By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 16, 2011; T01
A popular commuter lot in Prince William County is about to lose most of its parking spaces, county officials said Thursday.
Potomac Mills mall General Manager Mike Sullivan said the Woodbridge outlet store shopping center will reduce the number of commuter spaces from about 1,000 to 275 on Feb. 14. Sullivan said the reduction is needed to make way for commercial development.
"We had a business decision to make," Sullivan said. "This is private property; we run a business, and we want to have enough parking for customers and employees. We've helped the county out over the years . . . but it's the county's job to provide commuter lots."
Sullivan said the county requires Potomac Mills to provide 275 spaces. For more than 20 years, however, mall officials have provided four to five times what the county required. Sullivan said they did so to give the county time to build lots.
"I don't understand their reasoning," said Woodbridge resident Shenell Shepard, who uses the lot daily to "slug," or join impromptu carpools, or ride the bus north for work. "Many days I am here, I go into the mall, so I would think having the lot brings them business. And it's a good community service."
Like Shepard, other commuters were shocked to hear the news Thursday night. Commuters said that the commuter parking area at the mall is full by 7:30 a.m and that many of the surrounding commuter lots are also bursting at the seams. The rest of the mall's 7,900-space parking lot, they say, is not full many days during the week.
"They already cut the commuting spaces once," Shepard said. "I don't know what I am going to do. I wonder if some people may gravitate to the Virginia Railway Express."
According to the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission Web site, there are 15 commuter lots across the county.
"This is just another reason why the residents need transit options, not just wider roads but the extension of Metro, bus rapid transit and more capacity on VRE," Prince William Supervisor Frank J. Principi (D-Woodbridge). "We certainly welcome the economic development, but at the same time . . . it's a bad situation for commuters and slugs."
Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) said about two-thirds of the county's workforce leaves Prince William for work. The county is looking for other places for commuters to park in the short term. Long term, he said, the county wants to expand the Horner Road lot by 800 spaces. Stewart said the county has been trying, so far unsuccessfully, to secure about $5 million from the state for the expansion.
"I don't blame them for taking their spots back, because they are a business, but at the same time, there are not enough places to park," said Dale City resident Marc Massman, who commutes to Arlington County for work. "The county government is responsible for finding more parking. . . . They charge us a bunch for taxes; give us something in return."
Sullivan said the business expansion plans surfaced a few years ago but were halted when the recession hit. Now, he said, businesses want to expand again and he needs to guarantee there is enough parking for new and existing businesses.
"While we realize the impact that this change will have on commuters, as a private business, our first priority must be to provide for the needs of our loyal shoppers, retailers and employees," Sullivan said in a letter sent to The Washington Post. "We must also accommodate continued growth . . . and these additions will require assurances that we can provide ample parking for their customers and employees."
Sullivan said he could not release the names of potential new businesses because of negotiations with various retailers and restaurants, some of which are interested in building facilities in the parking lot.
"I can see their perspective," said Prince William resident Jim Bean, who commutes from the Potomac Mills lot. "Parked cars don't bring in revenue. I guess I'll have to get here even earlier or start driving."