Residents living near Northern Virginia Community College’s Annandale campus say the school is not proving to be a good neighbor as growing numbers of students park on their streets to avoid traffic and parking fees.
“It’s all day. The cars are parked from morning to evening,” said Oak Hill resident Mike Perel. A letter issued to local officials on behalf of neighborhood residents said as many as 78 and as few as 11 student cars are parked in the community during class hours.
During a community meeting in February, neighbors reported students speeding in the 35 mile per hour residential zone, littering and congesting neighborhood streets. One neighbor said a student double-parked, blocking off the street.
A possible proposed solution to curb some of the parking issues would be to create resident-only parking zones on some blocks or streets. Residents can apply to create a Residential Parking District, which would grant residents decals for their cars while police could fine student drivers $75 for parking without a decal.
County Senior Transportation Planner Maria Turner said Residential Parking Districts are becoming more commonly requested by residents, with about half a dozen being created each year. The districts are most common near what Turner dubs “attractive nuisances,” community spots like high schools, metro stops and colleges which tend to draw high volume of drivers.
“It’s like a [swimming] pool in the back yard. It’s great to have one, but then your neighbors start coming over and you have to maintain it...” Turner said.
Residents can create a Residential Parking District through submission of a petition to the county. Signatures gathered must equal 60 percent or more of the residents in the area or 50 percent of residents in a block. The county then sends staff out to see if the residential road is within 2,000 feet of a pedestrian entrance or 1,000 feet from the property boundary of the “attractive nuisance.” There are several other requirements involving the volume of non-resident parking on a street or in a neighborhood, which fall under the county’s Residental Traffic Administration Program.
While some residents living near NVCC have opted for the decals, others say the parking restriction has only served to push traffic further into the neighborhood, creating a logjam of cars when students make illegal maneuvers to find an open space.
“What happens is the neighborhoods closest to the college are the most affected… these neighborhoods [a few years] ago were forced to go to permit [parking],” Perel said. “It has actually made the problem worse. The students are parking up to a half-mile away. They are making u-turns [to get parking spots]. There are two issues--one is the safety issue that impact the quality of life here, the other is the traffic.”
Perel said his cul-de-sac has not been impacted yet, but could soon be as more neighbors apply for more Residential Parking Districts and push traffic futher in.
County Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock) said Northern Virginia COmmunity College is working with the community to stem some of the traffic flow through its neighborhoods. Meetings are held once a quarter between neighbors and the college. Cook added that “This issue has been kicking around ever since I took office [on March 17, 2009]...”
“These are all piecemeal solutions that will help but certainly won’t solve the issue,” said Cook, adding that similar neighborhood concerns have been discussed because of traffic near George Mason University. Cook represents neighborhoods around both the university and community college. Mason neighbors have also opted for decals. However, because Mason is a residential campus and NVCC is not, the traffic issues and solutions are different, Cook said.
“What happened with Mason and NVCC is they grew up overnight,” he said. “Ultimately the circumstance that creates this issue is the [community] college has grown very quickly, especially during the recession [when more people enrolled in higher education]...The community is really looking for the college to come up with solutions.”
Students can purchase parking permits online for $95 or in person for $105 per semester to park in one of the college’s 3,000 parking spaces on the Annandale campus. The campus also includes a deck with hourly rates and an all-day parking fee of $12. Because permits can be used on any of the college’s six campuses, it is difficult to determine how many passes are exclusively used in Annandale, campus officials said.
Annandale Campus Provost Barbara Saperstone said the college is trying to prevent its growing pains from impacting its neighbors.
“We did a quick survey of students parking on the street and they had two main reasons [for doing so],” she said. “One was the cost and the other was the ease of coming on and off the campus.”
The college has hired two uniformed police officers to help traffic flow on the campus between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m., and 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., which are peak hours, Saperstone said.
The parking cost issue, however, is more difficult to resolve.
“The state funds that we receive cannot be used for construction,” she said. State higher education institutes separate their capital construction costs --those funds used to build facilities and parking-- from opperational costs, which help to fund professors, staff salaries, supplies, student costs and more.
“The parking fees go toward paying for the deck,” Saperstone said. The college is hoping changes to program offerings will alleviate some of the problems caused by growth, which has increased traffic on Little River Turnpike (Route 236) as well as adjacent neighborhoods.
“As we grow we are also trying to grow our distance education program [online courses],” Saperstone said. These distance courses are offered either half online, half in classrooms or totally online.
“We really are trying to be responsive to those who have concerns,” she said.
Neighbors said they are still looking to the college to come up with solutions, which they proposed could mean moving class times away from peak traffic hours and providing free parking for students.
“[The decals option] is a burden on the county,” Perel said. “The neighbors have to call the police and the police have to come out... I just don’t think the college has given us a reason why they can’t do what other colleges do,” by making parking free as it is at fellow Virginia community colleges J. Sargeant Reynolds in Richmond, Piedmont Virginia in Charlottesville, Central Virginia in Lynchburg and Mountain Empire in Big Stone Gap.