(Updated at 4:05 p.m.) Chris Zimmerman is retiring from the Arlington County Board to accept a position with the group Smart Growth America.
Zimmerman is expected to step down from the Board at the end of January. A special election will be held in the spring to fill his open seat.
A resident of the Douglas Park neighborhood off Columbia Pike, Zimmerman was first elected to the County Board in 1996. He is leaving the Board to join Smart Growth America as its Vice President of Economic Development.
After being reelected in 2010, Zimmerman said he initially intended to serve out his four-year term, but those plans since changed.
“Today I am giving my three months notice,” he said at an announcement in the County Board Room in Courthouse this afternoon. “I never planned to be a County Board member indefinitely… but the kind of position that I had hoped to find has come my way a bit sooner than I would have expected.”
“I will be pleased to return to the life of a regular citizen in Arlington,” Zimmerman said. “I cannot possibly express the gratitude I feel for the tremendous honor and opportunity I have been given to serve this amazing community. It is not an easy job, but it is as energizing and rewarding as any I can imagine having spent the past couple of decades doing.”
Zimmerman’s last day on the board will be sometime in January, he said, and there will be a special election in either late March or early April. In between, the County Board will conduct business with only four members.
Zimmerman touted Arlington County’s track record of promoting smart growth, in places like the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor and along Columbia Pike. He said he looks forward to sharing lessons from Arlington’s economic development success with other communities.
“Today I feel great satisfaction for what we have achieved,” he said. “Arlington is looked upon with admiration in our region and beyond.”
Zimmerman’s colleague, County Board Chair Walter Tejada, stood beside him during the announcement and said afterward that Zimmerman will be missed on the Board.
“On behalf of the citizens of Arlington County, I want to thank you for your extraordinary service to our community,” Tejada said. “Our community is better and our quality of life is better since you came into office.”
During the announcement, Zimmerman noted that he had been doing some part-time work for Smart Growth America before he was asked to join full-time. Zimmerman survived a minor political controversy last year when it was revealed that he had done some consulting work for AECOM, a conglomerate that has had various contracts with Arlington County over the past few years, including some planning-related work for the streetcar project.
Zimmerman, who was instrumental in the creation of the ART bus system, said he accepted the position 10 days ago, but waited until today to keep attention on the election.
“I didn’t want to disturb the election my party was running,” he said.
Zimmerman is the second-longest serving member of the board in the county’s history. Board Member Jay Fisette, who was re-elected Tuesday and is expected to become the next Board Chair, said the board will miss his experience and expertise on land use issues.
“The people who proceeded us on the board set the framework for smart growth in the county,” Fisette said. “Chris has led the board and the community in finding that framework and building on it.”
Tejada said that while Zimmerman’s legacy will likely be in land use and transportation, he didn’t want people to forget Zimmerman’s leadership on social issues. Tejada recounted a story from 2007 when Zimmerman championed the Board to oppose anti-immigration laws being passed in the region, including Prince William County.
“He is a strong voice to speak up for the sometimes voiceless,” Tejada said. “He will be missed in more ways than one.”