Parking Management Inc. (PMI), the giant parking corporation, was until recently parking cars on state-owned land in Arlington County without state permission, in much the same way it used city-owned property in the District of Columbia, according to Virginia officials.
PMI's use of the land was revealed early this month when the state Highway Department decided to fence off more than an acre of land along Jefferson Davis Highway near Crystal City. Commuters to the high-rise complex of office buildings said they noticed that part of the land claimed by the state had been used by PMI as part of its parking lot and that the corporation had charged customers to park here.
The state owns the land as part of the right-of-way for the proposed Interstate 595 - a controversial elevated highway whose construction has been blocked for the last year and a half.
But while discovery of unauthorized - and unpaid for - use of public property in the District has sent city officials scurrying to collect back rent, highway officials in Virginia seem somewhat less concerned.
State right-of-way engineer W. B. Tucker said yesterday that any attempt to recover back rent for the land would "probably cost more than it was worth." The land is valued at $12 and $16 a square foot. There are 44,000 square feet in an acre. He said that state officials had not been in contact with PMI to try to arrange any voluntary payment for use of the property.
"That might be a good idea, now that you mention it," Tucker said. "I'm definitely going to give it some thought.
Ever since construction of I-595 was enjoined in November 1976, the state-owned land - which totals over an acre along Jefferson Davis Highway - has been used for the most part in individual commuters as a free, if somewhat haphazard, parking lot.
A small portion of the land, however, enough space for about 30 parking places, was being used by PMI as part on one of several lots the corporation operates in the area, according to commuters.
PMI officials did not return telephone calls from a reporter concerning the company's use of the land. The corporation is presided over by Dominic F. Antonelli Jr., who was recently indicted on bribery and conspiracy charges that are unrelated to the parking lot situation.
PMI had never requested permission to use the land, according to Donald B. Hope, district engineer for the state highway department. "I guess they were using it illegally," he said. "But so were a lot of other people."
Unlike individual commuters looking merely for free parking space, however, PMI charged customers to park on it, according to several commuters who used the lot regularly. Fees were $1.40 on a daily basis and $20 monthly, commuters said.
Hope said he decided to fence off the state property and make it impossible to park there because the unsupervised parking was "a safety hazard for one thing, and we didn't want (the commuters) getting used to (parking without cost)."
Hope said that there had also been a number of complaints from area residents that the unsupervised land was collecting trash and becoming unsightly.
Arlington County transportation officials said that they, too, had requested the state to fence off its property because they were concerned not only about pedestrian safety, but that the free and unrestricted parking was not providing commuters with the right kind of incentive to use the Metro at Crystal City.
Fence posts and wire now preserve the state-owned concrete from the commuters and neatly bisect a row of parking spaces on the PMI lot. Regular commuters in the area say the lot has been used by an increasing number of paying customers now that the free space is gone and that the lot has recently been accepting only customers who pay by the month.
State highway officials are currently awaiting the next step in the long and tedious struggle over the fate of I-595. U.S. District Judge Albert V. Bryan Jr. blocked plans for the six-lane, 0.6 mile highway because the state had not held separate public hearings on the location and design aspects of the highway, but instead had combined the two issues at one hearing.
A new round of public meetings and hearings on the highway will begun next month, when the state holds a public meeting designed to receive comments from the public on the highway's location for a draft environmental impact statement.
The highway, which would replace a stretch of Jefferson Davis Highway and is intended to reduce traffic congestion, is opposed by those who claim it would disrupt businesses and neighborhoods in the area.