By Alex Russell
La Tingeria, owned and operated by David Peña, opened approximately three weeks ago at 626 S. Washington St., joining a wide assortment of locally-owned ethnic restaurants in the Little City. Formerly a food truck, Peña decided earlier this year to operate his business from a “brick and mortar” establishment which received parking-related complaints earlier this month that has since been resolved.
A Dec. 3 email sent to Peña by Falls Church Zoning Administrator John Boyle alerted the business owner of parking-related complaints filed by city residents, which, according to the email, constituted a “violation” of La Tingeria’s “certificate of occupancy” as well as “Sections 48–58 and 48–1004” of the Falls Church City Code. The notice concluded that unless appealed, this violation would result in the revocation of the certificate after 30 days’ time.
The complaints dealt with the restaurant’s customers’ use of street parking in the residential area near the establishment.
The neighborhood in question does have parking signs throughout, but they only specify “2-hour parking: 8 a.m.–5 p.m., Mon–Fri, except by permit.” Essentially, weekday parking is limited to two hours unless a driver presents the necessary permit, but outside this stated limit, vehicles may park for an unlimited amount of time after 5 p.m. on Monday through Friday, as well as all day Saturday and Sunday.
By the afternoon of Friday, Dec. 10, the City published a public statement on Facebook declaring that “the owners of La Tingeria…have worked with our zoning staff to alleviate the residential parking issues…since opening.” The statement continued, “our Public Works team is working with” the owner “on other solutions such as short-term parking in the commercial zone of the street.” The statement ended by saying that La Tingeria’s owner was “informed…that the Certificate of Occupancy stands and will not be revoked.”
Speaking to Peña a week before the City’s decision, he expressed strong desire and commitment to do all he could to resolve the issue, but did share that the email he received felt “kind of sudden.”
Following the email, he took to Instagram to explain the situation to his customers and followers, where he also shared a visual aid that delineated where customers should and should not park, as per the complaints (visit @latingeriatruck on Instagram for details).
A public Facebook group called “Live Local Falls Church” had a number of residents sharing their thoughts on that matter—first reported by ARLnow.com in an article dated Dec. 6 of this year—with the consensus being that of concern and discontent with Peña’s predicament.
One F.C. resident commented that the situation is “discouraging,” but added that “hopefully, the city can work with the business and find a solution to the problem.” Another Facebook user contributed: “The city has a parking problem, why are other establishments not being targeted?”
This Facebook post, in addition to user comments, also displays emotional reaction icons. Seven Facebook users marked “sad” as their reaction to the news; three others marked “angry” as their reaction.
In response to Friday’s statement regarding the matter, many expressed continued displeasure and frustration, with one person commenting “This business should never have been threatened with losing their cert of occupancy. Glad that the publicity on this from local media led to a change in course.”
Another F.C. resident echoed the sentiment: “This should never have happened in the first place. Street parking is legal and available to patrons. By contrast, the City has never issued any notices to the nearby mechanic businesses with the illegal over two-hour parking.” One commenter, responding to the statement, simply shared: “I would certainly hope so, the city issued the building and business license knowing all this before.”
Several other residents’ views expressed the same point of view: that this was an easily-avoidable and unnecessary issue in the first place.
While the City worked towards making a decision, Peña set up a large cardboard sign indicating where La Tingeria customers may park (this sign can be seen when driving around the building). Peña also “got rid of two picnic tables” outside his establishment to open up more parking space and had to employ a parking attendant to alleviate congestion.
Speaking to Susan Finarelli, Public Information Officer for the City, and Jim Snyder, Director of Development and Community Planning a few days prior to the Friday decision, Snyder expressed that Peña and the city were “working together to create solutions” to the parking issue. He cited the fact that Peña had “already made improvements by marking…onsite parking.” He added that the city anticipated “not revoking” Peña’s certificate of occupancy by the 30-day deadline.
When asked to what extent parking considerations factor into the permit review process before a business is allowed to set up and begin its operations, Snyder explained that inspections typically employ a “building safety group” that looks into “the building itself…the outside, not so much.” The exterior area falls under the zoning department’s purview.
A segment of the Falls Church City Code of Ordinances (which can be found online at https://library.municode.com/va/falls_church/codes/code_of_ordinances) states that “An application for a special use permit shall be reviewed with due regard to the nature and condition of all adjacent uses and structures, and the probable effect upon them of the proposed use. The review shall also take into account the proposed special characteristics, design, method of operation, effect on traffic conditions, or any other aspects of the particular use or structure.”
Initially, La Tingeria was open exclusively on the weekends, but considering the City’s new position on the matter, Peña’s plan to “open up more days” may soon become a reality for the burgeoning local eatery.