “right sizing” parking, where the supply is appropriate for the demand. He noted that times of high and low demand can change by the hour and season, and there can even be times when cars are unnecessary, such as for nearby commutes.

Davis also raised the idea of shared parking. Instead of requiring a minimum number of parking spots, such as for a site with apartments, offices, and retail, a smaller parking area can be built that provides enough parking for all based on hourly demand.

County officials emphasized their interest in hearing from people at the town hall, which also turned into a brainstorming session of sorts.

Alcorn wondered if there was a way to track the progress of parking availability at developments. Davis noted that technology is already at Reston Town Center and Tysons Corner Center, which have electronic signs in their garages that show how many parking spots are available in real time.

But the changes in behaviors driven by the pandemic are leading officials to cautiously approach how to gather current data.

Information about upcoming meetings and other updates can be found on the county’s website for the project.

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