Arlington, VA

Arlington is considering a new online system that would digitize the county’s permitting system.

The new system aims to move the Permit Office’s application process into a digital database while phasing out paper applications. Staff is expected to start testing the system — now dubbed “Permit Arlington,” after formerly being known as “One-Stop Arlington — next month.

The project is being divided into two phases, with different types of permits going digital-only at two different times. Phase I is expected to launch at some point following the testing.

“Customers will be able to apply either 24/7 from a computer or mobile device, or will still have the option to come into the office during regular business hours to use a kiosk with staff assistance,” said Deborah Albert, the project’s program manager. “Customers will still have to visit the office in person for Phase II permits, which are anticipated to go online in 2020.”

There are 33 permit types included in this summer’s Phase I testing, including right-of-way use permits, site-plan applications, and civil engineering plans.

Arlington Board Chair Christian Dorsey said during the annual State of the County address this week that the new system would be “a welcome relief for many of our community’s businesses.”

He added that “it’s taken longer to get to this point” because each type of permit application has a different process and has to be manually coded into the digital system.

“We know that we have more to do to make our county government as efficient and user-friendly as possible for everyone — businesses and residents,” he said.

Many businesses have cited the county’s lengthy permitting process as a reason for delayed openings over the years. Arlington requires business owners to seek separate permits for zoning, building, and business licensing, and to take other steps before they can open their doors. Most applications have to be filed in person at the county’s Permit Office in Courthouse. It’s a time-consuming process some business leaders said stifles innovative business.

Restaurateur Mike Cordero told ARLnow in a podcast interview that opening Don Taco in Alexandria showed him just how fast that city’s permit process was compared to Arlington’s.

“I think it’s a major issue that we have to wait so long to get a permit when other counties and other jurisdictions are giving it to them right away,” he said. “I don’t know how they’re going to take care of Amazon.”

Meanwhile, some permit fees are increasing next month with the start of the new fiscal year on Monday, July 1. According to Albert, the increases include:

  • A 2.5% inflationary increase to the Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development’s Development Fund fees, including the Department of Environmental Services development-related fees.
  • A 5% increase in the Automation Enhancement Surcharge for building, electrical, plumbing, gas, elevator, and fire protection systems permits and for zoning permits
  • New fees for Special General Land Use Plan studies and for Conceptual Site Plan applications.
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A new stand-alone Starbucks appears to be coming to the location of a former bank branch along Lee Highway.

Permits have been filed to replace the former BB&T Bank at 5515 Lee Highway with a coffee shop.

A permit filed on Monday (April 29) seeks approval for extensive renovations to the building and its drive-thru window.

Remodel of existing building for new coffee [shop], interior alteration, new walls, floor, ceiling, electrical, plumbing, mechanical, exterior work, new canopy, new drive through window and associated equipment, trash enclosure, mechanical units.

The Arlington Economic Development website says the new tenant for the 2,609 square-foot building is Starbucks, as does the permit on the window of the building.

Once it opens, it’s unclear what will happen to the nearby Starbucks store at the Lee-Harrison Shopping Center, a block away.

The new cafe would be the first drive-thru Starbucks in Arlington, though there are others throughout the region. The closest is a drive-thru at Barcroft Plaza (6365 Columbia Pike) in Falls Church. Another Starbuck drive-thru is planned to open tomorrow (May 2) at 367 Maple Avenue E. in Vienna.

Hat tip to Chris Slatt

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After months of back-and-forth with county inspectors, Darna Restaurant and Lounge looks to be out of the woods.

The Virginia Square bar, located at 946 N. Jackson Street, is now in line to win a key permit renewal from the County Board this weekend. County staff say Darna successfully resolved its outstanding code violations last month, and they’re recommending that the Board allow the lounge to stay open, at least for the next year.

Arlington briefly shut down Darna earlier this year, citing a variety of health and safety code violations at the site, though it did manage to resolve enough of those to re-open in April and attract some attention from both Tristan Thompson and TMZ.

But the county found more issues at the restaurant this summer, and even charged owner Ahmad Ayyad with a misdemeanor for his failure to secure the proper building permit for doing some work on the property. By Aug. 17, however, county staff wrote in a Board report that Ayyad had “resolved all violations” at the restaurant, and earned a new “certificate of occupancy.”

Staff noted in the report that Darna still ran into a few problems over the past few months — on July 27, the fire marshal’s office cited the restaurant for being over capacity by several dozen people.

Even still, the county staff is recommending that the Board renew Darna’s use permit through September 2019. The Board will take up the matter on Saturday (Sept. 22) as part of its consent agenda, which is largely designed for non-controversial items to be approved all at once.

The county’s case against Ayyad and his Maaj Corporation remains active, however. He’s set for an adjudicatory hearing in Arlington General District Court on Sept. 27, per court records.

File photo

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The Darna Restaurant and Lounge in Virginia Square has run into a bit more legal trouble, with the county now pursuing criminal charges against its owner.

County officials briefly shut down the restaurant earlier this year after discovering a variety of health and safety code violations on the property, located at 946 N. Jackson Street.

Darna managed to address some of those problems and re-open in April, long enough to capitalize on its newfound notoriety for being the scene of a TMZ-worthy incident involving NBA star Tristan Thompson, but it seems the restaurant’s managers have yet to resolve all the problems the county identified.

Prosecutors have charged owner Ahmad Ayyad and his Maaj Corporation with one count of performing work without proper permits, a misdemeanor charge. He’s set for a hearing in Arlington General District Court on Aug. 1, according to online court records, and could face a fine of up to $2,500 if he’s convicted.

Per a staff report prepared for the County Board, the trouble stems from Ayyad’s failure to secure a building permit from the county for some “unpermitted construction and modifications” inspectors discovered on the property when they briefly shuttered Darna.

Staff write that Ayyad has rectified the bulk of the code violations inspectors identified earlier this year, but still hasn’t managed to win the necessary permit for that construction, some of which involves “a stage used for the live entertainment” at the restaurant.

He submitted several applications for new permits, prompting the County Board to allow Darna to remain open in the meantime, but county inspectors rejected each one. Code enforcement officials ultimately decided to pursue the misdemeanor charge “due to the lack of progress by [Ayyad] to secure the building permit, complete the required modifications and to schedule and pass the final inspection.”

Even with all this legal wrangling, the Board is still set to allow Darna to stay open as Ayyad resolves these issues. The Board will consider a two-month use permit renewal for the lounge at its meeting Saturday (July 14), giving Ayyad until September to make some progress on these issues.

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A Virginia Square lounge and restaurant may have a permit renewed at tomorrow’s Arlington County Board meeting despite outstanding code violations.

Darna Lounge was closed in February due to “numerous violations of the Building, Fire, Zoning and Environmental Health codes, affecting the health, safety and welfare of the public.” The structure was deemed unfit for habitation but has since reopened.

According to a county report, most of the violations have been corrected and the applicant is “diligently pursuing resolution of the outstanding issues.” But some still remain, per a county staff report.

The establishment was allowed to reopen after correcting the major violations that were identified during the coordinated inspection. The applicant was granted an extension to April 1, 2018 to come into full compliance. A building permit to correct the outstanding violations was submitted on March 12, 2018, for the purpose of addressing unapproved alterations to the building. However, the applicant was not able to meet the April 1, 2018 deadline. The Inspection Services Division (ISD) has provided comments to the applicant that require revisions to the drawings associated with the building permit. The applicant is in the process of addressing the comments and resubmitting the revised drawings.

Despite the building concerns, the County Manager’s office is recommending that the Board approve a renewal of Darna’s live entertainment and dancing permit, with an administrative review in three months.

“Staff finds that at this time the applicant is reasonably working to resolve the outstanding violations, which are not deemed to be of a life, health or safety concern,” the report said, “Therefore, staff recommends renewal of the subject use permit with a three (3) month County Board review (July 2018).”

Staff also notes that police reported no recent issues with the business and that Darna reps “attended the Arlington Restaurant Initiative training on April 7, 2018 conducted by ACPD officers.”

The lounge recently gained some national notoriety as the location where Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson was caught on camera cheating on his pregnant, reality TV star girlfriend, Khloe Kardashian.

Darna, at 946 N. Jackson Street, opened back in 2012.

File photo

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(Updated at 2:15 p.m.) A Japanese chain restaurant may be a few steps closer to opening its doors in Clarendon.

Interior work has finally started on the restaurant, which first announced that it was “coming soon” to the former Brixx Pizza space at 1119 N. Hudson Street last May. The restaurant has an active commercial tenant buildout permit.

A application for Virginia ABC permit to serve wine and beer, meanwhile, was filed on Monday and is now pending. The permit suggests the restaurant will seat 101-150 people.

The restaurant’s interior was still in the buildout phase as of Tuesday afternoon, when a propped open front door showed construction material and unfinished fixtures within.

Gyu-Kak is a Japanese yakiniku restaurant chain with locations throughout the U.S., in addition to locations in Japan and other countries. This would be the chain’s first Virginia location, according to Gyu-Kaku’s website.

An email to Gyu-Kaku was not immediately returned, and a phone call to the number listed on a permit application had a full inbox and couldn’t accept a voicemail.

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A new sushi restaurant is coming to East Falls Church.

Yume Sushi is coming to 2121 N. Westmoreland Street, a building that is also home to a South Block “micro juicery” location.

There’s no word on an opening date, though the restaurant was hoping to have opened this past fall. Permit records show that Yume’s two attempts to obtain a building permit thus far have been rejected by county examiners.

Renderings on Yume’s Facebook page show an Instagram-worthy interior design. The page describes Yume as a “sushi Sake bar [with] Japanese food and Omakase fresh ingredients and seasonal fish from Japan and around the world.”

The restaurant is expected to have 100 seats or fewer and will serve beer and wine, according to a Virginia ABC permit application.

Photo via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Partisans Stake Out Sides on Country Club Tax Bill — There are two very different political perspectives on the state bill that would greatly lower the tax bills of Arlington’s two country clubs. On one hand, a writer on the conservative blog Bearing Drift says Arlington’s tax treatment of Army-Navy Country Club (which is covered by the bill along with Washington Golf & Country Club) is “manifestly unfair, and… impacts an especially distinguished and patriotic group of older folks.” On the other hand, progressive blog Blue Virginia says the bill, which passed the Virginia General Assembly last week, should be vetoed by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) because it would “lavish big $$$ on super-rich people, weaken local autonomy vs state AND set a horrible precedent.” [Bearing Drift, Blue Virginia]

County Launches Online Payments for Building Permits — After years of grumbles from local businesses, starting today Arlington County is accepting online payments for building permits. Payments can only be made online when one is submitting permits via the ePlan Review portal. [Arlington County]

Arlington Tourism Tax Bill Passes — “More than a dozen Republican members of the House of Delegates voted against, but Arlington’s effort to retain its ability to levy a surtax on hotel stays to pay for tourism promotion is headed to the governor’s desk.” [InsideNova]

Arlingtonian Making World Record Attempt — Crystal City resident and elite runner Tyler Andrews will attempt to break the 3o-year-old record for fastest 50K run next month. [STRIVE Trips]

First Down Marks Ninth Anniversary — First Down Sports Bar & Grill in Ballston is celebrating 9 years in business today. [ARLnow Events]

Nearby: Lebanese Taverna Closing in Bethesda — Arlington-based local restaurant chain Lebanese Taverna is closing its Bethesda location, citing an inability to reach agreement on a new lease with the landlord of Bethesda Row. [Bethesda Beat]

Photo courtesy Paola Lyle

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(Updated at 11:45 a.m) Darna Restaurant and Lounge in Virginia Square has been ordered temporarily closed by the county building inspector.

A recent inspection of the nightclub at 946 N. Jackson Street “revealed that there were numerous violations of the Building, Fire, Zoning and Environmental Health codes, affecting the health, safety and welfare of the public,” according to county staff.

A bright orange sticker on the door of the lounge warns that “this structure is unfit for habitation.” A separate sign says “Darna Lounge will be closed for repairs to our sprinkler system.”

Detour Coffee, on the first floor of the building, was open as of Monday morning.

The Arlington County Board is expected to review Darna’s live entertainment and dancing permit at its upcoming February meeting, a month ahead of schedule. Among the likely topics of conversation are the building inspection findings and complaints about noise.

“During the last County Board review in October 2017, staff received correspondence from a neighboring citizen with concerns about loud music during and after the hours of live entertainment and dancing,” a county staff report notes. “Several calls to the police for noise and other complaints were identified during the last County Board review.”

Darna has been open for about six years, and has since expanded, adding an open air patio on the second floor.

Hat tip to Chris Slatt

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Morning Notes

Cherry blossoms, Memorial Bridge and Rosslyn (Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman)

Permitting a Challenge for Older Properties — Arlington’s permitting office can be a source of frustration for homeowners trying to make changes or additions to their house, but it’s especially challenging for those who own older properties that no longer conform to the county zoning ordinance. [Arlington Magazine]

Free Tax Help in Arlington — Arlington County is again offering free tax assistance sessions through mid-April for lower income residents: individuals making up to $35,000/year or families making up to $54,000/year. [Arlington County]

Four Courts ‘Leprechaun’ Profiled — Dave Cahill, the general manager of Four Courts in Courthouse, is the official “leprechaun” of the Four Courts Four Miler, which took place on Sunday. Cahill recently spoke about how he started running and helped come up with the idea for the race. [Facebook]

Signature’s ‘Mrs. Miller Does Her Thing’ — Emmy- and Tony Award-winning actress Debra Monk is starring in the new production of “Mrs. Miller Does Her Thing” at Shirlington’s Signature Theatre. It’s the true story of Elva Miller, “a 59-year-old grandmother who became an overnight sensation with her operatic but off-turn renditions of pop hits.” The show runs through March 26. [NBC Washington]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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CVS and Strayer University building in Courthouse

The CVS Pharmacy atop the Courthouse Metro station entrance may be getting bigger.

A permit application filed Monday for the property at 2121 15th Street N. references a planned “second floor expansion” for CVS.

No other details were immediately available. The building also houses a Strayer University campus.

Hat tip to Chris Slatt

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