Re-Engineering Fairfax Minimum Parking Requirements

Re-Engineering Fairfax Minimum Parking Requirements

The residents of Fairfax County are about to experience a badly designed social engineering experiment carried out by the Board of Supervisors. It’s called “Parking Reimagined.” The essence of the concept is to change the zoning law to reduce dramatically minimum parking requirements for developers to save them construction costs and increase their profits. It does absolutely nothing for county residents except make it more difficult to find a place to park at home, work, or other places they may wish to visit.

The asserted goal of “Parking Reimagined” is to get people out of their cars and on to public transit, bicycles, and their feet. While this is noble, as presented, it does nothing to address its many consequences for county residents and others who live, work, or play here. Here is the county’s short list of potential benefits: 

* The county’ November 2022 white paper says, “Lowering parking requirements creates opportunities for more walkable, transit-accessible communities benefiting those who do not drive.” Yet, it does not demand the addition of a single penny for more public transportation, bicycle lanes, or other infrastructure to better enable use of non-privately owned vehicle transportation nor investment in more livable communities.

* The white paper also says Parking Reimagined “can provide for opportunities for affordable housing.” Yet it does not require that any share of resulting development be devoted to affordable housing. 

* The white paper also states that Parking Reimagined “allows opportunities to provide more green infrastructure for individual sites including open and public spaces, more effective stormwater management, and preservation.” Again, not a single required commitment to provide any of these much needed features. And we desperately need improvements in our ability to reduce and cope with the growing climate crisis.

Yet, the real bottom line is clearly stated in this white paper: “More productive uses of land area (i.e.—greater developer profits) once devoted to parking adds value to the County’s tax base.” The county doesn’t really care about the other goals. They’re just part of the sales pitch. They want more tax revenue and developers want more profits!

But, of course, that’s not all: Parking Reimagined calls for all parking “adjustments” (i.e. reductions below the minimum base minimum parking requirement) to be decided by the Director of Land Development Services up to a 60% threshold in a process requiring NO public input. The math says that means the parking requirement for future housing and other development could be about one-third of what it is today in the base case without so much as a public meeting, much less a hearing and Board of Supervisors approval. One-third. As proposed, a nameless county bureaucrat, after meeting with the developer, will cut parking on a proposed development without public input or even communication. What could go wrong?

And there is more. Developers don’t need to add any parking if they decide to expand their existing development by up to ten percent. Expansions between 10%-30% would require additional parking at the reduced parking standard (minus any “adjustments”) and, in many if not most cases, would be approved administratively — no public input. This is all especially worrisome for apartment and condo dwellers who now may have some decent green space surrounding their apartment buildings. The owner could add more housing, but may not add any or very little parking. 

And all these kinds of residential minimum parking requirement reductions apply in varying degrees to every single type of development and renovation across the county from office buildings to retail. 

All this may make more sense by looking at a real example: the redevelopment of Crescent Apartments in Reston. These affordable (ADU) apartments owned by the county are part of Lake Anne Village Center. The county is now studying how it should be redeveloped, starting with Crescent Apartments. Here are the calculations for the implications of Parking Reimagined for Crescent Apartments:

  • Current: 181 apartments with at least 235 parking spaces (1.3 spaces/dwelling unit); housing for 380 people using county housing calculations (2.1 people/unit). That’s two-thirds of a parking spot for each resident.

  • Proposed: 935 apartments under the consolidated option with 972 parking spaces required (1.04 spaces/dwelling unit—a 20% reduction from the current minimum); housing for 1,964 people. That’s about one spot for every two people expected to live there.

  • “Adjusted”: The Director of Land Development Services, at the request of the developer and without any hearings, reduces the number of parking spaces at Crescent Apartment by another 60% to 389 spaces or roughly one space for every five people expected to live there.

So, while the number of planned apartments quintuples, the number of parking spaces could less than double. That is a future shortfall of 280 to 826 parking spaces at a redeveloped Crescent Apartments based on today’s minimum parking requirement. 

And for Crescent residents, the alternative transportation options are not good. Crescent Apartments is 2.0 miles from the nearest Metro stop — Reston Station. RIBS bus service to the station is at about 80 minute intervals, making it unreliable for regular users. People are not going to walk to Reston Station (38 minutes) although some may bike (12 minutes). Taxis/Uber are expensive alternatives for regular use, especially for those in affordable housing. 

Because of the limited alternatives, Crescent Apartment residents largely rely on their automobiles to reach jobs, shopping, entertainment, etc. This is extremely unlikely to change unless there are expensive improvements in public transit, none of which are even contemplated in the county’s public transit plan for Reston. To add public transit and other needed infrastructure would almost certainly require an added Transportation Service District tax for Lake Anne Village Center as now exists in Reston’s transit station areas ($0.021 per $100 valuation).

If Parking Reimagined is approved at Crescent Apartments re-developed, what will happen is that more residents will park along already crowded North Shore Drive and, if they can get away with it, at Lake Anne’s Washington Plaza or even more distant schools and churches — not a fun walk in rain, sleet, snow, and oppressive heat. As a result, their quality of life will be reduced unnecessarily so developers and the county may make more money.

In short, Parking Reimagined is a one-dimensional social engineering experiment to force people out of their cars that ignores the wide variety of consequences it would generate and fails to guarantee the societal gains it states as goals. Most importantly it fails to consider the complexities faced by people living, working, and playing in our county and the Reston community. If approved, the county will create a less desirable place to live and likely lead to the growing outmigration of residents.

If you share these concerns, please let Supervisor, Walter Alcorn (or your supervisor) know. You may also wish to share your concerns with the entire Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission, whose next hearing on the topic is scheduled for 7:30 PM, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, at the Fairfax County Government Center. Be there — and testify if you want — or tune in on Channel 16.