(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.”
Since 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.
County 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.
Bracket Room (1210 N. Garfield Street) in Clarendon had wanted to offer its patrons live music, but an outcry from neighbors prompted a change of plans.
Bracket Room’s owners had applied for a live entertainment permit, but decided within the past couple of weeks to withdraw the application. They made the decision based on noise complaints from neighbors living in Lyon Place apartments — located directly above the sports bar — who say the existing music is too loud.
“We’ve had a lot of issues with the tenants in the building from the beginning,” said Co-owner Jeff Greenberg. “The residents were calling the police when we first opened, which I hear really happens to everybody. But we don’t want to upset the people in the building or the landlord.”
One month after the sports bar’s early September opening, police said they had received around three dozen complaints related to Bracket Room. County Zoning and Code Enforcement staff had also received more than 15 complaints. Last month, County Planner Sophia Fisher said county employees were looking into the issues. Staff members familiar with each permit request typically make a recommendation to the County Board about whether to grant or deny the permit.
“Zoning and Code Enforcement staff are both currently monitoring the use due to concerns raised by citizens related to noise,” Fisher said in October. “Because live entertainment has the potential to increase the impacts of a venue on the surrounding community, citizen concerns related to noise are taken very seriously by staff.”
Today, Fisher confirmed that the Bracket Room owners have withdrawn their application for the live entertainment permit.
Bracket Room customers might notice some changes implemented during the past two weeks to appease neighbors. First, owners decided to lower the music level to 85 decibels.
“They’re trying to keep [the music] as low as they can so people inside are having fun but other people aren’t disturbed by the noise,” said Greenberg. “When the people in the building are mad at you, what are you going to do?”
The owners also examined the sports bar’s closing time and decided to shut the doors earlier.
“The 1:00-2:00 a.m. crowd is usually smaller than at other hours of the day, but it’s rowdier,” Greenberg said. “We’re cutting our hours back and we’re not staying open until 2:00 a.m.”
Since implementing the changes about two weeks ago, the owners have not been notified of as many noise complaints.
Other ideas the owners continue to throw around include adding additional security, working with an architect to find some other form of noise insulation, and possibly turning down the music’s bass if necessary.
“We’re going to contain the noise, but we’re going to try to keep our restaurant full every night,” said Greenberg. “We’re going to try the best we can. We want to get along, we want to be loved.”
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The establishment, which is located in a strip mall at the corner of Columbia Pike and Glebe Road, was seeking a renewal of its entertainment permit, to allow it to continue to host karaoke nights. Neighboring civic associations, the police department and Virginia ABC all opposed the renewal due to concerns about crime.
In a report to the Board, county staff said Sports House Grill has “had numerous [county] reviews and a consistently high number of police calls.”
“In the last year alone, there were 15 police calls for service for incidents (most resulting in arrests) related to the establishment,” staff wrote. “The consistently high numbers of calls for service at this establishment, along with concerns about over-serving of patrons, litter, various inappropriate activity in the parking lot and surrounding neighborhood, and other issues have adversely affected the health and safety of surrounding businesses and communities by, among other things creating noise and reducing the residential character of the area.”
Neighbors told the Board that Sports House Grill owner Hugo Flores had made “zero effort” to respond to their concerns over the past few months. Concerns cited by neighbors include violence in the parking lot, vandalism and “drug sales.”
The business owner and his attorney told the Board that Sports House Grill has private security inside the restaurant, has had no problems with noise or health code violations, and has just appointed a new community liaison. The liaison appointment, however, seemed to be viewed by the Board and neighbors as too little, too late.
In the end, the Board voted unanimously to deny the live entertainment permit renewal.
“The County goes to great efforts to allow businesses to do this sort of thing,” said County Board member Chris Zimmerman, who lives in nearby Douglas Park, citing the relatively long list of county reviews of the business in the 7 years it has been owned by Flores. Zimmerman said the Board’s vote to deny the permit was “highly unusual.”
Sports House Grill is the second Columbia Pike restaurant with a primarily Hispanic clientele to face questions about its karaoke nights in the past year. In November, the Board deferred a live entertainment permit request for Restaurante El Salvador (4805 Columbia Pike) over crime concerns.
In a separate agenda item, the County Board voted to allow a live entertainment and dancing permit for another Columbia Pike restaurant with a history of crime and noise problems.
After numerous deferrals, the Board voted unanimously on Saturday to grant Pines of Italy (3111 Columbia Pike) a live entertainment permit. The vote had the blessing of the president of the Arlington Heights Civic Association, a major reversal of the association’s outspoken opposition to the permit last year.
At the request of the restaurant’s owner, who said a county staff recommendation to require a midnight closing time would scuttle its nightclub-oriented business plan, the Board also voted to allow Pines of Italy to stay open until 2:00 a.m., on the condition of quarterly staff reviews and a County Board review in one year.
The Board was told that the owner had conducted sufficient neighborhood outreach and had agreed to various measures to address problems that had previously plagued the location, which borders a residential neighborhood and which has seen a succession of owners over the past few years.
The restaurant has been seeking a live entertainment permit since last spring. The permit, which would allow live music and dancing, has proven controversial with neighbors, who cited problems with noise, violence and public drunkenness at the location in the past. The Board twice deferred consideration of the permit last year, each time asking the owners of Pines of Italy to do more outreach to neighbors.
According to county staff, that outreach has still not occurred. While staff is recommending another deferral, the restaurant is apparently asking for the Board to vote on the permit once and for all.
From the county staff report:
The County Board considered this request at their April and September 2012 meetings, at which the County Board deferred consideration of the use permit due to concerns about Police issues and insufficient outreach to the community. The applicant was directed to establish communication with the community and to work with them on addressing their concerns. The applicant requested a deferral from the December 8, 2012 County Board meeting to the January 26, 2013 meeting with the intent that additional meetings would be scheduled to continue to work to a resolution on issues related to noise and crime impacts. Sufficient outreach has not been completed by the applicant. The intent of scheduling a meeting in December was to organize a representative meeting in which nearby residents and civic association members could discuss specific mitigation measures by which the applicant could implement to address ongoing issues. This meeting did not occur. The applicant does not agree to defer and wishes to be heard by the County Board in January. Staff is recommending that the County Board defer this request for two (2) months to allow sufficient time for the applicant to hold a meeting, which has not been scheduled as of the date of this report, with the Arlington Heights Civic Association to work through ongoing issues. Staff further recommends deferral to allow sufficient time to evaluate the applicant’s outreach and to ensure that issues have been addressed to the extent possible.
Arlington start-up EV Taxicabs had requested permits for 40 cabs, for which County Manager Barbara Donnellan gave a stamp of approval in October.
The topic has garnered much discussion over the past few months, and was held over from last month’s Board meeting to allow for more time to examine the details.
One of the sticking points is Arlington’s lack of infrastructure to support electric cars, namely charging stations. EV had promised to install charging stations throughout the county that residents would be able to use as well.
“There is no question that we do not have the infrastructure,” said Board member Jay Fisette. “Again, part of this application’s strengths was that in fact, after two years we would, without any public investment.”
Board member Chris Zimmerman said although the charging stations are part of the plan, the electric car technology is too new and there’s not enough evidence to prove it can be a long term option.
“This is a very interesting technology and very well may be the wave of the future. I don’t think we, at this point, know exactly how that technology is going to shake out,” said Zimmerman. “I feel like we’re not quite ready for this yet.”
Fisette pointed out that there were many skeptics when EnviroCab first proposed launching a hybrid fleet, but the company’s idea has since transformed the community.
“We’re out in front of the pack in most instances, this would put us further out,” Fisette said. “This is exactly the kind of innovation, the kind of opportunity that is needed for us to meet in the community energy plan.”
Board Chair Mary Hynes agreed that the electric fleet would be in line with the county’s long term energy plan, but feels it’s currently not a viable option.
“We’re at the infancy stages of this, we don’t yet have our county-wide strategy related to chargers,” Hynes said. “And I recognize that this proposer would jump start this a little bit, but I think we really do need to have our strategy in place.”
The board members encouraged EV to return during the next cab certificate allocation, in two years, to put in another request.
“I would hope that two years from now they’ll be back and we will have our game plan together and we’ll be in a position to allow this sort of a launch,” Hynes said.
Board members Libby Garvey and Jay Fisette voted in favor of EV Taxicab’s request, but Chris Zimmerman, Walter Tejada and Board Chair Mary Hynes voted no.
Despite going against Donnellan’s recommendation to approve the EV permits, the Board did side with Donnellan’s suggestion to grant additional cab permits. It’s the first time in four years the county suggested increasing the number of taxis on the road, during the certificate allocation process which takes place every two years. Prior to the increase, seven companies owned 765 licensed cabs.
Wheelchair accessible taxis make up a significant portion of the newly granted permits. Red Top Cab and Blue Top Cab companies each received five such permits. Friendly Cab Co. received 12 permits and will also launch a dispatch service. The total of 22 granted taxi certificates is well below the 65 suggested by Donnellan.
The Board sided with the county Transportation Commission in denying permits for EV Taxicab, but against the commission’s recommendation to divvy up some of the permits proposed for the company to Arlington-based EnviroCab.
Before her vote, Hynes also dealt a blow to taxi drivers hoping to obtain individual cab operating certificates. Hynes said that in the future, the Board is unlikely to approve new cab permits for companies that do not plan to utilize dispatch service.
Restaurante El Salvador (4805 Columbia Pike) had asked for a live entertainment permit, but at its Saturday meeting the Board voted unanimously to defer the request six months until its May 2013 meeting.
The local civic association, the Barcroft School and Civic League (BSCL), opposed the granting of the permit, which would allow karaoke until 2:00 a.m. on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday nights.
According the BSCL and county staff, there have been recent complaints about “alcohol related incidents and violations” that prompted police to respond to the restaurant. Neighbors worry that allowing the live entertainment permit would increase the instances of public drunkenness and rowdiness.
“BSCL concurs with the Arlington County Police Department that such an addition would exacerbate the crime problems the neighborhood is currently experiencing at and around this establishment,” said BSCL President Pat Williamson.
County staff recommended deferring the issue for six moths in order for Restaurante El Salvador to foster a better relationship with the community. Restaurant representatives, county staff and members of BSCL are supposed to meet within the next few weeks to address issues such as hiring security and enforcing drink limits for patrons.
“Staff will work with the applicant to foster a better relationship with the community and with other County agencies,” said the staff report. “The applicant is aware of the reasons staff is recommending deferral, and staff will be working with the applicant, the Arlington County Police Department, and the community over the next few months to address the issues that have been identified.”
Photo via Google Maps
The Board had previously deferred the issue at its April meeting in an effort to give the business owners more time to prove themselves worthy of being granted a permit. Similar to past meetings, residents from the surrounding area showed up on Saturday to voice concerns about issuing the permit. They cited the property’s history of consistent problems with patrons being violent and noisy. Some neighbors noted how peaceful the neighborhood has been for approximately six months because there has been no live entertainment on the site.
“The past six months have been a welcome reprieve from some of the extreme loud noise and violence,” said resident Aristia Glinka.
The county staff report for the permit had recommended approving the permit if the property owners agree to meet a series of conditions. However, Board members expressed concern that existing conditions had not been met, and there is no evidence that future conditions would be adhered to.
Although there have not been violent incidents during the past several months, Board members didn’t believe the owners had met the condition of fostering a relationship with the community. Tajalli did attend one Arlington Heights Civic Association meeting, but the Board said one meeting does not prove sufficient for making amends after all the previous years of poor relations.
“I think the neighbors are generally concerned about the lack of communication. We went over this in great detail last time,” Board member Walter Tejada said. “It’s really not acceptable from what I’ve heard so far, your lack of communicating.”
Another sticking point is Jorge Escobar’s continued involvement with the business. He has owned the property for more than a decade, including during the period when a previous entertainment permit was revoked.
The property currently has three partners who oversee the three different parts of the property — a restaurant, hookah bar and night club. Ali Tajalli, who manages the restaurant portion, said one business would not be able to handle the $15,000 a month cost of rent, so all three pay Escobar $5,000 each month.
Tajalli further explained his inability to keep the business open if the permit is not approved. He said that without all three partners contributing to the rent, the businesses will have to close in a matter of months. He asserted that being allowed to stay open until 2:00 a.m. for a six month trial period would keep the property afloat, while allowing an adequate period for the owners to prove themselves to the county.
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.
Arlington will soon be home to a tea house. House of Steep (3800 Lee Hwy) is moving into one of the retail spaces at the Bromptons at Cherrydale property, which is now known as 3800 Lofts.
The store’s website highlights the calming tea house atmosphere, in which customers can enjoy tea, snacks and sandwiches. Interestingly, spa services will also be offered, with the signature treatment being an aromatherapy foot soak.
So far we only know of one other retailer that’s coming to the building: a Subway sandwich shop.
There’s no official opening date yet, but the website hints that the owners of House of Steep are aiming for June. Until then, customers can purchase items from the store online.
Meanwhile, the building’s management company is applying for a permit for outdoor seating. The seating area would be in front of the building, along Lee Highway.
County staff had previously raised concerns about the outdoor seating plan first put forth in 2003. In addition to trouble with the placement of tree pits, the layout reportedly didn’t provide corridors to the retail entrances and the residential exit stairs.
The plan redesign fixed the issues, so reviewers now recommend the County Board approves the outdoor seating permit at Saturday’s meeting.
The Costa Verde restaurant near Clarendon is no more, and another tenant has quietly taken over the space. A restaurant called DARNA (946 N. Jackson Street) has apparently moved in, and it’s seeking a live entertainment permit from the county.
This location has had live entertainment permits dating back to 1994. According to the county staff report, when Costa Verde’s permit came up for review in February, it was discovered that the restaurant no longer existed. At that time, staff members learned that DARNA was looking at continuing the permit. The county zoning office confirmed that the new restaurant is not currently providing live entertainment.
DARNA requested to have entertainment and dancing from 8:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m., Wednesday through Sunday. But reviewers raised concerns about the hours, and the owner has agreed to modify the times to 8:00 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 8:00 p.m. to midnight on Wednesdays and Sundays.
The owner also has to agree not to play music outside, and to keep windows and doors shut to soundproof the structure. Security must be provided on nights when there is music and dancing.
Because police and neighbors haven’t expressed concern, county staff doesn’t anticipate trouble with the request. Reviewers recommend the County Board approves the permit request at its meeting on Saturday.
We have been unable to get in contact with the owner to get more details about the restaurant.
The recently-opened Pines of Italy restaurant (3111 Columbia Pike) is applying for a live entertainment and dancing permit, but it doesn’t look like the request will be granted at Saturday’s County Board meeting.
Due to concerns from police and the Arlington Heights Civic Association (AHCA), the recommendation is to defer the permit request until the board’s September 15 meeting. Police note previous violent incidents at this site, and suggest future trouble could arise based on the history with the property’s management. AHCA opposes the permit due to the potential for crime and noise to impact neighbors.
A letter from the AHCA president says representatives met with the three partners of the property to address resident concerns. The property apparently is divided into a restaurant, a hookah bar and a night club and has one partner for each entity. The partners reportedly said the entertainment permit was not needed for the restaurant or hookah bar to do business, but wouldn’t specifically say it was for the club.
County staff recommended deferring until the September 15 meeting in order to give the restaurant owner time to establish a clean track record. If there are no issues for a six month period, which began at the Pines of Italy opening in February, the county will consider issuing the permit. The owner was asked to demonstrate good management and to establish better relationships with neighbors during this time period. County staff states in the permit report that the owner has agreed to the deferral.
In its letter last month, AHCA said if no problems arise from the property for one year, it will reconsider its position on the permit. In recent years the property has been home to a succession of restaurants, including Padrino’s Fine Italian Cuisine, Club 31-11, Coco’s Italian Restaurant, Lalibela II, and Cottage Ethiopian Restaurant.
(Updated at 11:25 a.m.) William Jeffrey’s Tavern (2301 Columbia Pike) is expected to be a topic of conversation at Saturday’s Arlington County Board meeting. The restaurant has requested a permit for live entertainment and dancing, in addition to a permit to have outdoor seating.
The entertainment permit would cover the hours of 11:00 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. every day of the week. However, restaurant owners indicate they only intend to provide live entertainment and dancing during late evenings on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and for brunch on Sundays.
Although the restaurant is in a mixed-use building, county staff points out it is not directly adjacent to any housing, and would therefore not disturb residents. Permit reviewers also believe allowing William Jeffrey’s Tavern to have live entertainment would assist in achieving the county’s goal of revitalizing Columbia Pike. For these reasons, the recommendation is to allow the permit.
One of the requirements for obtaining the permit is to provide dedicated security during times when there is live entertainment. The restaurant will also have to keep its doors and windows shut during performances, to comply with the county noise ordinance. The permit will come up for review in one year.
The recommendation for the outdoor cafe permit, however, is to defer the issue until the board’s May 19 meeting. At issue is compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, due to a grade change where the outdoor cafe would be on the sidewalk. Staff also wants to ensure that the seating will be only for temporary use, which the county typically defines as nine months of the year.
The recommendation to defer until the May 19 meeting is to give the owners of William Jeffrey’s Tavern adequate time to address the county’s concerns.