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FBI Connects ‘Beltway Bank Bandit’ to Attempted Robbery of Columbia Pike Capital One Branch

Federal investigators now believe a serial bank robber dubbed the “Beltway Bank Bandit” was responsible for the attempted robbery of the Columbia Pike Capital One branch Monday.

The FBI’s Washington office is now offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the man’s capture, up from $5,000, and investigators believe he’s now been involved in 20 robberies across Virginia, Maryland and D.C. over the last year or so.

County police believe a man walked into the Capital One bank at 3532 Columbia Pike around 2:15 p.m. Monday, brandishing a gun and passing a teller a note demanding money. However, he fled the scene before he could get any cash.

Police released surveillance photos yesterday (Thursday) of the man wearing a mask and hard hat, which the FBI believes is consistent with the “Bank Bandit’s” previous robberies. Investigators say he’s passed a threatening note to tellers in each of his robberies, and has “worn different disguises such as a baseball cap, wig, gloves, hijab or hoodie to alter his appearance,” according to a news release.

The FBI believes the man has previously robbed banks in Alexandria, Falls Church and Centreville, but this is the first incident he’s been involved in Arlington.

Investigators describe him as a black man in 20s or 30s, standing between 5’7″ and 6’2″, weighing between 160 and 170 pounds.

The FBI is asking anyone with more information to call 202-278-2000 or submit a tip at tips.fbi.gov.

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Plans to Add Temporary Hotel Rooms at Ballston, Columbia Pike Developments Move Ahead

County officials are clearing the way for WhyHotel proceed with its plans to set up temporary hotel rooms in two Arlington apartment buildings: one in Ballston, the other along Columbia Pike.

The startup announced in December that it hopes to bring a total of 325 of its pop-up hotel rooms to the county this year, splitting them between the residential tower attached to the Ballston Quarter development and the “Centro Arlington” project, which is taking the place of the old Food Star grocery store off the Pike.

Since then, the company has been working to secure county approvals for its unusual business model. WhyHotel strikes deals with owners of large new residential buildings to rent out blocks of furnished apartments, helping property owners make some extra cash while they work to find more permanent tenants. The firm also brings along a full on-call staff to handle cleaning and other guest needs to each property, providing customers with a bit more than a simple hotel might offer.

The County Board approved the zoning changes necessary for the company to set up its Ballston Quarter rooms on Jan. 26, and the Planning Commission voted unanimously Wednesday night to recommend that the Board do the same for the Centro Arlington development.

WhyHotel expects to have 175 rooms ready in Ballston by April, with the remaining 150 on the Pike available sometime this summer or fall.

In both cases, the company will have the county’s permission to offer the temporary rooms for the next two years. But WhyHotel executives expect they’ll need much less than that, given the demand for new apartments in Arlington these days.

CEO Jason Fudin told the Planning Commission that the company’s first effort at “The Bartlett” complex in Pentagon City lasted just five months before the building was fully leased out.

“We leave pretty quickly when things go well in Arlington,” Fudin said.

Planning Commissioner Stephen Hughes says the company’s deference to long-term renters eased his mind in considering WhyHotel’s business model. He pointed out that “long-term leaseholders take precedence” in the company’s arrangements with Arlington property owners, which is why WhyHotel tends not to stick around for too long.

“Neighbors, of course, hope to have long-term neighbors,” Hughes said.

But that hesitancy doesn’t mean that county officials are opposed to the idea of short-term guests on the Pike. In fact, Hughes hopes WhyHotel’s stay in Centro Arlington spurs more conversations in the business community about the viability of other hotels in the area.

“The data will now be there for the bankers and investors to see whether a current, flat service parking lot may be a suitable hotel in the future,” Hughes said.

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Man Shot by Arlington Police Now Set for Trial on Claims He Tried to Strike Officers With His Van

An Arlington man shot by police last year after allegedly trying to hit officers with his van is now set to face a trial next month, though it initially appeared he was moving closer to a plea deal.

Steve Best, 52, is scheduled for a four-day trial in Arlington County Circuit Court starting March 25, facing a charge of the attempted malicious wounding of a law enforcement officer.

County police shot Best several times during a confrontation on May 3 on a street just off Columbia Pike, alleging that he tried to flee a traffic stop. In the process, police say Best nearly struck an officer and rammed into some police vehicles.

Yet Best has steadfastly maintained his innocence in the months since, as has his family. His lawyers argue that he tried to surrender when police opened fire, and that he only tried to drive away from the scene in a fit of confusion.

Last fall, it appeared as if Best would be accepting plea deal to put the matter to rest, though county prosecutors did not reveal many details about their plans for the case.

However, court records show that a proposed plea hearing was ultimately postponed, and Best hired a new lawyer shortly afterward. By late November, prosecutors began subpoenaing witnesses in the case, and set a trial date soon afterward — a rarity in the legal system, where the vast majority of cases are resolved by plea agreements.

Best’s family did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what, if anything, has changed about the legal proceedings.

Court documents show that prosecutors issued subpoenas in late January to eight potential witnesses, as the case moves closer to trial.

Best’s attorneys have sought to gain access to evidence of their own, claiming that surveillance video from businesses nearby will corroborate Best’s version of events.

Police say they initially tried to pull Best over as he drove near the intersection of 12th Street S. and S. Edgewood Street, claiming he drove down 12th Street S. before abandoning the van at the intersection of 13th Street S. and S. Irving Street. Accordingly, Best’s attorneys have been focused on gaining access to video from businesses along those side streets, including the Day’s Inn hotel parking lots, located near the intersection of 11th Street S. and S. Highland Street.

However, court records don’t contain any details about what the videos showed.

In all, Best claims he was shot half a dozen times, losing one of his fingers as a result of the incident.

Photo via GoFundMe

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BREAKING: Police Responding to Bank Robbery on Columbia Pike

Arlington County Police are on scene of a reported bank robbery on Columbia Pike.

The robbery happened around 2:15 p.m. Initial reports suggest that a masked man armed with a gun passed a note to a teller inside the Capital One Bank branch at 3532 Columbia Pike. Afterward he fled on foot.

The suspect is described as a black male between 5’9″ and 5’10” in height. He was reportedly wearing a yellow construction helmet and vest, a blue surgical mask, black sunglasses, a black hoodie and black pants.

No injuries were reported.

The bank branch is set to close this spring.

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Morning Notes

Hope: No Impeachment Filing Yet Updated at 9:50 a.m. — Del. Patrick Hope (D) says he’s delaying filing articles of impeachment against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D), who is facing two accusations of past sexual assaults. “An enormous amount of sincere and thoughtful feedback… has led to additional conversations that need to take place,” Hope said. [Twitter, TwitterTwitter]

More Trailers for Arlington Tech — “Students coming into the Arlington Tech program at the Arlington Career Center for the next two years may find themselves spending more time in trailers than they had thought, and more time than School Board members are happy about.” [InsideNova]

Auction for Restaurant Items — The former furnishings of now-shuttered Rolls By U are up for auction by Arlington County, to help pay its overdue tax bill. [Arlington County]

Car vs. Columbia Pike Restaurant — It appears that a car ran into the front of Andy’s Carry Out restaurant on Columbia Pike. [Twitter]

State Split on Northam’s Fate — “Virginians are deadlocked over whether Gov. Ralph Northam (D) should step down after the emergence of a photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page depicting people in blackface and Ku Klux Klan garb, with African Americans saying by a wide margin that he should remain in office despite the offensive image, according to a Washington Post-Schar School poll.” [Washington Post]

Beyer on Face the Nation — “Democratic Virginia Reps. Don Beyer and Jennifer Wexton renewed their calls for Gov. Ralph Northam and Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax to step down over their respective controversies” on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday morning. [CBS News]

Local Chef on CBS This Morning — Chef David Guas of Bayou Bakery in Courthouse made an extended appearance on CBS This Morning Saturday, talking about his food, his restaurants and how his aunt inspired his love of cooking. [CBS News]

Flickr pool photo by TheBeltWalk

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Capital One Bank Branch on Columbia Pike Set to Close

The Capital One bank branch along Columbia Pike now plans to shut its doors this spring.

The bank started notifying customers last week that the branch, located at 3532 Columbia Pike, will shut down on May 9, according to company spokeswoman Amanda Landers.

She told ARLnow that “there will be no changes to our customers’ accounts or their account numbers” associated with the branch’s closure.

“As always, customers can visit any Capital One branch and receive the same level of account access and high-quality service they’ve come to expect,” Landers wrote in an email. “We’re working hard to make this transition as smooth as possible. We also encourage our customers to give us a call or stop by the branch to ask us any questions before it closes, so that we could show them the available options to bank at any time with Capital One with tools such as online/mobile banking and bill pay.”

The bank branch has previously been in the news for twice being robbed in recent years, including one incident that attracted the FBI’s attention.

Capital One last closed another one of its Arlington branches along Lee Highway in September 2017.

The company still operates branches in Rosslyn, Ballston, Crystal City and another along Lee Highway.

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Falls Church Man Arrested After Allegedly Stealing from Business, Spitting on Police Officer

A Falls Church man is now facing a series of charges after he allegedly stole merchandise from a business along Columbia Pike, then scuffled with police as he was arrested.

County police say the incident happened around 10 a.m. Wednesday (Jan. 30), when people called police to report a man stealing from a business along the 4900 block of Columbia Pike, then fleeing the scene.

The block is home to a 7-Eleven, a car repair shop and the Arlington Mill Community Center.

Officers were able to track the man down shortly afterward, subsequently identifying him as 26-year-old Omar Elbasir.

“While the arresting officer attempted to search the suspect prior to transporting him to booking, the suspect was non-compliant and spit on the officer,” police wrote in a crime report.

Elbasir is now facing charges of assault and battery on police, obstruction of justice and petit larceny.

He’s now set for a hearing on those charges in Arlington General District Court on Monday (Feb. 4).

Full details from a county crime report:

ASSAULT ON LAW ENFORCEMENT, 2019-01300076, 4900 block of Columbia Pike. At approximately 10:18 a.m. on January 30, police were dispatched to the report of a larceny just occurred. Upon arrival, it was determined that the male suspect entered a business, allegedly stole merchandise and fled on foot. A lookout was broadcast and the male suspect was located in the area in possession of the stolen merchandise and taken into custody. While the arresting officer attempted to search the suspect prior to transporting him to booking, the suspect was non-compliant and spit on the officer. Omar Elbasir, 26, of Falls Church, Va., was arrested and charged with Assault and Battery on Police, Obstruction of Justice and Petit Larceny: 3+ Offense.

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Nonprofit Opens New ‘Columbia Hills’ Affordable Housing Complex

A new affordable housing complex off of Columbia Pike is now open to renters.

The Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing held a ribbon-cutting Wednesday (Jan. 30) for its Columbia Hills Apartments at 1010 S. Frederick Street. The new development includes two eight-story buildings with room for a total of 229 committed affordable homes.

The event marked the culmination of roughly two years of construction on the $91 million project, which was financed with a mix of federal tax credits and state and local loan funds. The 1.2 acres of land necessary for the development was donated by M&T Bank.

“I’ve spent a lot of cold winters living in my car,” new Columbia Hills resident Henry Ashby said at the event, per a press release. “I feel very blessed to be here today as a resident of Columbia Hills.”

All of the apartments in the buildings will affordable to people making up to 60 percent of the Area Median Income. In Arlington, that works out to about $49,260 per year for a one-person household, or $70,320 for a family of four.

Ten apartments will be set aside as “permanent supportive housing” for people who have previously experienced homelessness, while another 39 will be affordable to people making below 50 percent of the AMI. That’s applies to a one-person income of $41,050 annually, or $58,600 for a family of four.

“This is about providing homes to people who are earning an income that is not reflective of the contributions that they make to our community, but are just reflective of the way our market economy works,” County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said. “An increasing number of people who are burdened by the housing cost in our region absolutely deserve a place to live that is not only safe and decent but represents the highest standards that we can build in Arlington.”

The disappearance of affordable homes in the county has indeed been an emphasis for the Board in recent years. County officials have pledged to make the creation of similar guaranteed affordable homes a priority as part of its “Affordable Housing Master Plan,” particularly with Amazon on the way, but the county has struggled to meet its own goals as real estate prices continue to rise.

APAH, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, is also hard at work on a variety of other affordable developments around the county, including ones in Virginia Square and Rosslyn.

Photo 1 via @libbygarvery, photo 3 via @apah_org

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D.C. Bar ‘Rebellion’ Plans Expansion into Old BrickHaus Space on Columbia Pike

A DuPont Circle bar is planning an expansion into the old BrickHaus space along Columbia Pike.

Rebellion will soon open its second location in the D.C. area at 2900 Columbia Pike. Signs posted at the building say the new establishment is due to open in “early 2019.”

Staff at the current D.C. location said in a Facebook message that the bar’s current owners “have been longtime Pike residents and regulars, so they are extremely excited to get the place open and get it open quickly.” Brian Westlye, the founder and COO of the hospitality company managing Rebellion, told ARLnow that the new location should “hopefully” be open by March 1.

The new bar is described as “Rebellion on the Pike” on the restaurant’s website and social media pages.

Rebellion offers up Southern cuisine and a hefty beer selection at its Dupont location, at 1836 18th Street N.W.

BrickHaus offered a similar vision for the area before shuttering at the end of last year.

Owner Tony Wagner closed both his Twisted Vines wine shop and BrickHaus to consolidate his offerings at the nearby Josephine’s Italian Kitchen, and lamented at the time that BrickHaus “never took off the way we expected and hoped it would,” after battling through a series of permitting and construction delays.

Photo 3 via @rebellion_onthepike

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Crime Report: Armed Robbery Goes Wrong When Gun Goes Off

Two would-be robbers were foiled when they accidentally fired a gunshot during their robbery attempt, according to Arlington County Police.

The alleged incident happened around 11 p.m. last Thursday, on the 1900 block of N. Culpeper Street in the Halls Hill neighborhood.

Police say two men dressed in all black tried to rob a man who was standing outside of his residence. When the man refused to give them money, one of the suspects pistol whipped him, but accidentally fired a shot in the process. That prompted the suspects to flee the scene empty-handed.

No one was hurt and nothing was damaged by the shot, but the victim suffered a laceration on his head from being struck with the gun, according to police. The suspects remain at large.

More from this week’s Arlington County Police Department crime report:

ATTEMPTED ARMED ROBBERY, 2019-01240225, 1900 block of N. Culpepper Street. At approximately 10:58 p.m. on January 24, police were dispatched to the report of shots fired. Upon arrival, it was determined that the victim was outside of his residence when he was approached by two male suspects. One suspect brandished a firearm and demanded money. When the victim declined, he was struck in the head with the firearm, causing a laceration that required medical treatment. Simultaneously, this action resulted in the discharge of the firearm. The suspects fled on foot prior to police arrival. No additional damage or injuries were reported as a result of the discharge of the firearm. Arriving officers canvased the area and a K9 track was initiated with negative results. The suspects are described as two black males, approximately 6’0″-6’1″, approximately 30-40 years old, wearing black pants, black hooded sweatshirts, black hats and black sneakers. The investigation is ongoing.

This week, police responded to a store on the 4700 block of Columbia Pike for a report of a man filming women in a dressing room. The only clothing store on that block is the Goodwill retail store.

More from ACPD:

PEEPING, 2019-01280189, 4700 block of Columbia Pike. At approximately 7:19 p.m. on January 28, police were dispatched to the report of a peeper. Upon arrival, it was determined that the female victims were inside the dressing room at a business when they observed a male suspect holding a cell phone over the dressing room wall and allegedly taking photos. The victims confronted the suspect and informed him they were calling police, which prompted him to flee the business prior to police arrival. The suspect is described as a tall, thin black male, approximately 5’11”-6’0″, with dreadlocks, a black beard, chipped teeth with a gap in the center, wearing a long black jacket, light khaki pants, white headphones, and black and white sneakers. The investigation is ongoing.

Other notable items from this week’s crime report, including some we’ve already reported, are below.

BURGLARY, 2019-01290196, 1600 block of S. Eads Street. At approximately 3:27 p.m. on January 29, police were dispatched to the late report of a burglary. Upon arrival, it was determined that between 12:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. on January 28, an unknown suspect gained entry to a residence and stole items of value. There are no suspect(s) descriptions. The investigation is ongoing.

UNLAWFUL ENTRY (late), 2019-01280248, 1900 block of S. Arlington Ridge Road. At approximately 11:46 p.m. on January 28, police were dispatched to the report of an attempted breaking and entering. Upon arrival, it was determined that at some point during the day prior to 8:00 p.m., an unknown suspect(s) gained entry to a residence. Nothing was reported missing. There is no suspect(s) description. The investigation is ongoing.

ROBBERY, 2019-01250003, 200 block of N. Thomas Street. At approximately 12:19 a.m. on January 25, police were dispatched to the report of an armed robbery. Upon arrival it was determined that the victim was looking at his cell phone when he was approached by two unknown suspects. One suspect asked the victim for change and when he advised he did not have any, he was assaulted by the suspects. Following the assault, one suspect brandished a knife, demanded the victim’s cell phone and destroyed it before fleeing the scene on foot. The victim was transported to an area hospital and treated for non-life threatening injuries. The suspects are described as two black males in their 20’s, ranging in height from 5’10” to 6′. They were wearing dark clothing at the time of the incident. The investigation is ongoing.

LARCENY FROM AUTO (series), 2019-01250027/2019-01250029, 1200 block of S. Scott Street/1200 block of S. Courthouse Road. Between 10:30 p.m. on January 24 and 4:11 a.m. on January 25, the tires and rims were stolen off of two vehicles in the area. There is no suspect(s) description. The investigation is ongoing.

SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES, 2019-01260261, 500 block of 12th Street S. At approximately 9:13 p.m. on January 26, police were dispatched to the report of a possible dispute inside a residence. Arriving officers restricted access to the floor and additional police units were requested to assist with the investigation. Attempts to contact the occupants were unsuccessful and the incident was cleared without arrest.

MALICIOUS WOUNDING BY CAUSTIC AGENT, 2019-01240124, 1800 block of Crystal Drive. At approximately 1:45 p.m. on January 24, police were dispatched to the late report of an assault. Upon arrival, it was determined that a building employee drank from her water bottle, which resulted in her feeling a burning sensation in her chest. She smelled the contents of the water bottle, believed it to have been filled with bleach while it was left unattended and subsequently dumped the remaining liquid prior to police arrival. There is no suspect description. The investigation is ongoing.

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Crime Report: Woman Arrested for Bleach Attack

An Arlington woman is facing charges after allegedly spraying someone with bleach during an early morning argument.

Arlington County Police were called to an address in the Nauck neighborhood around 4:30 a.m. Sunday for a dispute. A verbal argument between two people who knew each other “escalated into physical violence,” police said.

A 33-year-old woman was arrested, accused of spraying bleach — a “caustic agent” — and injuring another woman, then subsequently striking her with an object.

“It remains under investigation what object caused the victim’s injuries,” county police spokeswoman Ashley Savage told ARLnow.

More from ACPD:

MALICIOUS WOUNDING, 2019-01200046, 2100 block of S. Kenmore Street. At approximately 4:36 a.m. on January 20, police were dispatched to the report of a dispute. Upon arrival, it was determined that a verbal altercation between known individuals escalated into physical violence. During the altercation, the suspect allegedly sprayed the victim with bleach before striking the victim with an object. The victim was transported to an area hospital and treated for non-life threatening injuries. Darcell Harris, 33, of Arlington, VA was arrested and charged with Malicious Wounding and Malicious Injury by Caustic Agent. She was held on no bond.

Earlier last week, police investigated a series of thefts from vehicles along Columbia Pike and S. Courthouse Road. Police say thieves stole tires and rims from at least five vehicles.

GRAND LARCENY (series), 2019-01170042/01170062/01170099/01170116, 1200 block of S. Courthouse Road/2200 block of Columbia Pike/700 block of S. Courthouse Road. On January 17, police were dispatched to multiple late reports of larcenies from auto. The investigation determined that between approximately 6:00 p.m. on January 16 and 4:00 a.m. on January 17, the tires and rims of approximately 5 vehicles in the area were stolen from vehicles. There is no suspect(s) description. The investigation is ongoing.

 

Below are the rest of the highlights from this week’s crime report, including some we’ve already reported.

ROBBERY, 2019-01210216, 5300 block of 8th Road S. At approximately 9:43 p.m. on January 21, police were dispatched to the report of a robbery by force. Upon arrival, it was determined that between 9:30 p.m. and 9:35 p.m., while the victim was operating as a delivery driver, he entered a building to make a delivery when he was approached by an unknown male suspect, who claimed to know the recipient of the delivery. The suspect led him down a hallway, where he was met by several other suspects, who pushed the victim to the ground and assaulted him before stealing his personal belongings, an undisclosed amount of cash and the contents of the delivery. The suspects fled the scene prior to police arrival. The victim was not injured. Suspect One is described as a Hispanic or Indian male, approximately 5’8″, 180 lbs., wearing a blue jacket. Suspect Two is described as a black male wearing a black and white long sleeve shirt. The other three suspects are described as black males.

BURGLARY, 2019-01190203, 2400 block of N. Underwood Street. At approximately 7:08 p.m. on January 19, police were dispatched to the report of a burglary just discovered. Upon arrival, it was determined that between approximately 6:00 p.m. and 6:45 p.m., an unknown suspect forced entry to a residence, causing damage, and stole items of value. There is no suspect(s) description. The investigation is ongoing.

BURGLARY (late), 2019-01170136, 2600 block of N. Florida Street. At approximately 12:40 p.m. on January 17, police were dispatched to the late report of a burglary. Upon arrival, it was determined that between 9:30 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. on January 16, an unknown suspect gained entry to a residence and stole an undisclosed amount of cash. There is no suspect description. The investigation is ongoing.

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Amazon Shouldn’t Spell ‘Doom’ for Most Local Renters, But Observers Still Fear Its South Arlington Impacts

For people fearful about how Amazon will impact Arlington, a single question tends to rise above all others — will the company’s arrival price me out of my home?

There are certainly plenty of other concerns surrounding the company, and the 25,000 jobs it has promised to bring to its new home in Pentagon City and Crystal City, stemming from its highly criticized business practices to its potential impact on roads and transit in the region.

But concerns about housing affordability have most consistently come to the fore since Amazon’s announcement that it would be setting up shop in Arlington, as renters worry that the company’s army of well-paid workers will set off an explosion in home prices and push them deeper into Northern Virginia’s suburbs.

In selling the proposed deal to bring the Amazon headquarters to the county, officials have argued that these fears are largely overblown. Over the last few months, all manner of local leaders have claimed that the company will arrive slowly enough for Arlington to absorb the new residents, and that the county won’t be forced to house every single one of the workers who will spend their days in the new office space.

And, in general, academics, advocates and real estate watchers around the area agree with that line of thinking. For the most part, the experts surveyed by ARLnow on the issue don’t believe that Amazon will have the sort of apocalyptic impact on housing and gentrification that some skeptics fear.

Yet they also caution that the company will almost certainly still push many people out of the county, particularly those of more modest means living in South Arlington neighborhoods. While the county may not face the same massive disruptive impacts as Seattle, which is still struggling to integrate one of the world’s largest companies into its metro area, observers warn that it would foolish to minimize the size of the challenge Arlington is facing.

“I don’t agree with the view of impending doom that Arlington will become San Francisco due to housing problems, but there are real concerns here to address,” said Eric Brescia, a Fannie Mae economist and a member of Arlington’s Citizens Advisory Commission on Housing.

The case against Amazon panic

Fundamentally, the argument minimizing Amazon’s impacts on the housing market includes the same key points.

First of all, the company plans to bring its 25,000 workers to the new headquarters over the next decade or so, not all at once. And, even then, not all of them are likely to live in Arlington, the thinking goes — many could choose to move to other Northern Virginia suburbs, or even to Maryland and D.C., to take advantage of Arlington’s connection to public transit networks.

Many other employees set to work at the headquarters probably already live in Arlington, considering that Amazon says it chose the D.C. region due to its bevy of “tech talent” already in the area.

That means that county leaders are planning on seeing closer to 15 to 20 percent of Amazon’s workers relocate to Arlington specifically, an influx of (at most) 5,000 people. In fact, a report prepared by George Mason University’s Stephen S. Fuller Institute as part of the state’s courtship of Amazon estimates that more than twice as many of the company’s workers will move to Fairfax instead of Arlington.

“This isn’t based on a wish, but based on our prior experience with other large employers,” said County Board Chair Christian Dorsey. “Can we guarantee it? Of course not… but this is the best we can do in projecting how this investment does and does not look like other investments that we’ve had.”

County Board member Erik Gutshall also points out that the D.C. region as a whole has been in the midst of a massive explosion in growth in recent years, and Amazon could merely feel like a drop in the bucket. Based on regional projections, Gutshall says the company’s is “expected to account for about 5 percent of regional job growth over the next 12 years.”

“That, to me, says this alone is not going to be a major driver of housing affordability problems,” Gutshall said.

Regional observers believe that the broad strokes of that argument are accurate.

Brad Dillman, the chief economist for national real estate developer Cortland, points out that Crystal City and Pentagon City both have slightly higher residential vacancy rates than the D.C. metro area as a whole, leaving some room for Amazon employees moving in.

And Christopher Ptomey, the executive director of the Urban Land Institute’s Terwilliger Center for Housing, notes that it’s hardly uncommon to see large government agencies (or other big companies) move into communities around the Northern Virginia area. Based on Arlington’s own past experiences with such changes, he sees no reason Amazon employees would behave any differently.

“Some people come here and decide Arlington has great schools and is convenient, so they’re willing to pay a little bit more to stay here,” Ptomey said. “Others prefer a bigger house and a wider lot and lighter traffic. I don’t think Amazon employees going to be particularly unique in that way.”

Uncertainties abound

Yet, with so many unknowns about the company’s plans still remaining, experts caution that it’s hard to make too many definitive declarations about the make-up of the company’s workforce just yet. That complicates efforts to make predictions about how they might behave when they arrive.

“We need to know: what’s the age range and family type of these workers?” said Jenny Schuetz, who studies housing policy as part of the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “A bunch of 25-year-olds will want to live nearby, but they pay a lot more in taxes than they consume in services. More older families will require more space in high-performing schools, but some will want to live farther out.”

Indeed, Schuetz and other analysts warn that the county shouldn’t offer too much certainty about Amazon’s precise impacts until officials start to see how the company’s arrival changes the region.

Arlington officials have simultaneously downplayed the number of people arriving along with Amazon, while also trumpeting how other high-priced tech companies will likely flock to the area to do business with Jeff Bezos’ firm. Until Arlington can evaluate just how real that downstream impact is, experts say it might be useless to simply study just Amazon’s workforce.

“Will just Amazon come here or is this the beginning of D.C. becoming a major tech hub?” Brescia said. “That’s really unknown.”

But Schuetz notes that research shows, in general, “each new tech job spins off roughly five additional jobs.” That might be good news for the county’s economy, but it also complicates the math of predicting how many people will flow into Arlington.

“We know that big headquarters like this have a multiplier effect,” Schuetz said. “They will need supportive services and restaurants to serve the campus directly.”

However many people associated with the company ultimately arrive in Arlington, analysts point out that they are likely to be quite wealthy. The terms of the state’s proposed deal with Amazon require an average annual salary of $150,000 for the company’s employees, and other tech workers bound for Arlington are likely to pull in similar sums.

Even still, Dorsey believes those salaries “are not out of scale with typical earnings in the area,” minimizing the impact they’ll have on the county’s home prices.

A ‘housing crisis’ for low-income renters?

But critics of the county’s pursuit of Amazon believe that sort of mindset ignores the current conditions in Arlington, which already pose problems for renters. Tim Dempsey, a member of the steering committee for the progressive group Our Revolution Arlington, points out that many Board members (including Dorsey himself) won office based on pledges to combat the county’s pre-Amazon “housing crisis” for low-income people and the middle class alike.

“We already don’t have housing for middle-income earners, whether that’s school teachers, firefighters or policemen,” Dempsey said. “The county never asked the community if it was a good idea to bid for this, and when we raised these issues, we were told it was premature to even talk about this.”

Ideally, Schuetz says that Amazon’s workers and their peers won’t be competing for the same types of housing as the people Dempsey is worried about. In all likelihood, “if they’re displacing people, they’ll be displacing other high-income households” by moving into Arlington’s high-rent Metro corridors.

Dillman also foresees developers adding plenty of new housing around the new headquarters, noting that the pace of development has been especially slow in Crystal City as the area’s office vacancy rate has skyrocketed. That should, in theory, provide plenty of new, high-end homes for Amazon arrivals.

The “danger point” that Schuetz fears is what becomes of the “low-cost, older housing” in neighborhoods elsewhere in South Arlington, particularly along Columbia Pike, or in North Alexandria.

“Those could be the targets for redevelopment, where you could potentially charge higher rents,” Schuetz said. “And that’s the area where we’d see displacement.”

Michelle Krocker, the executive director of the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance, agrees that the fate of apartments running from the Pike to Bailey’s Crossroads and even Seven Corners is one of her prime concerns. But her research also suggests that observers “shouldn’t assume everyone will jump on the bandwagon and sell.”

“Many of these buildings have been in the same family for generations, going back to 1950s, 1960s,” Krocker said. “That means there can be tax consequences and liabilities if they entertain selling. And, for many, the buildings are cash cows.”

Of course, the county could take additional steps to preserve those sorts of buildings to address the issue. And officials say they’re already mulling all manner of strategies to combat housing affordability challenges.

To Brescia, how the county follows through with those plans could provide the clearest answer for anyone searching for the exact extent of Amazon’s impacts.

“It will all really depend on the policy response to this, across the region,” Brescia said.

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Newly Renovated Wendy’s Now Open on Columbia Pike, With Plans for Big Giveaway

(Updated at 2:25 p.m.) A new and improved Wendy’s is now open on Columbia Pike, and the fast food chain is holding a major giveaway to celebrating the restaurant’s grand opening next weekend.

The Wendy’s at 3431 Columbia Pike shut down for extensive renovations a few months ago, and re-opened for business today (Thursday).

The new location includes an all-new dining area, complete with TVs, music, free Wi-Fi and a faux fireplace. The fireplace in particular seemed to surprise some customers today; at least one person in line pointed at it and said she did not expect a Wendy’s to look so “fancy.”

A company spokesman says the restaurant will hold a “grand re-opening event” next Saturday (Jan. 19).

Wendy’s plans to offer the first 100 customers in line for the event by 10 a.m. free food for a year.

The chain operates three restaurants around the county in total.

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Columbia Pike’s Twisted Vines, BrickHaus Both Set to Close Next Week

A pair of bars along Columbia Pike will soon shut down, as restaurateur Tony Wagner consolidates his South Arlington eateries into one location.

Both the Twisted Vines Bar and Bottleshop and BrickHaus beer garden will shut down after hosting New Year’s events on Dec. 31, Wagner told ARLnow.

Wagner owns both businesses (which sit just steps away from each other at 2803 Columbia Pike and 2900 Columbia Pike, respectively), and the closures will leave him with just the newly opened Josephine’s Italian Kitchen in the Penrose Square shopping center still operating in the area.

Twisted Vines first opened under different ownership in 2010, and Wagner took over the eatery in 2015. Then, he set to work on opening the beer garden, a first for the Pike, and was able to get it up and running just last year.

Wagner says he made the “difficult” decision to shutter BrickHaus after concluding that it “never took off the way we expected and hoped it would,” a development made all the more painful by the months of permitting and construction woes he endured to open the bar.

He said Twisted Vines remains quite popular on the Pike, however, but he started to feel its current space didn’t have enough room for it to grow. And with its lease up at year’s end, and a new restaurant just down the road, he saw an ideal opportunity to regroup.

“We have a great new venue in Josephine’s and figured it was a great opportunity to take Twisted down there until we can find it a new home,” Wagner said. “Twisted has been part of the Pike community for a long time and it should be back.”

Wagner dubbed his new Italian eatery, which first opened in late October, as a “home away from home” for Twisted Vines during the transition. He plans to move much of the wine shop’s offerings to the restaurant, and will keep hosting the bar’s wine club and regular wine dinners at Josephine’s.

“Josephine’s is Twisted with value added, basically,” Wagner said. “It’s a better space, with a lot more room for us.”

He’s hoping to find a new location for Twisted Vines sometime in the coming months. But, in the meantime, all the shop’s whiskey will be half off over the next few days, then all wine be marked down by 50 percent this weekend. The location will also play host to one final dinner on New Year’s Eve to celebrate the restaurant.

Wagner will also hold a “New Year’s Eve blowout” at BrickHaus, with 50 percent off all checks. He said he wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to bringing back a similar beer garden to the Pike going forward, but given the challenges he faced at BrickHaus, he’s not optimistic about the prospect.

“We’re always interested in new opportunities,” Wagner said. “We listen to people and find out what people want and give it a try. If that doesn’t work, then we keep trying. The ultimate goal is to find a concept that resonates with the community.”

H/t Jessica Strelitz

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WhyHotel Plans Hundreds of Temporary Hotel Rooms for Ballston Quarter, Centro Arlington Buildings

A startup offering temporary hotel rooms in new apartment complexes is now planning to expand to two Arlington developments.

WhyHotel announced today (Tuesday) that it will soon offer 175 rooms for rent in the residential tower attached to the Ballston Quarter development, and another 150 rooms in the “Centro Arlington” project, which is taking the place of the Food Star grocery store off Columbia Pike. The company recently scored $10 million in venture funding to power the new projects, in addition to a similar “pop up” hotel in “The Boro” development in Tysons.

Unlike a home-sharing service like Airbnb, WhyHotel strikes agreements directly with the owners of large residential properties to rent out blocks of furnished apartments, bringing along an on-call staff to handle cleaning and other guest needs. The company is hoping to provide a happy medium for customers between staying at a friend’s place and shelling out for a hotel room, while helping developers fill space in new buildings as they lease them out.

Jason Fudin, WhyHotel’s co-founder and CEO, told ARLnow that he was interested in opening up shop more properties around Arlington because of the area’s potent mix of tourism and booming residential development. WhyHotel is aiming to open its first “pop up” in D.C., but Fudin says he never lost sight of the county as a “great place to be.”

“We do expect to be in Arlington in perpetuity,” Fudin said. “And as there’s more and more development, we’re hoping to be the solution people look to as they activate their developments.”

Fudin noted that the company has its roots in Arlington. The concept began as an initiative by developer Vornado Realty Trust at “The Bartlett” complex in Pentagon City, but its backers then struck out on their own, initially joining up with Crystal City startup incubator 1776.

Considering that Fudin viewed the company’s work in Pentagon City as a clear success for all involved, driving plenty of business to retailers near the building in the process, he’s hoping to replicate the same formula in Ballston and along the Pike.

Fudin expects that WhyHotel will have its Ballston Quarter rooms ready by April 1, slightly after the residential section of the development (located at 700 N. Randolph Street) is slated to open up. Some stores in the newly renovated Ballston Common mall have already started opening for business, and Fudin expects that will make the rooms immediately above the development plenty desirable.

Beyond the location’s proximity to D.C., he added that the large number of corporate headquarters in the neighborhood (not to mention federal tenants like DARPA) should bring plenty of travelers to the area.

Fudin conceded that the location on the Pike (950 S. George Mason Drive) is a “less dense urban area” than either D.C. or Ballston, but he said the company was still interested in moving in because of how close it is to the Pentagon.

“You have a tremendous number of people that work in defense or in the federal government who call that area home, so we natural customers in that space,” Fudin said. “It’s a great spot for families who are relocating. When you relocate to city, you don’t instantly have housing, whether you’re military or otherwise, and we see this as a great option for them… The ability to stay in a ‘like-home’ experience rather than a small hotel room is better for everybody.”

The Centro Arlington development, which will be anchored by a Harris Teeter grocery store, is to set to open in earnest midway through 2019, so Fudin expects WhyHotel’s rooms will be available there in “late summer or early fall.”

The County Board is set to sign off on allowing WhyHotel to offer some of its new rooms next week. County staff is recommending the Board’s approval for the temporary hotel use at Ballston Quarter for the next two years or so at a Dec. 15 meeting.

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