Arlington residential-parking districts

Those living in areas with residential-parking zones would see them grandfathered in, but would have to pay more – in some cases much more – for the privilege of using them, under a long-awaited Arlington County government staff proposal.

The measure, soon to begin what almost assuredly will be a tortuous passage on its way to ultimate County Board action, aims to recoup 100 percent of the government’s cost of maintaining the districts, which arrived nearly a half-century ago as a way to protect residential neighborhoods from commuters but have grown exponentially ever since.

A revised policy has been in the works for three years, since County Manager Schwartz put existing requests for new residential-parking districts on hold to sort out the conflicting viewpoints of residents and elected officials about their purpose.

And as they deposit the proposal in the laps of elected officials and their advisory bodies, county staff acknowledged that pleasing everybody would be a near-impossibility.

“On the whole, Arlington residents are divided on many aspects of the program, and some of the conflicts have existed for decades,” a draft of the proposal noted.

“Some residents think that the program is essential to making parking convenient, while others see it as an improper way to restrict access to public space,” staff noted.

While existing residential-parking districts would be retained without alteration, procedures for establishing new districts would be altered. Perhaps most notably, the draft proposal would change the requisite percentage of residents on a block petitioning for a parking zone from the current 60 percent to 80 percent.

It also would require county staff to determine that 85 percent of existing parking spaces are occupied in the proposed zone, up  from 75 percent today.

But those are impacts on communities that are seeking new zones. Those that already have them also would see changes to existing rules about how many, and what kinds of, parking permits would be made available to them, and what they would cost.

The current program allows each residence in a parking zone to have four permits – three for specific vehicles and one “FlexPass” to be shared by household members or guests.

Under the new proposal, the number of passes would be dependent on whether households had access to off-street parking – a garage, driveway or nearby parking lot:

• Those who do would be able to receive up to two passes.

• Those who do would be able to receive up to three.

Prices for the annual passes also would rise: A household currently using two vehicle-specific passes and a FlexPass pays $40 a year for the privilege, while under the proposed revision the fee would more than triple to $135.

The higher fees would help government officials address costs of the program, since currently, fees only cover 60 percent of the overall costs. Taxpayers foot the bill for the rest.

Another proposed revision: Those without parking passes would be able to park on streets that have parking-district restrictions if they pay $1.75 per hour (for a maximum of two hours) through an EasyPark device or the government’s pay-by-cellphone service.

The draft plan also recommends providing “a limited number” of permits for the staffs of local schools located within parking districts, and for employees of group homes.

Staff have been trying to gauge public reaction to various scenarios for more than two years, including surveying 60,000 households (including all those within a parking district) and receiving 4,500 responses. More recently, staff presented the proposal to delegates of the Arlington County Civic Federation.

Given the tumultuous history, it is probably no surprise to anyone that reaction to the proposals has been mixed. The biggest opposition has come from those who see the fee increases as too drastic, while others were vocally against giving those without permits the chance to pay for parking on an hourly basis.

The residential-parking program, which last had an extensive review in 2003-05, began in Crystal City in 1972 and has expanded to dozens of different zones across the county, mostly in areas where neighborhoods rub up against commercial or retail areas.

The 2017 moratorium paused action on 16 petitions that had been in the pipeline. Whether those petitions would have to be restarted from scratch will depend on how the County Board wishes to proceed.

The draft proposal was made public in preparation for a Planning Commission discussion this week. In mid-December, County Board members are expected to authorize the measure for a public hearing, likely in January, with an aim to having a new plan in place by April.

In a progress update on the effort almost exactly a year ago, County Board member Katie Cristol suggested that getting everyone rowing in the same direction on a policy change likely would prove impossible. She termed the residential-parking matter a “sticky” issue where “there is no community consensus” and unlikely to ever be one.

And while the world has changed drastically between late autumn 2019 and late autumn 2020, Cristol’s sizing up of the situation likely still holds true.

[Sun Gazette Newspapers provides content to, but otherwise is unaffiliated with, InsideNoVa or Rappahannock Media LLC.]

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