- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2000

More spaces good for firms

The booming economy and the recent migration back downtown are forcing local officials to find ways to give area merchants all the parking they need.

Persistent parking shortages threaten to interrupt business growth in hot suburban markets.

In Clarendon, Arlington County now opens its garage to the public after work hours so that people will patronize the AMC Courthouse 8 Theatres upstairs and several restaurants and shops nearby.

On Gordon Boulevard in Woodbridge, Prince William County officials arranged for the large new Blackies House of Beef restaurant to share parking with a shopping center.

Normally left up to private developers and land and business owners, public officials are now taking interest in creating such "shared parking" arrangements, said Mike McAnelly, a Houston-based consultant with the national planning firm Wilbur Smith Associates.

Since the early 1990s, "more and more municipalities are starting to recognize that [shared parking] needs to be part of managing downtown parking systems," he said.

It solves parking shortages, boosts tourism and business districts, frees up land for other uses, helps the environment and reduces sprawl, planning officials said.

Private developers, land and business owners have often taken matters into their own hands, with restaurants, retailers or churches making deals with nearby parking lots at office buildings.

But private enterprise has its limits when public land-use rules come into play.

On the edge of Belmont Bay in Prince William County, developer Preston Carruthers is building a 100-acre town center as part of a larger 312-acre project. Plans call for a harbor with 158 floating docks, half a million square feet of offices, 1,800 residences, two hotels, a golf course, and several restaurants and shops.

"Parking is exceedingly important," but it's also costly to build when the land might be better used for other purposes, he said. "Getting the right balance is important."

The problem is that for each house, office, shop, Prince William County zoning rules require a certain number of parking spaces, he said. It might be prettier or more efficient or more profitable to combine parking for some of these uses, when people will use the lots at different times, but it's normally illegal.

That's where Prince William County officials have stepped in with new zoning to get around the usual requirements. Based on the different zoning, the developer decided to build only 3,800 parking spaces, or 2,600 fewer than normal zoning would require. That saved the equivalent of 884,000 square feet of space.

"It's trying to build a pleasanter place to live," Mr. Carruthers said. "To the extent you can plant a tree, have grass and flowers, you've made some progress. There's no sense in overbuilding."

The arrangement will also help the new development's tenant businesses prosper, helping the county's tax base, said Rick Lawson, head of planning for the county. But the idea wasn't obvious to a county with plenty of room to grow.

"The challenge of doing shared parking arrangements is not one of the first things a suburban jurisdiction thinks about," Mr. Lawson said.

It's more common in urban settings where space is scarcer. For at least five years now, Arlington County has encouraged shared parking when private landowners propose new developments. As part of the approval process, the county board has required shared parking arrangements, said Jay Fisette, vice chairman of the board.

"This is something built in on a fairly regular basis," he said. But it's not enough, he added.

"Finding ways to bring shared parking to an existing lot is much harder," he said. Parking lot owners frequently don't want to assume the liability or the cleanup work that comes from new users, he said. Some apartment or office building owners don't want to compromise security by opening up their garages.

The county has a task force working on the issue that is expected to make recommendations to the board within two months, he said.

The move to integrate parking is one way that municipal officials are trying to develop new zoning rules that mix shops, offices and residences within areas, re-creating traditional-style towns, Mr. McAnelly said.

Beginning in the first half of the century, zoning rules were set up to separate such uses because of problems created by urban congestion. These rules created conditions ripe for sprawl during the postwar economic boom. Now the pendulum is swinging the other way.

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