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Ireland’s Four Courts boarded up on 9/15/22 (staff photo)

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Storefront safety is now top-of-mind for Ireland’s Four Courts after a rideshare driver plowed into the pub and sparked a fire, seriously injuring several people.

While those injured were inside the restaurant, safety advocates say this crash demonstrates why many have concerns about outdoor dining and nightlife, as well as traffic configurations that rely on everyone driving perfectly. For Four Courts, the crash is a chance to rebuild with a greater focus on safety.

“Since the accident, storefront and patio safety is most definitely our highest priority as we plan our reopening,” Managing Partner Dave Cahill said. “I think installing safety bollards in the front of business locations like ours would eliminate the risk of vehicles crashing into buildings and pedestrians.”

Arlington County is more than a year into an initiative to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries. But because storefront crashes like this one are so rare, they aren’t the focus of Vision Zero efforts, according to the county. Instead, this initiative to eliminate traffic serious injuries and fatalities focuses on locations within Arlington’s High Injury Network.

“These types of crashes are often high-profile, but are uncommon,” says Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Katie O’Brien.

Since 2017, 0.25% of total critical crashes, or 32 out of 13,035, involved a driver hitting a building. Two of these crashes — excluding the Courthouse crash — involved a visible, but not severe, injury, while the remainder resulted in property damage only.

Still, it has restaurateur David Guas, of Bayou Bakery, who watched the crash happen, thinking more about safety as well.

“Witnessing it first hand, I had a flash in the pan thought, ‘someone could’ve come down N. Veitch and into Bayou,'” he said. “Technically, it could happen, especially if this is a freak medical emergency.”

Police announced last month that the rideshare driver who drove straight in to the long-time pub likely suffered a medical emergency and will not face charges.

Risk factors

There are a lot of factors that put people at risk near storefronts, according to Storefront Safety Council cofounder Rob Reiter.

“Outdoor dining is inherently more risky,” says Reiter. “Speeds are up everywhere and… you’re always one drunk away from someone accelerating into a crowd.”

Nationally, based on statistics the council has compiled from news reports, court records and studies, the most common reasons are operator error and pedal confusion, followed by drunk driving.

Storefront crash causes (via Storefront Safety Council)

In Arlington, of the serious crashes into a building, almost 30% involved a drunk driver, O’Brien said.

A driver suffering a “medical event” in a crash, as is believed to have happened with Four Courts, is fairly common, Reiter says. Council data indicate medical events make up 9% of storefront crashes.

The bigger issue here, Reiter said, is that the pub sits at a “T” intersection.

These are common in Arlington, in areas of low speed limits and multiple traffic signals and traffic signs, O’Brien said. The intersection ending in Ireland’s Four Courts “was and is being looked at for redesign, as is standard,” she added.

Another hairy traffic configuration is when perpendicular parking abuts the entrance to a store, said another Storefront Safety Council cofounder, Mark Wright, who was hit 14 years ago by a woman who rolled through a parking spot and into the 7-Eleven he was exiting.

While it is convenient, Wright said, “it’s a very risky parking arrangement and obviously parking is a critical component of any thriving, successful shopping center.”

Per Storefront Safety Council data, 23% of crashes involved retail stores and 19% involved restaurants.

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Rāko at 2016 Wilson Blvd remains closed due to what a sign says is an “out of order” espresso machine.

The Courthouse coffee shop has reportedly been closed since at least early this month. A handwritten sign remains outside of the store noting it is “temporarily closed” and that the “espresso machine [is] out of order… we are sorry for the inconvenience.”

The cafe’s interior appears to be unchanged, with furniture set up and the suspect espresso machine still sitting on the counter.

A number of readers have written to ARLnow asking if the closure is permanent due to how long it’s been closed.

“Hi! I am desperate to know what happened to Rako coffee shop in Courthouse. They have had a sign up that their espresso machine is getting fixed for about three weeks?” read one email. “Seems like a bad sign. No phone number or notice on Google/their website. I love their business and it fills a much needed local coffee gap around here!”

ARLnow has reached out to the company and a spokesperson multiple times but has yet to hear back.

Lorton-based Rāko Coffee opened its first brick-and-mortar shop in August 2021. A year ago, the coffee shop signed a lease to open a new location at Amazon’s HQ2.

The row of shops and restaurants along the 2000 block of Wilson Blvd will be dealing with a notable challenge for the next couple of years: construction activity on the former Wendy’s lot, at the top of the block, potentially driving away some customers.

George Ishak, owner of Burger District at 2024 Wilson Blvd, told ARLnow this week that some safety measures are hurting business.

“There’s a new construction starting in the adjacent plot of land but the thing is that they have put a fence in front of my store and also fenced around the tree pit that is exactly in from of my store entrance,” he said. “I filed a complaint with Arlington County requesting to remove the fence in front of my store and around the tree pit since this is negatively impacting my small business.”

Update on 11/19/22 — It appears that the business may owe money to Arlington County, as seen in the photos below.

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(Updated, 5:30 p.m.) Yesterday was an election day as well for employees at the Starbucks in Courthouse Plaza, who voted to become the second D.C.-area location of the coffee giant to unionize.

Workers at a local Starbucks won their election to form a union, as first reported by Washington Post reporter Lauren Kaori Gurley. The employees are organizing with and joining Starbucks Workers United.

Arlington Democrats congratulated employees at the Starbucks in Courthouse at 2200 Clarendon Blvd for winning their union election.

Samuel Dukore, a member of the union and a shift supervisor at the Courthouse Starbucks, told ARLnow that he and his colleagues unionized for better pay, more consistent hours, and uniformly enforced rules and regulations.

This marks the 260th Starbucks nationwide to unionize but only the second one in the D.C. area. The other unionized Starbucks is on P Street in the District, which just voted to form its union last month.

As for what’s next, Dukore he would like to see Starbucks come to the bargaining table to “negotiate in good faith” with the union for a contract.

Over the summer, employees at Union Kitchen in Ballston also voted to form a union joining others at Union Kitchen locations across the region. The National Labor Board determined that Union Kitchen management violated a number of labor laws and engaged in illegal union-busting tactics while workers sought to unionize, as DCist first reported earlier today.

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Early site work appears to have started at the long-vacant former Wendy’s lot in Courthouse.

Greystar Real Estate Partners is building an apartment building at 2025 Clarendon Blvd, about a block from the Courthouse Metro station, where the fast food spot and a bank used to be.

And this week, people nearby have observed that a fence has gone up and digging has started.

This June, Greystar has applied for permits for sheeting and shoring work as well as for construction of a two-level underground parking garage and the 16-story apartment building with an in-ground, rooftop pool, according to Arlington County permit records.

Those plans are still being reviewed.

Permits for 2025 Clarendon Blvd (via Arlington County)

Representatives from Greystar were not able to respond by deadline to comment with a construction timeline.

Greystar will turn the 0.57-acre lot into a 16-story apartment building with 231 residential units and 4,000 square feet of ground-floor retail. Residents will have 75 vehicle parking spaces and one bike parking spot for every unit.

As part of the project, Greystar is adding a public plaza at the tip of western edge of the site — in a prominent location a block from the Metro station, where N. Courthouse Road and Wilson and Clarendon Blvd intersect — as well as an alley along the eastern edge.

Before and after Greystar removed columns on the ground to open up the plaza proposed for 2025 Clarendon Blvd (via Arlington County)

The planned building will be taller than what plans for the neighborhood recommend. Greystar was able to nearly double the number of units and increase the building height by six stories by transferring development rights from Wakefield Manor, a small garden-apartment complex deemed to be historic, less than a half-mile away.

The Wendy’s and bank were torn down and initially set to be replaced with a 12-story office building, which was never built because the developer, Carr Properties, couldn’t find a tenant.

For years, the lot sat vacant. It most recently was used as a staging area for 2000 Clarendon, a condo project across the street, while Greystar bought the site and worked up apartment plans.

Meanwhile, construction continues across the street at “The Commodore” apartments. Construction crews officially broke ground on the project in October 2021 and has been adding floors at a relatively quick pace as of late.

“The Commodore” replaces low-slung brick commercial buildings that housed Jerry’s SubsCosiBoston Market and Summers Restaurant. Completion of the 20-story, 423-unit building is expected next fall, Greystar previously said in a press release.

The Commodore’s ground floor retail space is close to being leased out, according to CBRE. Five businesses have struck preliminary agreements to move into the building, while one retail space is still available for leasing.

The real estate company says it’s focused on attracting “a mix of local and regional food & beverage offerings as well as daily goods & service offerings, from conveniences to luxuries, for the [Courthouse] and Clarendon communities.”

The project, located in the “Landmark Block” in Courthouse, is poised to realize a significant portion of a 2015 vision to redevelop a portion of the neighborhood dubbed “Courthouse Square” and centered around the county’s surface parking lot.

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(Updated at 1:55 p.m.) The rideshare driver who plowed into Ireland’s Four Courts in August, seriously injuring several people, will not face charges.

Arlington County police reiterated this morning that the driver most likely suffered a medical emergency while driving up N. Courthouse Road and speeding into the front of the pub during a Friday happy hour.

“The comprehensive investigation, which included an extensive review of evidence, supported the conclusion the driver experienced a medical emergency prior to the crash,” ACPD said today in a brief update. “Following consultation with the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, criminal charges will not be sought against the driver.”

All three pub-goers who were hospitalized with serious, potentially life-threatening injuries were out of the hospital as of one month ago. One patient was still in critical condition and two others were in stable condition within a week of the crash.

Four Courts’ managing partner told ARLnow today that the cleanup will start soon, now that police and private investigations have wrapped up, though no reopening date has been set. The pub suffered extensive fire damage after the car burst into flames.

“Uber investigators finished their investigation yesterday and we can now finally start the demolition process,” said Dave Cahill. “Once this is done we will know the extent of the damage. We are very grateful for the all the support from all community and from Arlington County as we start this process. We hoping to start the rebuild in a couple of months.”

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Police activity outside of the Arlington County courthouse and police headquarters in Courthouse (file photo)

Police are searching for an armed man who told law enforcement he needed help but then drove off.

The incident happened shortly after 9 a.m. in front of the Arlington County courthouse, near police headquarters, in the Courthouse neighborhood.

“A subject in a vehicle stopped in the crosswalk in the 1400 block of N. Courthouse Road and flagged down sheriff’s deputies for assistance,” Arlington police spokeswoman Ashley Savage tells ARLnow. “When they approached, they observed the subject to be in possession of a firearm.”

“The subject then drove away from the area and the deputies entered their vehicle and followed to investigate,” Savage continued. “The driver stopped at N. Veitch Street and 14th Street N. and the deputies again attempted to make contact with the subject who had stated he was in need of help.”

At that point, the man suddenly took off in the direction of Route 50.

“The subject then drove off, struck a parked vehicle in the 1200 block of N. Courthouse Road and fled the area,” Savage said. “Police remain on scene investigating the incident.”

The suspect’s vehicle was described as a silver Honda Civic, according to police radio traffic.

Update at 12:25 a.m. — The suspect in this incident has been arrested after he allegedly fired shots at Arlington County police and led them on a chase into Fairfax County.

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Banks on the 2500 block of Wilson Blvd (via Google Maps)

(Updated at 1:35 p.m.) A middle-aged man robbed a bank in the Courthouse area Friday afternoon.

The robbery happened on the 2500 block of Wilson Blvd, near the border of the Courthouse and Clarendon neighborhoods, around 3:15 p.m.

From an Arlington County police crime report:

BANK ROBBERY, 2022-09160150, 2500 block of Wilson Boulevard. At approximately 3:20 p.m. on September 16, police were dispatched to the report of an armed robbery just occurred. Upon arrival, it was determined that the unknown male suspect entered the bank, approached a teller, implied he had a weapon and demanded money. The suspect then fled the scene with an undisclosed amount of cash. No weapon was seen or displayed and no injuries were reported. The suspect is described as a light-skin Black male, approximately 40-60 years old, 5’04”, 180 pounds, wearing a black and white hat, black glasses, black face mask, light-gray long sleeve button-up shirt, black pants, and dark shoes, carrying a grocery bag. The investigation is ongoing.

ACPD typically does not reveal the name of a business that has been the victim of a crime. There are two banks on the 2500 block of Wilson Blvd: FVCbank and National Capital Bank.

The last reported bank robbery in Arlington was back in May, when three banks in the Ballston area were robbed in the span of about a week. The suspect in two of those robberies was also described as a short, middle-aged Black man who ran off while carrying a plastic bag.

“This is an ongoing investigation and detectives will work to determine if it is linked to the incidents reported in May,” said ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage, in response to an inquiry from ARLnow.

Image via Google Maps

(Updated at 11:35 a.m.) Arlington might be getting chalupas for Christmas.

The new Taco Bell Cantina at 2039 Wilson Blvd in Courthouse is aiming for a December opening, a company spokesperson tells ARLnow.

The fast food restaurant is currently in the midst of training and hiring for “all positions from assistant managers to team members for all types of hours,” the spokesperson said.

Flyers advertising the job openings can be seen stapled to trees around the neighborhood.

It was first reported in May that a Taco Bell was coming to Courthouse. The location looks — at least in part — to be an effort to appeal to the late-night, hungry crowds leaving the nearby bars.

The main difference between a regular Taco Bell (there’s a location on Langston Blvd) and a Taco Bell Cantina is that the Cantina sells alcohol, including beer, wine, sangria and — just in time for the cold winter months — brightly colored frozen cocktails called “Twisted Freezes.”

There are two other Taco Bell Cantina locations in the region, including in D.C.’s Columbia Heights neighborhood and on King Street in Old Town Alexandria.

Those locations are quite popular and can get crowded, which is why the forthcoming Courthouse location will have three food production lines, as opposed to two, general manager Tim Morgan told ARLnow.

“We want to get service and food out faster,” he said.

There will also be a walk-up window “to streamline mobile orders,” per the company spokesperson.

The space at 2039 Wilson Blvd was previously home to Guarapo Lounge, a Peruvian bar, restaurant and hookah lounge. It closed almost six years ago and the space has not had a new tenant until now.

This is also a return to the neighborhood for Taco Bell. The fast food chain once had a standalone location on the hill between Courthouse and Rosslyn, near where the 7-Eleven and Ace Hardware now sit. It closed about a decade ago, along with Dr. Dremo’s, to make way for new development.

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(Updated at 2:40 p.m.) The rideshare driver who crashed into Ireland’s Four Courts in Courthouse last month likely experienced “a medical emergency” before driving into the building, police say.

This preliminary explanation comes after Arlington County police previously ruled out drunk driving as well as malicious intent.

The crash set fire to the popular pub, situated next to the “T” intersection of N. Courthouse Road and Wilson Blvd, during a local company’s happy hour event. It triggered a large emergency response and road closures as people fled the fiery scene. More than a dozen people were hurt.

Police said today that all three pub-goers who were hospitalized with serious, potentially life-threatening injuries have now been released — a little over a month after they were admitted. One patient was still in critical condition and two others were in stable condition within a week of the crash.

The seriously injured people are expected to undergo a rehabilitation process as they continue to recover, we’re told.

In all, 15 people were injured, including nine brought to local hospitals. Of them, three were Four Courts employees hospitalized for less serious injuries, including smoke inhalation.

Four Courts Managing Partner Dave Cahill told ARLnow that the patrons who were seriously injured may not have survived but for other quick-thinking fellow pub-goers, including a volunteer firefighter, as well as first responders who arrived on scene just moments after the crash.

“Our thoughts and prayers have been with them for this whole time,” Cahill said of the victims. “They’re regulars who come in here all the time… we’re happy that they’ve started the next stage of recovery.”

Building inspectors determined that Four Courts is structurally sound but not fit for occupancy due to the extensive damage.

The pub is planning to rebuild, funded in part by a now-closed GoFundMe campaign that blew well past its $50,000 goal, raising just over $95,000. Tonight, fellow Arlington Irish pub Samuel Beckett’s (2800 S. Randolph Street) is hosting a fundraiser and silent auction for Four Courts staff.

Cahill told ARLnow today that insurance and other matters are still being worked out before construction can begin that would allow at least part of the pub to reopen. If demolition starts soon, he said, the best case scenario would be reopening in late spring or early summer of 2023.

When the doors swing back open, he wants customers to feel like nothing has changed, and for regulars to request the same TV channels and sit in the same seats they’ve sat in for years.

“We’re going to work and recreate Four Courts as close back to the original as possible,” he said. “We don’t want people to walk in here and think they’re in a different place. Things will be updated, obviously, but we want people to feel at home in the Four Courts.”

The only thing that many repeat customers would miss would be their personal mugs. Four Courts had a mug club with more than 1,475 mugs people purchased; added their names, football team logos and family crests to; and drank from whenever they came in.

“We lost a lot of mugs,” he said. “When the fire came, it melted the mug and left the handle. We’re sad about that. That was a big part of the brand.”

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A 3D image of the proposed Courthouse West development on Wilson Blvd (image via Arlington County)

The Arlington County Board is finally set to vote this weekend on the potential height of a new development coming to Wilson Blvd between Clarendon and Courthouse.

For months, height has been the topic of conversation for the proposed project being dubbed “Courthouse West” at 2636 Wilson Blvd on what is currently a parking lot housing ghost kitchen trailers.

Back in July, the Planning Commission voted to amend the General Land Use Plan (GLUP) from “service commercial” to “Office-Apartment-Hotel.” That designation allows the development to be between 6 and 16 stories high.

However, that is where the differences in opinions lie.

Last week, after a public hearing, the Planning Commission recommended that County Board adopt the county staff’s GLUP study — but with one very notable change.

In the study, county staff recommended a designation of “Medium Office-Apartment-Hotel” which would cap the height of the building at 12 stories, reasoning that height is in line with the rest of the planning for the corridor, would “fit well into the existing skyline,” and would minimize shadows on nearby residential properties.

This is also seemingly closer to what nearby residents who voiced their opinions on the project want. In December, an online survey was disseminated to the public where more than half of the respondents voted for a maximum height of 6 to 10 stories.

At its early September meeting, however, the Planning Commission voted to amend the study to change the designation to “High Office-Apartment-Hotel,” which would allow up to 16 stories. This is also what the applicant, the Ballston-based developer CRC Companies, wants as well.

The Planning Commission went against staff recommendation not to guarantee the highest possible building, several commissioners said, but to allow the height talk to continue without ruling out up to 16 stories.

More affordable housing, concentrating more residents in proximity to transit, and an increased likelihood of a revamped Courthouse Metro entrance all are potential advantages of a taller building, several noted.

“I want to make sure the community knows we are not approving a 16-story building… We are giving the option to allow staff to potentially negotiate up to that height if they provide community benefits that the Planning Commission thinks are valuable,” said commissioner Tenley Peterson at the Sept. 7 meeting.

The vote was not unanimous, with other commissioners calling the 12-story height cap proposed by staff a “reasonable compromise.”

Now, the decision goes to the County Board this weekend. Even if the Board allows consideration of a 16-story building, it would still have to go through a public review and engagement process prior to any final approvals and construction.

“After the Board’s action this weekend, adopted guidance would be in place to inform a future application for development, and a property owner would have to submit an application that would go through the County’s public review and engagement process on the specifics of the development proposal,” Erika Moore with the county’s Dept. of Community Planning, Housing, and Development told ARLnow.

Beyond this particular project, there was a clear sentiment from the Planning Commission that the way the county is conducting comprehensive community planning may need a revamp.

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File photo

(Updated at 3:05 p.m.) A pair of incidents involving local businesses and armed suspects were reported in today’s Arlington County Police Department crime report.

One happened on the 2000 block of Clarendon Blvd in Courthouse around 8:40 a.m. Wednesday morning.

“The female victim was standing outside a business when the suspect walked by and she greeted her,” according to police. “The suspect then allegedly made threatening statements, brandished a knife and held it towards the victim before fleeing the scene on foot.”

Initial reports suggest that the victim was an employee of the Ace hardware store on the block and that the suspect held the knife up to her throat. It’s not clear what, if anything, prompted the alleged attack.

“During the course of the investigation, officers identified the suspect, located her and took her into custody without incident at her residence,” said ACPD. “No injuries were reported.”

A 33-year-old Arlington woman was arrested and charged with Assault and Battery and Abduction, police said. She was held in jail without bond.

Early this morning, meanwhile, police responded to the 3300 block of Langston Blvd in the Cherrydale neighborhood for another report of an armed suspect at a local business.

“At approximately 4:38 a.m. on September 8, police were dispatched to the report of an armed robbery [that] just occurred,” said today’s crime report. “Upon arrival, it was determined the employee was inside the lobby of the business when the unknown suspect entered and approached the counter. The suspect then brandished a firearm and demanded money. The suspect stole an undisclosed amount of cash before fleeing the scene.”

The name of the business was not given by police.

“No injuries were reported,” the crime report said. “The investigation is ongoing.”

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