The Purcellville Planning Commission discussed possible changes to the town’s parking ordinances at a regular meeting Thursday, March 4.
The Commission did not take any formal action regarding parking regulations, but decided to look into the issue in the future. A parking study from Rite Aid and a letter from developers of a new restaurant asking for parking regulation changes prompted the Commission to discuss the issue. The original agenda item asked the Commission to consider an option to reduce the required number of parking spaces for certain businesses; however, the Commission took the opportunity to discuss ways to relieve some burdensome parking regulations and make Purcellville friendlier to non-automobile traffic.
Commissioner Tom Priscilla said that it would likely take longer to make any of these big changes than Rite Aid or the new restaurant could wait before submitting site plans. “I suspect it will be at least six months for us to go through any kind of a process on this,” Priscilla said.
The Commission did decide that the issue merits further consideration. “I think that if we want … small businesses to survive, we need to be creative,” said Commission Chairman Dennis Beese.
Rite Aid recently presented to the Commission a study of parking requirements at five of its Virginia stores, which indicates that the number of spaces actually used is significantly less than the number required by Purcellville’s parking ordinances. (According to the study, the most spaces used at one time at any of the Rite Aid stores studied was 37, and the current ordinance requires that the Purcellville Rite Aid have 75 spaces.) The owners of the Purcellville Rite Aid want to make some changes to the parking on their lot.
Also, developers planning to convert the old fire station into a restaurant have asked the Commission to consider a parking waiver (requiring fewer parking spaces) to take into account areas of high pedestrian traffic.
The current ordinances require one parking space per 100 square feet of building space, which has caused problems for some businesses in the past, such as leaving little or no room for bike racks and preventing the construction of bus covers to bring in bus traffic.
In addition, a few businesses in buildings that have existed for a long time (such as the old movie theater) are even unable to use all of the building space they own because they cannot put in enough parking spaces to satisfy the ordinance.
“A lot of those kind of requirements are borrowed from Loudon County and the Town of Leesburg… That’s a real problem today,” Beese said. “I think what we’re experiencing … is that some of those numbers may be high for a rural community.”
Commission members discussed solutions that would encourage people to use the sidewalks or ride bikes. Priscilla said he would like to see some of the extra parking space used to expand sidewalks from four feet to six feet wide, or to put in a space where a bus can pull in off the road, or even put in a bike lane.
He said that discussing such alternative solutions would be more productive than simply changing the numbers in the current ordinance.
Another solution that some other towns have implemented is maintaining a number of parking spaces on Town property and letting businesses buy them for a set price plus an annual maintenance fee. This would allow customers to park close to a business, but not necessarily right on the property, and free up businesses from having to devote so much space to parking.
Beese also questioned whether the Town should “be in the business of establishing minimum parking spaces or should we be in the business of establishing maximum parking spaces?” In other words, perhaps the goal should be to encourage foot, bike, and bus traffic as much as is reasonable.
“If you require too many parking spaces, you end up with a sea of asphalt, and that’s not very pretty to look at,” said Beese, pointing out the shopping center on the east end of town. The parking lot has plenty of spaces, many of which stay empty, and no trees or landscaping. Beese would like to see places like that have some trees or bushes to make it a nice place to park and it would be more visually appealing.
The Commission also initiated the process of making changes to the Land Development and Subdivision Control Ordinance, Article II, at the meeting. The Commission had discussed this at previous meetings but had not yet actually initiated the amendment process. The Commission also held a work session after the meeting adjourned to discuss the language of the proposed amendments.
Contributed by Jonathan Arena