A proposal for a new four-story building in Old Town Manassas is tangled up in procedures and in concerns over the city's parking crunch.
Plans call for a brick, four-story building near Battle and Center streets, with one floor of retail and three floors above for 12 apartments. A Colonial style would echo that of several recent buildings constructed in Old Town.
Eliminating the narrow, 18-space parking lot that is on the site would exacerbate Old Town's already tight parking situation, some city officials and merchants say. The project would not only remove the 18 spaces but would create a need for at least 12 new spots.
Although such growth is a part of the revitalization of Old Town, some City Council members say that new parking should be created before the old parking spaces are eliminated.
"We will ultimately drive out Old Town businesses if [parking] keeps getting worse and worse," said Ray Willis, owner of Old Town's RW Books. "We've been hearing more and more complaints over the past two years."
City Council members delayed voting on the proposal late last month to add language to the plan that calls for a new parking structure to be underway before the building can go up. The first lot scheduled for construction is the so-called VRE lot, on the north side of Prince William Street across from the Manassas Museum.
Construction on that lot should begin in spring 2006, said Liz Via, community development director. The lot will have 320 to 360 spaces, including those for commuters and Old Town residents. It will take an estimated 18 months to complete, City Manager Lawrence D. Hughes said.
But even with that change to the proposal, council member Judith S. Hays (R) was the only member ready to approve the project Monday night. Her motion to approve a special-use permit allowing construction to proceed died.
Council member Steven S. Smith (R) and Vice Mayor Harry J. Parrish (R) were absent when the item was considered.
It's unclear whether the proposal can be reconsidered at all, officials said. City Attorney Robert Bendall will review procedural rules and make a recommendation to the City Council, said council member J. Steven Randolph (I).
Bendall did not return several phone calls to his office Tuesday seeking comment.
Council members Jackson H. Miller (R) and Randolph said they support the proposal -- but not in its current form.
"My position is, I'm all for it," Miller said. "But not until a parking structure is built because of parking problems in Old Town."
Miller said that he thinks of himself as "pro-business and pro-development," but that Old Town has to "have parking before you take it away."
"I just hope that [the owners] will be willing to wait until a parking deck is built," he said.
Randolph said he wants to prevent parking nightmares in Old Town as much as he can, including avoiding having two major construction projects in the area simultaneously.
"We need to create the least number of problems for citizens wishing to park in the Old Town area," he said. "And I had hoped there would be some phasing where one [project] would be completed, and just as one was completed another could start. We need to somehow mitigate some of those parking challenges."
Richard C. Zaring Jr. works as executive vice president for Harris Insurance, which uses the parking lot next door to his office. Zaring said that losing the parking spaces would hurt his business, which he hopes to expand from 25 to 32 employees.
"If customers don't have that [lot] are they going to go somewhere else? Who knows," he said.
It's unclear whether the lot's owners, Mohammed and Najia Azim, would be willing to delay construction until a parking deck is completed, which could take at least three years.
"We haven't had any conversations with the landowner to see if that's an acceptable condition," Hughes said.
An attorney representing the Azims could not be reached for comment.
Either way, Hughes said, the city has to "get to work" to improve parking to sustain Old Town's growing businesses.
Over the past few years, "there's more activity in Old Town, more people working in businesses, more people coming to businesses," Hughes said. "In order to sustain the growth we've started, we've got to have parking."