Arlington, VA

Arlington was almost poised to get rid of a “redundant” regulation for contractors this past weekend.

The Arlington County Board was slated to consider revising a chapter of county code related to home improvement regulations during its meeting this past Saturday, November 16. Specifically, members were scheduled to vote on nixing a requirement for home improvement contractors to match county regulations with state regulations.

In Virginia, contractors paid more than $1,000 for a project must seek either a class A, B, or C license based on the scale of their projects. If a contractor is seeking project that pays under $10,000 they can apply for a class C license, while projects up to $120,000 require a Class B license, and more expensive projects require a Class A license. Officials said because Virginia didn’t previously require contractors to sit for an Class C exam, Arlington decided to administer its own to verify their qualifications.

“However, as of December 1, 2012, all contractors seeking a license from the state Board of Contractors are required to take an examination in their specialty, for all classes (A, B & C),” said county spokeswoman Erika Moore. “Because the Board of Contractors is already administering a test to ensure these individuals are qualified, having the County administer another test is redundant and not cost efficient.”

In an email to ARLnow on Friday, Moore added that the county has only administered one test since 2012, which cost the county “the time it takes staff to process the required paperwork to administer and review that test and then to issue the license.”

However, the proposal to nix the exam — which was originally a part of the Board’s consent agenda — was later removed from the meeting agenda later last week.

Moore told ARLnow that staff removed the item from the agenda because “the report [to the Board] was not completed in time for posting of the consent agenda 72 hours prior to the County Board meeting.”

When asked, she did not answer when the item is expected to return to the dais.

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A woman who was struck by a dump truck in Rosslyn a year ago, suffering serious injuries and ultimately a leg amputation, is reflecting on her recovery.

Helen Harris was honored at George Washington University Hospital’s 8th annual Trauma Survivors Day earlier this week. Though now able to walk with a prosthetic, Harris is still “on a long road to recovery,” NBC 4 reported.

“I will carry it for the rest of my life,” Harris told NBC 4. “It’s an ongoing struggle, every day gets a little bit better but it’s full of ups and downs.”

Harris was run over by the dump truck on Lee Highway in Rosslyn last December, after pushing her daughter — who was in a stroller — out of the way of the truck while crossing the street.

The truck’s driver, identified at the time as 63-year-old John Washington of Silver Spring, was charged with reckless driving and failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk after the crash. The reckless driving charge was dropped and in March he was found guilty on the failure to yield charge, paying a $100 fine and avoiding any jail time, according to court records.

Screen shot (bottom) via NBC 4

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In time for the holiday season, but before there’s any measurable snow in the forecast, Arlington officials have unveiled a new snow plowing map intended to track snow clearing activity in the county.

The map is the successor to a previous online snow cleaning map — which didn’t work correctly, caused confusion following a blizzard in 2016 and was ultimately removed from the county website.

The new map is not perfect, County Manager Mark Schwartz acknowledged during a presentation at Tuesday’s County Board meeting, but should prove useful and reflects an “innovation culture” in county government.

The map does not represent whether a street is clear of snow, but instead shows snow plow activity down to the street level. It also links to Arlington’s traffic cameras.

The map is not currently active and will have other limitations during snow events. It displays data on a 15 minute delay, for instance, and will not reflect activity by plows contracted by the county to respond to major snowfalls.

County officials touted other snow response changes during the meeting, including the use of new electric salt spreaders, which are said to be easier to use and maintain while also being more environmentally friendly than the old gasoline-powered spreaders.

The full Arlington County press release about its Winter 2019-2020 initial snow preparations is below, after the jump.

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Morning Notes

Crows Are Swarming Rosslyn at Dusk — “As the sun begins to sink below the horizon, ghostly caws and flapping wings echo through the air. Then, they come in droves. Hundreds, if not thousands, of huge, black birds darken the sky, swooping through buildings and swarming like giant gnats. This Hitchcockian scene is a typical Tuesday in North Rosslyn.” [Washingtonian]

New Candidate for School BoardCristina Diaz-Torres has announced that she is running for Arlington School Board to replace Tannia Talento, who is not seeking a second term. Diaz-Torres is planning a campaign launch event on Columbia Pike this Sunday. [Twitter, Facebook]

Arlington Residents Are Up at All Hours — “The massive Nov. 8 water-main break underneath Chain Bridge Road taught Arlington public-works officials a number of lessons. Among them: Some county residents are up and at ’em in the wee hours of the morning. The county government received its first call complaining of no water at 2:59 a.m., a mere three minutes after the rupture of the 36-inch, 75-year-old pipe.” [InsideNova]

More on GMU Arlington Campus Expansion — “As George Mason University leaders celebrate the 40th anniversary of the school’s Arlington campus, they promise that its Amazon-inspired expansion will be ‘unlike any building ever built’ by a state institution.” [Washington Business Journal]

Upgrades for 911 Call Center — “The County’s 9-1-1 call processing system was upgraded today! Our staff are thrilled to have made the switch to this top of the line system that will allow us to best collaborate with neighboring jurisdictions and serve the community.” [Twitter]

NORAD Exercises Planned Tonight — “Don’t be frightened if you see and hear military aircraft speeding overhead… The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is expected to conduct air exercises over the Washington area from Thursday night into early Friday morning. Flights are scheduled between midnight and 5:30 a.m.” [WTOP]

Five Year Anniversary of Streetcar Cancellation — “Five years ago this week – Nov. 18, 2014 – County Board Chairman Jay Fisette stood somewhat grimly in front of a microphone and TV cameras to announce that Arlington officials were abandoning plans for a streetcar system in the Columbia Pike corridor.” [InsideNova]

Nearby: Food Star to Open in Bailey’s Crossroads — “A Food Star grocery store is opening up in the former Toys R Us building at 5521 Leesburg Pike in Bailey’s Crossroads – possibly by the end of the year.” [Annandale Blog]

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If there’s one thing that drives passions in residential neighborhoods, it’s parking. And Arlington County is gearing up to change some of its residential parking policies next year.

The forthcoming update to Arlington’s Residential Permit Parking (RPP) program promises to bring out strong opinions, with some residents very much in favor of keeping the program as is, and others saying it promotes inequity and should be scrapped. The county staff recommendation, however, is likely to be somewhere in the middle.

The RPP program focuses on neighborhoods around Metro corridors and other high-demand areas where commuters, diners, shoppers or hospital visitors tend to fill up street parking spaces. It restricts on-street parking to certain residents and their guests during certain times of the day.

“I know this program is important and popular — and not popular in certain places,” County Manager Mark Schwartz at Tuesday’s Arlington County Board meeting, as county staff provided an update on its work, which has been underway for more than two years.

The RPP program tends to favor single-family home owners over apartment dwellers, many of whom are excluded from receiving parking permits, raising questions about fairness, staff said.

“As a whole, there is little resident agreement on how the Program should function going forward,” said a staff presentation to the Board. “Resident opinions frequently vary with type of housing in which they live and whether they have RPP restrictions.”

Schwartz placed additions of new areas and other changes to the program on hold in 2017, at a time when staff said the county was receiving “a large volume of applications” from mostly single-family home owners who wanted parking restrictions on their streets. Most of those applications were being rejected, staff said, demonstrating a difference between program requirements — including at least 75% parking utilization on the streets in question on weekdays, with an abundance of parked cars registered in other areas — and resident expectations.

“Our public expects parking to be easy,” said Arlington County Parking Manager Stephen Crim. “They want to park in front of our houses and want their guests to park on the same block.”

County staff are still gathering public feedback but presented a number of guiding principles ahead of formulating recommendations for Board consideration this spring.

Among the changes to the program now being considered:

  • Make all housing types eligible for RPP, but exclude housing developments that go through a site plan and use permit process.
  • Cap the number of parking permits any given household can receive based on off-street parking availability (like a driveway or parking lot.)
  • Make parking easier for household visitors, perhaps by enacting two-hour parking without permits on RPP streets.

(Two hour visitor parking in RPP zones is in place in a couple of parts of Arlington, but police say it is difficult to enforce and meters would be preferable. Board member Katie Cristol said she would be in favor of more parking meters in RPP zones, with those displaying parking permits exempt from the meters.)

RPP as currently conceived does have some interesting side effects, Crim noted. For one, it has a placebo effect: people in RPP zones who have parking permits said in surveys that parking was easier than residents in areas without RPP restrictions but similar street parking utilization. Also, people who have RPP restrictions are more likely to be supportive of new housing developments in their neighborhood — as long as the new residents won’t be eligible for residential parking permits.

(About 40% of survey respondents said they liked RPP because it discourages people in apartments and condos from parking on the street, according to Crim’s presentation.)

The current RPP moratorium is not expected to be lifted until the changes are enacted. And the public process related to those changes is expected to be contentious.

“No principal or policy will please everyone,” said Crim.

“I look forward to deliberating on this next spring, it’s going to be a doozy,” said County Board Chair Christian Dorsey.

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(Updated at 12:05 p.m.) The Arlington County Board is asking the County Manager for a budget that contains no property tax rate hike and maybe even a rate cut.

Members gave their Fiscal Year 2021 guidance to County Manager Mark Schwartz at last night’s recessed Board meeting.

The guidance for reducing the tax rate or keeping it steady will likely not, however, result in lower tax bills, as property assessments are expected to continue to rise in the wake of Amazon’s arrival. The average real estate assessment is expected to jump 4-6 percent next year.

A budget forecast paints a rosy picture of Arlington’s post-HQ2 economy, with business tax revenue expected to grow as well, though budget pressures of Metro, county employee compensation, needed stormwater improvements and flood mitigation, and a growing school population remain.

The Board also took action last night on the affordable housing front, asking the manager for options that could hike the county’s annual Affordable Housing Investment Fund contribution to as high as $25 million from the current $16 million. Additionally, the Board largely accepted Schwartz’s recommendation to carryover unspent funds from the last budget to the new budget and to reserve funds, but set aside $500,000 for emergency housing assistance.

“The Board understands that anticipated increases in property assessments could have a real impact on residents,” Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said in a statement. “We want the Manager to come back to us with a proposed budget with no increase in property tax rates and to consider a reduction in the tax rate if possible. Our guidance to the Manager also emphasizes the need to invest more in preserving and creating affordable housing in Arlington, including housing affordable to extremely low-income families.”

The manager will present his proposed FY 2021 budget in February, after a months-long public budget process, which will then continue through the Board’s budget adoption in April.

More from an Arlington County press release, after the jump.

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Morning Notes

Water Taxi Coming to Arlington? — The Potomac Riverboat Company, which operates a water taxi between the Wharf, Georgetown, Alexandria and National Harbor, is reportedly considering new commuter-oriented routes, includings a stop at the Pentagon. [ALXnow]

Dems Want to Boost State Affordable Housing Funds — “Virginia Democrats are salivating at what they might be able to achieve now that they’ve finally won unified control of state government, particularly when it comes to affordable housing… new money from the state could be ‘rocket fuel’ for efforts in Arlington if developers can pair that cash with existing funding.” [Washington Business Journal]

Pentagon City Mall to Host New Holiday Display — “Residents and visitors are invited to Fashion Centre at Pentagon City’s inaugural Festival of the Trees! From November 23 through December 24, a variety of Christmas trees decorated by local nonprofits, including Arlington Food Assistance Center, Animal Welfare League of Arlington, Doorways for Women and Families,” etc. [Fashion Centre at Pentagon City]

Zone 4 Leaf Collection Starts Today — Arlington County’s vacuum leaf collection effort is continuing, with crews starting to roam “Zone 4” neighborhoods including East Falls Church, Arlington Forest and Arlington Ridge today. [Arlington County]

Congregation Returns After Redevelopment — “On Sunday, November 17, Arlington Presbyterian Church (APC) celebrated their homecoming. APC returned to their former site opening a new worship, office and multi-use space on the ground-floor of Gilliam Place, a 173-unit affordable housing community developed by the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) along Columbia Pike.” [Press Release]

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Restaurant owners, residents, and advisory group members alike are demanding that an upcoming residential development in Crystal City includes more customer parking for the 23rd Street “Restaurant Row.”

At an unusually heated Site Plan Review Committee (SPRC) meeting Monday night, a representative from Crystal Houses developer Roseland Residential Trust outlined its plans for “Crystal House 5,” one of the new residential buildings proposed to be added to the existing apartment complex on the 1900 block of S. Eads Street.

The latest iteration of the development plan has been revised upward — with 819 new residential units planned, up from 798 previously. In addition to four new apartment buildings, Roseland is proposing three groups of townhouses.

Monday’s meeting, however, focused on the contentious issue of parking. Currently, Crystal House 5 is set to build over a Roseland-owned surface lot with 95 pay-to-park spaces.

Per use permit conditions, Roseland reserves 35 of those spaces exclusively for customers and employees of the businesses along 23rd Street S. — aka Restaurant Row.

Roseland plans to build a parking garage beneath the building, along with a small surface lot, with a total of 96 spaces. It is offering to reserve 35 of those spaces — 14 surface and 21 in the garage — for Restaurant Row owners and customers, with the remaining 60 for tenant use only.

However, because all 95 spaces in the current lot are open for public use, business owners argue this will result in a net loss of parking for them. Especially outspoken about this is Stratis Voutsas, who manages a trust that owns several of the buildings along 23rd Street.

Voutsas, along with a few other Restaurant Row business owners, wore matching shirts that said “Keep 23rd Street Weird, Eclectic & Uniquely Authentic, Support Parking For Your Local Business.” Voutsas has also started a petition, which he claims has over 3,000 signatures, emphasizing that the county’s Crystal City Sector Plan envisions the preservation of Restaurant Row.

“At Restaurant Row (500 block of 23rd Street), the plan visualizes preserving and retaining small, neighborhood oriented retailers,” the plan says. “Should redevelopment occur in this area, such retailers should be accommodated, to help support active streetscapes.”

Local restaurateur Freddie Lutz, who owns Freddie’s Beach Bar and Restaurant and Federico Ristorante Italiano, told ARLnow he was promised by a county staff member 35 years ago that parking would be protected.

“When me and [business partner] Ted Sachs were standing on the surface parking lot 35 years ago, someone from the county said to us, if anyone builds on this parking lot they will have to provide parking for 23rd Street Restaurant Row,” Lutz said. “Live and learn, I should have stuck my hand up and asked, ‘Can we have that in writing?'”

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Developer JBG SMITH is adding to its already extensive redevelopment plans in and around Crystal City.

The top property owner in the so-called National Landing area (Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard) just revealed plans for a new office building, just down the street from Amazon’s planned HQ2.

The building at 101 12th Street S. will replace a sparsely-used open green space the company owns near Long Bridge Park, on the northern end of Crystal City. The development is expected to include a nine-story “trophy” office building with 5,000 square feet of street-level retail, underground parking and a new “expansive park space.”

In a press release, below, JBG says the plans are part of its “ongoing collaboration with Arlington County and private sector partners to deliver a mix of new housing, retail, office, and public spaces to National Landing – the site of Amazon’s new headquarters.”

The developer envisions the area as a gleaming “18-hour” neighborhood, counter to its former image as a dull concrete canyon of aging offices and apartment buildings, with little nightlife to speak of.

More from the press release:

JBG SMITH (NYSE: JBGS), a leading owner and developer of high-quality, mixed-use properties in the Washington, DC market, today announced that it has submitted plans to Arlington County for the development of approximately 235,000 square feet of trophy office space and approximately 5,000 square feet of street-level retail at 101 12th Street, the proposed new address for the building. The current plan calls for a nine-story building, underground parking, and expansive park space on vacant land that JBG SMITH owns.

The submission is part of JBG SMITH’s ongoing collaboration with Arlington County and private sector partners to deliver a mix of new housing, retail, office, and public spaces to National Landing – the site of Amazon’s new headquarters.

101 12th Street is anticipated to follow 1900 Crystal Drive and RiverHouse Apartments, which are already moving through the entitlement process, and approximately 2.6 million square feet of development, which was submitted last month. In the aggregate, these projects constitute over half of JBG SMITH’s 6.9 million square foot Future Development Pipeline in National Landing. Based on current plans, JBG SMITH expects the 6.9 million square feet to comprise approximately 2.2 million square feet of office and 4.7 million square feet of multifamily, totaling approximately 4,000 to 5,000 units, which will all have ground floor retail.

In addition, 1770 Crystal Drive and Central District Retail are both currently under construction. JBG SMITH is also serving as the fee developer for Amazon’s new headquarters and the master developer for the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus, all located in National Landing.

Designed to serve as a gateway between Long Bridge Park and the north-end of National Landing, 101 12th Street’s prominent eastern façade and ninth-floor terrace are expected to provide dramatic views of the DC skyline, the National Mall and monumental core, and Reagan National Airport.

JBG SMITH’s submission contains several community benefits including open space, a new expansive park, and street-level retail. A fitness center, first floor terrace, and the ninth-floor terrace will serve as amenities for the future tenants of the planned office. Keeping with JBG SMITH’s plan to foster a vibrant, architecturally distinct environment in National Landing, 101 12th will be layered with gleaming stainless-steel shingles on the 12th and 10th Street frontages to present a complementary variation against the design of surrounding buildings.

“The various development opportunities that JBG SMITH has submitted to Arlington County over the last year will work in tandem to create a more robust, 18-hour environment in National Landing,” said Bryan Moll, Executive Vice President at JBG SMITH. “The building at 101 12th Street is an important piece of the larger transformation, and we look forward to working with the County to review and refine our proposal.”

Renderings courtesy JBG SMITH/TMRW Studios, photo via Google Maps

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Tonight the Arlington County Board is expected to vote on advertising a review of the live entertainment permit of a Columbia Pike nightlife venue.

A staff report recommends moving up the review of Purple Ethiopian Restaurant and Lounge (3111 Columbia Pike) from January 2021 to next month, due to a series of violent incidents as well as alleged noise and alcohol violations. The restaurant opened in 2016.

“The Arlington County Police Department has noted ongoing issues and violations at this establishment that have created a public disturbance and violate the conditions of the live entertainment use permit,” the report says.

Notably, one person was shot outside the lounge early on a Thursday morning in September, resulting in a non-life-threatening injury and an arrest.

A memo from the police department, attached to the report, details some of the other violations and concerns. Most of the police dispatches to the restaurant have been after — sometimes well after — 2 a.m., when the restaurant should not be serving alcohol.

More from the ACPD memo:

On February 25, 2019 at 2:06am and 3:20am, an ACPD OCS confidential informant purchased and consumed alcohol at The Purple Lounge located at 3111 Columbia Pike. The VA ABC violation is captured in report # 2019-02250152. The calls for service reflect an apparent disregard for the conditions of their County live entertainment permit, their responsibility to comply with the law as a VA ABC alcohol licensee, and they are contributing to alcohol-related harm effecting [sic] public safety. Regular alcohol service past 2am has resulted in fights, disorderly conduct, intoxicated patrons, and destruction of property well into the early morning hours.

On May 22, 2019, ABC Agent Jacobs advised VA ABC filed an administrative violation and hearing for the after-hours service violation on February 25, 2019. On September 27, 2019, VA ABC Agent Jacobs advised a verdict from the VA ABC hearing held on August 2, 2019 imposed a $4,000 fine and a suspension of Purple Lounge’s VA ABC license for six (6) days. This finding will be effective after a thirty-day appeal period. Despite the above, according to Purple Lounge’s Yelp reviews, guests that stay after 2am are invited to an “After Hours Party”. After hours alcohol service was mentioned by guests on April 5, 2019, July 10, 2019 and September 18, 2019.

Additionally, there have been two (2) incidents of security using pepper spray on patrons. The first occurred on December 10, 2018 at 5:39am, when a patron who was being escorted out attempted to re-gain entry. After being sprayed, the patron retrieved a gun and smashed the front window of the business. On May 18, 2019 at 4:19am, a security guard sprayed a patron that had just been assaulted by another member of security causing injury. After being injured, the patron returned to the front entrance and was sprayed with pepper spray.

Should the live entertainment permit be revoked, the restaurant will no longer be able to host music and dancing.

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Arlington and Falls Church Commonwealth’s Attorney-elect Parisa Dehghani-Tafti has announced her first planned appointment.

The incoming top prosecutor says she will promote current Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Cari Steele to Chief Deputy, lauding both her prosecutorial chops and participation in groups like the Mental Health and Criminal Justice Review Committee and the Sexual Assault Response Team.

Tafti, who will take office on Jan. 1, issued a press release about the move — perhaps signaling a departure from outgoing Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos, whose office issued few such communiques, aside from coordinating with police on press releases about the resolution of major cases.

More from the press release:

As her first planned appointment, Commonwealth’s Attorney elect Parisa Dehghani-Tafti will promote to Chief Deputy Cari Steele, who currently serves as Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney, effective January 1, 2020. Ms. Steele is a 17-year veteran of the office, having served since 2002. Throughout her career she has successfully handled numerous jury trials and bench trials before the courts of Arlington County and the City of Falls Church, including homicide, sexual assault, and robbery.

Ms. Dehghani-Tafti noted that “Ms Steele is uniformly well respected by the bench, bar, law enforcement, and the community at large, and will be invaluable in maintaining the institutional memory of the office. But just as importantly, her deep experience as a member of the local Mental Health and Criminal Justice Review Committee, as coordinator for the Sexual Assault Response Team, and as a liaison to the Arlington County Drug Treatment Court makes her a wonderful fit to implement our restorative justice and diversion policies.”

For her part, Ms. Steele stated “It has been a privilege to serve the citizens of Arlington County and the City of Falls Church for the last 17 years and I am excited to continue that service in this new role under the vision and leadership of our Commonwealth’s Attorney-Elect.”

Ms. Steele is currently the liaison to the City of Falls Church Police Department, the Child Advocacy Center, and the Special Victims’ Unit of the Arlington County Police Department. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Arlington County Bar Association. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Methodist College and received her J.D. from the University of Richmond in 2000. Ms. Steele is married to William Wetzonis and they have three children.

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