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Restaurant owner is ‘very frustrated’ with the process to transform historic Green Valley Pharmacy

Green Valley Pharmacy last year (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

(Updated at 12:40 p.m.) As historic Green Valley Pharmacy moves closer to being transformed into a restaurant, the owner of the new business remains “very frustrated” with the years-long redevelopment process.

Last month, the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB) held its regular meeting, during which the board reviewed updated plans for the former pharmacy. The building at 2415 Shirlington Road is being transformed into a burger and pita restaurant called “Halal Spot,” as ARLnow first reported in 2021.

The board’s discussion in June centered on a proposed pergola and bioretention planters. While the planter plans were approved at the meeting, the pergola was deferred due to having not the most updated plans. At the meeting, a restaurant spokesperson said they intended to resubmit plans with a sloped awning and the pergola no longer covering the window.The window is original to the historic building and “reflective of the storefront nature of the property,” as was noted at the meeting.

The Board asked the project representative to re-submit updated plans.

Since the pharmacy building is protected in the Arlington County local historic district, any proposed exterior alterations must be approved by the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board’s design review process.

County historic preservation planner Serena Bolliger has confirmed to ARLnow that the pergola is the last element that needs to be approved for the Certificate of Appropriateness (CoA) permit but the civil engineering plan remains under review.

Restaurant owner Nasir Ahmad told ARLnow that this is his understanding as well, and aims to re-submit civil engineering plans this month. If that does happen and everything gets approved, the hope is that exterio construction can begin by mid-September. The build-out should take about six months, Ahmad said, meaning Halal Spot could open by early spring 2024.

But Ahmad remains frustrated with how long it’s taken to this point, even if it appears that approvals are finally wrapping up.

The Green Valley Pharmacy opened in 1952 as the only lunch counter and pharmacy to serve Arlington’s Black community during the Jim Crow era. It was owned and operated by Dr. Leonard “Doc” Muse, a graduate of the Howard University School of Pharmacy.

The property was designated by the county as a local historic landmark and district in 2013, with a historic marker placed there in 2014. But in late 2017, Muse died and the pharmacy closed. In 2019, Muse’s family agreed to allow Ahmad , who is an Arlington resident, to rent the building and open a new restaurant there.

Ahmad said that’s when he started applying for permits and had several approved. But that’s also when the process began with the HALRB.

“Yes, I’m very frustrated with the county. It’s almost taken four years. They kept asking for changes and it’s been frustrating. It [has] cost a lot of money and time,” Ahmad said. “All the original permits from 2020 have [expired] and now I have to reapply.”

He also expressed annoyance with some neighbors and how they have treated the project, saying that “community problems” like hang-ups over parking, signage, and preserving the historical nature of the site have also contributed to the delays.

Green Valley Civic Association President Portia Clark told ARLnow in response that she’s tried to reach out to Ahmad, but hasn’t gone much of a response.

“The owner (leasee) has not been working with the community…. we have asked for updates on the project,” Clark told ARLnow via email. “I have asked him to contact us about any community impacts and have heard nothing from him.”

Earlier this year, though, Clark said that the community is ready for the restaurant to open. The building sitting vacant for years has led to becoming an “eyesore,” she said, with trash and illegal parking becoming problems.

Ahmad is ready as well and is hopeful that final approvals are just days away. Halal Spot’s menu, he says, will consist of  pita sandwiches, burgers, and, possibly, kabobs.

The plan remains to display a number of artifacts from its time as Green Valley Pharmacy, including the uniform Doc Muse wore while working there, as previously reported.

“I want to open tomorrow,” Ahmad said.

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