When Yvette Brown began her new job as a data manager in Crystal City six months ago, she thought the hour-plus commute from her Woodbridge home would be the job's biggest drawback.
Little did she know, she says now, that finding a parking space in Arlington would provide a daily adventure in detective work. The parking garage she tried to get into near work has a year's waiting list for those willing to pay the $65-a-month fee.
So Brown leaves her Prince William County home at 4:30 each morning, an hour earlier than she would otherwise, in hopes of finding a space along South Eads Street near a trash transfer station.
"It's terrible," Brown said. "There's hardly anywhere to park. I wish someone would do something about it . . . . I didn't have this trouble when I lived in Norfolk before. Things were much more convenient there."
The long-established parking crunch in the District has come to the Northern Virginia suburbs along with the jobs and corporations that have crossed the Potomac River in search of convenient locations and lower rents and taxes.
In urban Arlington, where the number of office workers daily is double the county's population of 154,000 persons, many say the parking problem, already acute, could become staggering when the millions of square feet of buildings approved by the county in recent years are filled.
"Parking was the number one problem of our small businesses," said Bob Reade, executive vice president of Arlington's Chamber of Commerce, referring to a survey of 300 small businesses last year. "For the first time, parking showed up on the list before complaints about business license taxes."
Some blame the parking crunch on an Arlington policy that allows developers to build fewer parking spaces in areas around Metro stops, where much of the county's development is concentrated, than in other commercial areas. County Board members have long said they do not want Arlington to become a parking lot for the outer suburbs.
The county parking code requires one parking space for every 530 square feet of office space, but near Metro stations that is lowered to one space for 580 square feet.
Gary Kirkbride, county planning chief, said the policy is keyed to the county's goal of providing incentives for commuters to use the subway and car pools, instead of driving.
In Clarendon, a previous County Board approved plans for a high-rise building that is to be the centerpiece of a rejuvenated commercial district. The building, under construction by the Olmsted Foundation, is expected to provide 400 parking spaces for about 1,500 employes and shoppers.
At the planned Court House Plaza complex recently approved by the board, there will be 1,878 parking spaces for an estimated 2,630 residents, workers and shoppers. County employes, most of whom park nearby free now, may be either charged to park or allocated spaces at satellite lots.
Jeffrey A. Zinn, president of a civic association for the Courtland neighborhood near the project, said he fears that parking problems in his neighborhood will be exacerbated seriously by Court House Plaza. There is already a spillover from the many town house projects, which he said have inadequate parking for two-car families and guests.
Although he agrees that there should be less parking at Metro stop areas, Zinn, who is a member of the county transportation commission, said Arlington should have provided much more parking than it did at Court House Plaza.
"It's really going to be a disaster," he said. "Any member of the public who can't find parking just once is going to have a feeling about Arlington County and how it takes care of its people that will be hard to change."
In Rosslyn and Crystal City, where private parking garages are expensive, original county projections were that 45 percent of office workers would commute by Metro. William Scruggs, the county's traffic engineering chief, said that only an estimated 15 to 20 percent of the workers use the subway, a figure that officials hope will change when the system is completed.
"Obviously there are problems," said County Board member Michael E. Brunner, who unsuccesfully argued for more parking at Court House Plaza. "I don't think we can assume people are all going to ride Metro."
Board member Mary Margaret Whipple supports the policy of building fewer parking spaces near Metro stops. "It's described as a 'relaxed code,' but it's becoming fairly standard" in areas with subway systems, she said. "I'm convinced that however much parking is built, it will be utilized. But it adds so much to traffic congestion and pollution."
Jane Bartlett, a member of Arlington's planning commission, said she has lost many battles to get developers to provide the appropriate number of parking spaces designated by the county code, often because builders argue that the cost of extra underground parking would make their projects unfeasible. Kirkbride estimates that underground spaces cost $15,000 each to build.
"There's enough give in the parking right now," Bartlett said. "I think the problem will show in five years. It will put pressure on the surrounding neighborhoods, and we'll have to go to restricted parking zones everywhere eventually."
"We'd all like to have a parking place, but there aren't enough in the world," said John O'Neill, a member of the county's transportation commission. "People just do not have a God-given right to parking."
Louise Chestnut, a county resident who recently spent time at the courthouse on jury duty, said she was "aghast" when the jurors were told to park at a residential complex nearby. She said she is concerned that the new courthouse complex will have insufficient and possibly expensive parking for residents doing business at the courthouse.
Martin Kamarck, transportation commission chairman, said Arlington is undergoing "a subtle change in attitude as we realize the issue is no longer just commuters going through Arlington, but people coming to Arlington to work and shop . . . . It's not so easy to say we're not going to cater to them."
Joel Friedman, owner of the Public Shoe Store in Clarendon, has found a solution to the occasional parking shortage there. Friedman is doing a booming business in "boots," the devices locked onto car wheels to prevent movement.
He charges people who are not customers but who park in his back lot $25 to remove the boot he puts on. As word spread of Friedman's tactics, other businesses began calling to ask where they could get boots; today, Friedman represents two companies that make them. He has sold almost 20 of them, mainly to businesses in Rosslyn.
"There's a bit of work to it," he said. "You get yourself dirty, and you get called names. But I have parking for my customers now."