VRE to sue Manassas Park

p>Manassas Park is now facing a lawsuit in federal court over the 144 parking spaces reserved for city residents at its Virginia Railway Express station.

The VRE’s two governing bodies — the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission — will have a lawsuit on file at the U.S. District Court in Alexandria by the end of the week, said Al Harf, the PRTC’s president.

For months, the Federal Transit Administration has been telling the PRTC to get Manassas Park to remove the spaces, which it says are giving city residents special treatment. If Manassas Park fails to do away with the spaces, the PRTC would have to pay back the $1.9 million in federal funds it used to expand the city’s parking lot early last year.

“There remains a clear desire on the part of the commissions to settle this matter amicably,” Harf said. “Litigation is a step we’re taking to meet our federal obligations.”

To resolve the dispute, Manassas Park and the commissions have been negotiating over incentives that would induce the city to remove the spaces. Last week, the PRTC and NVTC passed a joint resolution agreeing to some of the city’s requests. A project to expand the platform at the city’s VRE station, at a cost of up to $500,000, would receive added priority. An amount of $100,000 would be given to the city to pay for sidewalks leading to the station.

At the same time, the commissions’ proposal called for an end of compensation for loss of parking fees, which were eliminated in 1997. The city received about $46,000 in such funds this year.

Wanting to keep the funding, the Manassas Park City Council voted 6-0 on Tuesday night to reject the commission’s offer in its present form. Councilman William Wren, who is also the PRTC’s chairman, abstained.

City Manager David Reynal is hopeful an agreement over the spaces might still be reached out of court. “The city has tried in good faith to comply with the FTA’s regulations,” he said. “The ball is not in our court.”

For the PRTC, failure to meet the FTA’s requests would endanger its ability to receive federal grants for large capital projects, such as the construction of new parking structures. Of the $32.6 million the PRTC has in its capital budget this year, all but $5 million came from the federal government.

Manassas Park officials have argued that the reserved spaces are on the original section of parking lot built by the city in 1991. The original section, they say, is separate from the expansion built last year by the PRTC on land it had bought.

The city’s claims led FTA officials to visit the parking lot in November. On Feb. 3, the FTA sent a letter to the PRTC restating what the agency has been saying since August — that the parking lot is a single lot. And since federal funds were used to expand it, the reserved spaces have to go

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