Last week, Arlington County revealed the new design for its enhanced transit stops along Columbia Pike.
The new stops cost between $362,000 and $672,000, depending on size. They will serve riders of buses and — eventually, as currently planned — streetcars with a large, angled canopy, concrete seats and an electronic real-time arrival display.
The cost of the stops has been significantly reduced since the county put a halt to the “Super Stop” design that resulted in the infamous $1 million bus stop at the corner of the Pike and S. Walter Reed Drive.
Mazagan Restaurant, the Moroccan eatery and hookah bar next to the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse, is open to the public starting at 4:00 p.m. today.
The restaurant replaced the quirky electronics store Venus Stereos & TVs at 2901 Columbia Pike, and the interior has completely been redone with wood floors, stone wall and a glass-enclosed, “privately insulated” hookah bar, which owner Riyad Bouizar said allows hookah smokers to still feel like they’re part of the restaurant without their smoke disturbing those simply there to eat and drink.
The restaurant will only be open for dinner and late night for the next month, Bouizar said, before opening for lunch. It will be open until midnight Monday through Wednesday, 1:00 a.m. Thursday nights and 2:00 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. It will also be open from 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., including brunch, on Sundays.
The restaurant specializes in Moroccan food with a “contemporary twist,” and includes tajines, food that is cooked over a wood fire and ordered ahead of time. All food and drink will also be served to those partaking in the hookah lounge.
An armed robbery suspect is facing numerous criminal charges in Arlington after allegedly leading police on a high speed chase down Columbia Pike while a total of ten people, including six young children, were in his car.
The incident started just past 10:00 p.m. on Saturday.
Arlington police were notified of an armed robbery that took place near Kenmore Middle School, just over the border in Fairfax County. Two men robbed a pair of sisters at gunpoint in a parking lot on the 3100 block of S. Manchester Street in the Falls Church area, according to Fairfax County Police. The suspects allegedly robbed the 17- and 24-year-old of cash and possessions, then took off on foot.
Shortly thereafter, Fairfax officers located a suspect vehicle near Bailey’s Crossroads and tried to initiate a traffic stop, but the driver refused to stop, leading them on a chase, according to FCPD.
After a be-on-the-lookout broadcast, an Arlington officer spotted the suspect’s vehicle being chased eastbound on Columbia Pike and joined the pursuit, according to Arlington County police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck. During the chase down the Pike the suspect drove at high rate of speed, ran red lights and swerved into the oncoming lanes to get around slower traffic, Sternbeck said.
The suspect crashed into a sedan at S. Glebe Road, then reversed into an unmarked Fairfax cruiser, before continuing to drive down the Pike, according to Arlington and Fairfax police.
The suspect eventually crossed the 14th Street Bridge into D.C., at which time Arlington called off its chase but the Fairfax units continued to pursue. The chase ended when the suspect’s car crashed into a barrier wall at C Street and Washington Avenue, according to FCPD.
Six children, all ages 6 and younger, were inside the suspect’s four-door Ford Focus during the chase, Arlington and Fairfax police said. The children were turned over to Child Protective Services in D.C. Four adults were inside the car at the time, police said.
The alleged driver, 25-year-old Marcus Woodland of D.C., is being held in the District pending extradition to Arlington. Woodland faces 11 charges in Arlington including 2 counts of attempted malicious wounding on law enforcement, felony eluding, felony hit and run, six counts of child endangerment, and reckless driving.
A second suspect, 31-year-old Christopher Woodland, also of D.C., is facing robbery charges in Fairfax County. Two other adults — 19-year-old Abena Okrah of Annandale and 25-year-old Beverly Starr of D.C. — are being charged with receiving stolen property. Fairfax County is seeking extradition of all four suspects.
Witnesses said a police helicopter was involved in the chase, but that couldn’t be immediately confirmed.
“Many police cars and a helicopter just went flying eastbound on Columbia pike @ Walter Reed dr,” @OwenHassig tweeted shortly after 10:30 p.m.
Lower prices, more burgers, a new delivery service and parking validation. Those are among a series of recent changes made by RedRocks, the pizza-centric restaurant on Columbia Pike, to help boost business.
The restaurant, located in the Penrose Square shopping center at 2501 Columbia Pike, is “relaunching” after a year in business due to lower-than-expected sales, according to co-owner Doug Baj.
“It’s been a little bit challenging, the whole Columbia Pike corridor,” Baj said. “I’m probably not the only business owner to voice that.”
Before its February 2013 opening, RedRocks’ owners thought the Pike would be similar to Columbia Heights in D.C., their first location, which had been a smash hit thanks to strong neighborhood support. They have since come to a realization that the Pike is a significantly different market.
“We saw a lot of similarities,” Baj said, citing young families he’s talked to who have moved from Columbia Heights to the Pike. “What’s lagging a bit is a bit of the sense of community in the Penrose neighborhood so far. It’s getting there, but you still see a lot of people on weekends going up to Clarendon, going in to the city, instead of staying here. We’re trying to make it more enticing for people to stay home and not go to the District” or the R-B corridor.
Among the enticements being rolled out are a revamped menu, which subtracted small plates and added burgers and other pub fare “that we wouldn’t [serve] at our other location.” Two weeks ago RedRocks added a delivery service that serves a two-mile radius around the restaurant. And RedRocks will have an expanded outdoor seating area when the weather finally warms up.
Many of the changes, however, are value-oriented. There are nightly food specials; a happy hour with $3 beers and half-priced appetizers; a $13.99 all-you-can-eat weekend brunch with 99-cent mimosa and bloody mary refills; a kids-eat-free deal on Sundays; and, starting next week, a pizza, pasta and salad lunch buffet that will run Tuesday through Friday.
“People tend to like value on the Pike, that’s what we’re finding overall,” Baj said.
RedRocks has given up on trying to convince Arlington County to offer free parking after 6:00 p.m. in the Penrose Square garage — instead it is now offering free parking validation.
The relaunch started rolling out in February, and Baj said the results so far are promising. ”It’s good, very good, the neighborhood is responding,” he said.
In a phone interview with ARLnow.com, Baj was reluctant to wade into the “hot-button” issue of the planned Columbia Pike streetcar, but he did point out that his fourth RedRocks location, along D.C.’s soon-to-open streetcar line on H Street NE, is doing well. The area is getting a new Whole Foods – the streetcar helped to bring that and other “positive development” to the corridor, he said.
“I’d love to see that kind of excitement on Columbia Pike,” said Baj. It could potentially help other restaurant owners on the Pike, who are also dealing with lackluster sales.
“It’s been a struggle for many of them,” he said. “There are definitely some growing pains with the neighborhood, but I don’t think anybody’s going to bail on it. They’re going to stick it out, especially with new housing coming in.”
The Arlington County Board approved a $16.5 million loan to affordable housing developer AHC on Saturday to purchase a Columbia Pike apartment building.
The loan, which comes from the county’s dedicated Affordable Housing Investment Fund, will allow AHC to purchase the Serrano Apartments at 5535 Columbia Pike, which are currently owned by Carmel Partners.
The apartment building, in the Columbia Heights West neighborhood, has 280 units, 239 of which are currently considered affordable. The loan allows AHC to purchase the building and keep 196 units in the building as dedicated affordable housing for the next 60 years. The remainder will be offered at a market rate.
AHC will also purchase the 39,500 square feet of vacant land fronting the Pike, which Carmel has an application to subdivide, according to the county’s press release. That land could be developed into a complex with about 80 apartment units, according to the Columbia Pike Form Based Code.
“The County Board has committed to preserving affordable housing along Columbia Pike,” County Board Chair Jay Fisette said in the press release. “This loan to AHC is in keeping with our commitment. These units now will remain affordable for generations of Arlingtonians — and help preserve the Pike’s rich diversity as it is redeveloped into a more transit-oriented, walkable ‘Main Street.’”
Current tenants will not be displaced with the ownership change, the county said. The purchase follows through on the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Area Plan, which calls for keeping 6,200 of the current affordable market-rate apartments affordable as the Pike develops and creating 400 new units affordable to families at 80 percent of the area median income on the western portion of the Pike.
Photo via Bozzuto
(Updated at 11:30 a.m.) Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette used the podium at a Columbia Pike business luncheon yesterday to respond to critics of the Columbia Pike streetcar and the county’s recently completed return on investment study for Pike transit.
The study, conducted by an independent consultant and funded by the county, suggested that the Columbia Pike streetcar would generate about $3 billion more for the corridor’s economy than enhanced bus service. Critics of the streetcar say a Bus Rapid Transit system would be a preferred, cheaper alternative, but Fisette reiterated yesterday that BRT is not an option for the Pike.
“Bus Rapid Transit, by definition, needs at least part of its route to have a dedicated lane,” Fisette told members of the Columbia Pike business community for the annual Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization Business and Development Luncheon. “I’d love to have a dedicated bus lane. I wish we had room, but it’s not possible.”
Streetcar opponents have asked why the county spent money on a return on investment study when a similar study was conducted last year, but Fisette said this study accounted for the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Area Plan and compared streetcar to enhanced bus service, two components the previous study did not include.
“Sure, attack the messenger, pick [the study apart],” Fisette said, “but use the facts please.”
Fisette described the community process used to develop the plan for the streetcar, and said the county projects that, in the not-too-distant future, 65 percent of Arlington’s population growth and 44 percent of its job growth will be concentrated along the streetcar lines on Columbia Pike and in the Route 1 corridor from Pentagon City to Crystal City and Potomac Yard.
Takis Karantonis, the executive director of CPRO and one of the streetcar’s biggest advocates, gave a brief talk to the dozens of business and community leaders in attendance while wearing a pin on his lapel for Streetcar Now. He said a $310 million investment by the county in streetcar is a fair number compared to the money the private sector has invested in the Pike.
“Each of these new buildings cost around $90 to $100 million,” Karantonis said. “Each one. Private money is holding up its end of the deal.”
Chef/owner Riyad Bouizar said he’s hoping to open the business April 15, but after a long, drawn-out construction and licensing process, the opening could be delayed even further. Bouizar signed the lease for the space in August and was hoping to open in December or January.
For the first month, Mazagan will only be open for dinner and late night, Bouizar said, after which it will start selling lunch. During the week, the bar and hookah lounge will be open until 1:00 a.m., and until 2:00 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
“This is something new to the neighborhood,” he said. “With the movie theater right next door it’s a chance for people to get a drink afterwards.”
The private hookah lounge, Bouizar said, will be a glass enclosure in the dining room. That way hookah smokers won’t feel like they are cut off from the rest of the patrons, but the non-smokers won’t have any secondhand smoke.
(Updated at 5:45 p.m.) An independent consultant hired by Arlington County has found that the planned Columbia Pike streetcar could generate between $2.2-3 billion more than an enhanced bus system for the corridor over the next 30 years.
The study, conducted by HR&A Advisors, estimates that the streetcar will generate between $3.2-4.4 billion of net impact to the area in the form of increased property values, density and retail opportunities, among other factors. In addition, the streetcar is estimated to bring in up to $620 million in additional local tax revenues between Arlington and Fairfax counties over 30 years, plus 4,600 more jobs within 10 years after construction is completed.
“[This study] is a great validation for what we’re about to do,” County Manager Barbara Donnellan said at a press conference this afternoon announcing the results of the study.
The study, which was commissioned last year as an update to the streetcar’s projected return on investment, compared the streetcar to an enhanced bus system. HR&A President Eric Rothman said the study did not factor in bus rapid transit because a dedicated bus lane is “not feasible” for the Pike.
HR&A used four case studies for its projections for Columbia Pike, as well as interviews with Arlington developers and retailers — some of whom are already invested along the Pike — to formulate its predictions.
HR&A used the streetcar in Portland, Ore., and the Hudson Bergen lightrail system in northern New Jersey as case studies for the streetcar. The Boston-Washington Silver Line and the Max Bus in Kansas City, Mo., were used as case studies for enhanced bus service.
“Previous studies that have been done by and large found positive impacts across the board for streetcar implementation in the country the last 15 years,” Rothman said.
Kyle Vangel, who was the study’s project manager for HR&A, said the developers he interviewed the project looked more favorably at the Columbia Pike streetcar if it connected with the Crystal City streetcar line, which Transportation Director Dennis Leach said will have its environmental impact study completed this fall. He also said that, while the tracks and wires might not be aesthetically pleasing, rail engenders confidence in long-term investment.
“In many people’s perceptions,” Vangel said, “the streetcar has more of a feel of permanence than an enhanced bus.”
From one end of the corridor to the other, Vangel said the streetcar would only take one fewer minute than an enhanced bus system, but it would hold 61 more riders per trip, be a one-seat ride to Crystal City and would be under capacity by 2035, whereas enhanced bus would be over capacity in 30 years.
“Having previously spent many millions of taxpayer dollars on studies trying to justify the choice of the Columbia Pike streetcar”, said Peter Rousselot, ARLnow.com columnist and a leader for Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit, in a press release, “there was no legitimate reason to spend more taxpayer money on another ‘study’ unless the consultant had been given the independence to reach the conclusion that the streetcar was the wrong transit choice on Columbia Pike.”
Rousselot’s main point of contention was over the contract HR&A signed with the county, which stipulated the county must approve the study at certain milestones before it could be presented. Rothman said those milestones were simply submitted to the county so the company could receive payment, not edited for review.
“The county provided no substantive input for the numbers in the report,” Rothman said.
Frequent County Board critic Jim Hurysz, attending the meeting for his blog, Arlington Yupette, railed against the consultants and county staff members giving the presentation, accusing them of cherry-picking examples of streetcars and buses to serve the county’s agenda. Hurysz fired off questions and opinions alongside reporters from ARLnow.com, the Washington Post and the Washington Business Journal, before being shouted down by a county communications staffer, as she was attempting to end the meeting on schedule.
The historic designation for the Rappahannock Coffee and L.A. Nails buildings has been downgraded to clear the way for an apartment building to be built in their place.
The County Board will likely decide on Saturday to designate 2408 Columbia Pike and 2338-2344 Columbia Pike as “historic facades,” a step down from their current “historic buildings” designation, which grants them full preservation.
The two buildings were designated as historic in 2002 as part of the Columbia Pike revitalization plan. According to the county’s staff report, they were again designated historic in the plan’s 2005 update.
“The [Form-Based Code], like the 2002 and 2005 Columbia Pike Initiative plans, does not provide a specific rationale for the historic designations or guidance on changing such designations,” the staff report states.
A historic facade designation would help to preserve the front of the building, but would allow the rest of the building to be demolished.
The decision to downgrade the protection was approved unanimously by the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board. The property owner, B.M. Smith and Associates, discovered that the buildings were built in the 1950s, not the 1930s “as staff had assumed” when giving the structures their historic designation, according to the staff report.
Richmond Named Acting AED Director — Cynthia Richmond has been named the acting director of Arlington Economic Development following the untimely death of Terry Holzheimer. Holzheimer died of a sudden heart attack over the weekend. Richmond was serving as the deputy director of AED. Arlington County plans to begin a recruitment process to find a permanent director for AED soon. [Arlington County]
FBI Cracking Down on Corruption in N. Va. — The FBI has created a task force to investigate public corruption in Northern Virginia. Public corruption is the FBI’s “number one criminal investigative priority” at the moment and the agency has “cases in all categories in Northern Virginia.” [Loudoun Times]
Man Sentenced in $30 Million Fraud Scheme — A Florida man has been sentenced in a $30 million scheme that defrauded NASA into awarding contracts on false pretenses. Michael Dunkel, 60, was awarded contracts by NASA intended for minority-owned businesses by claiming he was an employee of an Arlington company supposedly run by a woman of Portuguese descent. Dunkel in turn paid kickbacks to the company. [Associated Press, U.S. Justice Department]
APAH to Purchase Apartment Building — The Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing is purchasing the Arna Valley View apartments near Glebe Road and I-395. The purchase will allow 101 apartments to remain as committed affordable housing for at least the next 60 years. [Sun Gazette]
Fundraising for Pike Documentary Book — Photographer Lloyd Wolf is raising money to print a book based on photos taken by the Columbia Pike Documentary Project. [GoFundMe]
Photo courtesy Kimberly Suiters/All News 99.1 WNEW
The Capital One branch on the 3500 block of Columbia Pike was robbed around 5:40 p.m. A suspect approached a teller, implied a weapon and demanded money. He fled with an undisclosed amount of cash.
No one was hurt during the robbery.
“The suspect is described as a black male, approximately 5’5” to 5’8” tall, with a medium build and wearing all dark clothing,” police said in a press release.
“If anyone has information on the identity and/or whereabouts of this individual, please contact Detective P. Mulvaney of the Arlington County Homicide/Robbery Unit at (703) 228-4239 or firstname.lastname@example.org,” police said. ”Anonymous tips can also be provided through the Arlington County Crime Solvers Hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).”
Arlington County is in the midst of creating “Bike Boulevards” on 9th and 12th Streets S., parallel to Columbia Pike, to divert bicycle traffic away from the Pike in advance of the streetcar line.
Signs were installed in late 2013 on the two roads, and Arlington County is in the process of designing infrastructure to make cycling on the boulevards safer.
“The Bike Boulevards will include several types of improvements, including signage, pavement markings, hardscape improvements such as curb extensions and intersection reconfiguration, and traffic control devices,” county Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Robyn Mincher tells ARLnow.com.
So far, just the signs and pavement markings have been installed — of the $1 million budget for the project, Mincher said the county has spent $101,000. The major improvements will be at the intersections of 12th Street S. and Quincy Street; 9th Street S. between Highland and Wayne Street; 13th Street S. and George Mason Drive; and at 9th Street S. and Walter Reed Drive, which is included in a different project’s budget.
Studies for HAWK signals — like the one recently installed on Crystal Drive — are “90 percent complete,” Mincher said, at each road’s intersections with S. Glebe Road and S. Walter Reed Drive. The various components of the project “will be implemented as soon as possible to make incremental improvements to the Bike Boulevards in the next several years.”
Although the county’s aim is to make cycling safer along the corridor, local cyclists have been concerned about perceived flaws in the plans. One, who declined to be identified, said in meetings about the project in 2011, the county saw pushback from the community, resulting in changes to the project.
After the meeting, “that was the last that the community heard until the fall of 2013,” the tipster said. “At that point the county painted the bike markers on the street and installed the street signs, but no more.”
“There were significant concerns about the safety of the bicyclists on both streets,” he continued, “but predominantly on 12th as there is significant vehicle traffic from the post office and the Rosenthal development [at the Glebe Road and Columbia Pike intersection] coming in, plus with no sidewalks the cars, bikes and pedestrians have to share the same bit of road.”
Arlington transportation planner Dan Malouff wrote about the Bike Boulevards on Greater Greater Washington earlier this month, noting that the project is the first of its kind in the D.C. region, but many skeptics emerged in the comment section questioning the boulevards.
“The bike boulevards thus far have been executed so badly as to be comical,” said one commenter, named Pikecycle. “Still today most of the minor cross-streets lack stop signs for crossing car traffic, which makes cyclists stop every block in places (in many cases with poor visibility for cross traffic). The major cross-streets (Walter Reed, Glebe) have neither signage nor lights nor street-level painting (the lone exception is an awkward existing regular cross walk/light).”
“Classic modern Arlington ‘smart growth’: winning headlines with expensive, long-delayed projects that are so NIMBY compromised as to be virtually useless,” the commenter continued. “In sum, riding on Columbia Pike (as long as the streetcar remains a pipe dream) is faster, safer and a much better option.”
A new location of the Little Caesars pizza chain is expected to open in the Columbia Pike Plaza shopping center at the corner of Columbia Pike and S. Dinwiddie Street.
The location is in the former AT&T Wireless store at 5025 Columbia Pike, in the shopping center across S. Dinwiddie Street from the Arlington Mill Community Center. There’s no hint of an expected opening date.
The location, when it opens, will be Little Caesars’ second current location in Arlington; its other store is at 5175 Lee Highway and opened late last year.
Morning rush hour traffic on Columbia Pike has gone from bad to worse thanks to a new traffic pattern at the Washington Boulevard interchange, drivers tell us.
Two weeks ago VDOT, as part of its Route 27/244 interchange project, altered the traffic pattern for vehicles heading eastbound on Columbia Pike. Drivers heading toward northbound I-395 now have to turn left at the traffic signal on S. Quinn Street, whereas before northbound and southbound traffic could both take the right-hand ramp that also leads to southbound I-395.
Last week, one reader told us the new traffic pattern was a “disaster,” with eastbound Pike traffic backed up to S. Courthouse Road at 7:45 a.m. Today (Wednesday), another reader said that traffic was backed up to S. Walter Reed Drive at 8:15 a.m.
“That is absolutely ridiculous,” said Thierry Driscoll, a Pike commuter who now uses S. Courthouse Road as a shortcut to Washington Boulevard. “There are cars backed up in the left lane of Columbia Pike waiting to take a left onto the Washington Blvd access ramp, but cannot because the access ramp is full.”
“There is no excuse for such a boneheaded design,” he continued. “This new pattern has inconvenienced a lot of people.”
VDOT spokeswoman Jennifer McCord says the current traffic pattern is temporary and will be in place for another 8-12 months while new ramps are built.
“We realize it’s slower for drivers trying to get to I-395N since they have to yield to the oncoming traffic,” she said. “Our folks… added as much time as possible to the left-turn signal” to alleviate some of the traffic.
“No more significant changes” are planned, said McCord. She advised using S. Glebe Road as a possible alternate route to I-395 for those heading from western portions of Columbia Pike.
Date Set for County Board Special Election – Circuit Court Chief Judge William Newman officially has declared that the Arlington County Board special election will be held on April 8. The special election is being held to replace now-former County Board member Chris Zimmerman. [Sun Gazette]
End of the Road for Seoul Food Truck – The Seoul Food truck, which makes stops in Rosslyn, Courthouse, Ballston and other lunch spots in Arlington, will be retired at the end of this month. The owners say they want to spend more time focusing on their brick-and-mortar store in Silver Spring, Md., next to the Wheaton Metro station. [Food Truck Fiesta]
Bike Boulevard Signs Installed — Arlington has installed signs and sharrows designating 9th Street S. and 12th Street S., which run along either side of Columbia Pike, as “bike boulevards.” The county has not yet, however, installed improved intersection crossings or trail links, leading some to say that the bike boulevards so far do little to improve safety for Pike cyclists. [Greater Greater Washington]
Preservation Arlington Mourns Loss of Homes — The group Preservation Arlington says a total of 14 demolition permits were applied for in January. “In review of the Arlington County tax records, eight of the eleven houses are owned by builders and are speculative redevelopments, and two are being redeveloped by individuals who bought the property within the last year,” the group writes. “The looming demolition of these houses and buildings represents an incredible loss of history, architecture, time, energy, and materials.” [Preservation Arlington]
Flickr pool photo by BrianMKA