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Restaurant Lashes Out at County Board Over Revoked Permit

by Ethan Rothstein | January 29, 2014 at 11:35 am | 11,557 views | No Comments

Darlene Wilcher(Updated) The Arlington County Board revoked the live entertainment permit for Pines of Italy (3111 Columbia Pike) last night, siding with dismayed neighbors over outraged management.

Pines of Italy General Manager Darlene Wilcher calmly presented the case for a permit renewal. After the board’s unanimous vote against the restaurant, a woman can be heard going up to the live microphone in the board room and calling County Board members “c–ksuckers.”

Wilcher, who said she took over as manager in October, had earlier asked to speak again during the Board’s discussion.

“Can I just say one thing?” she asked while Board Chair Jay Fisette was speaking.

“No, I’m sorry, the discussion is with the Board,” Fisette responded, before telling Wilcher, an Arlington native, “I do want to compliment you personally because you appear to be someone with great possibility, you present yourself very well.”

Less than two minutes later, the Board voted and the expletive was hurled before leaving the room.

The decision to revoke the permit came after neighborhood controversy in 2012 over fights outside the restaurant/hookah bar/nightclub and multiple deferrals by the Board to approve a live entertainment permit, which it finally did in March 2013. Restaurant owner Jorge Escobar — who has owned the building and business since it was called Coco’s Casa Mia a decade earlier — and his management group had vowed to reach out to the community and to put a stop to the health and Alcoholic Beverage Control Board violations that had been repeatedly reported.

“That meeting was one of my high points 9 months ago because I felt so good about it,” Board Member Libby Garvey said. “Where we are now, I find myself thinking about the classic abusive relationship. Things are really awful, and then you say ‘oh no I’m going to be better now,’ but look at this list [of violations since March]… We’ve got to stop this.”

Pines of Italy at 3111 Columbia PikeSince the permit was approved in March, the Arlington County Police Department has reported six calls for service at the restaurant, including “use of the premise for residential purposes” and serving alcohol when the kitchen was closed. According to county staff, it was the second such occurrence since 2011 of an individual appearing to be living in the space.

Five residents of Arlington Heights, some of whom live down the street from the business, asked the Board to revoke the license, citing broken promises in the past from the management to do things differently.

“It’s been a bane in the neighborhood for many years,” resident Scott Winn said. “We’ve had new management, new agreements, new promises and I think it’s time once and for all that we cut the problem to the quick and that the live entertainment license is revoked.”

Wilcher, in her presentation, said since she has taken over the operations, all the code violations and issues with the use permit agreement have been fixed.

“In those months, we have done better,” she said. “We have fixed all of our violations and have no issues with anyone.”

Escobar wasn’t present yesterday during the meeting. He had previously attended meetings on the issue and, in April 2012, his attorney “promised the board that the three partners of this establishment are interested in starting anew.”

Without music, DJs and dancing — all of which will be prohibited without the permit — the nightlife-oriented business faces long odds of survival.

“The main protagonist of this drama is still the owner of the property,” Fisette said. “This doesn’t happen very often, but time’s up. The words that come back to me are fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on you. But fool me thrice, shame on me, and that’s where we are.”

Update at 12:55 p.m. — The video of Fisette’s comments and the restaurant manager’s outburst can be found below. It’s not safe for work.

Staff Recommends Revoking Pines of Italy Entertainment Permit

by Ethan Rothstein | January 21, 2014 at 11:30 am | 1,934 views | No Comments

Pines of Italy at 3111 Columbia PikeCounty planning staff are recommending the Arlington County Board revoke the live entertainment and dancing license for Pines of Italy (3111 Columbia Pike).

The restaurant/nightclub/hookah bar was approved for the permit in March 2013, but, according to the county staff’s report, its owner never scheduled a meeting with the Arlington Heights Civic Association, which was a requirement of the permit. In addition, the restaurant was allegedly operating with live music on Thursday nights, which was not allowed by the permit.

The permit was scheduled for review in March, but because of the lack of compliance, as well as issues with the police and the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, staff recommended the Board review the license two months early.

“The applicant has demonstrated a lack of compliance with the conditions of approval and other state and county ordinances,” the staff report says. “Operation of live entertainment and dancing at this site will continue to generate issues given the combination of greater numbers of patrons drawn to the business by live entertainment and the applicant’s lack of compliance with use permit conditions and other laws, and lack of communication with the surrounding community.”

Pines of Italy has generated neighborhood controversy since it opened, with neighbors complaining about noise and crime generated by the business.

Before being approved for the live entertainment permit last March, Pines of Italy’s owner had applied for the permit in early 2012. The application was deferred twice — first because of “police and community issues” with the last restaurant in the space and again because Pines of Italy conducted insufficient community outreach — before its ultimate approval.

Arlington County Police Department has reported six calls for service at the restaurant since the use permit was issued, including “use of the premise for residential purposes” and serving alcohol when the kitchen was closed.

The County Board will review the permit during its meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 28.

Crime Report: West Coast Prostitutes Arrested on the Pike

by ARLnow.com | January 15, 2014 at 4:05 pm | 4,613 views | No Comments

Two alleged prostitutes from California were arrested by Arlington police early Friday morning.

The pair was arrested at the Sheraton hotel on Columbia Pike, after police discovered online prostitution ads on the website Backpage.com, according Arlington County Police Department spokesman Dustin Sternbeck.

“That’s usually the place these individuals are posting their solicitations,” Sternbeck said. From this week’s crime report:

KEEPING A BAWDY PLACE, 140110007, 900 block of S. Orme Street. On January 10 at 12:50am, two females were arrested after posting online solicitation ads and offering services to officers. Maryrose Ioane, 22, of Antioch, CA and Erlynn Sanchez Edwards, 22, of N. Highlands, CA were charged with keeping a bawdy place.

The rest of the crime report, after the jump. All named suspects are considered innocent until proven guilty.

(more…)

Eamonn’s on the Pike to Relaunch as ‘Society Fair’

by ARLnow.com | January 13, 2014 at 4:05 pm | 3,016 views | No Comments

Society Fair announcement on the front of Eamonn's (courtesy photo)After a year and a half of struggling with slow lunch and dinner business, Eamonn’s on Columbia Pike will be trying to capitalize on breakfast business by relaunching as “Society Fair.”

The restaurant at 2413 Columbia Pike opened as Eamonn’s and TNT Bar in August 2012. While the sit-down fried fish restaurant is popular in Alexandria, it never quite attracted the crowds needed to sustain the business on the Pike, we’re told. Instead of closing, over the next month owner EatGoodFood Group will transition from Eamonn’s to a second location of its “Society Fair” bakery, cafe, market and eatery, which is also popular in Alexandria.

Already, couches have replaced some tables and chairs, to give the space a more “warm and comfortable” vibe. More furniture changes are in the works, and curtains will be installed, at least in part to dampen noise. The hope is to become more of a neighborhood hangout, a formula that has worked for nearby William Jeffrey’s Tavern, the biggest success so far on a block of restaurants that are mostly treading water business-wise, thanks to virtually non-existent lunch business.

By mid-February, the restaurant is expected to begin opening at 7:00 a.m. to serve breakfast customers with coffee, espresso drinks and pastries made fresh at the original Alexandria location. At other times of the day the food offerings will be more of the small plates variety, plus paninis, charcuterie, cheese and salads.

TNT Bar will remain and will serve drinks every night of the week, we’re told, but will continue adding more affordable cocktail options. With the exception of perhaps a few lunchtime closures, Eamonn’s will remain open as the space is gradually transformed.

The Washington Post’s Tom Sietsema reports that fish and chips will remain on the menu once the Society Fair transition is complete.

Courtesy photo

BREAKING: Fire at Columbia Pike Days Inn

by ARLnow.com | January 13, 2014 at 11:40 am | 2,301 views | No Comments

(Updated at 12:15 p.m.) Firefighters from several jurisdictions responded to a fire at the Days Inn on Columbia Pike this morning.

The fire started in an unoccupied room on the second floor of the motel, according to the Arlington County Fire Department spokeswoman Lt. Sarah Marchegiani. The blaze was quickly extinguished and no injuries were reported.

According to Marchegiani, the fire department received the first call about the fire at 11:36 a.m. and the bulk of the fire was extinguished by 11:42 a.m. Firefighters are now packing up their equipment and the county fire marshal is investigating the incident.

Earlier, flames and smoke could be seen from the motel, located at 3030 Columbia Pike. Early video of the incident shows a significant amount of smoke coming from the structure.

For a period of time the eastbound lanes of Columbia Pike were blocked in the area of the motel. The lanes have since reopened.

Photo courtesy @OwenHassig

Water Main Break Near Columbia Pike

by ARLnow.com | January 11, 2014 at 5:00 am | 1,022 views | No Comments

A water main break has been reported on S. Scott Street, near the intersection with Columbia Pike.

Cars are being towed from the area to allow crews to dig and access the broken water main.

No word yet on how large the water main is nor how long repairs might take.

Update at 10:45 a.m. — It was an 8-inch cast iron water main that burst, according to Arlington County Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Myllisa Kennedy. Water service to the apartment building on S. Scott Street is impacted by the break. Repair crews are on scene.

ACFD: Oxygen Tanks Helped Fuel Apartment Fire

by ARLnow.com | January 6, 2014 at 1:00 pm | 749 views | No Comments

Apartment fire on S. Greenbrier Street (photo courtesy @itsjustmejona)Home oxygen tanks helped fuel Sunday morning’s three-alarm apartment fire near Columbia Pike, the Arlington County Fire Department said today.

The fire broke out around 9:15 a.m. in an apartment at 850 S. Greenbrier Street. Firefighters from Arlington and Fairfax County arrived minutes after a 911 call was placed, and found heavy smoke coming from a second-floor apartment.

Firefighters rescued 20 trapped residents using ladders, and rescued an unconscious man from a smoke-filled hallway. He was transported to Medstar Washington Hospital Center in critical condition, ACFD said.

More than 80 fire personnel helped to extinguish the flames, which extended to the third and fourth floors and caused some $50,000 worth of damage. Arlington’s Office of Emergency Management set up a temporary shelter for 120 displaced residents in the nearby Greenbrier Baptist Church. The American Red Cross also helped to provide food, water and other essentials.

The cause is still under investigation, but the fire department says medical oxygen tanks “contribute[d] to the rapid fire spread.”

Photo courtesy @itsjustmejona

FBI Watched as Pike Wells Fargo Was Robbed

by Ethan Rothstein | January 2, 2014 at 4:15 pm | 4,897 views | No Comments

FBI agents on the scene of a bank robbery at the Wells-Fargo on S. George Mason DriveAn FBI SWAT team observed while three men allegedly robbed the Wells Fargo at Columbia Pike and S. George Mason Drive at gunpoint on Tuesday, apprehending the suspects a block away after the robbery had been committed.

The men — two from Maryland and one from Washington, D.C. — had been under FBI surveillance after being suspected of committing several bank robberies around the D.C. area, according to federal prosecutors.

The men left the bank with $47,000, but were apprehended a block north on George Mason Drive. They have been charged with armed bank robbery.

Below is the full press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – James McNeal, 63, of Hyattsville, Md., James Link, 56, of Washington, D.C., and Alphonso Stoddard, 59, of Forest Heights, Md., were charged today by criminal complaint with armed bank robbery.

Dana J. Boente, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Valerie Parlave, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, made the announcement after the initial appearance of defendants Link and Stoddard before United States Magistrate Judge John F. Anderson.

The defendants each face a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment if convicted.

According to court documents and court proceedings today, the FBI received information in December 2013 that McNeal, Link and Stoddard had been responsible for the armed robberies of multiple banks in the Washington metropolitan area.  After identifying the subjects, the FBI kept the three men under close surveillance, which included observing the defendants as they cased banks in Arlington, Va. for potential robberies.

On December 31, 2013, FBI agents followed the three subjects as they drove from Maryland to a Wells Fargo bank branch in Arlington.  An FBI SWAT team was prepositioned near the Wells Fargo bank before the defendants arrived.  At approximately 1:15 p.m., Link and Stoddard entered the bank with their faces covered.  Link brandished a gun and pointed it at individuals in the bank, while Stoddard jumped the teller counter and removed approximately $47,000 in cash from teller drawers.  The two men exited the bank and returned to their vehicle, where McNeal was waiting.

As the three subjects attempted to flee the scene, FBI and Arlington County Police apprehended them approximately one block away.  A handgun and cash were found in the vehicle.  A search of McNeal’s house in Hyattsville, Md. led to the discovery of additional firearms, gloves and items of clothing that were linked to previous bank robberies.

The investigation was conducted by the FBI’s Washington Field Office with the assistance of the FBI’s Baltimore Division and the Fairfax County and Arlington County police departments.  The United States Attorney’s Offices for the District of Columbia and the District of Maryland also provided assistance in the investigation.  Assistant United States Attorney Adam B. Schwartz is prosecuting the case on behalf of the United States.

Criminal complaints are only charges and not evidence of guilt.  A defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty.

BREAKING: Suspects Apprehended after Bank Robbery

by ARLnow.com | December 31, 2013 at 1:55 pm | 3,418 views | No Comments

(Updated 2:20 p.m.) Three suspects have been apprehended after a bank robbery on Columbia Pike.

The Wells Fargo Bank at the corner of S. George Mason Drive and Columbia Pike was robbed this afternoon, according to Arlington County Police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck. Three suspects have been taken into custody, he said.

The robbery occurred around 1:20 p.m., according to scanner traffic.

Significant police activity at the intersection is impacting traffic and 16-line Metrobuses. Northbound George Mason Drive is closed at Columbia Pike.

 

New Traffic Pattern Coming to Pike Interchange

by ARLnow.com | December 17, 2013 at 3:40 pm | 2,264 views | No Comments

Traffic pattern change at the Columbia Pike/Washington Boulevard interchangeUpdate at 10:00 a.m. — VDOT says the change has been postponed: “Please note this new pattern has been postponed until January due to additional signal work. A new date for the shift will be announced soon.”

A new traffic pattern will be in effect at the under-construction Columbia Pike and Washington Boulevard interchange starting Thursday.

VDOT says drivers heading eastbound on the Pike will now have a different way of getting to northbound I-395 (toward the District). Now, instead of bearing right after the light at S. Quinn Street, drivers will need to wait to turn left at the light, onto a new ramp to Washington Boulevard.

Those heading to southbound I-395 will still bear right onto the ramp after S. Quinn Street.

“Work to complete the switch will take place between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Thursday,” VDOT said in a press release. “Message signs will be in place to notify drivers of the new traffic pattern.”

“This new access is part of the $51.5 million project to replace the Washington Boulevard bridge over Columbia Pike,” the press release continued. “The project will be complete in summer 2015.”

As part of the project, the new bridge over Columbia Pike opened last month.

Bangkok 54 Fire Shuts Down Market, But Not Restaurant

by ARLnow.com | December 12, 2013 at 4:30 pm | 1,555 views | No Comments

Fire at Bangkok 54 on 12/12/13Bangkok 54 restaurant (2919 Columbia Pike) was open for lunch and is now open for dinner today (Thursday) as usual, despite a fire that ripped through the business’ next-door market early this morning.

We’re told the Thai restaurant only suffered minor smoke damage as a result of the fire, which caused significant damage to the market. The heaviest damage was in the ceiling of the market, according to Arlington County Fire Department spokesman Capt. Bill Shelton.

Fire investigators are still on the scene, trying to determine the cause of the fire. So far, there’s no estimate of the cost of the damage.

BREAKING: Fire at Bangkok 54

by ARLnow.com | December 12, 2013 at 12:15 am | 5,938 views | No Comments

Update at 4:30 p.m. — The restaurant portion of Bangkok 54 was open for business today.

Arlington County firefighters battled a two-alarm fire at Bangkok 54 on Columbia Pike early Thursday morning.

The Thai restaurant is located at 2919 Columbia Pike, next to the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse. The fire appeared to be in the Asian market portion of the business, not the restaurant itself. However, it’s likely that smoke from the blaze spread throughout the business.

The emergency response to the fire shut down Columbia Pike in both directions for about an hour and a half.

UPDATED: Water Main Break Shuts Down Columbia Pike

by ARLnow.com | December 11, 2013 at 4:15 pm | 1,829 views | No Comments

(Updated at 5:45 p.m.) A large water main break has been reported on Columbia Pike, just in time to cause significant issues with the evening commute.

The water main break was reported at Columbia Pike and Carlin Springs Road, on the Arlington/Fairfax county line. Fairfax County police are shutting down the Pike in both directions between Carlin Springs and Route 7.

Police have shut down the eastbound side of the Pike to pedestrian traffic, because workers are cautious to prevent the sidewalk from collapsing into a sinkhole, according to police on the scene. Fairfax Water workers are trying to turn off the water — which is still pouring out of the sewer grates in the closed-off section of Columbia Pike — before beginning repairs.

There are no estimates so far for the timeline of work to be completed, so drivers should avoid the area entirely on their commute, if possible. As of about 5:30 p.m., Carlin Springs Road was backed up all the way into the Buckingham neighborhood, and several other roads in the area were also suffering major backups.

Pike Super Stop Doesn’t Keep Out the Snow

by ARLnow.com | December 9, 2013 at 11:45 am | 3,444 views | No Comments

Snow on the bench of the Walter Reed Super Stop (photo via @Fallon4ArlVA)The $1 million Walter Reed “Super Stop” on Columbia Pike had its first big test of handing inclement winter weather over the weekend.

By at least one measure, it failed.

Part of the Super Stop’s bench was covered by snow Sunday, as a tweet from Arlington County Board candidate Peter Fallon showed.

“No, it doesn’t keep the snow out. :-(,” Fallon tweeted.

Photo via Twitter

The Right Note: Another TIF Imminent

by Mark Kelly | December 5, 2013 at 1:00 pm | 484 views | No Comments

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyBack in January, I wrote about Chairman Tejada’s call for a Columbia Pike Tax Increment Financing district, or TIF. Some have suggested privately that a dedicated stream of funding for affordable housing was a “condition” for Tejada’s trolley support. Regardless of the TIF’s genesis, the Board will hear public comments on it next Saturday.

First, a reminder of how a TIF works. Essentially, Arlington County freezes the tax base of a defined area and dedicates tax revenue from that base to the general fund. The additional future revenue, or a percentage of it, is then earmarked to spend solely in that area, presumably with a pet project in mind. The general fund, on the other hand, is used to pay for the ongoing county services we all use: schools, transportation, police, fire, parks, and other services.

In this case, the Board is proposing a set-aside of 25 percent in the TIF to put toward the construction of affordable housing projects in the Columbia Pike corridor for the next 30 years. Regardless of what you think about the need to fund additional affordable housing in Arlington, the TIF automatically removes 25 percent of the additional real estate tax revenue along the corridor in the future from the general fund. There is nothing to prevent this percentage from going higher in the future to pay for more affordable housing needs or another project in the area.

This is the second TIF proposed in the county, both begun in large part to help get the Columbia Pike trolley project built. The first was put in place for Crystal City — presumably to help finance bonds for that portion of the trolley line. Those bonds would allow financing without a requiring vote by Arlingtonians.

The Board’s willingness to move toward financing projects with TIFs seems to be setting us on a path toward multiple TIFs throughout Arlington. In effect, the new board policy is that they are willing to create long-term earmarks for pet projects. While we will almost certainly never reach Chicago-style TIF levels, with more than 100, what I wrote nearly 11 months ago still holds true today:

The use of special interest TIFs to avoid future public debate, scrutiny, and up or down votes on such projects is a bad idea, plain and simple. It will not only avoid additional public input, but it will inevitably lead to higher tax rates for all of us. When schools, roads, public safety and other services face a squeeze in future budgets, the Board will tell voters they simply have to raise taxes to pay for it.

The County Board should not lock Arlingtonians into this fiscally irresponsible path.

If you are concerned about the long-term earmarks that TIFs will create, you should consider attending the hearing on Dec. 14 to voice your concerns.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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