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Controversy Over Entertainment Permit for Pines of Italy

by Katie Pyzyk — April 25, 2012 at 2:30 pm 4,214 60 Comments

(Updated at 3:05 p.m.) Emotions escalated at yesterday’s County Board meeting when the topic turned to issuing a live entertainment permit for Pines of Italy (3111 Columbia Pike).

County staff researching the permit request had recommended the issue be deferred until the board’s September 15 meeting. That recommendation — which was approved by a unanimous vote of the Board — is supposed to give the owner time to convince the community there would not be violence or disruptive incidents like those that previously occurred on the property. Police and neighbors have expressed opposition to approving the permit.

Seven residents who live nearby showed up at the meeting to enumerate the reasons they oppose the permit. In addition to the noise, loitering and public drunkenness that all reported witnessing, a major concern is safety. Nearly all of the speakers had reported calling the police after witnessing brutal fights between club goers, some of which spill into the neighborhood.

“I’m afraid for my safety, I don’t know what’s going to come out of one of these fights,” said Melanie Myers. “I can’t even sit out in my backyard.”

It was noted that the establishment is at the end of a residential street and has a significant impact on people’s lives.

“It’s unsettling and it’s not fair,” said Amy Pasion. “It’s a residential area and we shouldn’t have to deal with this.”

Like other speakers, Pasion stated she didn’t mind the restaurant or hookah bar inside the building, but a club is too disruptive and dangerous.

Part of the controversy is the involvement of Jorge Escobar, who is currently named as the landlord. He has been involved with the property in various capacities for more than a decade, sometimes as a manager of the club.

“We’ve suffered for many years as a result of this specific location and business,” said Aristia Glinka. “And the people that are applying for this permit are linked to the problems that we’ve been having over the years.”

Escobar’s attorney testified at the meeting and promised the board that the three partners of this establishment are interested in starting anew. He expressed Escobar’s interest in working with people living in the neighborhood. However, residents claim attempts to work with him before have been unfruitful.

“So he has a — so far — pretty bad track record,” said Board Member Jay Fisette, responding to resident complaints. “Both when he was in charge, and during the years he had a tenant responsible.”

Questions were raised over whether Escobar’s involvement would perpetuate some of the previous issues. It was noted that he previously held an entertainment permit for a night club on the property, but it was revoked in 2002 due to police and fire code issues.

Several board members said they were confused about the establishment and how it’s divided into a restaurant, hookah bar and nightclub. Repeatedly, clarification was requested on how each of the three partners is involved in the business, and why the Pines of Italy restaurant was listed as the permit holder instead of the night club.

Escobar’s attorney said each partner has a responsibility for one of the operations. He said Escobar had looked to hire someone to take care of the entertainment portion. He also said the night club is essential for the establishment to make enough money to stay open, and the partners would do what is necessary to appease the community.

Residents report not experiencing major disturbances since December, when the previous night club shut down. However, there’s doubt about whether new managers would be able to adequately control a club in a location with such a history of trouble. Board Member Chris Zimmerman echoed the sentiment, saying the proximity of this commercial building to a residential area is one of the closest the board has encountered.

“I’m not sure the prospects are ever going to be really good for live entertainment at this location,” Zimmerman said. “It might not be impossible, but I do think it’s one of the more problematic locations that we’ve seen.”

Zimmerman added that Escobar’s attorney didn’t present enough of a convincing case that efforts would be made to change, or that partners had worked to resolve issues with neighbors.

Before voting on the issue, Board Member Jay Fisette summed up the reasoning for deferring — lack of confidence that the same problems previously plaguing the property wouldn’t resurface.

“This needs some work by the staff to see if some number of serious conditions can be created that will allow the board to approve a use permit,” said Fisette. “But I don’t think we’re there yet.”

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  • Taxpayer

    I would love to see a Developer raise this whole block! Heck, I think it should be taken as part of eminent domain/condemnation for widening the Pike for increased bus service or the street car.

    • George

      erase ?

      • CrystalMikey

        Raze?

      • speonjosh

        raze

        • CW

          If motorola were a developer, they would say “rz”.

      • nom de guerre

        elevate?

    • TMP

      Yeah, that John Locke guy — who was a major influence on our founding fathers — didn’t know what he was taking about when he said that we have natural rights to life, liberty, and property which the government is supposed to protect. Instead, let’s have the government TAKE property from people with eminent domain!

      • drax

        The right to property is not absolute though. Never has been. Even John Locke would have said so.

        • TMP

          You don’t have a right to someone else’s property simply because you want it or because they manage it poorly.

    • YTK

      RAZE

  • FREDTERP

    Is Jorge related to Pablo. FREDTERP

  • Skeptical

    Every business in this place has been a disaster since Coco’s (which stayed open for years despite serving crap food).

    While the county Board is preening about the business it attracts to Arlington with various development finagles, I wish they’d try to attract some restaurateur to this location who can deliver decent food and a friendly atmosphere. I miss the Lebanese place that used to be where the Halstead now stands. “Clubs” are just going to be an endless problem anywhere they butt right up to residential neighborhoods. It’s like inviting more expenditures on policing.

    • some gump

      What tools does the board have to influence who or what type of restaurant operates there?

      • lurker

        Office of Economic Development.

        • some gump

          Could you be more specific?

          • AllenB

            Specificity? What fun is that? It’s easier to just complain and make up fake solutions.

        • FedUp

          Arlington Economic Development can’t dictate the type of tenant. Escobar owns the place. The only thing the community can do is prevent the place from having live entertainment. Any dance hall there has ALWAYS been a problem, for as long as I can remember.

          • nom de guerre

            Coco’s rocked back in the 80′s with their sunken pit.

      • Skeptical

        I don’t know, but they’re always talking about luring upscale development to the Pike, so I figure there must be some real serious tools in that there bard room.

        • Skeptical

          = board room

          • Morris Day

            I like bard room. Can you imagine if the county was run by bards? What a merry place it would be then….

    • nom de guerre

      Haven’t you heard that the Pike is slated to become the next Clarendon? Fasten your seat belts!

      • BlueSkies

        Let’s hope not!

  • Steamboat Willie

    Why even defer the decision? Sounds like this Escobar guy is a problem, so the Board should have dispensed with rejecting the request on the spot.

    • sunflower

      dispensed with rejecting…………sorry, ive been infected by other posters

  • Ted

    Does Chris Zimmerman care about what happens in his own neighborhood? Apparently not.

    Where have the chamber of commerce, economic development, county staff, CPRO been the past decade while this restaurant was floundering?

    • nom de guerre

      If my memory serves me correctly, there has been a succession of failed restaurants at this location after Coco’s closed.

      • Arlingtonian

        When it was Padrino’s Italian restaurant they used to advertise it as “Club Padrino’s” on DC go-go sites … hahaha.

    • FedUp

      Why do you blame Zimmerman, the chamber, econ development, etc.? The place has been a problem since the restaurant was bought by Escobar in 1999. I don’t think anybody could have helped Escobar. Matter of fact, he doesn’t even live in Arlington.

  • xcv

    Where’s CPRO? Gentrifying out non-trendy people and businesses, as usual?

    • Mary-Austin

      I’m pretty sure they’re busy demanding a $300 million streetcar. Informing people it will “spur” development that is already occurring without it.

      • Speak

        You obviously have no idea what CPRO does. It does not lobby for the street car or fix businesses. You show your ignorance.

  • SouthArlJD

    Ah, yes. I remember the old days when it was Coco’s. Had a criminal case involving a shooting there. Luckily no one died, but the bullet holes were visible in the bank walls across the street for years afterward. Can’t blame the unhappy locals over their opposition. Lots of bad stuff has gone on there for the past few decades.

    • FedUp

      +10

  • Westover

    The owners should just make this place seem more Anglo to appease the neighbors. Call it Benjamin Wythe’s Public Ale Tavern and paint the outside so it looks like bricks.

    That Moorish motif can be 18th century American Colonial vernacular in no time.

    • Bill & Ted

      Most excellent!

  • Arlingtonian

    What’s the original story of this building – what was it when it was first built?

  • Pete

    Restaurant has problems? Fix the problems. Better the restaurant performs the more meals tax the County receives. Anyone hear the County Board offer the owner or the owner’s lawyer any help to fix the restaurant’s problems. More of the Zimmerman 2-step, allow an area to become blighted then say it’s blighted and has to be redeveloped, by Zimmerman’s REIT cronies.

    • AllenB

      So the board should offer all failing businesses money to help them out? And what’s your criteria for the next one that wants money? And the next one? Because if you offer it to one, I bet there will be a list of a hundred of them in no time.

      If a business fails, it fails. Let someone else open up and do better.

      • Patrick

        Kind of like if a person can’t afford to live somewhere, they shouldn’t live there right?

        • AllenB

          People are businesses? Mitt Romney, is that you?

          • Aaron

            A restaurant/nightclub/hookah bar operated entirely by robots? Wow, Columbia Pike really gets the best of everything!

          • Mr. Brown

            The place does sort of look like that bar in Star Wars. Columbia Pike: You’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villany.

          • C. Malone

            I can make it from Rosslyn to Ballston in 6 parsecs.

          • Clarendoom

            “These aren’t the bullet holes you’re looking for….” LOL!

    • Car-Free Diet

      Yes, of course. I hear Zimmerman and the CPRO have Gordon Ramsey coming to fix the restaurant. Stupid people, as if just snapping one’s fingers make things happen.

  • Thes

    ArlNow: I note that this article says it was updated at 3:05 p.m., but it is not clear what was updated. I think it’s fabulous that you revise articles continuously to make sure they are always complete and accurate. However, would it be possible to use the strike-out and underline method to show what was added or deleted? That would make it easier for people to know what about the story has changed. Just a suggestion….

    • creative

      Good suggestion.

  • novasteve

    I like the design of the exterior. Looks like you could turn it into a castle like structure if you put ramparts on it. We could then have our own fight scene from the cable guy where someone plays the star trek fight song while we fight each other.

  • sunflower

    id prefer mphg with live cows & chickens

  • Dennis

    Struggling restaurants deserve the same attention as the out-of-state REITs and the wealthy live theater groups. All I ever see on these blogs is struggling restaurants going out of business to be succeeded by new struggling restaurants.

  • TimJ

    Same County Board that spends hours micro-managing restaurant seating for Clarendon restaurants. Agree, Zimmerman could care less about his own neighborhood.

  • Suburban Not Urban

    Is this really any closer than the Westover Beer Garden is to residential properties? – And the WBG is outside.

  • jaimes

    Westover Beer Garden will get way more County Board attention than any minority business on the Pike.

    • Quoth the Raven

      And as far as I know, there haven’t been any huge fights outside of WBG.

  • John Andre

    Pines of Italy has been on the Pike for years but only recently moved into the old Coco’s property. That place had entertainment of some sort for years until Coco’s moved out. Hookah bar??? I didn’t know about that but it appears that structurally there’s little difference between a hookah and a bong…the main difference seems to lie in whether tobacco or pot is the material being smoked! As I recall there were problems with this location when Coco’s was occupying it.

  • LarryfromD.P.

    What is the Chamber of Commerce doing about all the struggling restaurants in Arlington? It seems that they’re always throwing a gala for one non-profit or another.

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