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Zimmerman Promises Pro-Business Measures

by ARLnow.com January 3, 2011 at 9:46 am 2,869 29 Comments

A week after Christmas, Chris Zimmerman is playing Santa Claus for local business owners.

Like the jolly elf, Zimmerman quietly listened to the hopes and dreams (and gripes) of business owners throughout the year, then delivered a tidily wrapped present in the form of his speech at the county board’s New Year’s Day organizational meeting.

Zimmerman, who was officially elected chairman of the county board earlier in the meeting, told the assembled few (and those “watching over their toes” on the county’s TV channel) that “to realize our goals for the community, we need businesses to succeed.”

From controversies and lawsuits over the county’s sign ordinance to business openings and renovations delayed by tie-ups with the county’s permitting process, the past year has seen a steady procession of news that cast an unflattering light on the county as a place to do business. Numerous business owners who have spoken to ARLnow.com off the record have complained about what they see confusing, unnecessary and costly regulations and processes in Arlington.

The new board chairman, it seems, has gotten the message.

“From time to time it is good to re-examine how we do what we do,” Zimmerman said. “Local government has an important oversight role to play… but good regulation exists for a purpose, not as an end in itself.”

“The county should be seen as a facilitator, a partner with small business,” he added. “We do not intend to throw unnecessary obstacles in the path to success.”

Zimmerman said he will convene a “chairman’s roundtable” to find ways to “streamline processes,” to improve “quality of and access to information about [zoning] requirements” and to provide “friendly customer service to business owners.”

Of particular interest to Zimmerman is the oft-bemoaned sign ordinance, which the county is already in the process of rewriting.

“I think it is fair to say that among residents as well as business owners, there is a growing sense that our existing ordinance doesn’t quite achieve the result we want,” he said. “Many feel it is overly restrictive and unnecessarily hard to understand and comply with. There has to be a better way. In 2011, we’re going to find one.”

In addition to making it easier for businesses to locate and expand in Arlington, Zimmerman pledged to make it easier for homeowners to get the permits necessary to renovate their homes.

“I am convinced that we can do a better job by modifying practices in a way that will benefit the whole community,” he said.

The meeting was not a total business lovefest, however. There was also some hinting at possible new regulations or enforcement measures.

Zimmerman kicked off his speech by noting that the Earth “has experienced its eight warmest years on record” since he joined the board in 1998.

“There is now an international scientific consensus that this fact… is a manifestation of climate change induced by human activities, especially those related to the burning of fossil fuels,” Zimmerman said. The county is in the process of drawing up a “community energy plan” to address such issues.

Mary Hynes, who was elected vice chairman at Saturday’s meeting, discussed a new regulatory enforcement initiative for Clarendon bars, restaurants and nightclubs.

Hynes said the county “has formed a partnership” with the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control agent assigned to Arlington, as well as the county fire marshal’s office, zoning office and the police department. The partnership will allow for “coordinated inspections” of Clarendon businesses with live entertainment and dance hall purposes, Hynes said.

Hynes did not note in her speech whether the effort is in response to any specific complaints about nightlife in the area.

  • SnowOrdinance

    Since no one else has commented on this item, maybe Zimmerman will read this one comment – can you confirm or deny the legality of the snow ordinance? Can you really make residents legally responsible for snow (an act of god) on public property where the home owner did not cause the nuisance? Couple of commenters said the Arlington Board had no authority for the snow ordinance: http://www.arlnow.com/2010/12/27/morning-notes-136/comment-page-1/#comment-21421

    • I’m not sure of the Dillon Rule implications (haven’t researched it), but aren’t the sidewalks in Arlington usually located on the private property owned by the adjacent homeowners?

    • Thes

      Is this the Virgina state code authority you’re looking for? Not sure where Planning District 8 is.

      Ҥ 15.2-2025. Removal of snow and ice.

      Notwithstanding the provisions of § 15.2-2000 A, any county in Northern Virginia Planning District 8 may provide by ordinance reasonable criteria and requirements for the removal of accumulations of snow and ice from public sidewalks, by the owner or other person in charge of any occupied property.

      Such ordinance shall include reasonable time frames for compliance and reasonable exceptions for handicapped and elderly persons, and those otherwise physically incapable of meeting the criteria and requirements for such removal.

      Civil penalties not to exceed $100 may be imposed for violation of such ordinance.”

      • Dunno

        Damn, sounds like they’ve got us!

      • Burger

        That code section still might not pass Dillon law scrutiny.

        • mehoo

          Why not? Sounds pretty explicit to me.

        • Dunno

          Looks like Arlington has avoided the issue that got Charlottesville in trouble with their snow ordinance under the Dillon Rule: http://www.readthehook.com/blog/index.php/2010/03/16/unenforcable-unshoveled-sidewalk-cases-thrown-out/

          • Thes

            Correct. Arlington seems to have a specific legislative authority to do this, and is now in line with Fairfax County and hundreds of other jurisdictions around the country that have similar ordinances, some of them for generations. Arlington didn’t make it a crime to not shovel your sidewalk, here it’s just a civil matter. (However, Arlington did just make it a crime to shovel out your commercial parking lot and dump that snow into the street.) I suppose we should not be surprised, since Arlington has a full-time County Attorney with a team of lawyers who helped develop the new ordinance…

          • Thes

            Just for the record, it might not be Fairfax, might be Loudoun County that had this already… The point is that Arlington wasn’t the first Virginia County to do this (legally) and it won’t be the last.

  • charlie

    bingo. county can’t “make” me responsible for my sidewalk any more than VDOT can for I-66 being near my property.
    The residential sidewalks are almost always on PUBLIC property. Commercial too, but not always.

    • Sam

      Just act like a grown-up and shovel the walk once or twice a freakin’ year. If more people actually did it voluntarily because it’s the right thing to do – then this wouldn’t be an issue in the first place. It’s because of all the lazy farts who can’t be bothered to spend 10-20 minutes making a shovel-wide path for the mailman or anyone else that this even became an issue. And, yes, there are old or disabled folks who can’t do it on their own, so again, be a grown-up and a good neighbor and help out.

      • charlie

        i clean my snow and most of my neighborhood. i agree with you.
        i also don’t think government should be requiring us to do this. what next? fill the potholes too?

      • Fat Kid –  ” 

        During Snowmageddon 2010, I spent 3+ hours clearing the snow from my corner lot after each storm, and neighbors did not help one bit. Seems a bit unfair to me to fine one group, and not the other. Also, if the county can fine me, shouldn’t the county provide contact info for snow shovelers in case you are out of town – we’re always out of town at Christmas. Sure I’ve got people to cut my grass, but my grass can grow for 2 weeks without needing a cut – a 24/36 hour snow removal turnaround is impossible if you’re on vacation. And the County requires 36 inches shoveling – that is much larger than a path for the mailman and reeks of political correctness – that’s easy if 6 inches of snow, not easy with 10+ inches of snow.

        • Burger

          Me and my neighbors actually shoved out street in the 2nd big storm because it took Arlington County 72+ hours after the snow had stop falling to send a snow plow down our street after the first storm. Think about that 72 hours after it stopped.

        • Sam

          Well, the good news is that since that kind of snow only happens once every 100 years, we’ll all be dead for the next one and won’t have to worry about it.

          Shoveling for a lifetime total of, let’s say 10 hours if you include “Snowmageddon” and stay in the area for life, surely can’t hurt anyone. The majority of our snowfall can be moved off sidewalks in minutes if it doesn’t melt before people get home.

          And, no, it’s not the responsibility of the government to give you a phone list of people to call if you’re out of town – seriously? Get to know your neighbors and ask for help if you know you’ll be out of town – plan ahead. If more people did that, our fine County Board would stop trying to act like our parents and like we can’t make decisions or do things on our own with their involvement. Don’t give them more ammunition by suggesting they provide residents with a list of snow shovelers…geez oh flip I hope you were just kidding.

          • Zoning Victim

            I think your calendar is broken. I’ve lived here most of my life now (unfortunately) and getting snow that can be measured in feet is not a 100 year occurence. As for not hurting anyone, lots of people die from heart attacks while shoveling snow. I just don’t get how the county can force me to have a sidewalk and then force me to shovel it for them. Remember all the ice we got one year back in the 90’s? Exactly how in the hell am I supposed to get that stuff off? I guess I should stockpile ice melt in the early winter, chisels, sledge hammers, blow torches – whatever it takes just so I don’t get a $100 fine for not being my government’s forced labor. All this has done is cure me of ever shoveling my sidewalk again. They can just fine me.

          • CJR

            to: Zoning Victim – unfortunately it’s not just a $100 fine, they can also charge you for their hiring workers to shovel your ice – so probably $100 fine + $200 labor.

      • jan

        What a bunch of whiners! If you can’t keep your sidewalks safe for pedestrians by doing it yourselves or hiring someone, move to an apartment.

  • WI Native

    I think snow can be classified as “debris” that causes a safety hazard just like branches that fall on sidewalks and must be cleared. Where I grew up, snow (and/or ice) had to be removed within 48 hours of the precipitation stopping. This was not unusual, as my college town required something similar. You could be fined and possibly charged if the city cleared them for you. Sidewalks there were considered public property, too, but the resident or owner was still required to clear them.

    • What happens if you were gone for the week and it snowed? It seems like one would have to have sort of snow removal contract arranged then?

      • WI Native

        You ask your neighbors or a friend to cover for you if that happens. My sister generally covers her next-door neighbor and vice versa (that’s what happened last Christmas). As a kid, I remember my dad helping the neighbors all the time. I will admit that snow was much more common, so people tended to plan for this possibility before they left on vacation, but I honestly don’t remember it being an issue (including when I was in college in a house).

  • JimPB

    The processes work too slowly in ArlCo and across the country. Almost half of the stimulus money for infrastructure projects is as yet unspent. Many supposedly shovel ready projects have not yet cleared the various reviews and obtained the necessary approvals. Heaven help us if we get into a situation that requires rapid construction work for our survival. The “good old days” weren’t always so good, but the nation did convert rapidly from civilian to WWII military production — thank goodness.

    The process of reviews needs to be thorough, but the process should move along so that usually there can be a final decision (“go” or “no go”) in a short time frame. Consequences may be helpful. If an applicant doesn’t submit a proposal that is complete and meets code, the applicant should have to pay for the additional time required of ArlCo staff and officials. When an application is complete and meets code, there should be a near term date certain for a decision (Go or no go). If that date is not meet, the applicant should be compensated for the delay.

    • mehoo

      The more you speed up the process, the more corruption and waste and mistakes there are. You lose either way. I’m old enough to see the cycle repeat – government works too slowly, speed it up! Government wastes too much, put more controls in that slow it down! Repeat.

  • Bender

    What are you all talking about??

    Zimmerman has been in bed with rich developers for years. Promoting fat-cat business at the expense of the individual citizen has been a priority of his since day one.

    • NorthAdams

      it is all about perspective. Zimmerman is the least liked board member. and he has a long history of disdain for the business community. he sees them as nothing but a cash cow to milk for his pet projects. he may say he has changed his ways but only action, which he often lacks, will prove it. most in the business community are more amused that turning blue from holding their breath.

  • MC

    Mr Zimmerman’s public pronouncement of wanting to work with small business is welcome, given how rare it is for a Board accustomed to making 5-0 decisions to admit they might be wrong. But his motives don’t seem too altruistic. He said his major goal for revisiting rules is make sure the County government doesn’t ultimately reduce the tax revenues the County collects. Every action by the County seems to be driven by how to get more revenue to fund an ever-growing County budget. The County Board has earned an anti-business reputation precisely because they are not concerned with enabling businesses to be profitable, they are focused on revenue extraction to fund pet projects.

    The real news will come when Mr. Zimmerman convinces the Arlington Chamber of Commerce he’s on their side.

  • Thanks for the Laugh, Arlington

    Hynes obviously has no idea about the Fourth Amendment violations and lawsuits resulting from coordinated police/zoning/fire marshall/ABC inspections… but she will, especially with the litigious populous of Arlington, VA. KA-CHING! Sorry, taxpayers.

    Hynes’ club raids coupled with Zimmerman’s idea to create a local global (contradiction?) warming regulatory framework for the bars/restaurants in Clarendon sounds like the County Board is going after what brought young people to Arlington in the first place.

    Glad my taxes do not pay their salaries.

  • mehoo

    Why are sidewalks this weird hybrid of private and public property anyway? Why can’t they just be one or the other?


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