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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Fairfax County officials are undertaking a comprehensive review of off-street parking for the first time since the late 1980s.

Conducted by a consultant, the county’s Parking Reimagined project will kick off a community engagement process this month for the public to weigh in on how it could update its approach to parking, such as by revising parking rates or reassessing land-use requirements.

County staff presented their efforts to assess off-street parking yesterday (Tuesday) during a joint meeting between the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission. The project is expected to last 12-18 months.

“One of the critical elements of this project is community engagement,” said Michael Davis, a county staffer and parking lead. “Our community outreach is intended to encompass all the different areas of the county in the sense of business owners, renters, residents, religious assembly leaders, nonprofits, because parking has an effect on all of these in some form or fashion.”

A white paper on the project notes the “engagement process will be ongoing and interactive with the community as we gain more knowledge of the parking needs…and propose changes to the requirements.”

Options to include the public may include community and town hall meetings, video presentations, surveys and more. Public hearings on proposed changes could occur in late 2022 into early 2023.

Two county departments are part of the project: Fairfax County Land Development Services, which deals with how property construction codes and regulations, and the Department of Land Development, which provides proposals, advice and assistance on land use, development review and zoning issues to decision-makers.

To assist with the review, the county hired Clarion-Nelson\Nygaard, a partnership of two land use and transportation consulting firms, this past spring.

The white paper says equity, affordability, land use, environmental, and economic concerns will all be considered as part of the study.

“Society has changed,” Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross said during the meeting, noting that residents of one townhouse community in Annandale built in 1972 are “screaming they have no place to park.”

Gross said the county needs to look at retrofitting existing townhouse communities to meet current parking needs.

Changes in technology, development, and people’s habits over the past few decades require a reevaluation of how spaces are used and where they’re actually needed. The white paper highlights the rise of electric and autonomous vehicles, ridesharing, remote work, and online retail among the trends that have affected parking needs.

On one end of the spectrum, limited parking spots can mean the difference between whether a business has enough spots and whether vehicles spill over onto nearby residential streets, Land Development Services director Bill Hicks said.

On the other, there are office parks and strip malls with lots that take up half a block but rarely host more than a handful of vehicles. Hunter Mill District Walter Alcorn called some parking situations in the county “bonkers.”

He also forecast that parking needs will continue to change over time, so county officials should examine the situation as it evolves over the coming years.

As the review of off-street parking gets underway, the county is also still considering potentially adding parking meters for certain on-street areas, particularly in Tysons and Reston. Proposals for that could be presented to the Board of Supervisors next year.

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