In August 2021, Fairfax County began an effort to revise the county’s parking requirements laid out in the zoning ordinance—the number of parking spots developers must provide for each type of dwelling unit and business they build. The bottom line is a proposal to be considered by the Board of Supervisors in the coming weeks to reduce those requirements for virtually every situation—none are increased—in the name of “right-sizing” parking.
The ostensible reasons we need these changes are that (a) the internet has changed the way we work and shop so much that we don’t need to drive and (b) the expansion of Metro and other transit has reduced the need to drive. These statements come at a time when:
- Developers added over 2.7 million GSF of new office space under construction in the first half of 2022 per FCEDA, enough space for 9,000 “in-place” work. They aren’t building this office space if they don’t expect to fill it with workers. We expect that growth in office space to continue, especially in areas served by Metro.
- While the Federal Reserve in St. Louis (FRED) reports that nationally online retail has nearly doubled as a share of US consumption (7% to 14%), at $266 billion, it is still less than 20% of total US retail sales value of $1.5 trillion (October 2022). In Fairfax County, sales tax receipts—almost exclusively from in-store transactions—were up 15% from year earlier receipts, so, no, County residents are not hiding in their basements to shop.
- The completion of the Silver Line adds little in the way of transit capability for County residents—it mostly helps Loudoun residents—and bus transit improvements are generally mythical. In fact, in Reston, the current comprehensive plan calls for no added bus service through 2040 although a few shifts were made in existing routes when the Silver Line was completed.
The stated goals of the new parking restriction requirements include the following:
- Equity. “Lowering parking requirements creates opportunities for more walkable, transit-accessible communities benefitting those who do not drive.” Actually, it neither creates a more walkable, bikeable, or transit-accessible community. That can only be achieved by a timely and major investment in transportation infrastructure, an investment the county has so far shown little interest in making. Otherwise, we are chasing the lowest common transportation denominator, lowering the county’s quality of life.
- Affordability. “Lowering parking requirements will reduce development costs and can provide for opportunities for affordable housing.” Yes, the developers must be able to lower their costs even if they will not lower their prices. And the County has had limitless opportunities to provide affordable housing, including numerous policies saying so, but has done little to accomplish that goal because it might cut into property tax revenues.
- Environment. “Reducing parking requirements allows opportunities to provide more green infrastructure for individual sites including open and public spaces, more effective stormwater management, and preservation.” Another “opportunity” that the County has had in abundance, but has done little to achieve and, in some cases, has actually worsened by its failure to carry out established policy, such as the Urban Parks Framework.
- Land-use Site Design. “Reducing the influence of parking enhances placemaking opportunities, creating places where people want to be . . ..” While this goal alleges that it “can reduce the gulf between streets and buildings, making sites more accessible to pedestrians and micromobility vehicles such as bicycles and scooters,” nothing in current parking requirements precludes this from happening nor will anything in the proposed parking reduction ordinance achieve this.
- Economics. “Proposed automatic reductions in the tiered framework reduce time and money spent supporting reasonable parking adjustments. Significantly reduced parking requirements in Metrorail station areas creates a return on the County’s investment by aligning non-auto transportation options with transit access. More productive uses of land area once devoted to parking adds value to the County’s tax base.”
Ah, there it is, the County sees an opportunity to generate more tax revenues—and without any of the costly commitments that could be forthcoming in meeting the preceding so-called goals using established parking, housing, transportation, open space, environmental, and other County policies. Just the notion that they represent “opportunities” that “can” have generally favorable outcomes.
For those who have the time and intestinal fortitude, the County provides the 51-page latest version of its proposal on the Fairfax County website for residents to review. The document is necessarily complex because it must (a) lay out the parking requirements for every type of residential and business development and (b) establish different standards for these requirements depending on the density in the area to which they apply. For example, buried in footnote #149, bottom of p. 21, is the following regarding parking requirements in Transit Station Areas (TSAs): “Modifies the current TSA reduction from 20 percent to 30 percent and includes restaurants which are currently excluded from the reduction. Creates a new reduced requirement for residential uses.” Of course, nowhere in the document is there a side-by-side comparison of the before and after parking minimums; just footnotes and other obscure references. The less we know, the better.
Nonetheless, one can get a general sense of the proposed parking reductions by looking at the county map included in the white paper (see p. 7). The map breaks down the targeted parking reductions for each basic type of area in the county. Here is a look at the Reston area and the associated legend:
What this shows is that the Transit-Oriented Districts (TODs)—those areas immediately adjacent to Reston and Herndon’s Metro stations would see a 40% reduction in their minimum parking requirements while the slightly larger TSA areas surrounding the station would see cuts of 30% in their parking minimums. In addition, Reston’s Lake Anne Village Center is a Community Revitalization Area (CRA) and that light green blob on the map extract will see a 20% reduction in parking requirements if this zoning ordinance is approved.
The bottom line is that the County’s proposal has little to nothing to do with “right-sizing” parking in the county. As it says, reducing parking “adds value to the County’s tax base.” It’s about the money. At the same time there is no commitment by the County to adopt the measures necessary to offset the adverse impacts of this ill-considered measure on the public including massively improving transit to assuring that those existing policies hurt by any excessive parking are mitigated. Until the Board of Supervisors is willing to mitigate the impacts of its parking reduction on the quality of life of county residents, Fairfax County residents should oppose this proposal. In the meantime, this proposal is just another County take from its residents and taxpayers.