Planning Commission aligns with businesses


Once again the interests of small businesses versus participatory citizen oversight were the center of debate before the Alexandria Planning Commission last week.
But this time, members agreed that the ends of making Alexandria more business friendly justified the broadening of the Administrative Special Use Permit process, a vetting required by the city for some new businesses to operate in the jurisdiction.

That debate focused on a text amendment to the Small Business Zoning Regulations designed to streamline processes and avoid unnecessary regulatory hurdles to provide small business operators an easier and clearer path to choose Alexandria as their base of operations, according to a memo. It passed unanimously.

This has taken a great amount of time, said Barbara Ross, deputy director of administration and land use for the Department of Planning and Zoning. There is no perfect consensus but the process has been good for everyone.

The essence of the amendment was to extend and add various provisions to the process of issuing the permits. Begun in 2008, this procedure permits city staff to issue ASUPs without necessitating a public hearing if the application meets designated criteria.

The trick for all of us is to find that fine line between public concern and not hurting businesses, Ross said. 

Although most of the speakers last Thursday night endorsed the proposed changes, only the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce and the West End Business Association gave carte blanche approval. In fact, WEBA expressed the feeling that more could be done to liberalize zoning regulations impacting small businesses that they viewed as unduly burdensome.

These changes are small, and will apply to only a few businesses

each year, WEBA President Scott Kersjes stated in a letter. Nevertheless, they are an important signal that the city is open for business.

We fully support the proposed text changes, said Alexandria Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tina Leone. These new regulations will help revitalize businesses hit by the economic downturn. 

Although the Old Town area is excluded from the ASUP process, the Old Town Civic Association had concerns about the proposal and endorsed the Alexandria Federation of Civic Associations request for a public hearing on this issue. 

The Del Ray Citizens Association joined OTCA in their concerns. 

 I think the direction to make things uniform citywide is a mistake, said DRCA President David From. It flies in the face of neighborhood standards. Part of the stated purpose of implementing the various zones was to protect the residential neighborhoods.

By contrast, the Del Ray Business Association endorsed the text amendments.