For nearly a decade now, Fairfax County has been planning to amend its zoning ordinance regarding residential parking spaces. But now, with hardly any advance warning, county staff has issued its report and recommendations.
They're scheduled to go before the Planning Commission next month, but a citizens group says that doesn't give it enough time to read and digest the report and give its own input.
So on Tuesday night, the West Fairfax County Citizens Association (WFCCA) Land-Use Committee voted to ask the Planning Commission to defer its hearing for 30-60 days.
"We commented on this back in 1997," said WFCCA's Carol Hawn. "It seems to me that, after waiting all these years, all of a sudden it's being rushed."
At-Large Planning Commissioner Jim Hart explained staff's recommendations to the panel before it voted. Regarding single-family homes, he said, if they're on a public street or a private street 36 feet wide or wider, staff wants to retain the current rate of two spaces per dwelling unit.
If a private street is less than 36 feet wide — which most private streets here are — three spaces per home would be allowed. Hart said that's because "you can't park on the sides of such narrow streets."
Townhouses are currently allotted 2.4 spaces per unit; staff is calling for a slight increase to 2.7 spaces. "Staff feels townhouses have the most parking problems now," said Hart.
As for multifamily housing — condos or apartments — they presently have 1.6 spaces per unit and, although a designation of 1.8 spaces is under consideration, staff recommends no change. Hart said the issue of multifamily parking posed the most problems.
"There's lots of discussion [in the staff report] about parking for multifamily homes — and whether it would be better to discourage people from having more cars and parking spaces near a Metro station," he said. "There's also concern about an increase in impervious surface [with more parking spaces], but staff felt this increase wouldn't be that significant in the overall scheme of things."
Hart said staff's considering whether to allow an exception to the parking ordinance for areas within proximity to a Metro station or along a corridor readily accessible to one. But, he added, "I don't think we have any transit facilities here that would fit this."
Noting that the Planning Commission public hearing is slated for Sept. 14, he acknowledged that the WFCCA has been part of the dialogue about residential parking spaces for years. And Hawn said there's very little time between then July 31 — when staff completed its report — and Sept. 14.
"Why does it have to be approved so quickly?" she wondered. "Let's see first what the county TOD [Transit-Oriented Development] committee has to say about this before bringing the pieces forward, to see if they fit."
Hart also pointed out an obvious flaw in the staff report. Although many people have converted their garages into other uses such as family rooms, bedrooms or storage areas, staff figured most are used for vehicles.
"They assume garages are 75-percent used for parking," said Hart. Quoting from the report, he read that they came up with this figure "since the surveyors were unable to see behind closed garage doors." Therefore, those making the survey didn't actually ask the homeowners to ascertain the actual percentage, and the report itself admits that this number is the biggest variable in the study.
"But they shouldn't assume, because that could get them into a lot of trouble," said Hawn. And, added Hart: "Staff admitted that, if the figure is actually just 50 percent, that would significantly affect the number of parking spaces needed."
Underscoring his words, Hawn said that, in her community of single-family, detached homes, "At best, 50 percent [of the garages] are used for storage."
WFCCA's Scott Miller asked Hart why more parking was recommended for townhouses than condos. Hart explained that, for the last 10 years, the county's received more complaints about townhouses having more cars per family than there used to be.
"Often, two families — each with cars — are living in the same house, or there are teen-agers with their own cars," he said. "So there's not enough spaces and nowhere to park, and the problem is probably more obvious in townhouse developments than in apartments and condos."
According to the 2000 census, said Hart, more than 30 percent of Centreville families have one car, 50.6 percent have two cars and 16.3 percent have three or more vehicles. Average household size there is 2.74 people.
In Chantilly, 26.4 percent of the families have one car, 49.3 percent own two cars and 21.5 percent have three or more. Average household size is 2.75 people. So, said Hart, "Most of the households have two or more cars."
After hearing his presentation, Hawn said, "I'd like us to recommend more time because this is really a countywide issue, and I don't think the public is aware that the hearing is coming up so quickly. I was shocked when I learned it was Sept. 14."
"We do need more time," agreed WFCCA's Mary Coyle. "All of the county will be affected, and I feel pushed." Judy Heisinger of the Bull Run Civic Association suggested future demographic information be incorporated into this study. And Hawn recommended the Planning Commission hold a public workshop on the parking amendments. The WFCCA then unanimously approved a motion that the Planning Commission defer its public hearing for 30-60 days.