Ask businesses whether Alexandria has been an inviting place to set up shop and many would likely look at you like you had two heads. Getting permits alone could be a 2 week affair, and that's if everything is right the first time (personal experience with home renovations). Hopefully, all that has changed now with the opening of the Multi-Agency Permit Center on the fourth floor of Alexandria City Hall. The grand opening took place on March 5th. Customer Service Manager at the Office of Building & Fire Code Administration, Mr. Frank Ward , was kind enough to provide some information on the center for the blog.
I asked for some general info and here was Mr. Ward's response:
"The Multi-Agency Permit Center was established to improve customer service to Alexandria's residents and business owners by offering one central location for the same day processing of many of the required City permits and licenses. City departments represented in the Center include Planning & Zoning, Transportation & Environmental Services, Finance and Fire Department's Office of Building and Fire Code Administration."
For a bit of a case study in how the center will help local businesses, I asked Mr. Ward to describe how the center would help a business that is applying to change it's awning and signage in Arlandria. He replied, "many of our services should be a welcome addition." Mr. Ward mentioned the City Zoning Ordinance that applies to signage in Arlandria (4-1410, pg. 22 of this PDF) and said, "our Planning & Zoning representative Richard Bray is available to assist you in review of awning and sign applications in Arlandria." There is also a facade ordinance for Arlandria (4-1411 on pg 24 of the same PDF). The ordinances are short and are a good read to get a feel for the art deco, mixed-use, urban character that planners are trying to achieve and maintain. Specifically, with regard to sign and awning permits for businesses , Mr. Ward had this to say:
"The awnings will require a Building Permit and any signs will require a Sign Permit. The applications can be found on-line using our link to Permit Processing off of the City of Alexandria's BFCA website. Applicants will need to submit the application along with 5 copies of their proposed plans for review/comment and approval as part of any formal application proposal."
The good news is that, even though permits are required, "many building, electrical, mechanical, plumbing, signage and King Street outdoor dining permits can be issued in one day." That should be a welcome relief from the past procedures. From personal experience, the permitting process was anything but smooth sailing in the past.
If you're reading this as a small business owner in Arlandria or you know of one that has been deterred in the past, it might be time for another try. Between this new center and up to $5,000 in matching grants for Arlandria businesses from the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership's Facade Improvement Grant program, it could be a cheap and easy time to change out those tired old signs, paint that storefront, and even add a few new architectural elements to that boxy old building. Ignore the Facade Improvement program expiration date on that link. We talked to AEDP and they're keeping the program open for a while longer for Arlandria businesses.