Alexandria Parking in Alexandria isn’t what it once was. Demands and accessibility of transit have changed since Alexandria’s parking standards for new development were first put together in the 1960s. As City Council gets ready to return in the fall, a year-long process reviewing parking standards for commercial development is inching closer to a set of new recommendations.
Throughout the spring and early summer, a task force has been meeting to reevaluate Alexandria’s parking standards for new developments. Part of the task force’s goal is to study the changing demand of parking and transit. According to the U.S. census, between 2000 and 2015 the nationwide trend has seen less commuters driving alone and more taking public transit or finding other ways to commute. According to staff, the city’s zoning ordinances regarding parking are outdated, citing parking needs from the 1960s before the rise of public transit, Uber, and other transit options.
Phase One of the study focused on mutli-family residential units and was completed in 2015. Now, the task force is examining the parking needs for commercial properties like office, hotel, retail, restaurants, and child care.
The current parking standards have different parking standards for each of those categories. For offices, one parking space is required for 450-600 square feet of office space; one space per 330 square feet of retail space. Other commercial uses have different types of measurement. Hotels are required to provide one space per guest room with an additional space for every 15 rooms. Restaurants are required to have one parking space for every four seats, and two spaces per classroom for any child care facility.
So far, the potential recommendations for discussion have suggested reducing the requirement of office spaces to a minimum of .75 spaces per 1,000 square feet and a maximum of 1.75. For office space within what is considered an area with high levels of public transit accessibility, that is lowered to a .25 space minimum and a 1.25 space maximum. Hotels would only be required to provide a minimum .25 spaces per room and a maximum of .7 spaces per room, with that number reduced to .2 and .4 inside enhanced transit. Citing study results that showed 90 percent of Alexandria had too much parking, with average on-site occupancy at only 58 percent, the task force recommendation will likely include reductions to retail parking requirements as well.
At a meeting on Aug. 15, the task force fine tuned some of the new parking standard issues, looking at exceptions like dense-use spaces and whether or not parking standards applying to mixed used developments considered those uses separately or together.
Much of the discussion about new parking has emphasized the need to put less demand on developers for parking space. Cathy Puskar, an at-large representative on the task force representing Alexandria residents, also a local attorney who regularly represents developers and businesses before the City Council, said that there is plenty of parking on street in Alexandria’s neighborhoods, and that part of the task force’s goal is to develop a new parking policy that sets up a situation where small businesses can thrive without neighborhoods being overburdened. As part of a study on local parking habits, staff noted that of those who drive to a commercial location, half prefer to park on the street regardless of whether there is free and available parking at the commercial property.
There were some concerns from members of the audience, notably Yvonne Weight Callahan, president of the Old Town Civic Association, that the membership of the task force on commercial parking standards was stacked against residents. Four of the task force members are from various other Alexandria boards and commissions. Three appointees are developers or from developer associations. Three are at-large Alexandria residents, and Puskar serves as the at-large member with expertise.
The proposed standards for parking at new commercial developments is expected to be revealed at the Sept. 19 meeting to discuss the draft recommendations. On Oct. 24, the City Council will be updated about the task force’s progress, with a Planning Commission meeting on the task force’s recommendations expected on Dec. 5 for City Council review on Dec. 16.