Image by Alex Cox.

Currently, new residential developments near Metro stations in Arlington have to come with a certain amount of parking. The amount required, however, could soon drop, a move that reflects a growing understanding of how excess parking promotes urban sprawl and traffic congestion and drives up housing prices.

Right now, Arlington requires as many parking spaces — or more — as residential units in a building. Depending on location, the required ratio of units to spaces ranges from 1:1 to 1:1.25. That means that a 200-unit development currently needs to provide 200-225 parking spaces.

But it now looks like Arlington will change its policies so that new apartment and condo buildings don't have to have so much parking.

Arlington’s General Land Use Plan, revised in December 2015, calls for concentrating high-density development within the Rosslyn-Ballston (including Clarendon, Courthouse, and Virginia Square) and Jefferson Davis (Crystal City and Pentagon City) corridors. The county’s Transportation Master Plan also suggests reducing parking requirements near Metro stations in order to increase housing affordability and transit accessibility.

Arlington's Rosslyn-Ballston, Jefferson Davis, and Columbia Pike corridors.  Image by Arlington County.

The Arlington County Manager established the Residential Parking Working Group to examine parking ratios for multi-family buildings built under special exemptions (rather than “by right”) in these corridors.

Key recommendations from the working group, which county officials say carry significant weight, include greatly reduced minimum parking requirements (MPRs) based on proximity to Metro, as well as reduced parking requirements in affordable housing units and for buildings where bike parking spaces, Capital Bikeshare stations, and car-sharing parking spaces are provided.

These recommendations, if adopted, would not require developers to provide less parking; rather, they would reduce the minimum amount of parking that developers have to build. Residential developments could still offer more parking, though the working group does recommend a mitigation fee for exceeding a certain upper threshold of parking spaces.

The closer to Metro, the fewer parking spots required

The working group made two tiers of recommendations, one with a medium amount of parking and one with a higher amount of parking – but both representing a substantial decrease.

Distance from Metro <1/8 mi. <1/2 mi. >1/2 mi. <3/4 mi. <1 mi.
Medium option .2 spaces/unit .3 .4 .5 .6
High option .4 spaces/unit .5 .6. .7 .8

For developments within 1/8 mile of a Metro station, the MPR would range from 0.2 spaces per unit (as the “medium” level) to 0.4 spaces per unit (at the “high” level). Within a quarter mile, that ratio would increase to 0.3 to 0.5 spaces per unit.

There are recommendations at half and three quarter mile radii, capping out at 0.6-0.8 spaces per unit within one mile of a station.

These changes are substantial. Instead of a 200-unit building requiring 200-225 parking spaces, one closest to Metro could have only 40-80 spaces (depending on which threshold were adopted); even buildings nearly a mile from Metro could have as few as 120-160 spaces.

Affordable housing and places with CaBi stations will have even less required parking

Affordable housing would qualify for deeper reductions in parking requirements, based on the group’s finding that lower-income households own fewer cars and that requiring less parking can reduce construction costs – thereby making it easier for the county to build more affordable housing. (It’s worth noting that in 2015, Alexandria reduced required parking levels for affordable housing.)

Affordable housing developments built for residents making 60% Area Median Income (AMI) would require 70% of the parking ratio that is adopted for general housing (above). Those for residents making 50% of AMI would require half of the ratio above, and those for residents making 40% AMI wouldn’t require any parking.  For example, if the County adopts the “medium” parking ratios (such as 0.2 spaces per unit within 1/8 mile of Metro), then affordable housing units at 50% AMI located closest to Metro would only require 0.1 spaces per unit.

Finally, the working group recommended that a development be able to reduce its required parking spaces by two for every 10 bike parking spaces, by several spaces if it acquires and a Capital Bikeshare docking station (the exact number depends on things like the size of the dock), and by several spaces for every car-sharing space.

The report also recommends reducing parking requirements if some on-site parking can be shared with other land uses (such as office parking), and allows developers to provide required parking off-site if it’s within 800 feet of the building.

This is a smart move

If adopted, these recommendations could have positive benefits for Arlington and the surrounding region. Required parking adds significant costs to housing, so reduced and off-site parking could make Arlington more affordable.

Reducing parking should continue to make the Metro corridors in Arlington walkable and bikeable by increasing dense development and mitigating the land use sprawl that excess parking spaces create, while also reducing traffic congestion and incentivizing alternative transportation modes – in particular, Metro, which is struggling with dwindling ridership.  

These reductions reflect a regional trend in recent years as well, with the District of Columbia’s zoning update reducing parking requirements in most residential areas and eliminating parking requirements downtown, and Alexandria adopting reduced parking regulations within a half mile of Metro.

Community outreach for this study revealed concern that reduced parking minimums may lead to an increase in spillover on-street parking in surrounding neighborhoods. The working group addressed this by encouraging the county to continue to study the spillover issue — particularly the impact on the Residential Permit Parking (RPP) program – as it analyzes the group’s recommendations. The group noted that some RPP districts only restrict parking during business hours; extending that to overnight hours could ameliorate spillover effects.

The County will consider the working group’s report along with community input received via an online survey (that closes April 18) and feedback from county advisory commissions and civic organizations to form staff recommendations to the county manager. Ultimately, the advisory commissions will again consider the staff recommendations, and the County Board will have the final say.