Units in the Serrano Apartments, a high-rise housing complex on Columbia Pike, have three things going for them: they are spacious, have nice views, and are affordable.
“But if you go inside those units, the reality is totally different,” said Janeth Valenzuela, who has been advocating for better living conditions for Serrano tenants for two years.
Mice and rat infestations. Balconies with broken glass and rust. Dirty HVAC units with water damage underneath. Shoddy maintenance.
These are just some of the problems inside the 280-unit apartment building at 5535 Columbia Pike, not just according to Valenzuela, but also the Arlington NAACP, immigrant and tenants’ rights group BU-GATA, interfaith clergy group VOICE Arlington, and the Asian American Pacific Islander Civic Engagement (ACE) Collaborative.
“It’s sickening,” said NAACP President Julius “JD” Spain. “This is a dereliction of duty and someone needs to be held accountable.”
Two weeks ago, Spain and the NAACP Housing Committee Chair Kellen MacBeth walked through a handful of apartment units, taking pictures of the conditions. They wrote a letter to County Manager Mark Schwartz detailing the conditions and asking Schwartz to assign staff to work with tenants, rehabilitate the units and rewrite policy so all residents have safe, decent and affordable homes.
“We observed severe problems that suggest a culture of deferred maintenance and underinvestment in the property during our walk-through,” the letter said.
The walk-through, however, was a tipping point after two years of work behind the scenes to help tenants.
“We are tired because there’s no light at the end of the tunnel,” Valenzuela said. “It’s pure injustice.”
Under new management
The Serrano Apartments are owned by AHC Inc., an Arlington-based affordable housing developer, which acquired the building in 2014 in partnership with Arlington County. Since then, the nonprofit has spent millions of dollars making improvements. The building has 196 committed affordable units and 84 market-rate units, according to AHC.
AHC is aware of the issues raised by the community organizations and has been working hard on them “for a while now,” said spokeswoman Celia Slater. One of its most recent changes was to hire a new management company, which “is very good at customer service and has an excellent track record.”
According to county spokeswoman Erika Moore, the county required that switch based on the conditions at the property.
Elder Julio Basurto, who has worked with Valenzuela these last two years, said the management change is the result of advocacy.
“It’s not something AHC has done on their own,” he said, adding that “there are a lot of things that are still not right.”
The management company, which started in February, told AHC it will take about six months before the building’s issues get in order, she said. Already, Slater tallied 586 work orders, of which 39 had to do with pests like bugs and rodents.
“We’ve made a lot of progress since they’ve started, but we know there are still issues to address,” Slater said.
This month, 100% of the vents and convectors will be cleaned again by the end of May, she said.
“Many tenants appreciate the new management but they believe that just because there’s a new management it does not mean the root problems are solved,” said Maryam Mustafa, a community organizer with ACE.
Saul Reyes, executive director of BU-GATA, said the Serrano is an old building with lots of issues exacerbated by deferred maintenance.
“We’ve been working with residents, resolving their individual issues with management, making sure work orders get done to tenant satisfaction,” he said. “Part of the problem is that the issues are so extensive and take so long to resolve that residents get frustrated.”
While the new management company works to get things under control, Slater said AHC is working to build trust with residents. The organization established an on-site residents services office with a bilingual manager, started distributing more than 100 meals a week, and has hosted a pop-up vaccination clinic.
“We care about the people in the community and we want to do all we can to make sure their living environment is up to our standards,” Slater said.
But a big problem is communication, she said, alleging that residents are not telling AHC what is going on.
The YMCA has filed some early concept plans with Arlington County sketching its vision for replacing its Virginia Square facility with two structures — a new gym and an apartment building.
This project at 3400 and 3422 13th Street N. represents the last of three developments concentrated within a seven-acre site along Washington Blvd, from N. Lincoln Street to Kirkwood Road.
The first two have been approved: a 270-unit apartment building, “The Kirkwood,” for the southeast corner, where Kirkwood Road and Washington Blvd intersect, and an affordable housing project on the site of American Legion Post 139.
The Y’s proposal is not only the last — at 4.39 acres, it is also the biggest.
According to the planning documents, the YMCA proposes a three-story tall facility with a swimming pool and tennis and pickleball courts, nearly 52,000 square feet of recreation space, and 325 parking spaces across a two-level garage. The apartment building would be seven stories tall and have 374 units, with 330 spots across two levels of parking.
The proposed project is about five blocks from the Virginia Square Metro station — a nine minute walk, according to Google Maps.
Members of the Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association have a number of concerns with the project, according to a letter from President Maurya Meiers to the county.
The YMCA development is “the largest project in the mix, will have the most impact on the surrounding community, [and] it most directly and conspicuously abuts the largest number of community residences,” she said.
In the letter, Meiers said the project is too massive, one story too tall and provides too little public green space. She asserted that the project will significantly increase traffic, which they predict will hurt the character of the community, and exacerbate an existing street parking shortage.
“The plan presents two massive, boring structures that encroach and overshadow the neighborhoods around them,” Meiers said. “This was not at all what was presented in the [General Land Use Plan], not at all what we expected, and not at all what we want.”
(A General Land Use Plan, or GLUP, is Arlington’s primary policy document guiding development in specific parts of the county.)
Meiers added that the planners should have explored the option of placing residences above the YMCA facility. Most importantly, she added, they should have considered placing townhouses next to single-family homes, an option that was “totally ignored, even though it would provide the most respectful and effective transition.”
Neither the Y’s legal representation nor the architect were immediately available for comment.
Meiers also said questions remain about the Ball Family Burial Grounds, the gravesite of the family that is the namesake for Ballston. The gravesite has murky ownership and is in need of research and repair, according to a staff report.
“We will be looking forward to see how this project can be leveraged to improve conditions on the grounds,” Meiers said.
The county’s planning division has asked for community input on changes to the 2006 Clarendon Sector Plan in light of these three projects, on the outskirts of the neighborhood, as well as several others in the Clarendon area.
Photos via Arlington County
The third time may be the charm for a residential development slated to be built in Ballston where a vacated church stands.
McLean-based Jefferson Apartment Group is taking over plans to build apartments and townhomes at the intersection of N. Vermont Street and 11th Street N. The site used to house Portico Church Arlington, which, according to its website, is now found at 800 N. Illinois Street.
The project at 1031 N. Vermont Street has changed hands three times since the County Board first approved a redevelopment plan in 2018. It has also drawn some backlash from neighbors who said the plan added density to an already congested Ballston neighborhood.
The first developer, NVR, proposed to replace the two-story church and its parking lot with a 72-unit condo building and 12 townhouses. Arlington-based BCN Homes took over the development in 2019 and in June 2020, was granted an additional 4,300 square feet to develop.
With the County Board’s approval, BCN proposed a new plan: a 7-story apartment building with 98 units and 10 townhouses across the street. JAG indicates it will not be making major changes to this configuration.
“We plan to move forward with substantially the same plans that the Board approved last June,” the developer tells ARLnow. “We may pursue a few, minor changes related to the interior programming and unit mix but the project will look largely the same.”
The boutique apartment building will have a rooftop terrace, 120 underground parking spaces and 40 bicycle parking spaces, according to JAG.
Meanwhile, the 10 luxury townhomes across 11th Street N. will each have about 2,000 square feet of space, with three bedrooms, three-and-a-half bathrooms, a private rooftop terrace and a private, two-car garage.
“Ballston is one of the most desired submarkets in the Washington, D.C. region,” noted Greg Van Wie, Senior Vice President and Development Partner at Jefferson Apartment Group, in a press release.
The development, he said, “underscores [JAG’s] commitment to create a contemporary, sophisticated boutique apartment building with top-of-the line finishes and luxe amenities and underscores the strength of the housing market here in Northern Virginia.”
A private, Chile-based real estate company, STARS REI, has invested in the property.
“We are thrilled to be working with Jefferson Apartment Group again on this boutique apartment project in this amazing neighborhood,” said Joaquin Canessa, Vice President at STARS REI in the press release.
Construction is slated to begin this winter and is expected to be done in summer 2023.
Photos (1-2) courtesy Jefferson Apartment Group
Most Library Branches Still Remain Closed — “Arlington officials say it is no longer public-health concerns, but budget issues, that are keeping most of the county’s libraries locked up tight. And it’s likely most of them will stay that way for months to come. ‘Community health metrics are not the driving factor in regard to opening additional locations and services,’ library officials said in an e-mail to patrons last week. ‘The county [government] has been under a hiring freeze for more than one year. Libraries cannot open additional locations or services with current staffing levels.'” [Sun Gazette]
Rosslyn Startup Raises Millions — “Arlington meal delivery service Territory Foods has raised $22 million in fresh funding, the startup announced Tuesday… The company creates specialty meals that cater to a wide variety of specific diets, including paleo, Whole30, keto, vegan, low carb and low fat, among others. Customers can order the meals delivered in bulk once or twice a week.” [Washington Business Journal]
County Board Meetings Stay Virtual — “It could be summer before Arlington County Board meetings return to an in-person venue. The board schedule currently anticipates meetings through May will be ‘virtual’-only, as they have been since the spring of 2020 when the pandemic took hold.” [Sun Gazette]
Flower Market Coming to Rosslyn — “Roses are red, violets are blue, if you’re looking for fresh flowers, Rosslyn is here for you! With spring in full bloom, the Rosslyn BID is continuing Rosslyn Refresh with a series of outdoor flower markets. Rosslyn Flower Market will bring local plant, herb, and flower vendors to Central Place Plaza, Saturdays April 24-May 8.” [Rosslyn BID]
New Development to Host Temporary Hotel — “The developer of another new apartment complex is seeking permission to use some of the units as hotel rooms for a period, but is quibbling with county staff over how long that period should be. Arlington County Board members on April 17 will be asked to approve a proposal to permit up to 100 residential units in one of the two towers in ‘The Highlands’ to be used as hotel space.” [Sun Gazette]
County Opening Free Testing Site Today — “Arlington County is opening a no-cost, no-appointment, COVID-19 testing kiosk in the parking lot at Courthouse Plaza in partnership with Curative, which operates two additional sites in the County. The kiosk will be open seven days a week from 12-8 p.m., starting Tuesday, April 13.” [Arlington County]
Fmr. Arlington Waiter Now a Real Estate Kingpin — “In 2013, Heider, then 25, was working at an Italian restaurant in Shirlington when his manager became the assistant to a local real-estate agent. When this agent moved to Washington Fine Properties, Heider’s former manager brought him on to help. As the assistant to the assistant, Heider worked without any base pay, making money only when he brought in referrals. At night, he waited tables at the Crystal City Morton’s.” [Washingtonian]
Kitchen Fire at Pike Apartment Building — Updated at 9:10 a.m. — Arlington County firefighters responded to a kitchen fire at the Dominion Towers apartments on Columbia Pike last night. No injuries were reported. [Twitter, Twitter]
Marymount Students Volunteering at Vax Clinic — “Since the start of the spring semester, students in Marymount University’s Nursing program have been using their classroom skills to serve as vaccinators in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic… [The students] are often on the team of registered nurses and EMS personnel who are on duty for vaccinations at the Lubber Run Community Center in Arlington.” [Marymount University]
YHS Finishes Football Season on Win Streak — “For the Yorktown Patriots, the shortened seven-game high-school football season was like two campaigns. There was the 0-2 beginning when the Patriots lost badly and struggled in all aspects of the game. Then there was the 5-0 finish, when Yorktown was vastly improved in all areas… Yorktown capped its season with a 24-15 victory over the T.C. Williams Titans.” [Sun Gazette]
As if the menace of bowling brawls were not enough, now residents of a Crystal City apartment building have to deal with rolling bras.
Last week ARLnow reported on a community meeting organized by police to discuss rowdy behavior outside a bowling alley in Crystal City that opened last summer. This past Tuesday, that very same block of 23rd Street S. was the scene of a reported indecent exposure incident.
“At approximately 11:22 p.m. on April 6, police were dispatched to the report of an exposure,” said an Arlington County Police Department crime report. “Upon arrival, it was determined that the victims were on the balconies of their residences when they observed the female suspect dancing on the hood of a vehicle. During the event, the suspect lifted her sports bra, exposing her breasts.”
It’s unclear what role, if any, the bowling alley played in the incident. But the victims were residents of The Buchanan, the same apartment building that has had complaints about boisterous bowlers.
Police say the woman was wearing “a blue/green wig, lime green sports bra, teal tank top and blue jeans” at the time of the alleged dancing and flashing.
“The investigation is ongoing,” ACPD said.
Photo via Google Maps
(Updated at 11 a.m.) Arlington firefighters battled an electrical fire at the Falls Green apartments in Falls Church early Thursday evening.
The blaze sent flames shooting out of a sewer drain adjacent to a pair of parked cars and one of the apartment towers, on the 500 block of Roosevelt Blvd near the Eden Center, as seen in photos subsequently posted by the fire department.
The sound of explosions could also be heard, according to ARLnow staff photographer Jay Westcott.
At least part of the apartment complex was evacuated amid a large fire department response. Initially, the fire was believed to have been fed by a natural gas leak, but it was later determined to have started in an underground electrical vault.
Shortly before 5 p.m., firefighters reported that the fire had apparently extinguished itself, though smoke could still be seen rising in front of the apartment building. No injuries were reported.
Arlington County provides firefighting services to the City of Falls Church.
Photo from the scene at yesterday's underground electrical vault fire. Many thanks to our partners at @FallsChurchGov, @washingtongas, @DominionEnergy and @ffxfirerescue for the assist in bringing the dangerous situation to a safe conclusion. pic.twitter.com/9MR0ZtUfcC
— Arlington Fire & EMS (@ArlingtonVaFD) April 2, 2021
Some Crystal City residents say a new bowling alley has created a persistent late-night ruckus, and they want police to strike at the heart of the problem with extra enforcement.
The issue is causing a split between apartment dwellers who want peace and quiet at night, and a seemingly benign business — Bowlero, at 320 23rd Street S. — that has allegedly attracted a rowdy clientele.
With reports of fights, screaming, littering and the stench of marijuana, the relationship between the bowling alley and its neighbors is in the gutter, so much so that the Arlington County Police Department saw fit to organize a virtual community meeting on the topic Wednesday night.
During the Zoom meeting, police acknowledged dozens of calls to Bowlero over the past few months, a pattern that has led the business to beef up security, including using metal detectors at the entrance.
Police connected the rowdiness to the pandemic, as Virginia opened up before Maryland and D.C. and thus has been drawing a more regional crowd seeking out nightlife opportunities.
“We’ve seen an increase in patronage in Arlington County because Arlington and Virginia seem to be opening at a faster rate than D.C. and Maryland,” ACPD’s Restaurant and Nightlife Liaison Samantha Brien said. “We’ve seen a lot of patronage to Crystal City and Clarendon because they could stay out later and have more fun. As we start to open up, I’m sure we’ll open up faster than D.C.”
Since Bowlero opened in July, there have been 52 calls for service, and 42 of those calls happened inside the business or right outside, Brien said. The bowling alley’s management made 28 of those calls, which is “a good thing,” she said.
“You have to look at when they’re calling and how frequently they’re calling,” Brien said. “If they’re calling before something really bad happens that means they’re intervening at a higher level and that’s what we want to see.”
In response, Brien said Bowlero has implemented bag checks and “wanding” with handheld metal detectors. Signage warns patrons not to bring weapons inside. Arlington police on a nightlife detail conduct hourly walk-throughs of bars and restaurants along 23rd Street S. from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.
ACPD officials encouraged perturbed residents to call the non-emergency line, (703) 558-2222, any time there is a complaint. These calls are logged and could ultimately be used to reallocate resources to Crystal City, said ACPD Captain Michael Rowling.
Rowling said the police have occasionally placed signboards and set up mobile surveillance cameras outside Bowlero. Extra police details and plainclothes officers have been dispatched to the bowling alley, resulting in several arrests inside and outside, he added.
Brien and Rowling compared the situation in Crystal City to Clarendon in 2016, which Brien said was “the Wild West.” She pointed to Clarendon as an example of how ACPD can work with bars and restaurants to improve nightlife activity and safety.
“As we have been working so much in Clarendon, and establishments work with us, the patrons know how to correctly act in the Clarendon area,” Brien said. “Since Bowlero has enacted wanding and bag checks, and put up signage, patrons will soon realize how to act.”
Both credited Bowlero for being cooperative with the police department.
Construction has started on two residential towers at 1900 Crystal Drive in Crystal City, according to developer JBG Smith.
The announcement came nearly one year to the day after the County Board approved the project, which involved tearing down an aging office building.
The new development at 1900 Crystal Drive will have 808 multifamily rental units and about 40,000 square feet of street-level retail across the two towers, each to be LEED Silver certified and approximately 300 feet tall, according to the developer.
A 27-story southern tower will feature 471 apartments, while a 26-story northern tower will incorporate 337 apartments.
Through a spokesperson, JBG Smith declined to comment on when the towers are expected to be completed. Last year, however, when the County Board met and approved the project, a company rep said construction could take 2-3 years.
“The start of construction on 1900 Crystal Drive marks yet another major milestone in National Landing’s ongoing transformation,” said Anthony Greenberg, Executive Vice President of Development at JBG Smith. “The introduction of new residences, restaurants and shops at 1900 Crystal Drive, combined with our recently delivered retail and entertainment district just about a block away will more than double the concentration of street-facing retail amenities on Crystal Drive.”
Residents will have access to private rooftops and green spaces. At the street-level, JBG Smith is planning a pedestrian-friendly street that will connect 18th and 20th Streets S. as well as open park space. JBG Smith will provide a number of community benefits, including enhanced streetscapes, a grand staircase connecting to public open space and bicycle facilities.
JBG Smith, the developer, leasing agent and property manager for the Amazon HQ2 project, anticipates that with Amazon’s arrival, National Landing’s daytime population will increase from 50,000 people to 90,000 in the near future.
The housing and amenities at 1900 Crystal Drive and neighboring developments will be a “thriving, mixed-use environment [that] will allow people to easily walk from their home or office to their favorite restaurants and amenities — cementing National Landing as a destination both day and night,” Greenberg said.
Neighbors and visitors can expect sidewalk closures during construction.
“This exciting project may create changes for our everyday pedestrian routines,” according to an announcement on the National Landing Business Improvement District website. The changes include:
- The southern sidewalk along 18th Street will be closed; pedestrians should use the north side of 18th Street S. to access Crystal Drive and S. Clark Street.
- The western sidewalk along Crystal Drive will be closed; pedestrians should use the jersey barrier, protected lane to travel north and south along Crystal Drive.
- The northern sidewalk along 20th Street S. will be closed; pedestrians should use the jersey barrier, protected lane to access Crystal Drive and S. Clark Street.
Broderick Washington, a second-year player on the Ravens, allegedly damaged five vehicles with a metal object at the Dolley Madison Towers apartment complex (2300 24th Road S.) early Sunday morning. He’s also accused of damaging an apartment door and window.
“At approximately 4:20 a.m. on March 14, police were dispatched to multiple reports of a male suspect breaking into vehicles with a metal object,” Arlington County police said in a crime report Monday. “Upon arrival, officers located a suspect matching the description provided by the reporting parties and took him into custody without incident.”
“The investigation determined the suspect allegedly damaged five vehicles and destroyed the entry door and window to a residential building,” the crime report continues. “Broderick Washington, 24, of Baltimore, MD, was arrested and charged with misdemeanor Destruction of Property (x5), felony Destruction of Property, and Tampering with a Vehicle.”
An ACPD spokeswoman declined to provide more information on the incident.
“To ensure the integrity of the prosecution, there are no additional details to release at this time beyond what is included in the daily crime report,” ACPD’s Ashley Savage told ARLnow.
Washington was released on bail and is set for a court hearing on Wednesday, March 31, according to court records.
The 24-year-old defensive tackle was drafted by the Ravens in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL draft, after a standout college career at Texas Tech. Washington was not a major presence on Ravens’ defensive line last year, but is being mentioned as a breakout candidate for the 2021 season.
The team issued a brief statement about the arrest around noon today: “We are aware of the matter involving Broderick Washington. We have spoken with Broderick about this matter and will continue to monitor the situation.”
Photo courtesy ACPD
(Updated at 11:50 a.m.) Will the proposed development for Landmark Block in Courthouse be the site of a “revolution” in urban living?
Arlington County says so. And developer Greystar Real Estate Partners appears ready to ignite this uprising, with plans to replace the aging, low-slung buildings on the 2000 block of Wilson Blvd — including the former Summers Restaurant — into an apartment tower surrounded by a pedestrian promenade and a curbless street.
But for some Planning Commission members, aspects of the proposal are not revolutionary enough, and one could be unsafe for pedestrians.
In 2015, the county published its vision for the square as an “attractive, accessible, and inclusive public space,” a sustainable 18-hour-a-day hub that celebrates Courthouse Square’s “rich history.”
The “civic and cultural heart of Arlington” will be flexible, innovative, sustainable and timeless, according to the 2015 Courthouse Square Sector Plan addendum. In short, the planning document said, Courthouse Square will be “where the revolution begins.”
To lead the charge, Greystar needs approval from the County Board, which is slated to review the proposal on Saturday.
Greystar is proposing a 423-unit apartment building with ground-floor retail and underground parking. But this bread-and-butter project includes community benefits that will be “a truly landmark project,” said Nicholas Cummings, Greystar’s legal representation, during a Planning Commission meeting on Wednesday.
These is a proposed pedestrian promenade on N. Uhle Street that will lead to a revamped Court House Metro station entrance, as well as the shared, curbless concrete street on 15th Street N.
“The existing N. Uhle Street is harsh, with asphalt, no benches and minimal trees,” said Steve Smith, a principal architect for Cooper Carry, the architect for the project. “We’re excited about this opportunity to transform it into a fully [compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act], pedestrian-only promenade, which provides increased tree-lined dining and public seating areas that activate the path to the Metro entrance.”
Meanwhile, 15th Street N. will be resurfaced and raised to create “a curbless table that blends into the sidewalk on both sides of the street,” he said.
Other community benefits include on-site committed affordable housing units, LEED Gold certification, a $800,000 contribution toward improving a future “Civic Square,” and $250,000 “for a public art installation in the square.”