Arlington retailers get a voice
County is giving shop owners input into sign laws, other policies
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.
Arlington County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman, from left, with board memberWalter Tejada and local activistMikeMurtha.