County staff members are recommending adding amendments to the Arlington County Zoning Ordinance that would affect parking at public pools and at elementary and middle schools.
At its meeting on Saturday (January 26), the County Board is being asked to provide authorization for staff to advertise public hearings regarding the proposed amendments. The changes include revising parking standards for elementary and middle schools, permitting off-site vehicle parking at community swimming pools and allowing the County Board to modify parking standards.
The issue first arose during the public review process for the addition to Ashlawn Elementary School and the new school to be built on the Williamsburg campus. Arlington Public Schools felt that using the existing Zoning Ordinance for parking requirements would result in an excessive amount of parking. For instance, the addition to Ashlawn would require 228 parking spaces under the ordinance, when APS says it only needs about 100.
“That is way more than we need and it means we would lose open space and ball fields,” said John Chadwick, Director of Design and Construction for APS. “If we do that and we lose open space, ball fields and green space, that sort of counters what everyone is trying to do in Arlington.”
Another concern is that the ordinance requires all of the parking spaces to be on site. One of the proposed amendments would allow for off-site parking on the street or in other lots, like the lots of private swimming pools, which are typically open during the summer but closed during most of the school year. County staff offered the example of Ashlawn’s ongoing shared parking agreement with the Dominion Hills Pool.
Residents who live close to the affected schools haven’t all been supportive of the measure considering it would force more cars into neighborhood streets.
“We are having some push back from neighbors, but very few of our schools provide the number of spaces currently required under this ordinance,” Chadwick said.
The ordinance is not retroactive, so schools already in existence would not have to suddenly rework their parking situation; only new schools, such as at Williamsburg, or school expansions, such as Ashlawn, need to comply.
The changes would also alter the definition of “design capacity.” The new parking proposal suggests allotting one teacher parking spot for every 7.5 students, and one visitor spot for every 40 students.
“We’re very much in favor of the plan and the change and we’ve worked with them [the county] all the way. We really need to get this change approved so we can move forward with the Ashlawn campus and Williamsburg site,” Chadwick said. “This is all good from our point of view. I know it’s a bit complicated, but it actually makes sense.”
Similar parking issues have been identified with the county’s planned aquatics facility at Long Bridge Park. That prompted County Manager Barbara Donnellan to ask staff to examine not only regulations covering school parking, but county recreational facilities as well. As with the schools, parking demand at the aquatics center site was deemed lower than the existing requirements in the Zoning Ordinance.
While some of the amendments deal specifically with parking either at schools or recreational facilities, there are also general provisions covering both categories. County staff recommends that one of the general principles should be to base parking requirements on average daily use and not peak facility uses. Additionally, it recommends sites be examined individually to determine parking needs instead of forcing all facilities to conform to the same regulations. Such a recommendation would be fulfilled by the proposed amendment allowing the County Board to grant special parking exceptions, which it currently cannot do.
The public hearing with the Planning Commission is scheduled for February 11 and the one with the County Board is scheduled for February 23.