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A Fork In Road To Parking Changes
The Issue: Require More or Less?

By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 7, 2006

County officials are considering an ordinance to increase residential parking, even as several county-appointed committees are examining limits on parking to reduce traffic and encourage the use of public transit.

Next Thursday, the county's Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on a proposal to increase the number of parking spaces required for new townhouses and single-family homes, a proposal spurred by increasing complaints that some neighborhoods have insufficient parking for residents and visitors.

This is the opposite of what several county-appointed committees are looking at: reducing parking for new housing, particularly in apartment and condominium buildings and near Metrorail stations. These committees are considering caps on the amount of parking in such locations.

Planning commissioner Walter Alcorn said the divergent approaches are appropriate, given the county's range of housing types and varying degrees of access to public transit.

"Frankly, [the county] is trying to deal with conflicting signals on parking requirements," he said. "It's a big county with lots of needs in different areas. One size doesn't fit all."

In the proposal up for approval, which will go before the Board of Supervisors next month, county staff members recommend increasing the parking required for new townhouse communities from 2.3 spaces for each unit to 2.7. For single-family homes, they recommend increasing the current two spaces a unit to three where streets are too narrow for on-street parking.

They recommend keeping the rate at 1.6 spaces per unit for new multi-family buildings.

The proposal is based on a survey of parking needs conducted by county staff members and relies on the assumption that 75 percent of garages are used for storing cars. There is room for exemptions for developments near transit stations. It also gives supervisors the option of settling on rates higher than those recommended: up to four spaces per unit for detached homes.

Jim Ketchum, chairman of the land use committee of the Western Fairfax Council of Citizens Association, said county officials should consider going beyond the staff recommendations. He said he hears frequent complaints about a lack of parking, particularly in townhouse communities.

The changing nature of townhouse developments is driving the problem, he said. Once viewed more as starter homes, townhouses are now often as large as detached homes were a generation ago and are often occupied by families with children of driving age. Urging public transit in these communities doesn't take into account distances from bus and rail routes, he said.

"The nature of families has changed," he said. "The ratios are not adequate."

The committees looking at capping parking in certain locations include a county task force studying transit-oriented development, one studying the county's master plan for Tysons Corner and one studying the affordability of high-rise housing, which is considering recommending parking caps because the spaces drive up the cost of housing.

Clark Tyler, chairman of the Tysons panel, said he believes in limiting parking to reduce car use but said that wasn't practical everywhere.

"I could easily understand it in the case of a homeowners association where they just plain don't have enough parking," he said. "Hopefully the two efforts won't step on each other. That may be a false hope, but I think it will get sorted out."

The Planning Commission hearing will be at 8:15 p.m. next Thursday at the county government headquarters, 12000 Government Center Pkwy.

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