In 2012, the Arlington County Board directed county staff to investigate the effect of approving less parking for site plan office buildings and to determine methodologies to mitigate impacts attributable to approving lower parking ratios within the county.
In January 2013, Arlington County began hosting a working group to analyze the issue of parking. The working group meets monthly and includes representatives from the development and business communities, residents and county staff. The ultimate goal is to settle on a methodology that the board can use going forward when reviewing requests for parking space modifications within site plan projects.
Currently, Arlington County has a minimum parking requirement which developers must provide unless the county board approves a lesser amount of parking for the specific site plan project (which happens often). The county’s proposal under consideration by the working group states that developers would pay the county a specific dollar amount for providing less parking than what is required under the “starting parking ratio” for the area in which their project is being built. The dollar amount of the average parking space remains a topic of discussion as does the payment structure (whether it will be a lump sum or annual payment) and whether or not a stepped up or escalated payment might be sought.
Urban areas across the country are requiring less parking to encourage residents to adopt a less car-dependent lifestyle and take advantage of alternative modes of transportation including biking, public transit, carpooling and car share programs like Zipcar. Similarly, the trend in Arlington County has been that developers request to build less parking than the ordinance requires. This is particularly common in areas near metro stations where lower parking ratios have previously been approved. Current standard site plan conditions already include measures to encourage multi-modal travel and incentivize the use of public transportation and other alternative commuting methods. Standard site plan conditions incorporate transportation demand management plans (“TDMs”). TDMs generally require monetary contributions to Arlington County Commuter Services, incorporation of bike parking and storage facilities, and delivery of free SmarTrip cards to employees, among other things. Often times, as part of the site plan process, developers are also asked to improve a bus stop or shelter or a section of sidewalk to improve pedestrian access to Metro. All of these efforts are intended to encourage a superior mode-split between residents driving, walking, biking and taking public transit. Some critics of the new policy are questioning if the newest proposals for further mitigation make sense in light of the other efforts currently in place.
Arlington County has demonstrated through past policies it’s committed to encouraging better mode-splits and encouraging residents to drive less. However, is a policy requiring developers to provide a minimum number of parking spaces or pay a fine for offering less parking the best policy to encourage this behavior? Places like the District of Columbia and Fairfax County would surely say “no.” In fact, the District and parts of Fairfax County have done the opposite. Rather than setting a minimum parking requirement and asking developers to pay if below it, these jurisdictions have set a maximum parking ratio and if a developer offers more parking, mitigation efforts might be required. By reducing the number of available parking spaces, the market price should adjust accordingly, and in turn, encourage price-sensitive residents to avail themselves of alternative transportation methods.
Under the proposed policy, a developer would have to pay Arlington County if they provided less parking spaces than required by the “starting parking ratio” for the specific area where the project was being built. The working group’s discussions have focused on the following areas: Columbia Pike Commercial Nodes, CO-Rosslyn, Crystal City redevelopment area, Pentagon City metro station area and Crystal City outside redevelopment area, Rosslyn to Ballston metro station areas (except for CO-Rosslyn), and all other areas, and they have tried to set a starting ratio for each area. It has been suggested that the proposed starting ratio for CO-Rosslyn, Columbia Pike and Crystal City should be 1:1000, while the starting ratio for Rosslyn to Ballston Metro should be 1:630. If the end goal is to raise funds to offset increased demand on public transit resulting from less parking, then from a policy point of view, should one area of the county be treated differently than others?
The development community appears to be interested in the idea of providing less parking and receiving clearer guidance from the board on what to expect when applying for a modification of parking ratios. However, there are still many questions to be answered. What are the appropriate starting ratios? Should the mitigation efforts include a stepped escalation model? Where should the mitigation funds go? Would the funds be contributed to the area where the project is built or elsewhere? Also, by taking cars off the roads, some funds designated for street improvements should become available for other transit system improvements, such as trail improvements, bus upgrades and maintenance. How will that trade-off be appropriately quantified?
The Arlington County staff, along with the working group, intends to present its recommendations to the county manager this summer and hopes to have a board vote on the policy sometime thereafter. For more information on this process and to stay abreast of any changes on the horizon, visit the Arlington County website, Environmental Services, Commercial Parking Study homepage.