Below is the text of a letter sent to parents of school children by the Pastor of St. James Church.
September 17, 2015
I am writing this letter to inform you about a situation that will affect pedestrian safety and the availability of parking on the streets surrounding St. James Church and School. At the end of this letter, I will urge you to take action to protect the interests of St. James parishioners and parents. We have seen many changes to our surrounding environment since I arrived in 2006. This past year has brought news of further development along Broad and West Streets. The proposed six-story Mason Row development will abut church property with a hotel, an apartment complex, and retail establishments. Concerned that Mason Row would increase the number of cars parked on the street (and already frustrated with their inability to park in front of their homes), residents on the north side of Park Avenue petitioned to restrict parking. Additionally, the City has stated a desire to make Spring Street two-way instead of its current one-way designation. In an effort to be proactive and maintain good community relations, we have been engaged in discussions with representatives of the Falls Church City government, the neighborhood, the police and the developer for many months. We have done this to represent the interests of our parishioners, parents, volunteers, staff, and the many community members who utilize our wonderful campus for spiritual, educational and social enrichment.
While from the pulpit and in print we have encouraged parking in our three existing lots, the reality is that there are times when the overflow cannot be accommodated by our facilities and parking on side streets becomes inevitable. Sensitive to the valid concerns of our neighbors while mindful of the safety concerns of our students and Mass-goers, we asked for two-hour parking restrictions on Park Avenue and for Spring Street to remain one-way with diagonal parking to increase parking availability there.
Spring Street: Two-Way Traffic and Parking
We discussed at length with City officials various ways to promote pedestrian safety. The City has committed to installing a raised, 10-foot wide crosswalk across Spring Street from the school/church parking lot to our church entrance. The crosswalk will improve safety for parishioners (as well as students) going to Mass every weekday. However, some City officials have also expressed a desire to change the street’s designation from one to two-way traffic. This change, we believe, would reduce pedestrian safety.
Eleven families on the north side of Park Avenue across the street from the church have petitioned the City to limit on-street parking to residents only, within the following parameters: two-hour parking on weekdays with no parking after 5:00pm and no parking at all on weekends for non-residents of that block. The south side of Park Avenue, in front of our church and rectory, would remain available for church-goer parking, but with a two-hour time restriction. We feel that as nine of the eleven homes on this block have driveways, these weekend restrictions place an undue burden on our Church-goers, 800 of whom are City residents.
We voiced our concern that similar petitions might be filed by residents of other adjacent streets, thus further limiting the availability of on-street parking for Church-goers. For most of the year this would not be problematic. However, Christmas, Easter and Ash Wednesday, for example, can see our attendance increase by as much as several hundred for one Mass. The crux of the matter (and our greatest concern) is that we do not have sufficient parking within our three lots to make up for the potential loss of on-street parking for larger Church or community events. When we shared this concern with City officials, they suggested that we promote carpooling for parishioners or negotiate arrangements with nearby companies to use their parking lots on Sunday, perhaps also providing shuttle service between those lots and our church. Some churches have such an arrangement already with Kaiser, for example, at the corner of Maple and Park. This would be an additional unwarranted impediment for many of our older parishioners as well as those with young families whose station in life requires ready and available access to our Church. Moreover as public streets, they should be shared; a symbiotic relationship which began in 1882 and one we wish to continue.
The possibility of utilizing the vacant lot between the rectory and House of Ministries as a location for additional parking has been discussed. We received estimates that doing so would cost up to $15,000 per parking space, or $750,000 for 50 spaces. However, a recent site review showed that we may not even have enough space for 50 spots. While again this is not optimal and we do not wish to reduce our already limited green space, it might be the only solution allowing for reasonable access to our Church. Having been here only nine years, I would like to see as much of this space preserved as possible; but the reality is our “Little City” is growing up and green space is at a premium.
We will continue to work with the City Police Department (as we always have) to encourage safe and available parking for everyone; we must respect the right of every homeowner to get to his or her own driveway.
Based upon what we currently know, the concerns are, in rank order:
- The threat to pedestrian safety on Spring Street due to the proposed change to two-way traffic;
- The precedent of granting resident-only parking on weekends, which might eventually spread to all of the residential streets surrounding the church;
- Gaining the City’s approval for an additional parking lot that we might want to build on the property we have available; and
- On a personal note, it concerns me that the City is considering narrow weekend parking restrictions for a religious institution yet sanctions two-hour parking seven days a week near commercial establishments on Park Avenue. Doing so unfairly hampers ready access to our Church on Park Avenue.
What can you do?
I have spoken to the City Manager numerous times about this. Our staff has met with representatives many times. Though the ultimate decision lies with the City Manager, I encourage you to contact not only the City Manager, but City Council representative as well. Voice your opinion about the proposed changes, that we: 1) maintain the one-way designation of Spring Street and 2) limit any parking restrictions on Park Avenue to two-hour parking, seven days a week. Mention that our acceptance of restricted two-hour parking around our campus shows our dedication to positive neighborhood relations. We have been committed to our community for 123 years, and will continue that commitment. Thank you for your support and action.
Rev. Patrick L. Posey
CONTACT INFORMATION FOR CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS
(taken from the Falls Church City website)
David Tarter Mayor 703-408-3459
David F. Snyder Vice Mayor 703-241-0419
Wyatt Shields City Manager 703-248-5004
Nader Baroukh Council Member 703-992-9433
Marybeth Connelly Council Member 703-200-2426
Phil Duncan Council Member 703-209-2005
Karen Oliver Council Member 571-421-6950
Dan Sze Council Member 703-300-2720