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FairfaxTransportationFairfax officials attempt to balance needs with new parking policies

Fairfax officials attempt to balance needs with new parking policies

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Fairfax County officials are solidifying recommendations from the “Parking Reimagined” study, which aims to meet the growing county’s parking needs while avoiding acres of wasteful, heat-retaining, runoff-producing asphalt devoted to the purpose.

Parking needs vary across the county and need tailored approaches, said Michael Davis, parking-program manager with the Department of Planning and Development Services, at the March 15 Board of Supervisors’ Land Use Policy Committee meeting.

“Our county has a variety of land-development activities, thus a one-size-fits-all solution for parking should not continue,” Davis told supervisors.

The first such comprehensive review since 1988, the study is examining off-street parking requirements and aims to review, update and simplify parking rates and streamline reviews and approvals. The initiative focuses largely on new construction and pursues goals including personal convenience, environmental stewardship, affordability/economics, place-making and – this being Fairfax County – equity.


The county since last fall has held town-hall meetings regarding parking policies and gotten positive feedback, Davis said. Residents desired more quality pedestrian connections and well-designed pathways in new developments to reduce parking demand and asked the county to formulate parking policies based on data.

County staffers are evaluating best practices, such as consolidating parking requirements for similar land uses, basing parking rates on buildings’ square footage, increasing or decreasing parking rates based on the land uses involved and having a single rate for mixed uses in industrial buildings and offices.

Fair Oaks Mall, which now has acres of surface parking, is an example of how parking requirements can be modified based on new land uses, Davis said. Supervisors in 2019 approved changes in the county’s minimum-parking requirements to permit regional malls to provide at least 2.5 parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of floor area, down from four.

“The lowering of this requirement provided the opportunity to re-plan the mall site to allow redevelopment of the parking areas,” he said, adding that supervisors also had approved comprehensive-plan changes for that area in 2020.

“These actions will increase the value of the parking areas, which are highly under-utilized today, with potential new residential and commercial construction that will increase the usefulness of the entire site,” Davis said.

The revamped Fair Oaks Mall area will provide an opportunity for place-making by minimizing the landscape impacts of parking and developing a compact, walkable urban community, he said.

County staff are formulating a multi-tiered parking approach that would set minimum and maximum rates depending on development density, transit availability and parking requirements. These are the categories:

• Tier 1 would cover single-family residential neighborhoods and low-intensity commercial zones – that is, most of the county. Parking requirements would remain stable, but would be reduced modestly in transit areas.

• Tier 2 would apply to medium-density areas, such as Fairfax Corner, and feature modest parking reductions in non-transit areas. Zones with transit could have reduced minimum-parking requirements and have maximum levels imposed as well, to reduce overbuilding of parking supply.

• Tier 3 would pertain to high-density areas such as Tysons, where minimum-parking requirements could be reduced significantly or done away with entirely and maximum-parking rules could be imposed for most uses.

County residents seek to obtain direct environmental benefits from reduced parking requirements, said Austin Gastrell, a planner with the Department of Planning and Development. Over-parked areas often produce “heat island” effects and excess stormwater runoff, with paved parking areas producing up to three times more runoff than green space, he said.

Community Business Centers, such McLean’s, would be located in Tier 1 or 2 areas as well as transit districts, which would allow them to require less parking, county officials said.

County staffers also are examining whether to include bicycle-parking requirements in the zoning ordinance. The county’s comprehensive plan does not require bicycle parking for by-right developments and such commitments now are obtained only during the entitlement process for new projects.

In addition, the county is exploring whether the zoning ordinance should require electric-vehicle (EV) charging stations. Such stations now may be approved as accessory uses, and since 2021 those spaces have counted toward sites’ parking minimums.

“Since this change, staff has seen an increase in by-right EV installations within mixed-use areas and shopping centers,” Gastrell said.

County staff will engage with supervisors and community this spring and summer regarding a refined draft of the “Parking Reimagined” proposal and hold public hearings this fall or winter before supervisors authorize the plan.

Supervisors at the meeting supported the parking plan and its bicycle and EV components. Chairman Jeff McKay (D) said it was essential to provide both long- and short-term parking for EV charging, as is the case at Springfield Town Center.

Supervisor Walter Alcorn (D-Hunter Mill) asked county officials to look at possibly retrofitting townhouse and multi-family developments with EV-charging facilities.

Supervisor Penelope Gross (D-Mason) said officials should encourage the planting of shorter-growing trees as landscaping in parking lots, lest they eventually become too large.

“Lots of times, it looks good when it’s first put in and the inspector says, ‘Yes, you’ve done this,’” she said. “And then you go 25 years later and it’s an ‘oops.’”

Gross said she also would oppose any efforts to build parking garages at high schools, saying those resources instead should be spent on classrooms.
For more information, visit the project’s Website at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/planning-development/zoning-ordinance/parking-reimagined.

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