My Side of the Fence

The danger isn't going too far. It's that we don't go far enough.

RIP Parking Districts

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.

photo  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….


  1. This is only as hard as they make it.

  2. andy

    July 11, 2014 at 11:11 am

    Update:  There was a series of posts here between Steve Thomas and I.  I respect Steve's opinion and he is, more often than not, right.  However, others elected to post some relatively inflammatory comments and I've decided to update the post and get rid of the dialog between Steve and I.  I certainly wouldn't say some of the things that the poster (who posted as andy) said towards Steve.  The lawyer snark was only one of 3.  The other 2 were caught in spam.  Keep it up and I'll lock the thread. 

    Apologies to Steve.

  3. Good. No issues here…

  4. and since the comment wasn't from you, no apologies requred from you.


  5. Raymond Beverage

    July 11, 2014 at 11:24 am

    Meanwhile, back on the topic of Parking District and Housing:

    First up housing – since parking goes with housing, a major break was in order to "do something", the Housing Planner/Advocate position was unfunded.  We lost a highly qualifed person who, through her experience, would have made a major contribution to the Parking Plan.  I know as I provided a copy to her and asked her opinion.  She also had ideas on how to approach the "overcrowd"; although the work of the Planning Commission and ZORC are in the right direction to include the legal definition of Boarding House.

    Members of the Council who did not look at the complete, total picture in a systemic way reacted instead to a political sway and so Housing is broken.

    Second up – Parking Districts:  Agree with you comment that sending letters is the ultimate do nothing, and I'll bet ya a beer at one of two brewries that folks will react as just another useless approach by "City Hall".  When you asked me to comment on "Manassas 2.0" which included the Districts, and asked for examples, I provided you Charlottesville's policy among others.

    I like to use Charlottesville a lot as examples of progress along with Thomas Jefferson Plannig District.  That City is 10.3 square miles, two health systems, and lots of other parrallels to our City.  Difference is they involve their citizens on committees a lot more such as when the Mayor & Council created their Strategic Plan.  They came up with two things in their plan which I liked:  one, they have their City Registration Sticker, and two, provided a means for the average citizen to file complaints.

    My big sticking point with the plan was it included nothing about out-of-state registrations (those who are not Active Duty Military which the law allows for out of State plates).  The law is clear in that after 30 days of residency, you flip your plates to VA.  When I retired from the Army, I had to flip my PA plates to VA which I did.  So, we have all these out-of-state who physically are living in the City, and yet no mechanism to report it.  Fairfax County two years ago set a procedure in place where a citizen could take a digitial picture (so it has the date stamp and identifier) and send it to the Police.  On day 31, the Police followed up.

    Why the Police?  Because whether it is parked on a public street or on a private residence, it is tax evasion, not a parking issue.  Fairfax collected that first year $3million in taxes, fines, and fees.  Wow…that is a lot of cash.  Manassas may not get as much, but still….as a comparison, for BPOL and M&T, Micron pays the City around $5million.

    Good try though, Andy, to try at least to help those of us who sit in frustration.  Maybe a letter can come out trying to sooth the savage beast along with the "request a parking district".

  6. And in regards to the intended topic: I agree 100%. Doing nothing about the parking situation is not the answer. My favorite neighborhood restaurant has had to deal with a parking issue. They have a parking lot, with plenty of spaces. However, there is public street parking available (the street ends in a cul de sac. Lately, all of this street parking has been taken up by paving contractors. They stage their vehicles there, which are dump-trucks with trailers attached to them, backhoes on the trailers. The operators/drivers move the trucks in the morning, replacing them with their PoV's (I guess to "reserve" the space") and then recover their PoV's in the evening, and park the trucks there. There are some periods where the trucks are not moved for days. I have several issues with this: First, the trucks are commercial vehicals being parked on City streets for extended periods of time. Second, the parking spaces are being treated as their own company parking lot, for only their vehicles, or the vehicles of the company. Third, this creates a visual obstruction to cars attempting to enter/exit the parking lot, and last, there are NO PUBLIC PAVING PROJECTS going on in the area. I thought the operators might be staying in the hotel across the street, so I asked the management there. They said "no" and were just as concerned about it as I am, joined by the owner of the restaurant.


  7. letters = paper pushing = bureaucracy = antithetical to meaningful action

  8. Mary Ann Jenkins

    July 12, 2014 at 7:13 am

    Andy, very good commentary on the state of Manassas.  You hit it right on the mark.  One thing that I would like to bring up regarding Manassas is this trend I am seeing for apartments around Old Town.  Now I know that the Community Development office supports density and I see this as something that will bring more customers to Old Town to eat at all the restaurants and watering holes, but do we want these massive buildings to encroach and morph our quaint Old Town Historic District?  These large buildings will eventually swallow the smaller buildings.  Also, we need to encourage home ownership not rentals.  Manassas has more than enough rental properties.  As much as we think all of these apartment dwellers will roll out of bed and take VRE to work every morning and never drive a car anywhere, we are very mistaken.  Our road system around Old Town Manassas is the same as in the 1950's.  Fairview, Prescott, Prince William Street, Center Street, etc. is going to become gridlocked at times with all of the planned density.  We may be trying to become a new Alexandria or Arlington but is that what we really want for Manassas?

  9. Also, unluess I am mistaken more people commute to Manassas for work, than commute from Manassas. I recall hearing that statistic recently. Not sure if this is a "good" or "bad" thing, but it seems to me we have some very different categories of parking: commuter, resident, and visitor. With regards to the last two categories, I think this akin to "beach communities". Residents are forced to deal with visitors parking in residential areas, and visitors frustrated by inadequate parking. Fortunately, we have to deal with this rather infrequently. But, during one of our biggest events, 4th of July, the parking deck is closed, and much of the public parking "off-limits" forcing visitors to park far afield, in the surrounding residential areas.

  10. Andy,

    Should we consider reinstating the "city stickers" for automobiles. This would not help with the downtown parking but it would be easier to identify a non-city resident in the residential neighborhoods. It would allow the public to assist the police in enforcing existing parking regulations.

  11. Raymond Beverage

    July 17, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    @Steve:  with regards to Commuters coming into Manassas, the VA Employment Commission Community Profile reflects around 21,000 workers come into the City.  That compares to the estimate of around 14,000 who go out of the City.  Of course, not all park downtown for work; catch VRE or OmniRide. For in-commuters, there is also the Manassas Junciton parking lot to catch OmniRide; or those who work at Micron, Airport, etc with own parking.  Good point though on three categories of parking! 

  12. Raymond Beverage

    August 4, 2014 at 9:41 am

    Parking at the Train Station:  it is nice to hear the lot is open again as the City has reached an agreement.  Of course, at $4,000 a month plus a 3% annual escalation clause.

    Oh well, at least one parking issue got resolved.

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