Ar­ling­ton re­tail­ers get a voice

County is giv­ing shop own­ers in­put into sign laws, other poli­cies

The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER - BY CHRISTY GOOD­MAN good­manc@wash­post.com

Wendy Buck­ley’s chalk­board that ad­ver­tised the spe­cials at Screw­top Wine Bar in Claren­don was seized by Ar­ling­ton County em­ploy­ees dur­ing the sum­mer be­cause it rep­re­sented a zon­ing vi­o­la­tion.

“I found out the hard way that those weren’t le­gal,” Buck­ley said of her sandwich board that alerted peo­ple on North Fill­more Street to the re­tail­ers on a block filled mostly with apart­ment build­ings.

This year, she and other small­busi­ness own­ers in Ar­ling­ton will be work­ing with county of­fi­cials to im­prove reg­u­la­tions and help small busi­nesses thrive.

That was one of the goals out­lined Satur­day at the Ar­ling­ton County Board’s an­nual New Year’s Day re­or­ga­ni­za­tion meet­ing.

Chris Zim­mer­man, the new chair­man, an­nounced a small­busi­ness roundtable that will al­low shop own­ers to have in­put into county poli­cies.

“ There is clearly a feel­ing that the county makes things harder than it needs to be in some ways,” he said. “We are not just try­ing to make things dif­fi­cult for peo­ple. I think we can do a bet­ter job of mod­i­fy­ing some of the prac­tices [to make them] bet­ter for ev­ery­body.”

Buck­ley wel­comed the idea. “It is good to have a con­sor­tium in the com­mu­nity. . . . It seems a bit more ef­fec­tive to have a few more voices in the room than go­ing in on is­sues one on one with the board,” she said.

Oneof the first things the county will tackle is the sign or­di­nance. In the past, it treated signs as “vis­ual pol­lu­tion,” Zim­mer­man said, but many of them are in good taste and help re­tail­ers.

The county also will con­duct an over­haul of its con­fus­ing zon­ing code, he said.

“Ev­ery reg­u­la­tion was de­signed to solve a prob­lem at the time. They all have other im­pacts and un­in­tended con­se­quences,” said Terry Holzheimer of the county Depart­ment of Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment. He said the county must con­sider whether “ the con­se­quences are out­weigh­ing the orig­i­nal prob­lem.”

Holzheimer, whose depart­ment of­fers coun­sel­ing and guid­ance for new busi­nesses, said the roundtable will help make in­for­ma­tion avail­able and more clear for peo­ple try­ing to nav­i­gate the com­plex reg­u­la­tory sys­tem.

“It is re­ally valu­able to look at these things ev­ery once in a while, and now is once in a while,” he said.

The county will ben­e­fit from the re­view, Zim­mer­man said.

“Ob­vi­ously, when pri­vate busi­ness makes rev­enue, the govern­ment makes rev­enue,” he said. “But we want the ser­vices. We can’t have empty store­fronts and we can’t have peo­ple strug­gling. . . . There are pos­si­bly things we can learn by talk­ing to them that we can do to make them more suc­cess­ful.”

This is just one ini­tia­tive to­ward build­ing an ur­ban com­mu­nity, Zim­mer­man said. The county also will con­duct a Columbia Pike hous­ing study and fin­ish the en­vi­ron­men­tal study and fund­ing re­quests for its street-car project.

Pre­lim­i­nary en­gi­neer­ing is among the work that must be done this year for an­other such project along Route 1 in Crys­tal City and Po­tomac Yard. The Com­mu­nity En­ergy Plan, be­gun last year by for­mer board chair­man Jay Fisette, will con­tinue with neigh­bor­hood con­ser­va­tion and the ex­pan­sion of a bike-shar­ing net­work in Ballston and Ross­lyn, Zim­mer­man said.

“It is a big job and an ev­er­chang­ing en­vi­ron­ment,” he said.

DAYNA SMITH FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

Ar­ling­ton County Board Chair­man Chris Zim­mer­man, from left, with board mem­berWal­ter Te­jada and lo­cal ac­tivistMikeMurtha.

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