Press Club

Arlington publishes guide to noise complaints as neighbors protest purported party house

Alleged “party house” on the 2700 block of N. Nelson Street, when it was for sale in 2020 (staff photo)

Residents of a North Arlington neighborhood say a large house with a huge yard on their quiet cul-de-sac is generating even bigger problems: boisterous parties, underage drinking, fast driving and trash.

“This is worse than an accident waiting to happen; it’s a potential tragedy in the making,” said Darren Trigonoplos, a resident of the Riverwood neighborhood, which borders the George Washington Parkway, during the public comment portion of Saturday’s County Board meeting.

When neighbors call the Arlington County Police Department, he said, the officers who arrive to the house on N. Nelson Street issue citations but do not stop the parties outright. Trigonoplos asked the County Board to set firm conditions on how the house can be used and to ensure the police have the power to bring activities at the house under control.

He also asked the county to make it easier for residents with complaints to figure out where to go to resolve their concerns — especially if their problem falls under the purview of multiple county offices.

It turns out Arlington County staff were already combing through county code to develop an infographic on how to report noise disturbances, County Manager Mark Schwartz said during a County Board meeting yesterday (Tuesday).

“Right now, you’re left to your own devices to navigate the county website,” Schwartz said. “I will tell you, being a homeowner, you get extremely frustrated when it’s midnight and there’s a party and you don’t know what to do.”

Who to call for noise ordinance violations (via Arlington County)

Staff worked through four different code sections to draft the infographic, he said.

“You can look on the left-hand column and find whatever’s ruining your day, and then you find out what time of the day and who do you call,” Schwartz said.

But to manage expectations, he said, the go-to for residents is the Arlington County Police Department non-emergency phone line, which may mean a few days between the call and a response by the police or another county enforcement agency.

Board Member Libby Garvey asked if residents can do anything to help their case, such as record the incident with their phone.

According to County Attorney MinhChau Corr, recordings “are not unhelpful,” but the gold standard is law enforcement observing the violation, as videos require verification.

The enforcement issue resurfaced when Board Member Takis Karantonis asked for the inclusion of reports of excessive vehicle noise. Unless police hear the noise and track down the offending car, those complaints are also hard to enforce, Schwartz said.

He acknowledged “it is a big issue and we might want to add that to this list,” but the best means of enforcement will be through automated devices.

Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey suggested the county revisit the idea of only specifying “nighttime” disturbances in the infographic — though other types of noise complaints were also listed — as more people work from home and work non-traditional hours.

“This is a vestige from a time when it was normative when people went somewhere during the day and wanted quiet enjoyment when they got home,” he said. “It seems silly to have the weight of government to enforce quiet enjoyment of your home only at a time when we think it might be relevant.”

Schwartz acknowledged more needs to be done.

“At the end of the day, we have more work to do on the other side of this, which is mediation with neighbors,” he said. “The county government can’t be everywhere at once to handle all of this, but nevertheless, I thought this was important to lay out.”

On Tuesday, the county also had an update on the noisy house on N. Nelson Street.

Zoning staff determined the owner lives in the house and discussed neighbors’ concerns with the owner, said Arlington County Constituent Services Manager Katelyn Thomas.

Airbnb and VRBO listings for the house — which was previously listed for sale in 2020 and sold for $2.1 million in 2021, according to property records — have been taken down, and county staff will monitor other platforms for cross-listings, Thomas said. They are also helping the owner apply for an accessory homestay permit to legally rent out the house.

“The owner was compliant and has intentions of being a good neighbor going forward,” she said. “We’re still encouraging neighbors to call for future disturbances or any other perceived illegal activities.”

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