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Pickleball being played outside at Walter Reed Community Center (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

More neighbors are threatening legal action because of the infamous pickleball pop.

A resident living near the Walter Reed Community Center tells ARLnow that the noise coming from the nearby pickleball courts is “excessive” and constant, to the point that that a group of neighbors is “contemplating a lawsuit of our own” against the county.

“Our community center, with its 9 courts, has become ‘pickleball central,'” Ashley, a resident who lives near the community center, wrote to ARLnow in an email. “We believe the excessive playtime that generates a loud, constant popping sound negatively impacts our quality of life and property value.”

ARLnow received an additional call from a nearby resident, reiterating many of these claims and decrying the loud “pop” made when a pickleball hits a paddle.

The eight households involved all live on 16th Street S., across the street from the community center. They have joined together in asking the county to do something about the crowds and noise coming from the pickleball courts, per Ashley. She’s asked that her last name be withheld for privacy reasons.

In recent weeks, the residents met with Arlington’s Dept. of Parks and Recreation, a couple of County Board members, and the Columbia Heights Civic Association to make their concerns known.

So far, discussions haven’t produced the outcome they are hoping for: enforcing court hours, closing some pickleball courts, and reconsideration of plans to potentially add more courts. They believe that the noise coming from the courts is in violation of the county’s noise ordinance.

The group says they’re considering legal action along similar lines to what the Old Glebe Civic Association has discussed, as previously reported by ARLnow.

“None of us want to put an end to pickleball. Everybody has a right to use the park and its services,” Ashley said. “It’s just excessive. It’s loud and it’s very intrusive.”

Earlier this month, Old Glebe Civic Association also began considering legal action due to the ending of a pilot program that had closed a pickleball court at Glebe Road Park. The court’s recent reopening has made the noise issue even “more contentious,” with the civic association’s leadership saying that “a solution short of litigation appears unlikely.”

Ashley said when she and her neighbors read that story, it seemed like confirmation that their situation also would not be resolved without some sort of legal action. Ashley has lived in her home on 16th Street S. for about five years, but it was this past summer when the noise became “maddening.”

Pickleball has taken Arlington — and the U.S. generally — by storm over the last few years. This year, however, the sport seemingly grew beyond the county’s current capacity, prompting a tug-of-war between those who want more pickleball facilities, neighbors concerned about noise, and the players of other sports — particularly tennis — who stand to lose courts to the pickleball juggernaut.

Ashley said that there were times over the summer and into the fall when she could hear the pop of the ball hitting the paddle starting at 5 a.m. and not stopping until 11 p.m — 18 hours a day.

Reading the comments on previous ARLnow pickleball stories, she knows her complaints can seem ridiculous to some, but she insists they are legit.

“It sounds really comical, but when you live across the street from an endless stream of just popping, it’s not funny,” she said.

Ashley and other neighbors met with local parks and rec officials in October, a meeting the department confirmed to ARLnow. The neighbors asked DPR to limit court hours, close some courts to pickleball to allow other sports to be played, and better monitor the noise coming from the courts.

They also expressed their disappointment in not being formally consulted about the possibility of new courts coming to Walter Reed.

“We were not consulted as a community, nor do we support this plan,” she said.

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Counterfeit OxyContin with fentanyl, also known as ‘blues’ (via Drug Enforcement Agency/Flickr)

(Updated 11/02/22 at 9:20 a.m.) “Do you know how it feels to look at your daughter when she can’t move her eyes?”

That’s an Arlington mother, who spoke to ARLnow on the condition of anonymity, about a recent fentanyl overdose her 13-year-old daughter survived. It happened off school grounds, but the mother believes her daughter took the drugs during school hours.

Parents and school community leaders who have spoken with ARLnow say that students in middle and high school are able to access counterfeit prescription oxycodone laced with fentanyl at or near schools.

The mother who spoke to ARLnow said her daughter started vaping nicotine and marijuana in middle school, and by the end of eighth grade, got a hold of counterfeit Percocet — a mixture of oxycodone and acetaminophen — cut with fentanyl.

“The only thing I want is for the parents to know that kids can get every kind of drug inside the schools,” she said through a Spanish-language interpreter. “I want them to be conscious and aware of what’s going on in the school. I don’t want other parents to go through what I went through and I want the schools to pay more attention.”

It has been difficult to quantify drug use among Arlington students. Parents fear parent-shaming — but the mother who spoke with ARLnow did say three other moms she knows are struggling with the same problems — and ARLnow couldn’t get data specific to drug overdoses involving minors.

The Arlington County Police Department provided the number of calls for service to Arlington Public Schools buildings involving reports of an overdose, which encompasses use of prescription drugs, illegal substances or alcohol.

The data shows there has been a relatively small but steady number of calls to buildings since 2018. Although there was a brief drop when schools were closed during the early stages of the pandemic, the rate hasn’t changed despite the decision to remove School Resource Officers from school grounds.

Overdose calls to Arlington Public Schools buildings (courtesy of ACPD)

“Overall, the volume of juvenile-involved opioid cases remains limited across Arlington, however, all cases involving opioids are taken seriously and thoroughly investigated,” ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage said.

Anecdotally, there were three overdoses last academic year, according to Elder Julio Basurto and Janeth Valenzuela, who founded Juntos en Justicia, an advocacy group representing Arlington’s Latino population. This school year, they have only heard of the overdose involving the 13-year-old girl mentioned earlier.

Basurto and Valenzuela noted that they have heard teens take the drugs in the bathrooms and distribute them in nearby parks and by vape shops near the schools.

“It’s getting out of hand,” Valenzuela said. “If we don’t do anything to correct this we’ll lose a generation.”

https://twitter.com/ElderBasurto/status/1583435692331257856

What’s going on

Basurto said he has heard different descriptions of what kids are taking, and that ambiguity is part of the problem.

“We can’t confirm exactly what it is,” he said. “Something they smoke, something square in their mouth, they get high off that.”

He described some students obtaining blue pills that are then crushed into aluminum foil. Those are counterfeit oxycodone pills, known as “blues” or “M30s.”

“The real concern, the real worry, is these counterfeit pressed pills,” says Jim Dooley, who has taught more than 900 Arlingtonians how to administer Narcan through the Arlington Addiction Recovery Initiative. “What kids are getting — and adults — in a large number of cases, are pills that look identical to commercially manufactured pills: Adderall for attention, Xanax for anxiety.”

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(Updated at 5:55 p.m.) The former Forest Inn space in Westover will be switching from Budweiser and burgers to margaritas and tacos.

The Forest Inn, one of Arlington’s last dive bars, closed in June after more than 40 years in business in the neighborhood. Its general manager told ARLnow that the landlord declined to renew the lease.

But the storefront at 5849 Washington Blvd will not be vacant for long.

Westover Taco, a new Mexican restaurant and bar, is planning to open next year in the relatively small restaurant space. It’s being helmed by Sarah White, a restaurant industry veteran who runs the Cowboy Cafe on Langston Blvd, which many lovingly consider a dive bar, as well as several local Lost Dog Cafe franchise locations.

We’re told White will co-own the business with five partners: Cowboy co-owners Jim Barnes, Mike Barnes, Mike Danner and Wes Clough, plus local serial entrepreneur Scott Parker.

(White was also a 2021 candidate for House of Delegates in Falls Church and part of Fairfax County.)

Westover Taco logo (courtesy Scott Parker)

Parker tells ARLnow that the plan for the dog-leg-shaped, 1,000+ square foot space is to “blow out the ceilings and really open up the space and give it a brighter vibe.” That might include roll-up windows in the back of the space, which looks out on a parking lot, to provide an open-air setting during nice weather.

“It’s definitely going to be an entire flip of the space,” Parker said. “Everything will be brand new.”

The concept for Westover Taco is simple: margaritas and tacos. While it will no longer be a dive bar, Parker hopes to attract a mix of Westover residents and other locals while establishing a solid base of regular customers.

“Everyone is welcome,” he said.

Parker noted that many of the half-dozen partners grew up near the Westover area and, given the small size of the restaurant and the number of co-owners, this is more a labor of love than a money-making opportunity for those involved. It’s also something that the partners are looking at in the long term.

“Most of the restaurants there are pretty busy, and many of them have been there for decades. So it’s a it’s a really strong, loyal market,” he said. “When you put something good there, it should do really well. So I do expect us to build a solid regular [customer] base pretty quickly. And I think the locals will love what we do.”

The partners have not yet taken possession of the space, Parker said, but the hope is to start work soon and open at some point in mid-2023.

Parker, who recently returned from a trip to Mexico City, posted photos from inside the cleared-out Forest Inn via an Instagram story on Aug. 1, as noted by ARLnow at the time.

Parker counts the Cowboy Cafe and Lost Dog co-owners as long-time friends and said they’ve been looking to partner on something local for awhile.

“We just always wanted to do a project together,” he said. “This is certainly something that borders on a passion project of sorts. None of us is going to get rich or take over the world having all these partners in one small restaurant, so it’s more of something that we just want to work as a team to put something special in a neighborhood that we think is really cool.”

Images of the closed Forest Inn posted on social media (via Scott Parker/Instagram)

As for his other business ventures, the prolific Parker told ARLnow that boxing gym Bash and pet daycare and boarding business Playful Pack are both on track to start franchising nationally in the near future. High-end barbershop Bearded Goat — currently in Ballston and Shirlington — is also eyeing an expansion to other cities, but that may take longer to play out, he said.

Asked about his ability to open so many local businesses, Parker credited his business partners for helping to make them a success while he focuses on the long-term path to growth.

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The Clarendon Ballroom is coming back.

The well-known Wilson Blvd nightlife spot is once again opening its doors, perhaps as early as this weekend, with a renovated interior, a new rooftop deck, and a state-of-the-art audio/visual set-up, owner Michael Darby tells ARLnow.

Darby is just waiting on the liquor license. The hope is that it comes in within the next few days, the local developer, reality star, and former owner of Oz restaurant in Clarendon says.

The space will also have a slightly modified moniker. It will be branded as “CB” with “The Ball Room” as a secondary name.

“Clarendon has really come of age. You’ve got all the great restaurants and bars,” Darby says. “And now with what we are doing with the Ballroom, that tops it off.”

It was more than two years ago when Clarendon Ballroom first closed its doors. A year after shuttering, in December 2020, Darby’s company Monument Realty purchased the building at 3185 Wilson Blvd for $6.7 million. The company then leased out the space for close to two years to the owners of nearby outdoor beer garden The Lot, who operated a series of themed pop-up bars there.

But back in March, as ARLnow reported, county records showed that Darby had applied for a building permit to start construction. The lease with those running the pop-up bars was then terminated a few weeks ago so that Monument Realty could take over the space themselves to finish off the renovations.

The initial plan, though, was different. Darby says he originally wanted another tenant, one that was “national” and “bigger, more financially secure” but that never came to pass.

“We didn’t really get the right responses and tenants that we would be happy with long term, especially with such a phenomenal location and such a great building,” Darby says. “So, what we decided to do was to take it over ourselves as an owner/operator and move forward in that manner.”

A laundry list of improvements has been made to the space since. There are all new wood floors, new paint, an “overhaul” of the upstairs, new carpet, a redone roof deck,  a replaced roof, updated furniture, better countertops, and new VIP cabana areas.

The bathrooms are also completely redone downstairs.

“If you ever went down there, you probably didn’t want to spend much time there. Now, the [bathrooms] are clean and bright,” Darby says.

What has him most excited, though, is the new audio/visual set-up saying there’s “probably nothing like it in the area.” The state-of-the-art system will connect the music to video screens, he says, with house and guest DJs spinning the whole night.

Darby declined to say exactly how much money he’s invested into the Ballroom’s renovations so far, only that the dollars were “significant” and that this is a “long-term situation.”

This isn’t the nightlife venue’s final form, either. There’s a plan to put a speakeasy-themed bar with a separate entrance on the bottom floor. It could require a password or discovering a hidden panel to get into.

“It’ll be a low ceiling area with luxurious couches and seats. There will be a light show that’ll be attached to the ceiling,” Darby says. “It’ll be very dramatic.”

The plan is to open that portion of the nightlife venue next spring.

Locals may know Darby as the co-owner of the since-shuttered Australian restaurant Oz, which is turning into a Wagamama and is located only a few blocks from the Ballroom in Clarendon.

Reality show watchers may know him from his appearances on Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Potomac” alongside then-wife Ashley Darby. The trials and tribulations of Oz, which opened in 2015 and was co-owned by the couple, became a recurring storyline in the show. The restaurant closed in 2019.

The couple announced their divorce earlier this year. Ashley Darby is returning to the show for the new season and has said that those in the D.C. area may “see some cameras around the summer.”

It’s unclear whether Michael Darby or the Ballroom will make an appearance on the show in the upcoming season.

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Screenshot from video of a fight at a cafeteria in Arlington Public Schools (courtesy anonymous)

Over the last four days, fights involving kids and weapons broke out near Gunston and Thomas Jefferson middle schools, while Wakefield High School had multiple trash cans set on fire.

Those are the most recent incidents in what some parents — mostly to middle schoolers — say is a rash of fights, threats of violence and other concerning behaviors happening in the public school system.

Earlier this month, for example, a mother told the School Board her daughter at Gunston Middle School was attacked by other students.

“My daughter’s eye is messed up,” Shana Robertson told the Arlington School Board on March 10. “She was jumped by two boys and two girls, and nothing has been done.”

A parent, Shayna Robertson, speaks out about unsafe conditions in Arlington Public Schools (via APS)

ARLnow spoke to multiple parents who say these issues are happening across the school system. We also reviewed several videos of brawls on school grounds, or near them, recorded by students this year.

Arlington Public Schools confirms to ARLnow that the school system has, in fact, noticed an increase in the number of reported fights and incidents this school year.

“This rise in concerning behaviors follows the national trend that is not unique to Arlington, as students re-acclimate to being back in school and face increased stress and anxiety, as well as other mental health and social-emotional challenges due to COVID and the trauma students experienced as a result,” APS spokesman Andrew Robinson said.

The trend has prompted some parents to call for more disciplinary actions for students and a renewed conversation about whether to reinstall Arlington County Police Department School Resource Officers, who were removed over the summer out of concern for racial disparities in juvenile arrests.

Opinions on reinstalling SROs are mixed. Some say this would help keep students in line and some say they may help — but they will not address the root cause. Others say SROs would not only fail to address the root cause, but they would also needlessly drive up the number of arrests.

“This is happening across the country, even at schools with police officers,” says Symone Walker, a member of the Arlington branch of the NAACP’s education committee and a former ARLnow columnist. “You really have to start addressing the emotional needs, the physical needs, the academic needs. Of course, there’s stuff going on at homes where families are stressed. Parents are angry and the kids are soaking it all up — it’s a much deeper problem.”

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Columbia Gardens Apartments at 5309 8th Road S. (via Google Maps)

(Updated 10:45 a.m.) Nearly 60 residents and families on Columbia Pike are scrambling to find new housing options under the shadow of a looming redevelopment project.

The impacted tenants live at Columbia Gardens Apartments (5309 8th Road S.), a collection of market-rate affordable garden apartments. Some families have lived there for upward of 20 years, but now, 62 units will be replaced with townhouses through a by-right development project.

Residents have about 50 days to find new homes. Last weekend, they received letters via certified mail giving them until March 31 to vacate, listing nearby complexes with openings and local movers, and offering $200 in rental assistance. The complex owner had transitioned them to month-to-month leases before giving them the notice, which would have been 120 days by law if they had renewed for a year.

“Everybody’s stressed,” says tenant Maria Torres, 31, who has a daughter at Campbell Elementary School. “They want to stay in the same area because they want their kids to stay in the same schools. We’re in the middle of the pandemic and the school year, and some people don’t have the money to just go and give a deposit and a month of rent.”

Tenants knew eventually the apartments would be torn down, since the property owner is also redeveloping the property it owns nearby at 843 S. Greenbrier Street, a separate project that received County Board approval in November 2020. But, she says, management didn’t indicate when notice would come for them.

“We thought they were going to give us time,” says Torres, a 15-year Pike resident. “We didn’t imagine it’d be only 45 days.”

Now, the 58 households will be competing for affordable housing in Arlington, which is grappling with a shortage of options as well as habitability concerns, such as rodents and mold, at some complexes with units set aside for low-income residents. This bottleneck could drive longtime residents out of the county, tenant advocates say.

“We have a shortage of affordable apartments,” said Elder Julio Basurto, a community leader working with the tenants. “Where are they going to go?”

A tenant meeting outside Columbia Gardens Apartments (courtesy photo)

Advocates and some local elected officials say the notice is unjust and poorly timed, and are trying to buy tenants more time to resettle. Long term, they aim to reform the state housing codes to require longer notice periods for month-to-month renters and enact local policies to support low- and moderate-income communities at risk of displacement as the Pike redevelops.

“This is a horrible situation in the middle of winter, in the middle of a pandemic, with kids going to local schools having to potentially move out of school,” said Del. Alfonso Lopez, whose district includes most of Columbia Pike. “Everything about it is horrible, and it needs to be addressed immediately.”

Columbia Gardens’ owner, Merion Companies, says it’s doing what it can to help — but ultimately, the old buildings need to come down.

“There is no good time to [give notice],” said managing member Ryan Bensten. “We’re completely sensitive to that fact and have tried to do the right thing by our tenants to minimize heartache and impact.”

He said Merion provided a list of 13 locations where the group found vacancies and are trying to place some families in other units on the Columbia Gardens property not yet slated for development. He has three staff members dedicated to answering calls and working with tenants.

“These buildings have lived beyond their useful life,” Bensten said. “We’re moving on with a redevelopment — the project is complex with a lot of moving parts and we’re doing our best to be responsible to our tenants as we can.”

On short notice 

At the core of this saga is a frustration with Virginia code, which requires landlords to provide 30 days of notice to tenants on month-to-month leases in the event of a renovation project, as opposed to 120 days of notice for year-long leases.

It’s a provision that dates back at least to 2005, says Lopez, but was most recently clarified in 2015 as part of a law providing protections to residents of mobile homes.

Merion acquired the property around four years ago, and as tenants’ year-long leases expired, they transitioned to month-to-month arrangements, Bensten says.

“Typically, in Virginia, the month-to-month lease automatically kicks in once your lease has expired and if the landlord doesn’t make an attempt to renew the normal lease,” says Kellen MacBeth, who chairs the Arlington branch of the NAACP’s Housing Committee and is Vice-Chair of the Arlington Housing Commission.

Both tenants and landlords can terminate a month-to-month lease with 30 days of notice, which is convenient for landlords and can sometimes benefit tenants, he said.

“But in the case where the tenant has a family and has established themselves in this neighborhood — this is their home and they’re not looking to make major changes — it can be really challenging, as we see here,” MacBeth said. “Thirty days is not a lot of time to pack up your family and move.”

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McDonald’s in Bluemont (file photo)

A video purporting to show two people attacking an employee inside the Bluemont McDonald’s has been obtained by ARLnow.

The attack happened around 11 p.m. Monday, at the restaurant on the 5000 block of Wilson Blvd. Police say two suspects, a man and a woman, were “involved in a verbal dispute with an employee after receiving an incorrect order through the drive-thru.” The incident then allegedly turned violent.

“Suspect One allegedly threw a water bottle through the window, before parking the vehicle and entering the business,” said the Arlington County Police Department. “Suspect One continued the dispute with the employee before the two suspects began physically assaulting and striking the employee.”

The grainy video, below, shows two people holding down the victim, who’s lying on the floor next to the drive-thru window.

“Call the police,” employees could be heard saying.

“Get off her head,” another says.

“What the [expletive] is wrong with you,” an unidentified person says, before the pair leave the restaurant.

The person who sent the video said the incident started when “the woman wanted free food” and the employee refused. The victim closed the drive-thru window after being splashed with water, but the suspects then went inside, according to the person.

The person alleged that the suspects made negative remarks about the victim being Latina.

The allegations could not be immediately confirmed by police. ACPD also declined to say whether they had the video below in their possession.

“As a result of the investigation, two individuals have been arrested and charged and the case will be processed through the court system where evidence and facts will be presented,” said police spokeswoman Ashley Savage. “To ensure the integrity of the ongoing prosecution, there are no additional details to provide at this time.”

Two suspects were taken into custody after police say they initially ran several red lights in the Ballston area before pulling over. A search of their vehicle turned up a gun, according to ACPD.

“Justice Bridges, 26, of Washington D.C., was arrested and charged with Malicious Wounding and Eluding Police,” said an ACPD crime report. “Michael Ritch, 24 of Capitol Heights, Md., was arrested and charged with Assault & Battery and Felon in Possession of a Firearm.”

The person who sent the video said the victim suffered injuries to her torso and her face but is feeling better.

Note: the following video contains strong language and is not safe for work.

Unanswered questions remain after a security contractor was killed at the U.S. State Department’s National Foreign Affairs Training Center in Arlington.

The incident happened the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 16, at the 65-acre campus near the intersection of Arlington Blvd (Route 50) and N. George Mason Drive.

Arlington’s 911 dispatch center received multiple calls shortly after 6 p.m. for a pedestrian struck on the P2 lot of the campus. Callers were asked to start CPR on the victim, who was then rushed via ambulance to Virginia Hospital Center in cardiac arrest, according to fire department radio traffic.

The exact circumstances around who struck the victim and with what type of vehicle remain unclear. The dispatches reference a large amount of blood on the scene.

Arlington County police and fire department spokespeople deferred comment to federal authorities.

The State Department confirmed that the victim, a security contractor, died.

“We can confirm the death of a uniformed protection officer (UPO) with the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) on November 16, 2021,” a spokesperson said in a statement, in response to an inquiry from ARLnow. “The officer was assigned to the National Foreign Affairs Training Center in Arlington, Virginia. The officer was a contractor whose job duties included domestic facilities protection. The Department of State extends its deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of the deceased.”

The State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service arm, which is based in Rosslyn, is leading the investigation.

“We do not comment on ongoing investigations due to privacy and law enforcement sensitivity considerations,” the State Department spokesperson said. “There is no further information we can provide at this time.”

The spokesman did not respond to a question seeking more clarity on what exactly happened.

ARLnow is told that the contractor who was killed was a 22-year-old former high school football player from Waldorf, Maryland. His funeral was held earlier this month.

The National Foreign Affairs Training Center is one of several locations of the Foreign Service Institute, which trains U.S. foreign affairs personnel.

Airbnb logo on a former office space in Clarendon (file photo)

Airbnb is the only major homestay platform not paying a tax levied on third-party lodging providers in Arlington County, ARLnow has learned exclusively.

On Sept. 1, a new Virginia law went into effect requiring businesses that facilitate homestay transactions to collect and pay a locality’s Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT). Previously, individual hosts collected the tax.

Taxes under the new system were due on Oct. 20, and so far, Airbnb — the platform with an outsized share of Arlington’s short-term rentals  — has yet to comply. Homestay platform Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO), by contrast, appears to be complying.

“As of now, Airbnb is the only major homestay platform operator that has not complied with the new state law,” Susan Anderson, the communications director for the Office of the Commissioner of Revenue, tells ARLnow. “We are aware that other localities are also experiencing the same issue.”

Arlington has 840 active homestay rentals listed on either Airbnb and VRBO, and Airbnb listings comprise 82% of rentals, with another 10% listed on both platforms, according to short-term rental data company AirDNA. That means the county could be losing out on significant tax income each month.

The tax comes out to 8.25%, including a 5% county TOT, a 0.25% local tourism TOT and the state’s 3% regional TOT.

Active Airbnb and VRBO rentals (via Airdna)

Anderson said the office cannot disclose how much Airbnb owes due to a state law that prohibits the release of such information about individual taxpayers. However, we are told the office continues to assess Airbnb for the tax each month and is working to bring the lodging company into compliance.

A back-and-forth between county tax collectors and Airbnb appears to have been going on since at least Oct. 11, when the county notified Airbnb of its obligations in writing, per a copy of the letter obtained by ARLnow.

“The Commissioner of Revenue’s legal counsel has advised the company of its obligations and staff continues to follow up to ensure compliance,” Anderson said.

The Commissioner of Revenue has the power to determine how much should have been collected and can assess Airbnb for owed taxes, said William J. Burgess, the deputy commissioner and legal counsel for the Office of the Commissioner of Revenue.

The Arlington County Treasurer’s Office, meanwhile, “has the power and responsibility to collect payment of delinquent amounts,” he added.

Airbnb claims it hasn’t paid the TOT tax yet because of “ambiguity” in the state law. The company says it does not have the authority to collect this tax and has just started having conversations aimed at reaching a “technical solution” allowing it to collect this tax.

“Airbnb believes in helping our community pay taxes, and we have been collecting and remitting Virginia state sales tax on behalf of our Hosts since 2019, like we do in thousands of jurisdictions around the world,” said Laura Rillos, an Airbnb spokeswoman. “Unfortunately, as written, SB 1398 does not legally authorize Airbnb to collect and remit local transient occupancy taxes.”

“We are committed to working with lawmakers and stakeholders to find a technical solution so that all platform businesses have a basis to collect under the law,” Rillos continued. “We remain committed to working with communities and stakeholders across Virginia to support tourism recovery and help deliver these important tourism dollars.”

One local host who has been following this issue closely, reaching out to the county and Del. Patrick Hope (D-47) to see what is being done to get Airbnb in compliance, told ARLnow that the county could be getting shortchanged by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“Airbnb was actually not collecting TOT from my guests, or guests in Arlington in general, as the company should have been,” said Diane Page, who has been letting out a suite attached to her Arlington Forest house since 2017. “I knew this because I saw my guest invoices, and when I randomly looked at other private (not corporate) Airbnb listings in Arlington, saw that Airbnb was not charging TOT.”

Using AirDNA data, Page estimates that the county could be missing out on more than $100,000 a month in taxes from Airbnb.

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Police at Peace Officers Memorial Day ceremony in 2019 (file photo)

(Updated at 3:30 p.m.) The number of sworn police officers on the streets in Arlington has dipped below 300 amid retirements and officers leaving for more lucrative positions, including at Amazon’s HQ2.

Multiple sources within the department have expressed concern about the shrinking police force, telling ARLnow that officer morale is low and stagnant wages have led many to consider leaving. Among those departing is a deputy chief, said to be among a number of officers who have taken security jobs at HQ2.

“There is a mass exodus from within the Arlington County Police Department,” said one of several people inside the department who have reached out to ARLnow, on the condition of anonymity. “Many officers are leaving for better paying positions in the private sector, including Amazon HQ2… the county hasn’t provided a pay raise in roughly three years.”

“The police department is currently severely understaffed,” said another tipster. “Morale is extremely low. Based on survey results, another 40+ officers plan to leave before the end of the year. I hate to say it, but the police department is a sinking ship right now.”

ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage acknowledged that while the overall number of officers is little changed since a 2018 restructuring prompted by staffing challenges then, the number of sworn officers actually out on patrol is, in fact, down at the moment — and below the 300 mark.

“ACPD’s authorized strength is 376 sworn officers with 10 of those positions frozen during the FY 2022 budget,” Savage said. “Currently, our on-board sworn staff is 346 officers. Functionally, we are operating below this number as approximately 45 members are in a training status to become a solo police officer and 10 are on light-duty assignments due to medical needs.”

Arlington County Police Department staffing (via ACPD)

Savage noted that police departments across the country are facing staffing challenges amid the pandemic and in the wake of anti-police-violence protests last summer following the killing of George Floyd.

“Law enforcement agencies across our region and the U.S. are struggling to retain qualified police officers and finding it equally challenging to recruit new members to the profession,” she said. “Here in Arlington, the police department completed a strategic restructuring in 2018 due to a significant reduction in our workforce. Since then, we have been successful in hiring larger classes of recruit officers, but this has not offset the number of departures due to attrition, retirements and officers seeking other opportunities.”

Police departments in Alexandria, Baltimore and elsewhere have reported similar issues with low staffing levels.

“The department continues to prioritize core services by responding to in-progress crimes and emergency calls for service where there is an immediate threat to life, health or property; investigating crimes against people and serious property crimes; and engaging and building community partnerships with those we serve,” Savage said. “There are currently 23 recruit officers in training who will be released to solo patrol at the beginning of November. At that time, we will review our allocation of resources to determine if they meet current staffing requirements.”

But officers are continuing to leave the department, sources tell ARLnow.

At least two officers announced their resignation since Wednesday night, we’re told. A recent survey conducted by Arlington’s police union found that nearly 100 officers — about 40% of respondents — are planning to leave ACPD within a year.

One department source called the figure “staggering.”

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A now-former Arlington elections official is facing charges after police say she improperly removed someone from the voter roll.

Tyra Baker turned herself in on August 26, according to Arlington County police, after arrest warrants were issued in connection to an incident last fall involving Baker’s service in the elections office. She was released on bond but is due to be arraigned in court today (Thursday) on charges of voter intimidation, a misdemeanor, and election official corrupt conduct, a felony, according to court records.

A person with knowledge of the situation, who wished to remain anonymous, tells ARLnow that it started with a dispute over money at Baker’s family-run funeral home in Green Valley.

Baker managed the Chinn Baker Funeral Service on S. Shirlington Road, which was owned by her father until his death in 2018. Family members accused Baker of financial impropriety, leading to a physical confrontation last summer, the person said.

Baker was arrested after that alleged incident and charged with assault.

“At approximately 3:10 p.m. on June 27, 2020, police were dispatched to the 2600 block of Shirlington Road for the report of a domestic dispute,” said Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Kirby Clark. “Tyra Baker, 51, of Arlington, Va., was arrested and charged with Domestic Assault and Battery. As the incident was domestic in nature, further details are protected under Virginia Code.”

Baker pleaded not guilty to the assault charge in Arlington General District Court. Her next court appearance in that case is set for May 2022, according to court records.

At the time of her arrest, Baker was still a part-time worker in the Arlington elections office.

Baker “worked as a seasonal Assistant Registrar since 2008,” Arlington Director of Elections Gretchen Reinemeyer said via a county spokeswoman, adding that she has also “served for several decades as an election officer on Election Day.”

The person familiar with the situation said the individual Baker is accused of subsequently removing from the voter roll was the assault victim. Police declined to confirm that, citing the need to “best protect the identity of the victim in each case.” The person removed from the roll only became aware of it after trying to vote in the pivotal fall 2020 general election.

“In October 2020, the victim attempted to vote in Arlington County, but was informed she was previously removed from the voter roll and unable to cast a ballot,” Clark tells ARLnow. “The victim subsequently filed an official complaint with the Arlington County Office of Elections. In December 2020, the Arlington County Police Department was contacted by Special Prosecutor Tony Kostelecky of the Prince William County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office regarding the case and began to investigate.”

“Follow-up investigation by detectives determined that the suspect was working as an Assistant Registrar in the Arlington County Office of Elections when she removed the known victim from the voter roll without proper authorization and without completing adequate documentation,” Clark continued. “Warrants were obtained for Tyra Baker, 51, of Arlington, Va., for § 24.2-607 Prohibited conduct; intimidation of voters; disturbance of election; how prevented; penalties and § 24.2-1001 Willful neglect or corrupt conduct. Baker turned herself in at the Office of the Magistrate on August 26, 2021, where she was served the warrants, and subsequently released on an unsecured bond.”

Reinemeyer described the incident as “isolated” but declined to provide specific information about the allegation. Generally, she said, voters who cannot cast a standard ballot at the polls are allowed to cast a provisional ballot pending further investigation.

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