Arlington, VA

ARLnow Weekend Discussion

February flowers, photo via Flickr/Lisa Novak

The progression of this week’s weather can be summed up into three words: warm, wet, windy.

The news, however, was hot, hot, hot. The top six most-read ARLnow.com stories of the week were:

Also, you may have seen a new byline on the site this week. That’s because we have a new ARLnow.com reporter, Chris Teale. That means — and I’ll switch to first-person perspective for this — my time with this company has come to an end.

It’s been a blast reporting on news in D.C. and here in Arlington. I’ve learned a lot since my humble days covering food truck controversies and writing about oddball shows at Artisphere. I’ll miss you all, especially ARLnow’s colorful commenters. Starting later this month, I’ll return to my former home of Chicago to prowl the streets in search of adventure and hot dogs. If you’d like to reach me for whatever reason, please tweet me.

With that, feel free to welcome Chris, discuss the big stories from this week or talk about or any other topic of local interest in the comments.

Flickr pool photo by Lisa Novak

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Photo via Crystal City BIDA bike race series that lets cyclists pedal through an underground parking garage has started up again in Crystal City.

The “Wednesday Night Spins” indoor race series held its first match of the year on March 1, according to the event’s organizers.

Though last year’s races were held at the complex at 2345 Crystal Drive, this year’s events are taking place on the G3 and G4 level of the parking garage at 201 12th Street S.

“Wednesday Night Spins hosts races for elites and amateurs with participants in each category competing for weekly prizes and points in pursuit of the Series Title,” the Crystal City BID said on its website.

According to the BID, the races last approximately 35 minutes and take place every Wednesday in March from 6-9 p.m. Each night’s schedule is as follows:

  • 6:00 p.m. — Onsite Registration/Check-in
  • 6:30 p.m. — Beginner Race
  • 7:25 p.m. — Women’s Open Race
  • 8:25 p.m. — Open Race

On the final evening of the series, organizers will combine the beginner and open races and add three more competitions: the “Anything Goes Race,” “Feds Vs. Contractors,” and the “Fixed-Gear Finale.”

Cyclists who want to participate in any of the scheduled races can sign up online. Registration is generally $15 per race, though some are more or less, depending on the match.

The race is free for spectators, who will have access to a wine and beer garden in the building’s lounge.

Photo via Crystal City BID

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GMU Arlington charette flyerArlington residents will have a chance to weigh in on what they’d like to see at GMU’s Arlington campus during a two-day event planned for next week.

The campus is scheduled to host a “conversation about George Mason University’s role in developing the nation’s future leaders and influencers” at Founders Hall, which is located at 3351 Fairfax Drive, on March 8 and 9.

The two-day event’s schedule includes a virtual tour of the campus, a presentation and Q&A from AOL co-founder and entrepreneur Steve Case, and break-out “visioning sessions” where attendees can brainstorm about branding, academic priorities and new facility needs.

A large part of the workshops will center on what the college should do with the original campus building at 3401 Fairfax Drive, which is currently vacant.

“We’ve had plans over the years on what to do with this space, but we never got very far,” said Tom Calhoun, a vice president at George Mason University. “We’re taking this opportunity to say, what’s our vision for that space?”

The workshops are free and open to the public.

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There’s a new coffee shop and eatery in the former Mother’s Macaroons space, but it might not open in time for your early morning caffeine dose.

The cafe, Chill Zone, opened at 2442 N. Harrison Street several weeks ago. The business replaced the former Mother’s Macaroons Bakery, which abruptly closed in 2015.

Chill Zone serves bubble tea, Vietnamese coffee and a signature “Volcano Mango Frap,” among other beverages, but not until it opens at 10 a.m. each day, according to its Yelp page. The cafe also serves snacks such as pan-fried rice cakes and chicken wings.

The coffee shop wasn’t open when an ARLnow reporter visited the spot just before 9 a.m. this morning, but a peek through the window revealed an interior bedecked with modern decor and colorful furniture.

Reached via Facebook messenger, a representative for Chill Zone declined to comment on the opening.

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Marijuana(Updated at 1:02 p.m.) A new Arlington General District Court policy to skip appointing a lawyer for some first-time marijuana offenders has local public defenders speaking out.

Under the new policy, which took effect March 1, people caught with a small amount marijuana would not be appointed a lawyer if they have no criminal record and it’s their first pot possession offense.

According to a memo that court officials sent to the Arlington County Bar Association last month, some people caught with pot for the first time can enter a guilty plea and have the charge dismissed as long as they agree to meet “certain conditions” set by the court.

Offenders who qualify would have two weeks from arraignment to consult with an attorney if they choose, but wouldn’t be appointed one.

Though the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says “in all criminal prosecutions the accused… shall have assistance of counsel for his defense,” the Supreme Court ruled in a 1979 decision that the right to counsel only applies when a defendant faces imprisonment.

In this case, because the court is waiving jail time for those offenders, it does not legally need to appoint them counsel. Many other courts throughout the U.S. have also similarly waived imprisonment for first-time marijuana offenders.

Arlington’s Office of the Public Defender is protesting the policy on the grounds that it could unfairly affect people who can’t afford lawyers if they want them.

The office made its case in a rebuttal letter shared with ARLnow.com.

“While no doubt unintended, Arlington’s new policy will send us down a slippery slope towards the same scenario for poor people: no lawyers for indigent persons charged with personal-use marijuana possession cases where the court or prosecutor exclude jail time as a sentencing option,” the letter reads.

Matthew Foley, the office’s chief public defender, added that the new policy would “disproportionately affect minorities and immigrants” and possibly deprive them of their due process.

Foley argued that the policy could mislead people into thinking the charges would be expunged from their record, which they may not be. For citizens, he said, the consequences of a criminal record might include loss of educational opportunities, jobs, public benefits, student loans, and the ability to legally drive a car. For non-citizens, the consequences of such a record could mean deportation, the inability to become a citizen or re-enter the country.

“Liberty is not just about jail time,” he told ARLnow.com. “It’s about permanent criminal records, which affect you your entire life.”

Foley continued in the letter:

Assuming a typical indigent defendant can even get a free consultation with a private lawyer, how does that person parlay the attorney’s advice into getting due process? If the consulted lawyer advises that the police stop or search were unlawful, what will the indigent defendant without an appointed attorney be able to do with this advice? What if the person charged is innocent? How does the mere advice of the attorney lead to a just result? If the attorney tells the accused person that the case is weak, but he may be deported if he is found guilty, how does that help? The answer is clear: it will help no more than a doctor advising an uninsured, cash-strapped patient how to remove his tonsils, set a broken leg or cure his cancer.

But Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos disputed Foley’s argument and called his rhetoric “overheated.”

Read More

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A truck caught fire in Crystal City this morning, prompting a response from the Arlington County Fire Department.

The blaze broke out in a box truck carrying shredded material before 10:30 a.m. this morning. The truck was parked in front of a building on the 200 block of 12th Street S.

Arlington County firefighters were able to quickly extinguish the small fire, which was in the back of the truck. The truck itself did not catch fire, according to scanner traffic.

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Martin-Christopher-Allen mugshot(Updated at 2 p.m.) Arlington County Police have arrested a man suspected of robbing a bank in Ballston last month.

Someone dressed in a winter coat and sunglasses walked into the Navy Federal Credit Union at 875 N. Randolph Street on Feb. 10 and passed a note to a teller before running off with an “undisclosed amount of cash,” police said.

ACPD — with the help of the FBI, the Alexandria Police Department, Falls Church City Police Department, Fairfax City Police Department, Fairfax County Police Department and the Prince William County Police Department — arrested 32-year-old Christopher Alan Martin in connection with the robbery yesterday around 5 p.m.

Authorities believe Martin may have also robbed a Navy Federal in Potomac Yard and then dumped some of the loot on S. Glebe Road in Arlington the same week. Alexandria police have not yet charged Martin with a crime, however.

From an ACPD press release:

The Arlington County Police Department has arrested and charged a suspect for his involvement in a bank robbery at the Navy Federal Credit Union located at 875 N. Randolph Street. Christopher Alan Martin, 32, of No Fixed Address was arrested at approximately 5:02 p.m. on February 28, 2017 as he returned to a residence in the 700 block of S. Monroe Street.

Martin has been charged with bank robbery and is being held on no bond in the Arlington County Detention Facility.

On Friday, February 10, 2017, at approximately 11:40 a.m., a male subject entered the Navy Federal Credit Union located at 875 N. Randolph Street in Arlington, Virginia and passed the teller a note, demanding money. The suspect fled the scene on foot with an undisclosed amount of cash. The suspect did not imply or display a weapon.

The suspect was apprehended with the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Alexandria Police Department, Falls Church City Police Department, Fairfax City Police Department, Fairfax County Police Department and the Prince William County Police Department.

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Though Arlington County welcomes people of all legal statuses, it can’t protect them from federal immigration enforcement.

That’s the gist of what Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz said during a County Board meeting this week. Schwartz announced the launch of a new website aimed at answering many of the questions residents have had in the wake of recent uncertainty over immigration enforcement across the U.S.

The website, which is available in English and Spanish, includes a long list of frequently asked questions on immigration, public safety, education and community resources. County officials also launched an online resource for immigrants seeking assistance, legal aid and other services.

“I believe one of our primary responsibilities is to provide as much information and as much certainty to our residents in these very uncertain times, and we will continue to do so,” Schwartz said during the meeting.

First and foremost, the county seeks to answer several questions regarding its status as a “sanctuary jurisdiction,” Schwartz said.

“We have heard from many residents asking about our status as a sanctuary,” he said. “We have not used the term sanctuary or sanctuary city to define Arlington County. We believe that using that term could potentially mislead people into believing that Arlington County is able to shield them from immigration enforcement actions by the federal government.”

Schwartz said that the Arlington County Police Department will not act to enforce federal immigration law, and that the county doesn’t participate in a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program that gives local and state governments the power to deputize police for immigration enforcement.

“I want to reinforce that ACPD will continue our long history of community policing, working closely with our residents to reduce and prevent crime and improve the quality of live of all Arlington’s residents, all of Arlington’s visitors and businesses, regardless of their immigration status,” Schwartz said. “These policies have been central to creating the safety and security we enjoy in Arlington.”

Though ACPD officers may accompany federal agents during arrests, their role will be to “maintain the safety and security of the public,” he said. ACPD also assists in executing federal criminal warrants, though ICE primarily conducts removals outside of the criminal judicial process.

“Any ACPD involvement in ICE actions is limited to those actions where a criminal warrant exists for the apprehension of a specific individual or individuals and there is a legitimate local public safety concern,” says the county website. “ACPD will cooperate to the fullest extent with any federal, state or local law enforcement agency, including ICE, requesting assistance with executing a criminal warrant within Arlington County.”

(Arlington County Police Chief Jay Farr also clarified the department’s role in a WERA interview last month.)

Additionally, Schwartz said he met with ICE officials based in the agency’s D.C. area field office, who told him they are “not doing wide immigration sweeps or immigration raids, but are focusing solely on targeted actions on specific individuals.”

Under existing ICE policy, enforcement is limited at churches, schools, medical facilities and other “sensitive” locations. Still, it would be an understatement to say Arlington residents are worried about the possibility of such actions, and with good reason. ICE agents have reportedly picked up undocumented immigrants at “sensitive” locations across the country, including at a church and homeless shelter in nearby Fairfax County.

“This is a difficult time that requires us to come together as a community to embrace our strengths of diversity and inclusion,” Schwartz said. “We ask that residents continue to work with each other to support our friends and neighbors.”

Locals who have questions or suggestions are encouraged to email the county at [email protected].

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Clarendon Apple Store after its reopening (file photo)Locals looking to pick up the newest iPhone or Macbook Pro will once again be able to do so in Pentagon City.

The Pentagon City mall Apple Store, which closed for renovations last September, is due to reopen this weekend. A grand reopening party is set for Saturday, March 4, at 10 a.m.

“You’ll love what we’ve done with the place,” the company wrote on the store’s website and in an email.

“There’s a lot more to see at your new Apple Store in Arlington,” said the email. “Stop by on March 4 to take a look at what’s changed and try the latest Apple products.”

According to the aficionados at MacRumors.com, the store is slated to reopen with a “next generation” design that includes indoor trees, wood tables and 6K video screens throughout the store.

Last year, the Clarendon Apple Store also temporarily shuttered for a facelift. That location reopened in September.

File photo. Hat tip to Chaz P.

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Rosslyn is slated to get a new 180-seat indoor and outdoor beer garden this April.

Or at least, that’s the plan, said owner Curt Large, who also owns nearby Continental Pool Lounge. Large is working to open a new hangout dubbed the Continental Beer Garden in a space currently used as a pop-up urban park with tables, chairs, potted plants and a mural at the corner of 19th Street and N. Moore Street.

“Everything still has to come together,” Large said. “We’ve made a lot of progress, but all the finishes need to occur.”

As ARLnow.com originally reported last August, the work includes a full renovation of the former service station located under the office building at 1901 N. Fort Myer Drive. That indoor area will be transformed into a bar and small seating area with a kitchen and bathrooms. But the real action happens outside, Large said. When it opens, the 4,000 square foot outdoor beer garden will have two bocce courts, picnic tables, outdoor sofas and comfy chairs.

“We hope that the seats fill up just because there’s demand for it,” he said. “As soon as the weather gets nice, people who are in offices all day will want to spend some time outside.”

At the bar, patrons can order beers from Virginia breweries such as Port City and Lost Rhino, Large said. The beer garden will also serve a couple German beers, a selection of wines on tap and happy hour mainstays such as sausage platters, meat skewers and pretzels with beer cheese.

Large started working on the former service station in 2013, when it was occupied by cars and two dumpsters.

“I walked past the space one day and had an epiphany,” he said. “This should be a beer garden.”

The space sat vacant for about two decades before being converted to an outdoor seating area by property owner JBG and the Rosslyn Business Improvement District in 2014. In the past, the lot has seen a number of events, including a pop-up beer garden organized by the Continental two years ago.

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Startup Monday header

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Worker in office, photo courtesy of Curiosity MediaWhen online dictionary SpanishDict.com hit the web in 1999, its primary audience was English speakers looking to learn Spanish. The idea was simple: to create an easy-to-use resource for students and learners that would serve as the definitive guide for translating Spanish words into English.

Nearly 20 years later, the tables have turned. Today, a good chunk of the site’s 14 million monthly users are native Spanish speakers who want to learn English. And that number is growing, said Chris Cummings, CEO of the Rosslyn-based startup behind SpanishDict, Curiosity Media

SpanishDict on a phone, photo courtesy of Curiosity Media.jpg“People ask us all the time if we’ve considered going into other languages,” Cummings said. “The answer is that we are going into a new audience, but it’s actually the same language pair.”

Cummings is no stranger to finding new audiences. In 2013, he helped launch Fluencia, a subscription-based Spanish learning program. The software course features an “adaptive pace” and an automated tutoring system to help users become more fluent. Since its launch, Fluencia has grown its monthly user base to around 800,000 learners from across the world.

Though Fluencia continues to expand, Cummings said his company’s dictionary services are growing at an even quicker pace.

Worker in office another angle, photo courtesy of Curiosity Media.jpg“We’re adding thousands and thousands of new Spanish speakers every week,” he said. “We already have millions on the site.”

Cummings added that there could even come a day where there’s just as many native Spanish speakers using SpanishDict as there are native English speakers, if not more.

“For every English speaker that’s interested in communicating in Spanish, there’s about three or four Spanish speakers that are interested in communicating in English,” he said. “It’s a much, much bigger market.”

Part of the reason for such a steep rate of user growth is the sheer number of “bells and whistles” that SpanishDict offers, Cummings said. People who might otherwise use a “quick and dirty” translation service like Google Translate are drawn to SpanishDict’s many features.

“If you want native audio pronunciation of a word, we got that. If you want to know how to conjugate verbs, we got that. If you want to see the word in real life example sentences, we got that,” Cummings said. “For all these reasons, it just becomes a better way to be a first stop for translating a word than maybe what you see on Google Translate.”

Workers in the Curiosity Media office, photo courtesy of Curiosity Media.jpgHe continued, “We’re able to go so deep on this language pair is because there are more than 800 million native English and Spanish speakers in the world. That’s what enables us to go so deep and provide such high value content in this language pair.”

In 2013, Curiosity Media had just a handful of employees. Now, it has 17 in its office in Rosslyn, and it’s still growing.

The company currently is hiring for engineering and product management positions.

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