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by Katie Pyzyk — October 3, 2012 at 3:55 pm 3,952 49 Comments

There’s a whale of a difference between the old and new murals at Smokey Shope III (554 23rd Street South) in Crystal City.

The store — which sells various types of gifts and smoking paraphernalia – had run into trouble with the county over a mural on the side of the building depicting a man smoking a cigar. The painting was viewed as an advertisement for products inside, thus constituting an illegal sign.

To remedy the situation, owner Atta Amin arranged for the cigar portion of the mural to be painted over, replacing it with a whale. He said the colorful, billowing cigar smoke just happens to look similar to the waves of the ocean.

The change satisfied the county’s zoning office, and it also smoothed over things with Amin’s landlord, who at first objected to the mural. According to Amin, the building owner has allowed him to keep the mural up through the end of his lease. He’s currently four months into the five year lease.

Since the whale first appeared last month, Amin said he’s received no complaints about the mural from neighbors or customers.

“Hopefully people will be happy with it,” he said.

Amin said he spent a considerable amount of money to fix up the inside of the once-vacant building, located along the 23rd Street strip of restaurants and small shops. With the mural troubles out of the way, he’s now focused on attracting more customers.

“So far business is okay. Hopefully we can get the upper hand and see the hard work paid off,” Amin said. “Time is on our side.”

by Katie Pyzyk — October 3, 2012 at 2:45 pm 4,530 109 Comments

Restoration Anglican Church (1815 N. Quincy Street) hasn’t been in existence for long, but it’s already looking to expand into a larger building.

The church congregation formed in January 2009, when it was around 100 people. At that time, it rented space for one service per week from Trinity Baptist Church, as did a third congregation which ended up relocating to Reston. Restoration bought the church building when Trinity disbanded in 2010.

Now, the congregation is closer to 450-500 people and the number of weekend services has increased to three. The Rev. David Hanke says the congregation has reached its threshold for expansion in the current facility.

“Our ability to keep adding services has hit its end so we need to build something larger,” he said.

Last month, Restoration began its capital campaign in an effort to raise a portion of the $4.5 million budgeted for the project. Although a design has not yet been finalized, the goal is to build a facility that would seat around 400 people, instead of the current 150 person capacity.

The existing church building will be razed and the new facility will be built on the same plot of land. So far there is no hard date for breaking ground, considering a final design hasn’t even been approved yet, but the hope is to start construction in early 2013.

While construction takes place for an estimated 12 to 18 months, the congregation will use space at Little Falls Presbyterian Church for one service per weekend.

Rev. Hanke reports having a good relationship with the surrounding community, and mentioned attending a Cherrydale Citizens Association meeting to address any concerns about a larger church. One of the issues that has come up as a concern among some residents is the lack of parking.

Right now, there are only 13 parking spaces at the church but there is a shuttle on Sundays that runs to the designated parking lot adjacent to Washington-Lee High School near I-66. The parking plan is in compliance with a county code allowing churches to run such shuttles to nearby parking lots. Rev. Hanke says the new church will house the same number of spots and the Sunday shuttle service will continue. Church goers will be reminded, as they are now, to appease neighbors by not parking on Quincy Street or nearby side streets.

Although a finished church facility is far in the future, the congregation is looking forward to its larger, permanent home.

“In the ongoing conversation we’re having with our community, one of the parallels I’ve drawn is to being a homeowner. There’s a big difference between renting a space and owning a space,” said Rev. Hanke. “Since we became owners, we became much more invested in the Quincy Street area. We love being on that street and we love our neighborhood. We are excited we have the opportunity to be there for a long, long time.”

by Katie Pyzyk — October 3, 2012 at 1:20 pm 1,913 23 Comments

Artisphere (1101 Wilson Blvd) is inviting the public to share in its second anniversary celebration this weekend.

The art venue has often been the target of criticism due to a rocky first year in existence, which included low attendance and revenue. However, there’s been a concerted effort to turn things around by following a revamped business plan.

“We’ve had a really successful year and I think if people engage with the arts they understand the value of it. I would certainly encourage people to participate more to understand the value,” said Artisphere Executive Director Jose Ortiz. “Like any new organization or start-up, you go thorough some growing pains. I hope at this point we would have all moved past that.”

On the heels of accolades over this year’s Frida Kahlo exhibit, Drector of Programming Rosanna Ruscetti suddenly departed in April for family reasons. She had been credited with helping to stabilize the struggling art venue. Ruscetti was replaced in August by Josh Stoltzfus.

In addition to the new Director of Programming, Artisphere hired a Chief Financial Officer in April. Ortiz said the new staff is just one of the factors keeping the venue on track with its new goals.

“It’s definitely a team effort, everyone working together toward a common goal,” said Ortiz. “On the programming side we’re having great appeal. Having a CFO there has helped us to manage our money more closely as well.”

Ortiz said one of the challenges Artisphere continues to battle is how to offer art in a way that’s different from all the other local venues.

“In this business this idea that everyone’s presenting music and art, but how do we do that in a way that distinguishes us?” he said. “The ongoing challenge is always, how do we present a program that’s unique and on-brand and appeals to people?”

One example of the unique art, according to Ortiz, is Craig Colorusso’s roaming exhibit “Sun Boxes” which kicks off the anniversary celebration on Thursday, October 4. It is made up of 20 solar powered speakers that create a sonic landscape. The exhibit will be in different locations throughout Rosslyn this weekend; locations and times are listed online.

“It’s a great example of how we’re able to take our art outside of our walls,” Ortiz said. “People who may not come in to visit us will experience art on the street. It’s an example of how we do something and do it uniquely.”

The big events inside Artisphere take place this Saturday, October 6, and Sunday, October 7. The party begins at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday with Brazilian music from New York City’s Forro in the Dark, followed by the D.C. Metro’s own Alma Tropicalia at 9:00 p.m. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online.

The festivities culminate on Sunday with the Free Family Day Open House, which runs from 12:30-4:30 p.m. Activities are largely hands-on and allow visitors to interact with artists by participating in storytelling, theatrical workshops and creating a commemorative mural.

“It’s a great day for people to engage with the arts in a different way than you would customarily,” said Ortiz.

by ARLnow.com — October 3, 2012 at 11:45 am 3,671 55 Comments

Today was “Walk and Bike to School Day” in Arlington and across the country.

The annual event in Arlington, organized by Arlington Public Schools (with the help of local PTAs), encourages students and parents to bike and walk to school more often. At Oakridge Elementary School, this year’s “spotlight school” for Walk and Bike to School Day, hundreds of students and parents walked, biked or even scootered to school.

Arlington County Police kept a close eye on the roads around the school in the Arlington Ridge neighborhood. Busy Arlington Ridge Road was temporarily shut down to allow a large convoy of kids and adults on bikes to make their way to the school, safely, from a “rest stop” at the historic Hume School (1805 S. Arlington Ridge Road).

After students arrived they gathered behind the school for a rally, featuring words of encouragement from Oakridge principal Dr. Lynne Wright, County Board member Walter Tejada, and ultramarathon runner (and Arlington resident) Michael Wardian. Wardian, along with some local triathletes and competitive cyclists, led students in a series of light physical activities.

APS Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy said Walk and Bike to School Day is a fun event that sends an important message about staying physically fit.

“I think the message is [encouraging] a well-balanced lifestyle,” he said. “We want to emphasize many of the things that the community values here. Biking and walking is part of the community, part of our value system, and I also think it’s something we want to encourage kids to do.”

Some parents weren’t fully sold on the message, though. One parent, armed with petition forms, wore signs protesting changes to the school system’s busing policies. Nearby, a minivan also had words of protest scrawled on its back window. The changes have meant that some students now have to either walk, bike or be driven to school since they’re no longer eligible to ride a school bus.

by Katie Pyzyk — October 3, 2012 at 10:55 am 3,773 35 Comments

The exchange student who accused her host father of taking nude pictures of her isn’t pressing charges, at least for now.

According to Arlington County Police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck, the girl was simply focused on getting back to her home in Germany, and has not wanted police involvement thus far. However, the possibility of her pressing charges remains, we’re told, and police continue to be in contact with her.

Police say the girl had been staying with a family in the Donaldson Run neighborhood before discovering nude photos of herself on her host father’s USB drive last month. ACPD declined to release extensive details about the case due to the girl being a juvenile and the police investigation continuing.

ARLnow.com has learned that the girl came to Arlington through the Program of Academic Exchange (PAX), which is a State Department-designated agency. PAX did not return our calls, but State Department Director of Media Relations Susan Pittman confirmed the agency’s involvement. She declined to provide any more information due to the ongoing investigation.

The State Department oversees the issuing of J-1 visas, which cover exchange students and workers. It vets certain organizations and designates them as sponsors for exchange programs. Participants in exchange programs must be sponsored in order to enter the country.

Should an exchange program participant come forward with something “untoward” happening during their stay in the U.S., the sponsor agency is required to immediately report the incident to the State Department. Because the State Department itself is not an enforcement agency, cases are often turned over to the Department of Homeland Security for investigation.

“We look over to make sure these people are actually enforcing the regulations that are there. If they’re not, it will be sent to the proper law enforcement authorities,” Pittman said. “We then make sure the participant is put into a safer environment. Safety is our overriding concern in all of this.”

While the State Department does not rate sponsors, designation indicates that the agency is compliant with all regulations and is in good standing. Pittman said should action need to be taken against offending organizations, there are different levels of sanctioning. However, investigations often indicate unfortunate situations can occur even when an agency closely follows all regulations and properly screens host families.

“While certainly there are some reports of some acts that may impinge upon the safety of the participant, it may not be the fault of anybody at the agency, it may have just happened,” Pittman said. “The number of incidents is really low compared to the number of people who come through.”

Last year, there were two State Department-designated agencies that brought 541 secondary school exchange students to Virginia. Pittman did not have information on how many incidents occurred last year, if any, requiring an investigation. She did say the number is consistently low and the State Department works to prevent and eradicate threats to safety.

“We are committed to identifying and eliminating potential threats and dangerous situations for students, and any participants, visiting the United States,” said Pittman. “Although the vast majority of the participants have positive experiences, even one negative experience is one too many. We work diligently and continuously to address all concerns and to ensure every participant in our exchange program has a safe and positive experience.”

by Katie Pyzyk — October 3, 2012 at 9:30 am 3,023 23 Comments

California Tortilla (2450 Crystal Drive) in Crystal City may be making your decision about what to have for lunch a little easier. The restaurant is celebrating its opening by giving away free burritos today.

Earlier this week, the chain tweeted about the deal, which will run from 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. and from 5:00-8:00 p.m. Customers receive one free burrito and drink, and the first 20 people in line get free burritos for a year.

Work has been ongoing all summer to ready the Bethesda chain’s newest restaurant. The Crystal City location is the third in Arlington.

If you’re thinking of showing up to quickly grab a burrito and run, be warned that you’re not alone. According to California Tortilla’s Twitter account, the first person to start camping out for a free burrito got there at 1:00 a.m.

Photo via @caltort on Twitter

by ARLnow.com — October 3, 2012 at 8:15 am 3,173 92 Comments

Local Parties to Hold Debate Watching Parties — Local Republicans and Democrats will be holding viewing parties for the first of the 2012 presidential debates tonight. The Arlington Republican viewing party will be held at Mad Rose Tavern in Clarendon (3100 Clarendon Blvd). The Arlington Democratic viewing party will be held at Bailey’s Pub & Grille in Ballston (4238 Wilson Blvd).

Parents Say Bus Changes Are Taking a Toll – Students are not performing as well academically and at least one mom lost her job as a result of changes to the County’s school bus policies, according to a group of parents. Parents of Campbell Elementary students are planning to carpool — to Thursday’s School Board meeting, to voice their concerns. [WTOP]

More Local BRAC Moves Coming — According to one estimate, government agencies with leases expiring between now and 2015 as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure Act occupy more than 4.5 million square feet of office space in Arlington and Alexandria. The BRAC move-outs are impacting the bottom line of some commercial property holders. Vornado, with office space in Arlington and Fairfax County, expects earnings to be down as much as $60 million as a result of BRAC. [Bloomberg]

Church Series on ‘Restoring Political Civility’ — The Rock Spring Congregational United Church of Christ (5010 Little Falls Road) will be holding a four-part series that will “discuss how citizenship is a responsibility rather than a privilege, and how to restore civility to the political process.” [Sun Gazette]

Flickr pool photo by Keithhall

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