Do Fairfax Co.’s biggest malls have too many parking spaces? Mall owners say yes

As the holiday shopping season draws near, stress levels are bound to rise. Thousands upon thousands will head to malls filled with holes in their wallets as they try to game plan how to get in and out of the biggest malls in the D.C. region as quickly and efficiently as possible.

One of the hardest parts of it all will be getting there — and finding a parking spot.

It can often feel like there is no perfect parking spot at this time of year, since spots close to the entrances tend to be taken by cars that seem like they’ll be camped out there until after New Year’s. On days like that, some might ask how anyone could question whether there’s too much parking.

But mall owners in Fairfax County, Virginia, are not only asking that, county staff are saying the answer is yes — there is too much parking.

Right now the county is considering a change to a zoning amendment that would alter the formula used to determine how much parking is provided at the four biggest shopping centers: Tysons Corner Mall, Tysons Galleria, Fair Oaks Mall and Springfield Town Center. Basically, the change would allow those shopping centers to reduce the amount of parking available.

The measure is being pushed by Fair Oaks Mall, which wants to be able to redevelop some of the parking lots and build new amenities to adapt to evolving retail trends.

A study commissioned by Fair Oaks found that at the peak hour on a December Saturday — what would be the busiest hour of the busiest shopping days of the year — the peak demand is less than what’s available.

During a planning commission meeting on Wednesday, Michael Davis, parking program manager with the county’s land development services department, said the peak demand “is between 65 and 70% of the current supply.”

At other times, both in December and in the summer months, less than half the spaces are filled there, and at Springfield Town Center too.

“The demand is significantly lower than the requirement,” Davis said.

The proposal is being pushed by Fair Oaks because it stands to be impacted the most by this.

Springfield Town Center is already going through some planned development.

Two malls in the Tysons area already have the ability to reduce their parking to as many as zero spaces if desired. While those malls are included in this measure by virtue of their size, the actual impact on those malls would be negligible.

Nevertheless, it didn’t stop planning commissioners from expressing concern about the potential impact this would have on the malls at Tysons.

County staff, and those testifying on behalf of Fair Oaks Mall, stressed that it’s highly unlikely Tysons would do anything that would potentially keep customers away.

Tony Calabrese, a lawyer who represents Fair Oaks Mall in this, told the commission that “our larger retail centers, particularly those in suburban locations … don’t need anywhere near the ocean of asphalt that we had in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s.”

“Our shopping and personal service habits have changed dramatically,” added Calabrese, who noted the trend of home delivery of goods, groceries, and even dine-in restaurant meals is accelerating, not declining. “The parking requirements have to be dropped and they have to be dropped significantly.”

The current rule is that malls of their size must provide four parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of gross floor area. Fair Oaks is hoping to reduce that number to 2 1/2 to three spaces per 1,000 feet of gross floor area.

While the county’s staff recommends allowing the change, the planning commission sounded skeptical during a two-hour public hearing last Wednesday. They’ll take up the measure at this Wednesday’s board meeting.

However, the ultimate decision will rest with the board of supervisors, which has scheduled a public hearing on this for Dec. 3.

The planning commission is expected to vote on the measure this Wednesday. The board of supervisors will take it up next month.

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