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Zimmerman Plans Small Business “Listening Session”

Update at 3:30 p.m. — Zimmerman unveiled a new “Business Center” web portal at this afternoon’s board meeting. The portal is “designed to make the County web site work better for Arlington business owners,” according to county spokeswoman Mary Curtius.

On New Year’s Day, County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman kicked off the year by declaring that the board wanted to be seen a “facilitator, a partner to small business” in 2011.

The subtext of his comment was that the county was looking to reverse course from 2010, when a series of mini-controversies over enforcement of county ordinances had some entrepreneurs questioning Arlington’s commitment to small business.

Among the dust-ups: American Flatbread’s request for patio seating was denied in July. Then Screwtop Wine Bar and Bakeshop had their sandwich board-style signs confiscated and thrown in a dumpster by a county employee. Then some soon-to-open businesses began complaining about delays caused by zoning issues. And finally, the icing on the cake was a lawsuit filed by a doggy daycare owner over a mural that the county argued was disallowed under the sign ordinance. (A judge later sided with the county.)

With that unpleasantness behind him, Zimmerman is now organizing a small business “listening session” on March 31. In a letter to business owners, Zimmerman writes that “to make improvements that really work for business, we need direct input from our business owners and those who support them.”

The forum also comes at a time when the county is in the process of rewriting its zoning ordinance, including the sign ordinance, to correct inconsistencies and ambiguities. Zimmerman has also hinted that the board may relax certain regulations.

“Many feel [the zoning ordinance] is overly restrictive and unnecessarily hard to understand and comply with,” Zimmerman said at the Jan. 1 board meeting. “There has to be a better way. In 2011, we’re going to find one.”

See Zimmerman’s letter to business owners, after the jump.

March 10, 2010

Local entrepreneurship is essential to the vitality of our community, to give it unique character, to mark it as an authentic place, not just another indistinguishable product in a chain of mass-produced suburbs. We must continue to find ways to help small businesses succeed. As Chairman of the County Board for 2011, one of my most pressing concerns is the state of Arlington’s small businesses, and the role our local government plays in developing ways to improve our processes and regulations. But to make improvements that really work for business, we need direct input from our business owners and those who support them.

On March 31, 2011 you’ll have an opportunity to provide valuable and constructive feedback to County Board members and the Arlington County staff at a “listening session” from 7 to 10 p.m., at the Clarendon Ballroom, 3185 Wilson Boulevard.

This is an open forum with Arlington small business owners and those who support them. Everyone involved with small businesses in Arlington is encouraged to attend. This session is free but registration is reqired. Please register online.

Sincerely,
Christopher Zimmerman
Chairman, Arlington County Board

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