Our View: Planning for Alexandria’s Tomorrowland

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(File photo)

The Alexandria Chamber of Commerce is onto something with its Tomorrow’s Alexandria initiative.

Planning for the future — particularly trying to boost business growth — is not something that should be left solely to elected officials and city staff. With this initiative, the chamber will take the lead next year in hosting events and roundtables that consider through a business prism what our city should look like 20 to 30 years from now.

Economic growth in Alexandria has long been a balancing act. Our post-recession tax base is skewed too heavily toward residential taxes, meaning homeowners provide the bulk of local revenues to city coffers. The way to change this ratio is to draw more businesses, large and small, to the Port City.

Yet given our city’s historic neighborhoods and reliance on tourism, it is essential that economic growth be balanced with livability concerns. If Old Town is the downtown of Northern Virginia as many say, we have to ensure that it remains an attractive place to live, work and visit. As Del Ray continues to blossom, growth there must be offset by concern for residents’ quality of life.

It is because maintaining balance is often an elusive goal in Alexandria that the chamber’s Tomorrow’s Alexandria initiative is so important. Once we collectively envision what our city should look like in the future, then residents, business and government can hopefully work together to get there.

In his motivational talks, Duke University men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski tells young players that to make the game winning shot, they must envision themselves succeeding and then work toward their goal. Success doesn’t generally hap- pen by accident, either on the court or in urban planning.

Obviously, it is not as if no one in the city has ever thought ahead before, as Alexandria’s capital improvement plans look forward 10 years and city staff are constantly updating neighborhood planning documents. Large infrastructure projects must be staggered to be affordable. But looking forward is generally done by government officials, with public input.

By assuming a leadership role in long-range planning, the chamber assures that small businesses, which are mostly owned and run by city residents, will have a seat at the table.

Also welcome is the chamber’s decision to step up its ongoing advocacy for businesses before city council. While it may or may not be fair, the perception lingers that Alexandria is a difficult place to open and run a business.

City officials may dispute this allegation, but they often take or consider actions that are harmful to small businesses. Among them:

• A recent decision to enforce a ban on the A-frame signs that many businesses, particularly on side streets, rely on to attract customers;

• The decision a few years ago to extend parking meter en- forcement hours;

• An oft proposed but never implemented value added tax on businesses.

As incoming chamber board chairman Dak Hardwick has noted, most small business owners do not have time to advocate on their own behalf at City Hall. Enhanced roles for the chamber in this realm and in long-range planning are both welcome steps.

As we ring in 2017, it will be interesting to watch the Tomorrow’s Alexandria initiative unfold.

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