Arlington County is preparing to revamp its residential permit parking system, nearly three decades after a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case upheld the county's right to limit commuter parking in its neighborhoods and paved the way for residential permit systems throughout the country.
Officials say that the changes are needed to respond to shifting demographics and an increasing number of drivers in some Arlington neighborhoods, where searching for parking has become a nightly adventure. Some residents have resorted to using trash cans, orange cones and other objects to save parking spots in front of their homes.
Parking in the county has become tougher as development has grown in the Rosslyn-Ballston Orange Line Metro corridor. During the past 40 years, the number of vehicles in the county has increased by 104 percent, to 120,626, whereas the population has grown 16 percent, to 189,453, according to county statistics.
The county released a proposal for changing the residential parking permit program earlier this month and will hold a series of five community forums on the plan beginning Saturday.
"We're looking at having a good discussion with the citizens on these draft recommendations and looking forward to improving the program," said Sarah E. Stott, parking manager for Arlington's Transportation Division. "In some of the neighborhoods, people are finding the program doesn't work for them."
Peter Owen, an Arlington resident and chairman of a citizen advisory commission on transportation, said that many residents who live in apartment complexes that allocate only one parking space per apartment have long said they feel it is unfair to limit the zoned parking permit system to homeowners. In turn, residents of single-family homes have complained that their streets have been clogged by visitors, commuters and residents who own multiple cars. Thirty-eight percent of Arlington residents own two or more cars, according to county statistics.
"These staff proposals could change how we allocate spaces on the public streets -- residents of older apartments could start to have their own zoned parking, and also single-family owners could have more nighttime zoning," Owen said. "This could mean that lots of people get an easier time parking close to their home. Overall, these proposals are improvements, but they still need some tweaking. Residents need to weigh in with their comments."
The county's residential permit parking system dates to the early 1970s, when the county began restricting parking in the Aurora Highlands neighborhood after residents there were overwhelmed by commuters traveling to the new Crystal City high-rises. Some commuters challenged the restrictions, and the case eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court upheld the permit program in 1977, ruling that they were a reasonable way to fight air pollution and encourage carpooling.
Today, zoned parking affects 9,400 Arlington homes. The move for an updated system grew out of an October 2003 parking symposium attended by more than 200 county residents, whose most common complaint was that the permit system was antiquated and unfair, officials said.
Among the major concerns expressed by citizens -- aside from the fact that residents of some garden-style apartments and townhouses don't qualify for residential permits -- are complaints that the visitor parking system is being abused. Other residents have said that zoned parking in their neighborhoods, which is limited to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., needs to be adjusted to deal with parking by patrons of nearby bars and restaurants.
Among the recommendations county officials are suggesting:
Limiting the number of permits allowed for each residential address to three cars. Currently, residents can have an unlimited number of permits per registered vehicle.
Creating short- and long-term visitor passes that can't be duplicated and have an expiration date. Currently, passes are undated cardboard placards without a watermark, and police and county officials say they are often copied or faked.
Allowing multifamily buildings with four stories or fewer to participate in the residential permit parking program.
Creating uniform time restrictions for zoned neighborhoods; currently, there are 15 different types of parking restrictions throughout Arlington, which can be confusing.
The county is also considering charging a user fee for decals of $20 per permit, which would be phased in gradually, after a study revealed that other jurisdictions -- including Alexandria, the District and Montgomery County -- charge permit fees.
After the forums are completed on March 21, the County Board could vote on the proposed changes as early as June.