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Parking concerns, questions emerge at Fairfax County town hall meetings

The Reston Town Center parking garages have a system that tracks the availability of spaces in real time

If you’ve ever lost precious minutes circling a parking lot for an available spot or questioned the amount of space devoted to parking in a new development, the time to voice those concerns has come.

Fairfax County kicked off a month-long series of town halls last week for the public to weigh in on its first comprehensive parking in decades, inviting stakeholders from business interests and nonprofits to tenants and religious groups to provide feedback.

Any recommended changes are expected to go to the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors for votes in late 2022.

“We have lots and lots of privately owned parking, and sometimes it seems we have more than enough parking, and sometimes, we don’t have enough,” Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said during an online town hall meeting on Nov. 10.

Dubbed Parking Reimagined, the county’s initiative focuses on off-street parking. It began last month and could run for 12-18 months. County rules regulate current parking as well as what future developments must build, though exceptions can be made.

The county is partnering with a consultant team, Clarion-Nelson\Nygaard, to study the matter, but a principal with Nelson\Nygaard, Iain Banks, noted that they’re looking at data from 2019 and earlier due to the pandemic’s effects on remote work, the use of transit, and other factors.

“Transportation is changing rapidly, not only as a result of COVID and the subsequent recovery from COVID but also into a future where perhaps traffic peak periods are going to change throughout the day,” Banks said. “It’s not going to be that typical morning and evening rush hour perhaps; it’s going to be more spread out throughout the day as flexible schedules perhaps become the norm.”

Residents expressed the need for parking and observed that parking costs money in the form of taxes, a parking permit, or a parking meter, though Fairfax County currently doesn’t operate any meters for off-street parking.

Michael Davis, parking program manager with the county’s Land Development Services department, said at the town hall last week that the initiative could help people think of parking as a resource.

He said they’re looking at “right sizing” parking, where the supply is appropriate for the demand. He noted that times of high and low demand can change by the hour and season, and there can even be times when cars are unnecessary, such as for nearby commutes.

Davis also raised the idea of shared parking. Instead of requiring a minimum number of parking spots, such as for a site with apartments, offices, and retail, a smaller parking area can be built that provides enough parking for all based on hourly demand.

County officials emphasized their interest in hearing from people at the town hall, which also turned into a brainstorming session of sorts.

Alcorn wondered if there was a way to track the progress of parking availability at developments. Davis noted that technology is already at Reston Town Center and Tysons Corner Center, which have electronic signs in their garages that show how many parking spots are available in real time.

But the changes in behaviors driven by the pandemic are leading officials to cautiously approach how to gather current data.

Information about upcoming meetings and other updates can be found on the county’s website for the project.

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