Press Club

The Right Note: Is Arlington Open for Business?

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column by published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

Mark KellyLast week, I closed with a reference to the change in parking regulations for food trucks. If you talk to people in the restaurant business, they might find disagreement with what I had to say. It is not that they do not appreciate the the ability of entrepreneurs to start up a business. Their issues are more with the challenges they face in an area with a high cost of doing business. And, they take issue with the way Arlington County treats our existing business by way of taxes, fees, permitting issues, etc. Food trucks, they would argue, have it relatively easy by comparison.

It’s hard to argue with this perspective.

Our County Board once infamously took several hours to debate permits for the placement of sidewalk cafe tables for just two local restaurants. You had to be there to really appreciate the ridiculousness of the length of discussion. In fact, if you talk to most long-standing business owners around Arlington, they can probably tell you at least one story dealing with the county that will make you shake your head in disbelief.

The county certainly has not been able to fill ground floor retail space in new developments that had been promised. Yet, they have famously put businesses like the Westover Market through the wringer.

The way to benefit our employers and improve the options for consumers is to ease the burdens on our existing brick and mortar businesses. Here are three goals to start:

  1. Arlington should increase the efficiency of its permitting process. To further this goal, it should clarify its zoning rules and ensure greater consistency in their application.
  2. We should cut the commercial property tax surcharge in half permanently, or at least until it might be required for the ill-advised trolley project. Currently, this property is taxed at a rate 12.5 percent higher than residential properties. By cutting it in half, money would still be available for targeted transportation upgrades. More dollars would be left in our local economy, and it would not be at the expense of general fund dollars that go to county services.
  3. County Board members should investigate reducing or eliminating the Business Professional Occupational License (BPOL) tax. The BPOL tax is based on gross receipts rather than a tax on profits. In essence, it’s an additional sales tax that our businesses must remit. And, it is an additional paperwork headache for our small businesses.

In short, Arlington should constantly look for ways to hang a big “Open for Business” sign on the door. Encouraging more businesses to open and thrive will benefit all of us with more jobs for people who need them, more choices for consumers, and ultimately more taxpayers to help shoulder the load.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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