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Students, Charlottesville officials continue to conflict over University parking issues

Despite University and city officials' continued efforts to ease the trauma of Charlottesville's notoriously limited parking, students and residents are still complaining of a lose-lose situation.

Charlottesville's creation of a 24-hour parking permit zone last year at University Circle, a street where many University students and faculty live, sparked controversy when residents thought it unfairly restricted parking privileges to those who held the $10 permits.

Students, frustrated by having to shell out more money for parking, were also upset by the prospect of not being able to have people visit their U-Circle apartments without getting ticketed, or worse - towed.

But some City Council members saw it as a positive move that would prevent parking problems cropping up as a result of parties in the area.

"This would discourage larger parties which tend to be more disruptive," City Councilman David Toscano said. "We don't believe that it's right to prevent people from living wherever they want. But we also don't believe that just because they want to live somewhere that they have the right to take two cars with them."

But Student Council College Rep. Andrew Woodson, a resident of U-Circle, thought differently.

"It was like City Council ignored student concerns," Woodson said. "The intent of the whole thing was to keep University students from coming back at 4 a.m., shutting doors and making noise," Woodson said. "It still happens anyway."

The U-Circle situation is indicative of a larger issue - too many cars competing for too few spaces even though University officials say there technically are enough spots for everyone.

"The University has indicated that there are enough spaces for every student at the University," Toscano said. "So there's enough parking, but the question is, where is it?"

This leaves drivers scrambling for coveted parking spots and officials searching for solutions.

As for off-Grounds parking plans, Toscano said officials are looking into the Lewis Mt. Road area as another possible 24-hour parking permit area for students, visitors and Charlottesville residents.

"It's close enough to the University, there's no need for a car," Toscano said. "Do they really need four cars per house?"

Also, the overhaul of West Main Street may bring a new parking garage to the area.

"A parking study for the whole downtown area is going to tell us how many spaces we need and then how much money to invest, appropriately," Toscano said. "It's very expensive to build a parking garage and you want to make sure that the demand is there."

The University also is looking into more innovative options to deal with current on-Grounds parking woes, said Leonard W. Sandridge, executive vice president and chief financial officer. "The most significant concerns about parking have more to do with where spaces are located than they do about the absolute number of parking spaces," Sandridge said. "Existing lots accommodate those who want to park but the spaces are often not as centrally located or as convenient as visitors, students, faculty and staff would prefer."

He said new "remote parking" facilities, like the one currently at University Hall would help accommodate these users.

"Over time, we will have to build more structured parking for those who wish to park close to key areas on the Central and North Grounds," he added.

Some officials have suggested building a parking garage behind Cabell Hall, but Sandridge said no decisions have been made about this space.

Even so, such a facility would come with a hefty price tag.

"Such structures are expensive to build. The cost of parking must be paid by those who use the parking system," Sandridge said. "That means that fees are likely to rise as we build more structured parking."

Already parking fees at the University's Medical School are facing a hike, much to employee's discontent.

"A lot of support staff are upset about the increase," said Justin C. Pfeiffer, Student Council College representative and student member of the University's Executive Vice Presidential Committee on Parking and Transportation. "Eventually it's going to be $50 a month," a $5 increase.

The University's Department of Parking & Transportation is completely self-sufficient. Its funding comes from three sources of revenue: parking tickets, on Grounds parking permits and part of each student's comprehensive fee ($900), included in tuition.

"It really is a service that they provide and it's not always perfect. They try very hard," Pfeiffer said. "There's no funding from the state. They have to make do with limited resources and not only do they have to satisfy the demands of students but also the faculty. It's not an easy job.

"The exponential growth of the University over the last 30 years makes P&T that much more difficult," he said.

Parking & Transportation also must deal with problems in the infamous Lambeth Field Apartments parking lot where officials issue an unlimited number of parking permits for 250 parking spots.

"Every other parking facility, be it Faulkner or Copeley, caps the overflow rate at 6 percent," Woodson said. "In Lambeth they sell [parking permits] to anybody."

Woodson said officials issued 450 permits for Lambeth last year.

"It's a jungle out there," he said.

Second-year College student Emily McMullin, a Lambeth resident, said the Lambeth lot has been "crazy" since move-in day.

"There were people parking on the mulch, on the grass, everywhere until P&T started cracking down," McMullin said. "There's been a lot of overflow into the U-Hall lower parking lot."

McMullin said walking alone at night from U-Hall to Lambeth following the "lighted pathway" can be a scary experience, especially since the pathway is tree-lined and not very well-lit -- nor are there University police blue safety phones along the way.

"There are potentially serious safety issues here," she said.