Press Club
Arlington County Courthouse (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

A new restorative justice program launched last week in Arlington, aimed at diverting those under the age of 26 from the criminal justice system.

The “Heart of Safety” program, part of the county’s Restorative Arlington initiative, held its first training session early last week. The program’s goal is to find alternatives to criminal prosecution for certain misdemeanor and felony crimes committed by young adults.

Through a conferencing process managed by trained professionals and facilitators, it will allow both the accused and the victim or victims a choice in how to best deal with the crime committed. The main factor for eligibility is the participants’ commitment to the process, as opposed to determining eligibility based solely on the crime involved.

In practice, however, leaders tell ARLnow that initially “Heart of Safety” will likely focus on certain types of crime to start.

“The determining factor for eligibility is participant commitment to the process,” Kimiko Lighty, Restorative Arlington executive director, wrote to ARLnow in an email. “This program is voluntary at every stage so the engagement of the parties most directly affected by the harm, the person harmed and the person responsible for harm, is the determining factor NOT the type of harm.”

“Initially we will likely focus on assault and battery and grand larceny, as the data mapping with Impact Justice determined that those are the charges with the largest racial and [ethnic] disparities,” she continued. “We believe families are eager for an alternative to traditional criminal prosecution that can maintain public safety by holding young people accountable without saddling their future with a criminal record,.”

The Memorandum of Understanding for “Heart of Safety” was first signed in February by Arlington’s top prosecutor, Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, who campaigned in 2019 on creating a restorative justice program of this nature. The program is being aided by $340,000 in federal funding from the U.S. Justice Department.

In attendance at the training session along with Restorative Arlington leaders were personnel from the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney and members of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Services Unit.

The first session “offered information, discussion, and trust building between the two county offices and Restorative Arlington,” according to the press release.

Lighty said the session also dealt with “how restorative justice allows survivors to participate in ways traditional systems do not, how it reduces recidivism in ways that traditional systems do not, and how it provides young people the tools to handle conflict in ways that traditional systems do not.”

The second training session will be held this summer, but an exact date has yet to be finalized.

Additionally, an agreement that would refer Arlington Public Schools students directly to the program is still be worked on. It’s currently in the draft stage and it should be finalized soon, says Lighty.

It has taken more than two years for the promised program to get up and running. Dehghani-Tafti tells ARLnow that a lot of studying, planning, and designing were needed prior to launching something that’s never been done in the county. That includes working with prior victims of crime and those who were formerly incarcerated, to help establish “Heart of Safety” policies and procedures.

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Late night chalupas and booze appears to be coming soon to Courthouse, with Taco Bell preparing to open its newest Cantina location.

A permit was filed earlier this week for a new Taco Bell at 2039 Wilson Blvd, county records show. The location is likely to be the fast food chain’s restaurant-bar combo, Taco Bell Cantina, as reported by the Washington Business Journal.

The permit notes that work is being limited to the first floor and will include a new HVAC system, electrical, plumbing, furniture, and kitchen equipment. A single-use restroom will also be part of the construction.

The space at 2039 Wilson Blvd was formerly after-work staple Guarapo Lounge, which closed nearly six years ago after being open for a decade and a half. Next door is a post office.

It appears that Taco Bell will be just filling the space’s 2,166-square-foot first floor, leaving the second floor open for another tenant.

The restaurant’s dining room will have an occupancy of 48 and the queuing area of a dozen, per the Washington Business Journal.

It’s unclear when the new eatery might open.

“We don’t have any details to share currently,” a Taco Bell spokesperson told ARLnow.

If this new Courthouse location does end up being a Taco Bell Cantina, it will be the third regional location of the fast food spin-off. This includes eateries in Old Town Alexandria and in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of D.C.

The main difference between a regular Taco Bell and a Cantina is that the latter sells alcohol, including beer, wine, sangria, and “Twisted Freezes.”

This would notably be a return to the neighborhood for the chain. More than a decade ago, there was a Taco Bell on the hill between Rosslyn and Courthouse — alongside the late, lamented bar Dr. Dremo’s — before the old buildings were demolished and a new mixed-use development at 2001 Clarendon Blvd went up.

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Morning Notes

Dogwoods in bloom along Arlington’s Bluemont Trail (Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler)

Taco Bell Returning to Courthouse — “Arlington’s Courthouse neighborhood has gone more than a decade without a Taco Bell. That sad period in its history will soon come to an end. The fast-food chain’s restaurant-bar combo, Taco Bell Cantina, will replace a portion of the multistory Guarapo, the lounge-tapas-hookah bar place that shuttered roughly six years ago, according to plans obtained from Construction Journal.” [Washington Business Journal]

Farewell, Farmbird — “It sounds like D.C. Farmbird locations are now closed, in addition to the Ballston location… People could be seen hauling items out of the Farmbird in Ballston today after an online auction for the restaurant’s equipment.” [Twitter, Barred in DC]

Economic Development Director Leaving — “Telly Tucker, Arlington Economic Development’s director for the last couple years, is leaving that post and heading back to his old stomping grounds in south-central Virginia to helm a regional economic development group there. Effective May 31, Tucker will be the maiden president for the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research.” [Washington Business Journal]

Clarendon Sector Plan Changes Approved — “The Board voted to adopt certain elements of the Clarendon Sector Plan that include:
An update to the 2006 plan, which includes several revisions to policies and design guidelines related to future development. General Land Use Plan (GLUP) Map and Booklet amendments. Zoning ordinance amendments to coincide with the updated sector plan.” [Arlington County]

Beyer Gets Some Conservative Points — “Is U.S. Rep. Don Beyer getting more conservative as his congressional career continues? By one measure the answer is ‘yes,’ although nobody is likely to confuse him with Barry Goldwater anytime soon. Beyer (D-8th) garnered a score of 5 on a 0-to-100 scorecard detailed by the American Conservative Union Foundation on April 26, based on votes taken during the 2021 congressional session. That’s up from 4 a year before.” [Sun Gazette]

Rosslyn ‘Doggie Spa Day’ Today — “Calling all Rosslyn dogs and their humans! Pamper your pup with… special treats for your furry friend. Come out to the Gateway Park Interim Dog Park on… Thursday, April 28 from 3:30-5:30 p.m. for our Rosslyn Refresh pup giveaways at the Rosslyn Trike!” [Rosslyn BID]

Carillon Dedication Scheduled — “A community event and Freedom Concert to mark the rededication of the Netherlands Carillon adjacent to the U.S. Marine War Memorial (Iwo Jima Memorial) will be held on Thursday, May 5 from 10 a.m. to noon. The date marks the 77th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands by Allied Forces during World War II.” [Sun Gazette]

It’s Thursday — Clear throughout the day, after a chilly and breezy morning. High of 57 and low of 35. Sunrise at 6:15 am and sunset at 7:59 pm. [Weather.gov]

Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler

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Chef David Guas was like many of us when he saw the images coming out of Ukraine — upset and desperate to do something.

“My wife was tired of me yelling at the TV… she says, ‘You should text José [Andrés] to let him know you want to do something,”’ the owner of Bayou Bakery in Courthouse and occasional television personality tells ARLnow. “And a couple of hours later, there was an email saying David was on his way to Poland. There was no turning back.”

Guas spent 15 days last month in Poland working with World Central Kitchen, the nonprofit founded by Andrés, to help feed Ukrainian refugees as they fled their war-torn home. Earlier this week, the Arlington-based chef also donated $21,000 from his Community Spoon initiative to WCK to help continue its mission in Europe.

“It’s going to be used to buy food. Beef, borscht, cabbage, some potatoes…It’s going to continue to just fuel them financially, so they can continue to think big,” Guas says about his donation.

This isn’t the first time that Arlington’s resident celebrity chef has helped during hard times. In the early part of the pandemic, he formed Chefs Feeding Families, which provided free, plant-based meals to underserved Arlington families. Then, he served up meals to the National Guard and local law enforcement protecting the Capitol. Last year, he put together Community Spoon, which was initially founded to help feed Afghan refugees coming into the region.

Then, came Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the heartbreaking images of people fleeing their homeland.

Upon arriving in Poland, Guas was stationed at a WCK facility in the city of Przemyśl which is only about seven miles from the Ukrainian border. There, he cooked and made biscuits, soup, applesauce cake, and meat to serve to volunteers and refugees crossing the border.

“[We were making] a lot of broths, a lot of soups, and a ton of vegetables,” he says. “Beef stocks, pork stocks, chicken stocks, beef cheeks, beef shoulder, and a lot of chicken. Basically, a soup or broth every single day.”

There was also hot chocolate, served both in the morning and at night.

“Everyone needed a little sugar and a little chocolate,” Guas says.

He admits the work was hard and could be monotonous. For more than two weeks, his days were on repeat with him starting at 7 a.m., working 12 to 14 hours, trying to decompress, and going to bed. Then, he would start it all over again.

There were days when he spent hours defrosting hundreds of pounds of beef cheeks, but Guas knew this is where he needed to be.

“I was there because this is who I am… needing to help,” he says.

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Response to car fire in Courthouse on Sunday afternoon (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

A car fire behind a row of restaurants in Courthouse prompted evacuations and road closures, but was quickly extinguished.

The fire broke out behind TNR Cafe, on the 2000 block of Wilson Blvd, around 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. The carbeque sent smoke into the air and into nearby buildings — and reportedly prompted the evacuation of Ireland’s Four Courts.

Arlington County firefighters made quick work of the blaze, however, allowing the mid-afternoon bar-going crowds to continue their revelry and traffic to continue flowing on Wilson Blvd.

No injuries were reported.

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A one-stop-shop for a workout and a post-workout meal is gearing up to open in the former Ray’s the Steaks location in Courthouse.

The forthcoming gym-café, FitDistrict, will have a little bit of everything: studios for hot yoga, cycling and interval training classes, and a diverse menu ranging from wheatgrass shots to healthified comfort classics, like shepherd’s pie.

“This has been a dream in the making for a long time,” says owner and founder Catherine Ford, who is also an Arlington resident.

Construction began about two weeks ago on the approximately 7,500-square foot space in the Navy League building at 2300 Wilson Blvd. It housed the iconic, no-frills steakhouse until that closed in 2019.

She expects to open the gym and restaurant at the same time in July.

“We’re all so busy and we are all are craving belonging and community — now more than ever — so it’s going to be fitness and food, but it’s about belonging and community,” she said. “Our tagline is ‘feel good here,’ because that’s what it’s about.”

After finishing a workout, gym members can head over to the café, which will have indoor and outdoor seating, or pick up a to-go order they placed before their workout. Ford designed the menu, which has vegan, vegetarian and paleo-friendly options.

“The whole idea came out of something I wanted in my own life and my personal struggles of fitting it all in,” she said.

The FitDistrict logo (courtesy photo)

As a financial planner, Ford had difficulty finding time for her two passions: attending group fitness classes and cooking healthy food. As someone who enjoyed a variety of workouts, she maintained multiple memberships to different boutique gyms.

The idea for one spot housing multiple studios and a restaurant came to her 10 years ago, when she was hungry after a barre class she had squeezed in before a meeting. She mulled the concept for years before deciding to act on it.

“I am grateful I found the courage a couple of years ago to go after it,” she said. “This has been a journey of a lifetime already.”

Ford incorporated FitDistrict in 2017 and found a bank to work with her in 2018. It took her a few years to find the right location, but she eventually signed a lease on the space a little more than a year ago. Now, she’s focused on construction and hiring for multiple positions.

She still works as a financial planner by day, but her hope is to go full time and, eventually, add locations.

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Out of control cars and falling trees have made the past 24 hours the thing of nightmares for local light poles.

The pole carnage started just before 12:30 p.m. yesterday (Tuesday), in Courthouse.

A delivery driver parked her SUV on the steep section of Wilson Blvd in Courthouse in order to pick up kabobs, but the car somehow started rolling down the hill after she got out. It crashed into a parked pickup truck, smashed some sidewalk seating and annihilated a light pole in front of Burger District at 2024 Wilson Blvd. Construction workers who were in the area ran to the scene and called 911, but luckily no one was hurt.

George Ishak, owner of Burger District, says it was his truck that was damaged. He was grateful, however, for the ultimate sacrifice made by the light pole.

“God protected me,” he tells ARLnow. “If the pole wasn’t there, the car could have easily gone into my store.”

The restaurant’s surveillance video of the crash, provided to ARLnow, is below.

Just a couple of hours later and less than a mile away, another light pole was felled by the dangerous combination of vehicles and gravity.

At the intersection of Key Blvd and N. Oak Street, among the office and apartment buildings of Rosslyn, a car rolled backward down a hill and crashed into a pole that looked uncannily similar to the first. The circumstances around the 3 p.m. crash were unclear, but the result was the same: what had once stood proudly along Key Blvd, sharing its light with the world, was now horizontal and shattered on the ground.

Police arrived on scene shortly thereafter, assessing the damage and talking to a man who was either the driver or a witness.

Unfortunately for the light poles of Arlington, the destruction has continued this morning.

Police were called to the intersection of 21st Street N. and N. Scott Street in the North Highlands neighborhood around 9:30 a.m. for a report of a tree that fell and demolished yet another light pole. No human injuries were reported. Officers remain on scene as of publication time.

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This weekend, the Arlington County Board approved two apartment redevelopments that members lauded as architecturally distinct additions to Columbia Pike and Courthouse.

Members heaped praises on “The Elliott,” a new apartment building replacing the Fillmore Gardens shopping center, a one-story retail strip on the 2600 block of Columbia Pike.

Named for Elliott Burka, who managed the Fillmore Gardens apartments, “The Elliott” will situate 247 market-rate apartments above a grocery store (rumored to potentially be an Amazon Fresh), a renovated CVS store and a new location for Burritos Bros, currently located in the CVS parking lot.

It will also have three levels of below-grade parking.

They commended Arlington-based developer Insight Property Group for realizing community benefits — a public plaza, a pedestrian passageway and a new S. Cleveland Street — and for intending to make room for the existing retail in the completed building.

“This building will be delivering so much more than 247 residential units and the 50,000 square feet of commercial space,”said Board Member Takis Karantonis, who lives near the project. “It delivers the second half of the Penrose plaza, which is arguably, in my opinion at least, one of the most successful public, multipurpose plazas in Arlington County and a true community gathering place.”

Insight Property Group planner Sarah Davidson did not say the name of the grocer coming to “The Elliott,” but she did say the company is “very, very interested” in how to enliven Penrose Square.

Meanwhile, developer Greystar now has the go-ahead to build a glassy triangular skyscraper on the 0.57-acre vacant Wendy’s site in Courthouse, about a block from the Courthouse Metro station. The building will have 16 stories, with 231 residential units and 4,000 square feet of ground-floor retail.

It was approved despite some concerns among residents about the building’s height and the fact that it only provides 75 parking spots and 12 on-site committed affordable units.

“This will be a luxury, very expensive apartment building in Arlington — something we don’t have any deficit of,” said Board Vice-Chair Christian Dorsey. “To the extent that it adds to the housing supply for which there still continues to be strong demand for units at that price point, it helps with our housing strategy and goals for affordable housing indirectly.”

He said he also was concerned there are too few parking spots, but there are underused parking garages nearby to take advantage of.

“My suspicion is the reason people are willing to pay such a premium is to be three minutes from the Metro,” Board Chair Katie Cristol said, adding that “it is incumbent on us [to try to ensure that] it is not only the super wealthy who can live close to transit and all the access it provides.”

As for height, County Board members said the building is only 18 feet taller than the office building previously approved for this site. The Rosslyn to Courthouse Urban Design Study, meanwhile, recommends building no taller than 10 stories in this area.

Leslie Arminsky, speaking on behalf of the Radnor/Ft. Myer Heights Civic Association, said there should be 28 committed affordable units on site — rather than the approved 12 — while Board members opined that they should be committed affordable units for more than 30 years.

County staff countered that 30 years is standard for these projects.

While the Planning Commission was “thrilled” with the on-site affordable units — somewhat unusual for this manner of development project, with most developers opting to contribute monetarily to the county’s affordable housing fund instead — commissioners are concerned Greystar will seek a conversion of apartments to temporary hotel rooms if vacancy rates are high amid the initial leasing of the building, commission member Elizabeth Gearin said.

Hotel conversions are slated to be discussed tomorrow (Tuesday) during the County Board’s recessed meeting.

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Morning Notes

Looking at the Key Bridge and Rosslyn (Flickr pool photo by Jeff Vincent)

Obit for a Local Legend — “John T. ‘Til’ Hazel Jr., a Virginia lawyer and developer who played a crucial role in building the Capital Beltway and transforming Northern Virginia from a rural outpost of Washington into an economic powerhouse, died March 15 at his home… He was a force behind the rise to prominence of GMU, acquiring land and lobbying for a school of law in Arlington, Va.” [Washington Post, Virginia Business]

County Holding Covid Remembrance — “The County Board invites members of our community to join in remembering Arlington neighbors who have lost their lives to COVID-19 over the past two years… Saturday, March 19, 2022 | 02:00 PM.” [Arlington County]

Repeated Thefts from Courthouse CVS — “The male suspect entered into the business, went behind the counter and attempted to open the cash register before being confronted by an employee. The suspect then walked through the store and stole a beverage and food items before leaving. The suspect then reentered and exited the business two more times, stealing more beverages and food items in the process. During his third entry into the business, the suspect was confronted by an employee and attempted to throw a beverage at a witness who approached him. The suspect then fled the scene on foot but returned a short time later and was taken into custody by responding officers.” [ACPD]

Beyer Blasts Plane Plan — “Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA), Representative of Northern Virginia and member of the Quiet Skies Caucus, today wrote to the heads of the U.S. Secret Service and the Federal Aviation Administration seeking a halt to procedural changes for regional airplane flight patterns. Beyer’s letter noted that the because the changes were not preceded by an environmental review process and were implemented just before a major drop-off in flights caused by the pandemic, their impact on noise levels in the region is just starting to be felt in full for the first time now.” [Press Release]

It’s St. Patrick’s Day — Rain in the morning and afternoon. High of 57 and low of 50. Sunrise at 7:18 am and sunset at 7:18 pm. [Weather.gov]

Flickr pool photo by Jeff Vincent

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2014 Four Courts Four Miler road race (photo courtesy of Brian W. Knight/Swim Bike Run Photography)

The Four Courts Four Miler is back and is set to close a stretch of Wilson Blvd in Courthouse and Rosslyn for several hours on Saturday morning.

The annual St. Patrick’s Day-themed race, sponsored by Ireland’s Four Courts and organized by Pacers, will shut down Wilson Blvd between N. Courthouse Road to N. Rhodes Street starting at 6 a.m. and, then, the rest of Wilson Blvd to Route 110 starting at 8:30 a.m.

Northbound Route 110 will also be closed from I-395 to I-66 starting at 8:30 a.m. Southbound Route 110 will remain open through the duration of the race. Metro buses will continue to operate, though detoured.

All the roads will reopen at 11 a.m.

Arlington County Police Department recommends using Route 50 to get to Courthouse Road and Langston Blvd to get through Rosslyn. Street parking will be limited in the area, so be on the lookout for “no parking” signs.

Runners and spectators are encouraged to use Metro or other forms of “multimodal transportation.”

Planned Four Courts Four Miler road closures (via ACPD)

The Four Courts Four Miler is one of a number of St. Patrick’s Day festivities in Arlington. The race was canceled in 2020 due to the emerging pandemic and was virtual last year. This year, it’s back to being in-person, though there remains a virtual option.

The race starts at 9 a.m. The first half of the course is downhill while the second half is uphill, notes the race information page.

After the run, the nearly-three-decade old Irish pub in Courthouse will host live music and Irish dancers all day, until last call at 1:30 a.m., per the pub’s website.

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Final approvals could be imminent for a high-rise apartment building proposed for the long-vacant Wendy’s lot.

Plans to redevelop 2025 Clarendon Blvd are set for Planning Commission and County Board votes next month, beginning with the Planning Commission on March 7. The County Board is expected to review the plans during its Saturday meeting on March 19.

Greystar Real Estate Partners is proposing to turn the 0.57-acre lot about a block from the Courthouse Metro station 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 — where N. Courthouse Road and Wilson and Clarendon Blvd intersect — and an alley along the eastern edge.

The site languished for years after the Wendy’s and a bank were torn down to make room for a 12-story office building proposed by Carr Properties — which was never built because Carr couldn’t secure a tenant.

The lot has been used as a staging area for 2000 Clarendon, a condo project across the street, as the site changed hands and Greystar drafted new plans for apartments.

Last fall, most residents who participated in a public engagement process seemed to welcome the switch from office to residential use, although they were divided on the low parking ratio and the height, given the one-story retail and low-rise brick apartment buildings nearby.

The proposal is much taller than the recommended maximum of 10 stories in the Rosslyn to Courthouse Urban Design Study.

But Greystar was able to nearly double the number of units it could pack onto the site and increase the building height by six stories through a 104,789 square foot transfer of development rights from Wakefield Manor, a small garden-apartment complex deemed to be historic, located less than a half-mile from the proposed development.

Before and after Greystar removed patios to decrease the massing proposed for 2025 Clarendon Blvd (via Arlington County)

Greystar did adjust the project a bit in response to community and staff feedback.

To make the building feel less bulky, it removed columns running along the ground of the public plaza as well as some patios on the upper stories, Walsh Colucci land use attorney Nick Cummings said during a November presentation.

During the same meeting, county planner Adam Watson said Arlington continues to work with Greystar to make the plaza more vibrant than a concrete slab, with more plantings, movable seating and diverse building materials.

“There’s a number of things we’re working on to get there,” he said.

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

Greystar, meanwhile, is currently building new apartments a stone’s throw away in Courthouse on the “Landmark Block” (2050 Wilson Blvd). This project is poised to realize a significant portion of a 2015 vision to transform the neighborhood.

A few more county projects and private developments have to get underway, however, for the vision to be fully realized.

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