Arlington, VA

Developer JBG Smith may be planning to let people sip alcohol as they browse shops and sit outdoors in shopping areas near Amazon’s future headquarters in Pentagon City and Crystal City.

State records with the Virginia Alcohol Beverage Authority Control Authority indicate that the developer applied for a “Commercial Lifestyle Center” license this week. The special license is part of a 2018 law allowing shoppers to bring alcoholic beverages into shops or outdoor plazas to encourage consumers to stay longer and attend outdoor events.

Under the new law, shopping centers can apply for a license provided they have at least 100,000 square feet of retail space and demonstrate they can police the area, as reported by the Washington Business Journal. The law also requires the application come from an association of businesses in a shopping area, not a single business on its own.

JBG Smith applied for the license via a newly-created organization called National Landing Business Owners Association Inc., which listed a phone number in the application matching JBG Smith’s Chevy Chase office.

A spokeswoman for the developer declined to comment when reached yesterday (Tuesday.)

The Association was formed in June by an attorney from the Arlington-based law firm Walsh, Colucci, Lubeley & Walsh, which represents JBG Smith on several projects, including the two towers they’re building at Amazon’s Metropolitan Park headquarters.

One place in the Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard area — dubbed “National Landing” — at which the developer could use the license would be its Crystal Square project. The project aims to redevelop the block of Crystal Drive into a “retail hub” between 15th Street S. and 18th Street S.

JBG Smith has called for adding new retailers like an Alamo Drafthouse movie theater, a grocery store, and an outdoor dining area to the block near the Crystal City Metro station.

Image via Gensler

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There are 234 students in Arlington Public Schools who have been granted an exemption from the state’s vaccine requirements for schools, according to APS officials.

The number of unvaccinated students is less than one percent (0.85%) of the total 27,521 students enrolled as of June of 2019. However, these numbers have proportionally doubled since 2015.

“We would need more time to investigate this thoroughly, however I believe it’s best attributed to the increase in student enrollment and how we’re capturing the data,” said Catherine Ashby, the Director of Communications for APS, in an email to ARLnow.

According to Virginia law, a family can request their child skip mandated vaccinations for valid medical or religious reasons.

“We are constantly communicating with APS so they can communicate with families,” said School Health Bureau (SHB) Chief Sarah N. Bell in a press release for the new school year. “What we don’t want is for any child to be excluded on the first day of school.”

The bureau collaborated with APS officials to check whether students are up to date on their vaccinations by the start of the school year.

This school year, Ashby said APS had 100% compliance for TDAP (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) vaccines by the first day of school among the families who did not request an exemption. This is an improvement from the group of around 30 students who did not have their TDAP vaccinations up to date by the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year.

Debates around childhood vaccination exemptions came into the spotlight this year due to the onslaught of measles outbreaks. From January to September 5 the CDC confirmed 1,241 individual cases of measles, a disease once considered eradicated, across 31 states.

A July investigation from ABC 7 revealed 8,000 students who live and go to school in D.C. — whether public, private, charter, or parochial — do not meet proper vaccination requirements.

In Maryland, the rate of unvaccinated kindergarteners has nearly doubled over the last decade.

Currently there are four states which do not permit religious exemptions for vaccinations: New York, California, Mississippi, and West Virginia. Maine will remove the exemption in 2021.

File photo

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Arlington’s one-time Congressional candidate Gwendolyn Beck reportedly flew on notorious sex offender Jeffrey Epstein’s private jets, and was photographed partying with him and Prince Andrew.

Two British newspapers reported on the revelations last week, focusing on the prince’s association but also mentioning Beck. The 2014 independent candidate for Virginia’s 8th Congressional district told ARLnow today that her name is being “dragged into this” despite not doing anything wrong.

The Guardian reported last week that new flight logs indicate that Andrew flew on Epstein’s private jet with Beck in 1999, around the time Beck has said she managed about $65 million of the billionaire’s investment funds for Morgan Stanley. Beck flew with Epstein on his jet multiple times in the late nineties, logs show, including with former Treasury secretary and Harvard president Larry Summers.

Women have accused Epstein of using his Boeing 727 — nicknamed the “Lolita Express” — to traffic underage girls in New York, Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Investigators recently subpoenaed his personal pilots to in connection to the accusations.

Logs have shown passengers over the years included word leaders like President Trump and Bill Clinton, but have not indicated passengers took part in the crimes Epstein with which was charged. Epstein died in a Manhattan jail cell last month; his death was ruled a suicide.

Beck was also captured in a photo from 2000 shared by the Daily Mirror, which was taken at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida; it shows Beck smiling standing in a circle with Epstein, Andrew, and now-First Lady Melania Trump (then Melania Knauss).

Beck reiterated the prince’s public denials of wrongdoing in Epstein’s company.

“Prince Andrew has a delightful personality and is a total gentleman,” she told ARLnow in a brief phone interview Tuesday morning. “I firmly agree with the statements he has made publicly.”

Beck was listed in Epstein’s “black book” under a “Massage — Florida” heading, as reported by The Smoking Gun in 2015. The book also contained the contact information for wealthy businessmen and underage victims who said they were forced to provide naked massages for Epstein and his friends.

Beck told the Smoking Gun at the time that she had received “a couple of massages” at Epstein’s home from a masseuse, but had never given any herself or spotted underage girls.

“I’m just sorry that I got dragged into all this,” Beck told ARLnow today of her association with Epstein, adding that she was “at a lack of words.”

In addition to being a VIP at his home and on his private jet, Beck was also the first candidate to accept political contributions from Epstein — as reported by ARLnow in 2015 — after he was forced to register as a sex offender in 2008 for soliciting sex from a minor.

Epstein donated a total of $12,600 to help Beck’s 2014 campaign. The money made up about half of her eventual warchest against incumbent Rep. Don Beyer who won the November general election that year with 63% of the vote compared to Beck’s 2.7% of the vote.

“I thought that Jeffrey was healed, I don’t know,” Beck told ARLnow today.

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(Updated at 2 p.m.) Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall is assessing damage to two dozen different buildings on the base caused by last month’s disastrous flooding, per a spokesperson.

“The base is still assessing the damage sustained during the flooding and is working on a report to be forwarded to our higher headquarters at the Army’s Installation Management Command,” said JBMHH Spokeswoman Leah Rubalcaba.

“There were a total of 26 facilities across our three bases of Fort Myer, Henderson Hall and Fort McNair that sustained water damage,” Rubalcaba told ARLnow in an email yesterday (Thursday.) “Military organizations do not have insurance, but are allotted an annual budget for operations and maintenance. Then, based on the final assessment and funding availability, additional funds will be forwarded to JBM-HH for repairs.”

She said the base has had to move events, like a recent job fair, into the basketball court because the community center is currently unusable.

“Somehow water got under the flooring and the floor buckled so nobody can walk on it,” she said.

Additionally, one bus from Marine Corps Base Quantico was parked in the lower lot by Henderson Hall — part of the headquarters of the U.S. Marine Corps — when rain flooded the area, damaging the bus along with four cars and a forklift.

The Henderson Hall parking lot, dubbed the “lower flood lot,” is prone to flooding because of the landscape’s natural drainage. But in her 15 years of working on the base, Rubalcaba said she’s never seen flooding as high as during the storm on July 8.

“We know we’re going to get a little bit of rain there. But usually like an inch,” she said. “That’s why we don’t build anything there. People know that’s what happens and they stay away from it.” 

The unusually strong storm last month dumped 3-4 inches of water in an hour on Arlington. Roads, businesses and homes across the county were inundated with water and sewage with one stream swallowed whole by a broken pipe.

Countywide, the storm wrought an estimated $4 million in damages to publicly-owned property alone.

“We’re hoping to get some extra funding just to get everything repaired,” said Rubalcaba.

Courtesy photo

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A thief reportedly stole equipment worth tens of thousands of dollars from the famous Inner Ear Studio near Shirlington this morning.

The building’s landlord was the first to spot something was amiss: a car was parked by the rear door of the recording studio with the trunk open.

“He got pictures,” said Inner Ear owner Don Zientara, of the landlord’s eagle eye. “But they were stolen [license] plates.”

Several police officers could be seen on scene today just before 1 p.m., searching the studio. An officer photographed the remnants of a lock that had been punched through, leaving a gaping hole in the building’s front door.

“The stuff I can see just by looking totals around $10,000,” said Zientara, who described holes in the wall where some of his music recording equipment once stood.

He said he’s still working on assessing all the pieces of equipment that were stolen, but so far noticed a power supply, a pre-amplifier, and a Telefunken AR-51 tube condenser microphone are gone. Other, expensive items like computers had been left untouched, he noted.

“It was kind of indiscriminate,” said Zientara, who said his insurance will likely cover the losses.

Over the past three decades, he said thieves have never targeted his Shirlington studio — though a bass guitar once went missing many years ago.

Police responded to the call about the theft just after noon today, though the theft took place earlier in the morning, per scanner traffic.

Zientara founded Inner Ear Studio in the late 1970s, recording a long list of bands, including key members of the D.C. area’s punk scene.

Since then, the studio has continued to record independent artists. But it’s also attracted big names like the Foo Fighters, who recorded in the studio for their 2014 album Sonic Highways. An HBO documentary about the band and the album prominently featured Inner Ear.

Foo frontman Dave Grohl and bandmates previously recorded at Inner Ear before he went on to worldwide fame as a member of Nirvana.

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Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz’s proposed budget is expected to include a relatively modest $5 million in cuts, but that includes the elimination of about 32 county government jobs.

The early word on the budget comes from an email sent to county staff yesterday by Schwartz and obtained by ARLnow. Schwartz is scheduled to formally present his budget proposal next Thursday, Feb. 21.

The size of the reductions is much smaller than initially feared. Schwartz initially warned that the county was facing a $20-35 million gap.

Schwartz said that the county will work with affected employees to help them find and apply for vacant county government positions.

The manager’s proposed budget is one of the first concrete steps in a months-long process that culminates with the County Board’s adoption of a final budget in April. Arlington Public Schools, meanwhile, is facing its own budget challenges in the midst of continued enrollment growth and school construction.

The email from Schwartz is below.

February 13, 2019

To: All County Employees

As we get closer to submission of my proposed FY 2020 Budget to the County Board (a work session will be held February 21), I wanted to update you on the contents and timeline.

My proposed budget will include more than $5 million in proposed reductions – far less than the $20 to $35 million gap discussed last
Fall. My base budget includes elimination of about 32 positions – about 2/3 of which are currently filled. Affected employees will find out this week about the proposals.

In addition, the proposed budget will continue my commitment to the compensation maintenance plan for all general employees and the added commitments to Police, Fire and Sheriff staff included in the County Board adopted pay philosophy.

Next week I will provide you with more detailed information. Until then, those employees who might be affected by some of the proposed cuts are going through a difficult time. We are encouraging them to pursue vacant County positions and will do our best to match their skills with those vacancies. Our Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is also a great resource and support for all County employees during this time.

These cuts involve difficult choices. The County Board does not adopt a final budget until April 2019, and I will continue to keep you
updated as we learn more. Again, thank you for your continued commitment and support for Arlington County. I am grateful each day for Arlington’s dedicated workforce.

Sincerely,

Mark J. Schwartz
County Manager

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All signs point to Crystal City being a landing spot for at least half of Amazon’s proposed HQ2 — well, all but perhaps one.

The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times and now NPR are all reporting that Crystal City is likely to be announced as the future home of a major Amazon office campus. The announcement could come as soon as this week.

NPR had perhaps the most direct reporting about Crystal City’s imminent selection, writing:

Amazon is still in the final stages of negotiations, the sources say, but Crystal City, Va., is expected to pick up one-half of the deal, the people told NPR. Crystal City is a suburb of Washington, D.C.

New York City has been reported as a potential second location.

Thus far ARLnow has not, in our own reporting, heard any definitive word that Crystal City will be selected. As part of our reporting, however, we’ve been tracking a tip regarding a temporary event tent.

Over the weekend, according to the tipster, a company called Select Event Group starting constructing a platform for a large, temporary event space on a vacant JBG Smith-owned property along S. Eads Street, near an Amazon-owned Whole Foods store.

“My best guess is that JBG Smith is preparing for an event where they’ll be celebrating HQ2,” said the tipster, whose apartment overlooks the site.

JBG Smith is the preeminent property owner in Crystal City and has been gussying up the neighborhood to, according to the Washington Business Journal, impress visiting Amazon executives. The painted bicycles the company has placed around the area are on a fence in front of where the event space was been set up.

Whatever the event space was intended for, it appears that plans might have changed. Today an ARLnow reporter saw the materials for the tent being packed up, loaded onto two rental tractor trailers and driven out of the area. Workers wearing blue Select Event Group hoodies oversaw the work.

Asked about the half-built event space and whether it was HQ2-related, a PR rep for JBG Smith dismissed it as “regular construction activity.”

Reached by phone, a man named Alex, who identified himself as the president of Select Event Group but did not give his last name, declined to answer ARLnow’s questions.

“We don’t comment about any of our open contracts,” he said, before hanging up.

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The Arlington County Police Department is planning a “strategic restructuring” as a wave of retirements and departures leaves significant gaps in its staffing.

Services could be reduced as the department’s functional strength falls to a projected 50 officers below its authorized force of 370, according to an internal memo sent by police chief M. Jay Farr and obtained by ARLnow.com.

The Arlington Police Beneficiary Association, an employee organization representing Arlington officers that is advocating for higher police compensation in the county’s current budget process, said the “historic understaffing” is due to “sub-par pay.”

Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz’s proposed budget includes a 2.5 percent pay raise for rank-and-file officers, on top of pay hikes for all county employees. The raise does not apply to the department’s command staff. The County Board voted over the weekend against a property tax rate increase, meaning that any additional money for the department beyond Schwartz’s recommendation will likely result in reductions elsewhere in the budget.

The police department is actively recruiting to try to fill staffing holes, but faces competition from other D.C. area local police departments as well as federal law enforcement agencies that often have higher levels of pay. Asked about the numbers, ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage said the total staffing level at the department is a bit higher than the functional staffing level.

“The Arlington County Police Department has an authorized staffing of 370 officers and a current strength of 346 officers,” she told ARLnow.com. “Our current strength includes recruits currently at the academy as well as officers on light duty so our functional staffing is a little lower.”

A table showing retirements and non-retirement departures from the police department, as provided by a county spokeswoman, shows a sharp uptick in 2017.

In a statement, Savage said the planned restructuring will “maximize our available resources.”

Our goals and objectives as a department have not changed, nor has our commitment to providing professional law enforcement services to the residents, visitors and businesses of Arlington County. However, our methods of achieving these goals must adapt to our current staffing challenges. To maximize our available resources, we will be completing a strategic restructuring of the police department. This will be accomplished by our command staff collaborating with the entirety of the police department and devising a staffing plan jointly. Our staffing and structure will focus on prioritizing core services and ensuring the services we are able to provide are effective and efficient. The ultimate goal is to design a police department reflective of our current staffing levels, limit the workload strain on officers by focusing on core services and promote a balanced work/life atmosphere. Our plan will also be forward looking to support growth as staffing improves. It is anticipated that the restructuring will be complete by late spring and additional information will be available at that time.

“Great work happens throughout this agency on a daily basis and this I am confident this will continue despite our current staffing challenges,” Chief Farr said in a statement issued to ARLnow.com. “The strategic restructure will provide us with an opportunity to maximize our resources by building a police department reflective of our current staffing levels while supporting our mission to reduce the incidence of crime and improve the quality of life in Arlington County.”

In the memo, below, Farr says the police department will be reevaluating its ability to provide support for special events in the county as part of the restructuring process.

The Arlington County Fire Department, meanwhile, is facing similar pressures. Fire department personnel are slated to receive an extra 4 percent bump in pay over the standard county employee raise in Schwartz’s budget, but the Arlington Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association says even that might not be enough to fill gaps in staffing.

The full memo about restructuring from Chief Farr, after the jump.

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Eagle-eyed readers of this site may have noticed something odd in this past Friday’s weekend discussion post: namely, the inclusion of an article from December among the most-viewed stories of the week.

We also found that unusual, so we did a bit of digging. It turns out, there have been more than 6,000 views of the article, “County Wins Top Environmental Award from U.S. Green Building Council,” over the past week.

Here’s an excerpt:

Arlington County is the first community in the country to win a top award for its environmentally-friendly policies from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The county was named a Platinum level community by USGBC under its new LEED for Communities program.

USGBC said the certification recognizes the county’s creation of a “sustainable and resilient urban environment that has long-proven success in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, managing stormwater, ensuring economic prosperity and focusing on education, affordable housing, health and safety for residents and businesses.”

So from where is all this newfound interest in Arlington County’s sustainability bonafides coming? From Amazon.com, it seems.

The vast majority of the traffic to the page over the past week that can be tracked came from what appears to be an internal Amazon.com page devoted to its HQ2 search. Arlington, of course, is in the running as one of the potential landing spots for the company’s second headquarters.

Below is a chart showing traffic to the page, via Google Analytics.

No other page on ARLnow.com has a similar level of traffic coming from Amazon.

Last week a noted NYU professor who has written about the company opined that New York City and the D.C. area are among the most likely finalists for HQ2, due to a combination of being destinations for talented workers and being places that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos likes to frequent.

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Someone keyed the words “black bitch” onto a black man’s car on a block in Arlington’s Barcroft neighborhood, where some residents are up in arms about outsiders parking on their street.

The man, who works as a contractor at the Army National Guard Readiness Center (111 S. George Mason Drive), parked his car near the corner of S. Pershing Drive and 1st Street S. this past Thursday morning. When he arrived back at the car that afternoon, he found the words carved onto his driver’s side door and called police.

Officers photographed the car and dusted it for fingerprints. They also took “elimination prints” from the man and Evie Bernard, who carpools with him.

Bernard says she suspects the vandalism was actually targeted at her. She said some residents on the block have confronted her and other commuters about parking, even though it’s a public street and — unlike other nearby streets — not zoned for resident-only parking.

The prior Sunday, Bernard said, she had just returned from a brief vacation when a resident came out of his house and “started yelling and saying never to park there again.” The man, who was pointing his finger and “being very aggressive,” was soon joined by his wife and one of their children, who were all yelling at Bernard for parking in front of their house, she said.

“How would you feel if I parked in front of your house in Waldorf, Maryland?” one of them asked, according to Bernard’s account. The residents had somehow obtained Bernard’s name and apparently looked her up on Facebook, also referencing where she went on vacation and saying “I know where you work.” After about 5 minutes, Bernard drove away and then decided to call police.

“I was so upset that I got in my car and drove away,” she said. “I could only take so much… I was really upset. It was pretty much a nightmare.

Police took a report, Bernard said, but because her life was not threatened it was determined that no crime had occurred. An Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman corroborated that a report of verbal harassment had been filed.

Though Bernard initially suspected the people who confronted her — who are white — might have been responsible for the vandalism, police said today (Tuesday) that the residents have been eliminated as suspects.

Bernard and another Army National Guard contractor who contacted ARLnow.com said the parking issue is not likely to be solved anytime soon. Parking at the George Mason Drive campus is limited and most spots are reserved for employees; contractors are instructed to take transit or park on nearby streets.

While there were plenty of spots available on the 4400 block of 1st Street S. when an ARLnow reporter visited Monday afternoon, a resident said that there are times when the block is filled with cars, including many commuters. He said that residents have tried to apply for zoned parking, but a county parking study did not find enough commuter parking to meet the program threshold.

Earlier this month new zone parking applications were halted indefinitely, pending a review.

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Update at 2:40 p.m. on 8/7/17 — Arlington County Police spokeswoman Ashley Savage said in a statement to ARLnow: “ACPD is aware that driverless vehicles are being tested in the Commonwealth. Officers have not had contact with the vehicle observed in Clarendon. If officers observe a traffic violation, they will attempt a traffic stop.”

Update at 1:30 p.m. on 8/7/17 — NBC 4’s Adam Tuss, working on a follow-up story to this article, spotted the van driving around Clarendon on Monday, Aug. 7, and upon further inspection found a driver — disguised as a seat. Police were called after the driver ran a red light but officers were unable to locate the van, according to scanner traffic. Tuss’ report is expected to air Monday night.

Earlier: A mysterious, seemingly driverless van was spotted cruising the streets of Arlington’s Courthouse and Clarendon neighborhoods Thursday evening.

The unmarked gray van with Virginia license plates drove up and down Wilson and Clarendon Blvds more than a half dozen times — with no one in the driver’s seat or passenger seat. The rear windows of the Ford Transit Connect van were darkly tinted.

The van appeared to drive cautiously but keep up with traffic. Cameras and a light bar could be seen behind the windshield.

When the car stopped at a red light, the light bar started blinking. When the signal turned green and the car started driving, the blinking stopped.

The lack of a driver went mostly unnoticed as Clarendon residents went around their after-work routines near the Metro station, though occasionally people could be seen pointing at the car or asking someone nearby if they saw a driver.

Spokespeople for Arlington County, the Arlington County Police Department, VDOT and the Federal Highway Administration did not have any immediate knowledge of any autonomous vehicle testing on the streets of Arlington.

VDOT and FHWA recently announced that Virginia Tech would be conducting automated vehicle testing along I-95, I-495, I-66, Route 50 and Route 29. The announcement did not mention testing on primary streets along Metro corridors, however WTOP reported in May that “self-driving cars already on Virginia roads, even if you don’t realize it.”

“In Virginia, it’s a little bit more discreet, so companies could test in real-world environments and you wouldn’t even know, so we have some proprietary studies going that route,” a Virginia Tech researcher was quoted as saying.

Anne Deekens, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, declined to say whether it belongs to the university. “I have no comment at this time,” she said.

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