The Council had a work session the other night on parking districts. Parking districts are kinda like trash cans or other public policy matters that directly touch people's lives: they tend to be controversial even in small doses.
Crafting public policy that touches peoples lives on a broad scope is difficult. If you change things at all you're likely to have a room full of angry people. The city recently purchased and distributed new trash cans to all residents. I received phone calls and emails from people who didn't like it. I admit that it still surprises me what people will expend their energy on but it's a free country! However, I see overflow parking from the townhouses in the single family zones as a real problem. This evening there were 4 different proposals in front of the Council. On a tie vote, with the mayor voting yes, the Council approved a parking district scheme where the city does nothing but send out letters to people telling them if they wanted a parking district they could petition the city. In other words, we voted to do nothing. A swing and a miss. No action.
Now, one might fairly ask: why are my panties are in such a bunch over parking districts? The answer comes in three parts:
First: the growth in the number of cars registered in the city far outstrips the number of housing units added. How can that be? The answer is, of course, simple. We have more people living in the same number of houses. While maybe not legally "overcrowded" the planning (parking, schools, police, etc) involved in the original development is out the window. The legal definition that the City uses for overcrowding is pretty much useless and the vigor of enforcement of those codes has faded over the years. Overcrowding problems seem to be back in Manassas but nobody is talking about it much. However, the single family districts around these developments are bearing the brunt of the adverse impacts and it shows.
Second: like it or not, there is an expectation amongst folks who buy a single family house in the suburbs that they'll live on a relatively quiet, uncluttered street and enjoy the use of the parking spots in front of their home if need be. This is not the case in Manassas near Point of Woods and the Wellington Townhouses. We've even had fist fights over parking. If the city isn't prepared to take action on this problem, residents will find a different place to live….and they are. Think they have to walk several blocks to their single family house in Gainesville? Flight is still a very real problem in Manassas. The Council has articulated several times that it's a problem we need solutions to but the Mayor and Council clearly lack the resolve to actually do anything about this or other difficult public policy problems.
Third: at some point, the city leadership is going to have to come to grips with the fact that this isn't the Andy Griffith show anymore. Indeed, the Council and Mayor's actions are wholly incongruent with their stated goal of being a "prosperous and family friendly city with best in class schools and a thriving business community". There are many tough policy decisions in between our current state and that goal. Parking might have been the easiest of those decisions. In addition, the schools are not some third party who can deliver "best in class schools" without the city's help. They aren't a vendor of yams with whom we're unhappy. Their stock in trade is people. You cannot de-couple progress in the school system from public policy.
This missed opportunity simply results in the continuing erosion in our competitive position with the surrounding jurisdictions. It's a long term problem. Manassas will continue to bounce along the bottom in terms of progress. It isn't the end of the world. The economy is doing ok and Old Town will see good things happen but long term it's a problem. We're boiling the frog here….