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A look inside Inner Ear Studios in Shirlington (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Once the epicenter of D.C.’s punk scene, Inner Ear Recording Studios it is set to be razed by Arlington County to make way for an outdoor entertainment space.

The new open space, comprised of two parcels of land — 2700 S. Nelson Street and 2701 S. Oakland Street — would be part of the county’s efforts to implement an arts and industry district in Green Valley.

Arlington Cultural Affairs says a community engagement process exploring temporary uses for the site could begin later this fall or, more likely, in early 2022. Dealing with the optics of demolishing a famed recording studio to build an arts and industry district, the arts division argues the space responds to community needs and makes art more accessible.

“The exploration of outdoor activation space as a short-term possibility for the site is a direct result of our conversations with the surrounding community,” Arlington Cultural Affairs Director Michelle Isabelle-Stark said. “Bringing the arts outdoors and into the community is a low-cost, high-impact way to reach a broader and more diverse audience as we continue to explore the needs of the surrounding community.”

The outdoor space would tie into the Theatre on the Run venue, used by a number of Arlington-based dance and theatre ensembles, she said. And it would support existing programming, such as New District Brewing Co.’s outdoor beer festival, Valley Fest, as well as other cultural events.

Isabelle-Stark added that there’s an equity component to the open space.

“As the County continues to explore ways to address long-standing equity issues as it pertains to arts and culture opportunities, the addition of expanded outdoor performance space allows us to continue to present the arts outside of traditional brick and mortar venues and directly engage with the community,” she said.

So, after many years of recording bands including the Foo Fighters, Fugazi and Minor Threat, studio owner Don Zientara has until Dec. 31, 2021 to pack up the gear and the memorabilia before the building is demolished.

Crumbling cinder blocks and communication 

Before the county agreed to acquire the building, Zientara told ARLnow he was at a crossroads: move the studio or retire. At 73, retirement was an option, and on top of that, the building was decrepit and recording sessions were down due to the pandemic. The county acquisition merely expedited that decision.

As soon as the building is demolished, the county says it’ll park its mobile stage there and start hosting outdoor performances, festivals, markets and movie screenings. Isabelle-Stark says South Arlington needed an outdoor arts venue — a community-generated idea. She told the Washington Post that the acquisition saved the property from being sold to a private developer for a non-arts-related development.

As this unfolded, the Green Valley Civic Association, a longtime champion of reinvestment and an arts district, criticized the county for the acquisition.

“It is curious for the county to spend millions to purchase and demolish a building, but state that intended cultural events will be provided in the remaining lot only if funds are available,” GVCA First Vice President Robin Stombler tells ARLnow.

At least the arts district could pay homage to Inner Ear, she said.

“Losing a small, yet significant, arts-related business is antithetical to this vision” of an arts and industry district in Green Valley, she wrote in a June letter to the county. “As the county takes a step in support of the district, it should recognize what is being left behind.”

She suggests naming the county’s mobile stage “Inner Ear Stage.” In addition, she said Zientara had indicated willingness to sell some music equipment to the county, which she recommended be used for a new recording studio in Green Valley for musicians and music educators.

“There has been no response to date,” she told ARLnow.

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It’s behind schedule, but John Robinson, Jr. Town Square in Green Valley should open by the time the calendar turns to 2022.

Formerly known as Nauck Town Square before it was renamed last year after a long-time Green Valley civic leader, the new public park is intended to be a central hub of activity in the neighborhood. It will feature an outdoor stage, a plaza, tables and other seating areas, at a construction cost of around $5 million.

Originally, after the construction contract was awarded in mid-2019, the project was expected to be complete by the end of last year. Given the pandemic and other factors, however, it is still in progress.

Some local residents have expressed concerns about a pause in construction activity, but a county spokeswoman said things should ramp back up soon.

“Arlington County is excited about the new John Robinson, Jr. Town Square, with a goal of opening by the end of this year,” Arlington Dept. of Community Planning, Housing and Development spokeswoman Elise Cleva told ARLnow last week. “At this time, County permitting is concluding, and the contractor should resume work by the end of the month.”

“There are some uncertainties about the timing of the utility relocation and some work will continue after the opening,” Cleva continued. “However, barring any unforeseen delays, we still anticipate that the town square should be open so visitors can enjoy the square and open space by the end of the year.”

Asked about the delays, Cleva cited several factors.

“There isn’t a single, simple cause for delay,” she said. “It’s a combination of factors stemming from the complexity of the project, which requires coordination among several County departments and external partners.”

Cleva called the project and its timely completion “a countywide priority.”

“The project, designed by the award-winning landscape architect and artist Walter Hood, is a countywide priority with multiple departments and includes road realignment and improvements, sidewalk and pedestrian enhancements, relocation of utilities, and public art,” she said.

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Morning Notes

Inner Ear Records Its Last Track — “For the neighbors who first pushed for an arts district, it’s a cruel consequence of their idea — particularly because they wanted to complement, not end, Zientara’s longtime presence on South Oakland Street… ‘Losing a small, yet significant, arts-related business is antithetical to this vision,’ Robin Stombler, acting president of the Green Valley Civic Association, wrote in a letter about Inner Ear to county lawmakers earlier this year.” [Washington Post]

ACFD Rescues Worker in Ballston — “Our Technical Rescue Team responded for an injured individual located several stories below street level. Utilizing a crane on-site for access, the team packaged the individual into a stokes basket to bring topside to an ambulance for transport to an area hospital.” [Twitter]

APS Hires New Head of HR — “The Arlington School Board has appointed Dr. Dashan Turner as the new Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources. Dr. Turner is currently the Superintendent of Colonial Beach Public Schools (CBPS). Dr. Turner brings 20 years of experience in education to Arlington Public Schools.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Route 29 Gets Its Own Print ‘Zine’ — “Arlington Arts and the Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development are pleased to announce the release of a zine that brings the history, stories, and character of Langston Boulevard to life through illustrations by artist Liz Nugent. Created as part of Plan Langston Boulevard, the zine also celebrates the corridor’s new name after John M. Langston.” [Arlington County]

Covid Cases Falling in Va. — “The surge of the Delta variant of COVID-19 is noticeably waning in Northern Virginia and the rest of the state, according to new data from the Virginia Department of Health. Average new daily cases reported in Northern Virginia are down about 12% in the past week, to a seven-day average of 413, although that is still more than double the average on Oct. 1, 2020, before any vaccine was available. Statewide, the seven-day average of new daily cases has fallen 14% in the past week.” [InsideNova]

Nearby: Seven Corners Ring Road? — There are few more self-evident testaments in Fairfax County to the shortsighted follies of 20th century land-use planning than Seven Corners… As part of a larger package of funding requests, the Board of Supervisors voted on Sept. 14 to authorize transportation staff to seek $94.8 million from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority for the first phase of a “ring” road that will eventually connect the west side of Route 7 to Wilson Boulevard.” [Tysons Reporter]

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Arlington police are investigating more gunfire on the same block near Drew Elementary as another shots fired incident this past weekend.

The shots were fired around 12:30 a.m. this morning, on the 3200 block of 24th Street S., police say. Officers responded to the area and found evidence of gunfire but no one who was shot.

“Responding officers canvassed the area and recovered evidence confirming shots had been fired,” said ACPD. “At this time, no injuries or property damage have been reported.”

A shots fired call on the same block Saturday night also didn’t immediately turn up any victims — but eventually police found someone with a gunshot wound. An arrest in that shooting was made Tuesday and announced yesterday.

The Green Valley neighborhood saw two reported incidents of shots being fired over the summer, including one that took place in the Drew Elementary parking lot.

Police are asking for the public’s help in finding this morning’s shooter.

“Anyone with information or home surveillance that may assist with the investigation is asked to contact the Arlington County Police Department’s Homicide/Robbery Unit at 703-228-4180 or [email protected],” said the police department. “Information may also be reported anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).”

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(Updated, 9/30) Local landmark Green Valley Pharmacy is undergoing “extensive renovations” to reopen as a kabob and burger restaurant later this year, both the property and business owners confirmed to ARLnow.

The historic pharmacy at 2415 Shirlington Road has been closed since late 2017, shuttering only a few months after the death of its long-time owner Dr. Leonard “Doc” Muse.

Established in 1952, Green Valley Pharmacy was Arlington’s only pharmacy and lunch counter to serve the Black community during the Jim Crow era.

Muse, a graduate of Howard University School of Pharmacy, opened the business in the 1950s for Black customers who were often at the time not allowed to enter through the front door, if at all, at other Arlington pharmacies.

The property was designated by the county as a local historic landmark and district in 2013, with a historic marker placed there in 2014.

But in 2017, Muse died and the property deed was transferred over to his daughter, Jesse Al-Amin. The pharmacy has remained shuttered ever since, but that appears to be changing.

In August 2019, Al-Amin agreed to allow Arlingtonian Nasir Ahmad, who also owns establishments in Sterling and Fredericksburg, to rent the building and open a restaurant. Ahmad tells us he previously owned a business across the street from the pharmacy about 20 years ago.

The original thought was to have the building remain as a pharmacy, but there were too many complications with that plan, Al-Amin said, so renting out the building was a good alternative.

She currently lives in Georgia and didn’t want to sell the property.

“A lot of people wanted it,” she told ARLnow, “But I wanted to keep it as a memory of my father.”

It took nearly two years to get all the permits and approvals. Due to the historic nature of the building, all exterior alterations needed to be approved by the county’s Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB). To date, according to Historic Preservation Program coordinator Cynthia Liccese-Torres, no recent applications for exterior alterations have been received by the board.

This past July, a Commercial Tenant Buildout permit was approved by Arlington County. The permit lists “Time Square Grill” as the business name, but Ahmad said that was just a placeholder. The business will be called “Halal Spot” and serve burgers, pizza, and kabobs.

Interior demolition and construction are already underway, as evident by the giant dumpster currently outside of the building. Ahmad anticipates that the restaurant will open prior to January 1, 2022.

He’s planning to keep pretty much the same layout, including putting the food counter in the same place as the pharmacy lunch counter, in homage to Muse.

“I want to match it up as much as I can,” he says. “For memory’s sake.”

The restaurant will also have a display honoring Doc Muse and the Green Valley Pharmacy, according to both Al-Amin and Ahmad, which they say is a better outcome than complete demolition or another business that wouldn’t acknowledge the building’s history.

“She didn’t want a big company, like a McDonald’s, to go there and destroy everything,” says Ahmad.

Hat tip to Dion Mitchell

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An Arlington resident is facing multiple felony charges after police say he shot someone during a dispute in the Green Valley neighborhood over the weekend.

The Saturday night shooting was initially reported as just a “shots fired” call, but Arlington County police said today that a man was later found with a gunshot wound.

“At approximately 8:14 p.m., an officer on an unrelated call heard a series of shots fired in the 3200 block of 24th Street S.,” ACPD said in its initial press release. “Officers responded, established a perimeter and recovered evidence confirming multiple shots had been fired. The preliminary investigation has not confirmed any injuries related to this incident.”

The gunfire happened near the Shelton apartment building, the neighborhood’s still-under-construction “town square” park, and the grounds of Drew Elementary School.

In an update today the police department said the incident was, in fact, a shooting that stemmed from a dispute.

“During the course of the investigation, detectives determined a disagreement between parties preceded the incident and located a male victim who had suffered a non-life threatening gunshot wound,” said ACPD. An arrest was made yesterday.

“A possible suspect description was developed based on the evidence and he was identified as Angelo Mobley, 29, of Arlington,” the police department said. “He was taken into custody on September 28, 2021 and charged with Malicious Wounding, Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon, Use of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony and Discharge of a Firearm within 1000 Feet of a School. He is being held without bond in the Arlington County Detention Facility.”

“This incident remains an active criminal investigation and anyone with information is asked to contact police at 703-228-4180 or [email protected],” police added. “Information may also be provided anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).”

Green Valley saw two reported incidents of shots being fired over the summer, including one that took place in the Drew Elementary parking lot.

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Morning Notes

Shots Fired in Green Valley — “ACPD is investigating a shots fired incident in the 3200 block of 24th Street S. which occurred at approximately 8:14 p.m. No victims related to this incident have been located.” [ACPD, Twitter]

New Taco Ghost Kitchen — “Philadelphia-based Iron Chef alum Jose Garces is returning to DC with a delivery-only taco ghost kitchen, Buena Onda. The Baja-inspired taqueria, an offshoot of his brick-and-mortar Philly shop, will start running grilled fish tacos, guac, and “buena bowls” on Friday, September 24 from an Arlington kitchen.” [Washingtonian]

Another ACPD Departure — Adrienne Quigley, Arlington’s only female deputy police chief, retired from ACPD on Friday. Citing multiple sources, ARLnow previously reported that Quigley is expected to take a job at Amazon HQ2, amid an “exodus” from the department. [Twitter]

No APS Blue Ribbon Schools This Year — “One Fairfax County school was named among seven Virginia public schools honored as 2021 National Blue Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Department of Education, but the rest of Northern Virginia’s inner suburbs found themselves shut out… No Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church or Loudoun public schools made the grade this year, although one Prince William County public school – Mary G. Porter Traditional – was honored.” [Sun Gazette]

Officers Visit PEP Program — From ACPD: “Corporal Smithgall and Recruit Officer Divincenzo spoke with PEP Program students at the Arlington Career Center today and also had the opportunity to compete in a push-up challenge! PEP is a community based program for supported work experience, supported travel training, and independent living training.” [Facebook]

Bayou Bakery Owner Featured on CNBC — David Guas, owner of Bayou Bakery in Courthouse, was featured on CNBC Thursday night for his Community Spoon initiative, which provides meals to Afghan refugees. Guas is a Cuban-American, whose father fled Cuba in the 1960s. This isn’t the first time local business owner has provided food to those in need; he previously provided meals to families in need during the pandemic and supplied meals to National Guard personnel at the Capitol earlier this year. [CNBC]

De Ferranti on WAMU’s Politics Hour – Arlington County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti was on “The Politics Hour with Kojo Nnamdi” on Friday. In the 16 minute conversation, de Ferranti talked about the county’s new logo, schools, the shrinking police force, the newly-adapted bag tax, housing, and his hunger task force. He also fielded questions about the proposed Rosslyn-Georgetown gondola, saying it was still premature to discuss, and the tightening Virginia governor’s race. The Board chair also revealed that he voted for Terry McAuliffe in the Democratic primary. [WAMU] 

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After the pandemic put a fledgling outdoor beer and community event on hold last year, Valley Fest is back.

The festival, organized by New District Brewing Co., will take place from 12-5 p.m. on Sunday in the Green Valley neighborhood, near Shirlington.

Entry is free, and a pass for three beer tickets — which includes a commemorative pint glass — is $22 the day of the event. Beer will be served inside the brewery (2709 S. Oakland Street) and at a tent in the parking lot.

But forget about trying to get a space in the parking lot: The brewery is advising people to park on S. Four Mile Run Drive, and the county is encouraging people to consider other ways to travel there.

The festival will include kids activities, art, music and food as well as dessert trucks.

Valley Fest started in 2017 as a smaller festival but expanded in 2018 as a plan to replace Capitol City Brewing’s annual Shirlington Oktoberfest after the brewpub closed.

The Arlington County Police Department will close several roads from approximately 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. for the Sunday festival. Closures include:

  • S. Oakland Street from S. Four Mile Run Drive to the Shirlington Dog Park
  • The 2700 block of S. Nelson Street, though the Arlington Food Assistance Center and part of the self-storage facility will be accessible

Parking will be limited around the festival, and area street parking will be restricted with temporary “no parking” signs. Illegally parked vehicles may be ticketed or towed. Those whose vehicles get towed can call the Emergency Communications Center at (703) 558-2222.

The Shirlington dog park will remain open during the event but the parking lot between S. Nelson Street and S. Oakland Street will be unavailable. Pet owners are encouraged to use the S. Oxford Street access point if entering from S. Four Mile Run Drive or the Four Mile Run Trail footbridge when walking from Arlington Mill Drive, police say.

A map of street closures for Valley Fest (via Arlington County)
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Arlington native Neffy has won National Public Radio’s prestigious Tiny Desk Contest for her song “Wait Up,” inspired by her return home to the Green Valley neighborhood.

Neffy, née Mecca Russell, tells ARLnow she drew on her homecoming experience during the pandemic, after living in New York City for about five years.

“Returning had me get in touch with my roots for the first time in half a decade,” she said. “It was almost like, ‘Will this environment accept me in the same that it did when I was younger, after being away for so long?'”

She found that Green Valley not only accepted her, but proved to be a well of inspiration to draw from. The 24-year-old singer-songwriter’s ballad about the meaning of home was chosen from thousands of entries to NPR’s contest, which selects an emerging artist to perform at the vaunted “tiny desk,” joining the likes of some very notable musicians, including Mac Miller, Wu Tang Clan, Demi Lovato, Justin Bieber and Lizzo.

“I couldn’t believe it. I was in so much shock and disbelief,” says Neffy about how she felt after hearing she had won. “I’m still kind of in shock and disbelief, to be quite honest.”

She says she has always been musical, known to sing around the house as a child. Neffy wrote her first song at 13 years old and, shortly after, picked up a guitar.

When she got older, went to college and decided to pursue writing and performing professionally, she realized her craft required a lot of sacrifice — and it led to some self-doubt.

But winning the Tiny Desk contest in 2021, after entering submissions in 2018 and 2020, validated her choice to pursue her craft.

“This experience has given me the chance to really feel full and express myself completely as an artist,” Neffy says. “And that alone has taken so much weight off my shoulders because that means I’m allowed to be an artist.”

She said writing and performing “Wait Up” allowed for that self-reflection and gave her an outlet for some of these feelings.

“I wrote this song for myself… because it was almost like a very cathartic therapeutic experience for me to write the song,” she says. “It was something that my soul definitely needed.”

To get herself in the right place, she says she spent a lot of time in her backyard as well as in and around Arlington’s green spaces, including gardens, nature centers and trails.

“Those [places] really are the foundation of who I am,” Neffy says. “[The song] was also a weaving of my mother’s love, my family’s love and us being outside in our backyard and having memories attached to all of those spaces.”

Right now, she’s primarily performing virtually due to the pandemic but plans on taking her talent to venues in the D.C. area soon.

While she’s currently residing in Green Valley, Neffy expects that she will soon head off on a new adventure. Writing “Wait Up” taught her that leaving will be okay, and that her home will always be here in Arlington no matter where her ambition leads her.

“By the time the song gets to the bridge, I am certain that, yes, home will always be there, whether it’s a physical manifestation or a spiritual manifestation that lives inside of me,” she says. “No matter where I go in the world, whether it’s Japan or who knows where, home is going to always live inside of me no matter what.”

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Morning Notes

Dave Grohl Rocks Local Studio — “Dave Grohl doesn’t seem terribly interested in taking a day off. Shortly after the 9:30 Club announced the Grohl-led Foo Fighters would play a surprise show Thursday, the former Nirvana drummer reunited with D.C.-based punk rockers, at Inner Ear Studio — the legendary and soon-to-close Arlington, Virginia, recording studio owned by Don Zientara.” [WTOP]

Fmr. Fire Chief on Arlington’s 9/11 Response — “‘It was truly an all-hands-on-deck endeavor,’ Schwartz said at the historical society’s annual banquet, held Sept. 9 at Washington Golf & Country Club. ‘We’re all in this together. There’s not a single agency or even a single jurisdiction that can handle this by themselves.’ Schwartz pointed to the county’s then-fire chief, Edward Plaugher, for his work building relationships with agencies like the FBI. Plaugher ‘was ahead of his time’ in being concerned about terrorism.” [Sun Gazette]

Night Paving at Busy Intersection — “Nighttime paving continues overnight this week at the Langston Boulevard (Lee Highway)-Glebe Road intersection improvements project… lasting into Friday, Sept. 17.” [Twitter]

Nicecream Hits Rocky Road — Nicecream, the handcrafted ice cream shop that expanded after finding success with its first location in Clarendon, is closing its Shaw store in the District. [PoPville]

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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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