Proposed ordinances to repeal the city's prohibition on University of Mary Washington student parking near the campus while expanding resident-permit parking zones in surrounding neighborhoods have riled UMW faculty.
The legislation, which City Council was poised to vote this Tuesday, was based on a plan developed by Walker Parking Consultants and the city’s Parking Task Force. The consulting firm's report recommended that UMW develop strategies to "pull" its commuters to the campus's parking lots and garage, and that the city "push" them out of residential neighborhoods through the resident-permit parking program.
Yet the consulting firm's analysis didn't indicate a parking shortage in either neighborhood, Paul D. Fallon, a UMW assistant professor of linguistics, pointed out to council members. It had observed that only 47 percent of available parking spaces were occupied during peak demand in College Heights, and 51 percent in College Terrace.
"In short, I do not understand the need for drastic and expensive action when the outside consultants have documented that even at its worst, the current parking situation barely exceeds half of its capacity," he said.
Fallon was one of four UMW professors to speak against proposed parking regulations that the council is considering during the public comment section of the meeting. Afterward, council members decided not to vote on the ordinances.
Fallon said that he normally parks on Buckner Street, which is close to his office in Combs Hall. If no space is available there, as was the case when UMW hosted a police academy graduation recently, he has to drive 10 minutes to the university’s parking garage, find a space and then trek seven-tenths of a mile to Combs while carrying 20 to 30 pounds of books and papers.
"To give you an idea of the distance, imagine parking at the Alumni Executive Center on Hanover Street in order to attend this meeting at Council City Chambers. Or imagine having to park at Caroline and Herndon, almost at the Silk Mill, to walk back to City Council," he said. "Or walking from the old Walker–Grant to here and back at the end of a long day carrying two dozen pounds.
"This would add 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening. This is quite a burden on a university employee, of whom I am only one."
Fallon said that College Heights and College Terrace residents have been vocal in asking the city for "special privileges," but didn't think UMW had been as assertive.
"I hope you will reconsider this whole thing," he said.
Fallon was speaking as an individual, but Marcel Rotter, a UMW associate professor of German and chair of the staff advisory council, said that he was voicing "strong opposition" to the proposals for the entire university faculty and staff.
He said that more than half of the houses in College Heights and College Terrace have driveways, and the streets in those neighborhoods are almost empty on any Sunday, Thanksgiving Day or winter break, when no students are parking there. Even during weekdays when the university is in session, there are always empty spaces, he said.
"This is in large in large part because most College Heights streets are already designated as resident parking only," Rotter said. "It appears that most residents' cars are gone during work days. To implement a resident parking zone only Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m. does not make much sense. Is a half empty suburban cul-de-sac what the neighborhood envisioned for downtown Fredericksburg?"
He suggested enforcing existing parking laws instead, specifically those governing abandoned vehicles. He said a rusty pickup has been parked on Brent Street since 2012, and a boat has been in front of a Sunken Road address long enough to be considered abandoned.
"The parking report is silent on these vehicles, which could be removed to free valuable parking spaces," said Rotter.
He also brought up another proposal in the city's parking plan, which is to eventually add parking meters along the UMW side of College Avenue. He said that such a measure would require students and faculty to run back to the meters up to three times a day, as well as saddle them with the additional expense of the fee. He suggested making the UMW side of College Avenue student parking only.
Rotter added that a quarter of UMW's 1,200 faculty and staff live in the city "and will remember your decision" at the next election.
Nabil Al-Tikriti, a UMW associate history professor, said that limiting on-street parking in the two-block stretch of Sunken Road between Monument Avenue and Cornell Street to residents would create a "drag strip" and possibly cause more accidents in that area.
"I’ve been told that the issue of no UMW student parking is that it’s an illegal violation of equal protection," he said. "You can’t discriminate against a class of people, but you can privilege a class of people. Privilege faculty and staff, if nothing else, just along that two-block stretch, which is currently seeing most of the parking along Sunken Road."
Roy Gratz, an adjunct chemistry professor at UMW, said that the plan's proposal to eventually add parking meters along College Avenue as well as parts of downtown would send a signal to UMW faculty, staff and students that they weren't wanted, and would discourage people from shopping and dining downtown. He also wanted to know how much it will cost to buy, install and maintain the meters.
"How much business will the city really clear if it sets fees low enough to keep from driving away too much business?" he said.
Councilman Tim Duffy, who served on the Parking Task Force, said that members used feedback from 15 public meetings and an online survey that received 725 responses to develop the parking plan. He added that UMW was included on the task force, but the information doesn't appear to have gotten to faculty, students and staff.
"Developing a plan that we can all live with is important," he said. "Many university staff felt that they are not valued, which is not the case. I appreciate the public’s input. We will meet again very soon and will have new recommendations to council about what we can do to tweak the plans."