You can hear the exasperation in Todd Woodson's voice when he says "looks like we'll have to go over it one more time." He's referring to a parking permit proposal in Oregon Hill, that aims to ease congestion caused by nearby Virginia Commonwealth University students.
As president of the Oregon Hill Neighborhood Association, he's watched city officials explain the complicated approval process at monthly meetings. He and others in the pro-permit camp were expecting the matter to be settled by a June 26 City Council meeting.
But that hope has been pushed back to the July 24 meeting. Dissenters are likely to show up with requests for their voices to be heard. Some business owners and residents have become upset because they didn't know about the proposal until recently, nor do they like what it entails.
"We found out through a Facebook group, which to me doesn't actually mean anything," says Bobby Egger, an Oregon Hill resident and owner of Vinyl Conflict. "Even people who've lived here awhile say they knew about [parking issues] but not that anything was in the works."
Richmond requires signatures from the majority of households in 10 contiguous blocks before considering residential parking regulation. A request can then be submitted to the Department of Public Works via a council member. Permits cost $25 dollars each, then $35 for each additional one, and are only available to residents. But neighbors do get to decide some parameters. For example, the Carver neighborhood wants to distribute visitor placards for people who work in the neighborhood, to use during shifts at restaurants and stores.
The Oregon Hill proposal would ticket any car without a permit if it's parked on a long street for more than an hour and on a short street for more than three. Money from parking tickets would go back into the community, in the form of benefits such as cleanups.
Oregon Hill is an interesting case study, since its street layout puts a burden on some blocks more than others. Consequently, Egger says when he began asking why he wasn't informed of the proposal's status, he was told his block wasn't being petitioned for signatures. Even putting that aside, he and others are left wondering what action they can take, if any.
Justin Torone, a co-owner of Rest in Pieces, helped put together a flyer to spread the word. He also found out through a small Facebook group. "No one even came into my business to talk to me about it, because they had a signature from Bunnyhop [Bike Shop], when Bunnyhop was here three or four years ago," Torone says. "I don't know if that's illegal or not, but I feel like it is. How can they do that, you know?"
Woodson says the proposal has been open to input from neighborhood constituents who aren't residents. Open High School, for instance, has asked for accommodations.
"We have already, all along, been willing, and we've stated this, to work with churches, people and businesses, to do what we can to make things good for them," he says. "We want to accommodate everybody. Everybody will get the benefit here, but everybody will have to compromise."
"This was not a hierarchal process," says Jennifer Hancock, a former president of the association. "The neighborhood association is not pushing an unpopular program on unwilling neighbors. The neighbors did all the footwork: knocking on doors, talking to neighbors, answering questions."
Besides L'Opossum, Woodson says that he hasn't heard directly from other businesses. He calls a flyer that appeared around the neighborhood "appalling" and "destructive fake news." The flyer's header reads: "Your neighborhood parking association is trying to keep you in the dark about the proposed permits." Woodson says "there's no such [parking] group."
"It's nice that people have been coming in and saying thank you for doing this," Torone says, referring to the flyer.
The rules will be enforced only on blocks that secured a majority of signatures, says Sharon North, an information manager with the Department of Public Works. Given Oregon Hill's layout, the department will map out the petitioned area to determine if the contiguous requirement is met. North says council member Parker Agelasto supports a residential parking program. He did not respond to a request for comment.
Hancock says she has paperwork for 11 blocks in hand, but they are not contiguous blocks. She has been told paperwork for eight more blocks is finished, and knows yet another 10-block petition is in progress. Her deadline to receive those documents is on the July meeting. "If everyone turns in their paperwork, I will have contiguous blocks," she says. "If only some people turn in paperwork, depending on what blocks are turned in, we might, or might not, have contiguous blocks."
Egger emphasizes he's not anti-permit but believes the proposal could be better thought out. He says nonenforced blocks will likely be flooded with student cars from Virginia Commonwealth University. Hancock acknowledges that this critique also applies to Oregon Hill's short streets, which would allow longer parking. She says the issue will be discussed at a meeting, and that she's also observing how other neighborhoods suggest employee parking solutions.
"We have been discussing this for a number of years now," Woodson says. "But the petitioning is a fairly recent thing where we're actually determined to do this. Should Randolph get parking permits this fall, Oregon Hill will be the only neighborhood that abuts VCU that does not have permits. And we're already getting killed." S