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Jeremy Hoders waits at the Whole Foods on P Street NW on a Sunday afternoon—not in the checkout line, but in the garage. Sitting in his Toyota Corolla, Hoders watches as a smallish sedan ahead of him struggles to maneuver head-first into a parking space, inching back and forth repeatedly in an attempt to achieve the right angle.
Hoders then tries to swing his Toyota into the adjacent space. The first attempt doesn’t work; he backs up, adjusts, and makes it on the second.
“It’s really tight in here,” says Alex DePalma, Hoders’ passenger. “You tend to spend more time in the garage than in the store.”
DePalma blames bad driving by fellow shoppers for the parking struggles; Hoders blames the abundance of cars. But there’s another reason: The space Hoders has parked in, marked “compact,” is 93 inches wide—3 inches narrower than the legal minimum. Pillars in the garage are marked with paint scrapes, evidence of other drivers’ struggles to fit the spaces.
And the Whole Foods garage isn’t the only parking facility in the District with a gauge problem. Around the District, in both new and old garages, public parking spaces run narrower than code specifies. By law, ordinary parking-garage spaces must be at least 9 feet wide, and spaces marked “compact” must be at least 8 feet wide. Surveyed with a tape measure, going center of one stripe to center of the next, multiple sites miss those standards.
Besides its undersized compact-car spaces, the P Street Whole Foods offers ostensibly full-sized spaces that are 6 inches too small. At Union Station, regular spaces for shoppers and moviegoers are 5 inches too small and compact spaces are 12 inches too small. In the Loews Cineplex Georgetown garage, spaces are legal on the first parking level but shrink when drivers descend: Regular spaces in the lower garage are undersized by 9-and-a-half inches, compact spaces by 2-and-a-half.
Why the squeeze?
“The person doing the striping could misread the blueprint,” says Kevin Jacob, a construction superviser for a parking-lot company in Des Moines, Iowa. “Or the owners might change the plan at the last minute. That happens sometimes, where they take a chance that they won’t get caught. Or…sometimes a structure is built and at the final stages they’ll realize they’ve forgotten a pillar they need to make the building stand.”
Gwen Davis, customer-service manager for the District’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), says that her agency inspects all new parking garages when the owner or business operator applies for a business permit and certificate of occupancy.
“If they didn’t meet the standard, they wouldn’t get a certificate of occupancy,” Davis says. “If it’s already been inspected, we would re-inspect based on a complaint, like if someone says a garage has been packing the cars in there, or maybe they’ve gone in and redrawn the lines.”
She says the District doesn’t make exceptions to the rules. “Nine by 19 [feet] is the standard.”
But Denzil Noble, administrator of the DCRA’s Building and Land Regulation Administration, says garages may add smaller spaces if they’re supplied the number of spaces required by zoning laws. “Once the owner meets the required number of spaces, they can tighten up on the other spaces,” Noble says. Garages are not required to mark which spaces are undersized, he adds.
Noble says his agency has caught one garage re-striping after its initial inspection and fined it for the infraction.
Whole Foods spokesperson Sarah Kenney says the store’s garage went unchallenged in getting a permit and has not been re-striped since. “We want to be in sync with what expectations are,” Kenney says.
The year-old Lofts at Adams Morgan also provides close-quarter parking. In exchange for the right to build the lofts, the Department of Housing and Community Development (DCHD) required the developer to build a public-access parking garage; the developer obliged.
The plan filed with the DCHD shows all the parking spaces as 8 feet wide at most, with wide columns jutting into the majority of spaces. In practice, the columns remove another 6 inches of wiggle room.
“We had the minimum number of spaces we wanted for the project—190,” says DCHD spokesperson Juanita Britton. “DCRA grants the permits. They’re expected to walk through the garage.”
Stan Jones, senior vice president and general counsel with Colonial Parking, which manages the garage, downplays the effects of the tight fit. “I can park anywhere and get scratches on my car,” Jones says.
Sarah Claxton of Bethesda says she felt the closeness of the Lofts garage last fall, when she tried to wrangle her stepfather’s Jaguar into one of the spots. “Maneuvering it into the space was impossible,” she says. By the time she had parked, she says, she’d scraped the bumper on a column.
“He doesn’t let me drive the Jag into the city anymore,” Claxton says. CP
Minimum regular parking space: 108″
Minimum compact parking space: 96″
1440 P St. NW
Regular: 102″ Compact: 93″
Renaissance Washington Hotel
999 9th St. NW
Universal North Building
1875 Connecticut Ave. NW
50 Massachusetts Ave. NE
Regular: 103″Compact: 84″
QuikPark at National Place
1301 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Regular: 91″, 101″
The Lofts at Adams Morgan
2328 Champlain St. NW
1201 F St. NW