W-L Name Change Opponents Work to Keep Legal Challenge Alive, Appealing to Higher Court

The backers of a lawsuit seeking to preserve the name of Washington-Lee High School are working to keep their legal challenge alive, appealing the matter to a higher court after a judge previously struck down the suit on procedural grounds.

Three current W-L students are hoping to block the Arlington School Board’s decision to strip Robert E. Lee’s name from the building, arguing that the Board didn’t follow its own stated policies for renaming the building and ignored the community’s opposition to the switch. The Board first kicked off a process to consider a name change in August 2017, in the wake of the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville and a nationwide reconsideration of the meaning of Confederate symbols.

Arlington County Circuit Court Chief Judge William Newman ruled in December that the students were barking up the wrong tree, noting that the Board broadly followed the community engagement process it laid out for the name change, and that state law doesn’t even bind school officials to follow that process to the letter, in the first place.

But the students, who are backed by a group of the school’s alumni working feverishly to preserve W-L’s name, were undeterred. Their attorney, Jonathon Moseley, told ARLnow that he’ll be appealing Newman’s ruling, even though the Board already voted last month to rename the school as “Washington-Liberty HS.”

“The judge took into account that [the School Board] didn’t follow all of their own procedures for the renaming, but he said it didn’t matter that they didn’t,” Moseley said. “I don’t like that idea, and I think it’s a pretty important issue that the courts need to address.”

Moseley expects that the appeal will head to Virginia’s Court of Appeals, rather than the state’s Supreme Court, though he’s still waiting on judges to sort out the details. He filed his notice of appeal in circuit court on Jan. 30.

Initially, Moseley had planned to simply amend his original complaint. Even though Newman struck down the students’ initial legal arguments, he gave Moseley until Jan. 9 to file revised arguments instead.

Court documents show that he missed that deadline, asking instead for Newman to issue a written explanation for why he blocked Moseley’s previous efforts and more time to consider next steps.

“I wanted more information about the judge was thinking,” Moseley said. “If there were no set of facts we could allege that showed the Board violated the rules, there’s nothing I could’ve added that would’ve been any different.”

But attorneys for the School Board pointed out in a motion that that request came “on the eve of the School Board’s vote on a new name for Washington-Lee High School” on Jan. 10, arguing it was “nothing more than a delay tactic.”

Similarly, Board attorney John Cafferky argued that Moseley “failed to articulate any legal authority” for a delay, urging Newman to toss out the case.

The judge proved to be sympathetic to those arguments. He ruled against Moseley’s motion in a Jan. 25 hearing, reasoning that the students missed their chance to file any revised claims and that the court no longer has jurisdiction over the matter.

That’s forced Moseley to appeal the dispute to a higher court instead, which could drag out the proceedings for months yet. He plans to have a brief ready supporting his appeal within the next 90 days, then the court will need to decide whether to take the case.

“It could be a year to a year-and-a half project if the appeals court decides it’s even going to look into that at all,” Moseley said. “They can do what they want.”

In the meantime, the school system is moving ahead with putting the building’s new name in place. Officials hope to have everything from signage to sports uniforms changed to reflect the new “Washington-Liberty” name in time for the 2019-2020 school year to start up in September.

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County Eyes Legal Action to Recover $200,000 Payment Connected to Canceled Land Deal

Arlington officials could soon be headed to court to claw back $200,000 the county handed over as part of a since-canceled agreement to buy a two-acre property in Fairfax County.

The County Board agreed back in 2016 to buy several parcels of land along the 6700 block of Electronic Drive in Springfield, with plans to use the property as space for a new maintenance facility for its Arlington Transit buses.

But the Board decided to back away from the $4.65-million land deal late last year, after discovering that the county would have enough space for bus maintenance at another property officials bought in Nauck last summer. Not only did the Board hope to avoid operating a facility outside Arlington, but members expected the move would save the county as much as $10.5 million initially and roughly $900,000 in maintenance costs each year.

Yet the process could come with its own expenses. The Board voted unanimously last week to authorize county attorneys to pursue legal action against the property’s owner, Shirley Investors, LLC, to recover a $200,000 deposit the county sent to the company before the sale was finalized.

Deputy county attorney MinhChau Corr told ARLnow that she couldn’t discuss the details of the case, but that action by the Board does not mean a lawsuit pitting the county against the property owner is a certainty. But Corr did say it’s a sign that negotiations have become acrimonious enough that the county could pursue such a step in the near future.

“There’s some level of conflict that we anticipate could go to litigation,” Corr said. “But that doesn’t mean we’re 100 percent committed. The two sides could work something out before next month’s Board meeting, this just avoids us having to wait until then to ask for permission to file something.”

County court records don’t show any case involving Shirley Investors and the county as currently pending. Neither of the two men listed as contacts for Shirley Investors in the county’s preliminary sale agreement responded to requests for comment on the matter.

It’s unclear what sort of legal argument the county might mount to recover the deposit.

The terms of the land deal say that the county would’ve been eligible to win back its $200,000 if it called off the sale within 90 days of signing the agreement with Shirley Investors — that deadline is long past, however, as the agreement was signed on Dec. 7, 2016.

Furthermore, the agreement describes that deposit as “the sole and exclusive remedy available to the seller” if the deal fell through.

Photo via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Medical Emergency at Yorktown — A student suffered a serious medical emergency at Yorktown High School this morning. Police and medics rushed to the scene, CPR was performed and the student was reportedly revived. He was taken to a local hospital.

Arlington Tourism Website Wins Award — “The Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International… on Jan. 22 presented the Arlington Convention and Visitors Service (ACVS) with a 2018 Adrian Award for the StayArlington tourism website.” [Arlington County]

Best Bowls of Soup in Rosslyn — A new list exhaustively details “where to go for a good bowl of soup” in Rosslyn, “because it’s everybody’s favorite cold-weather lunch.” [Rosslyn BID]

Gymnastics Competition at W-L — “The annual Barbara Reinwald Invitational girls high-school gymnastics meet was held Jan. 19 at Washington-Lee High School. The high-school meet, which has been held for decades, included 11 teams and was won by the host Washington-Lee Blue team.” [InsideNova]

Chef Geoff Winning Happy Hour Fight — Chef Geoff Tracy is poised to withdraw his lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Virginia, which seeks to overturn restrictions on advertising happy hour specials and prices, after the state legislature overwhelmingly passed bills that would remove those and other happy hour restrictions. [Tysons Reporter]

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Morning Notes

Free Pet Food for Furloughed Feds — Kriser’s Natural Pet, which has stores in the Courthouse area and the Lee-Harrison Shopping Center, is giving a free bag of food for anyone affected by the shutdown who shows a government ID. [Tysons Reporter]

County Clears Trash from TR Island Lot — With National Park Service maintenance workers furloughed, Arlington County crews helped clear overflowing trash from the Theodore Roosevelt Island parking lot last week. [Twitter]

County Opens ‘Safe Haven’ for Families — “The Arlington County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court Services Unit is pleased to announce the grand opening of its Safe Havens Supervised Visitation and Exchange Center. Located at the Department of Human Services at 2100 Washington Blvd., the program will serve families who have been affected by domestic violence.” [Arlington County]

McAuliffe Vs. Stamos — Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has endorsed defense attorney Parisa Tafti over incumbent Theo Stamos in the race for Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney. All three are Democrats, but McAuliffe is still upset that Stamos “joined Republicans in arguing to the state Supreme Court that his mass rights restoration was unconstitutional.” The endorsement has earned a rebuke from Alexandria’s former Commonwealth’s Attorney, who called it “sad.” [Washington Post, Washington Post]

More Money Woes for Arlington Startup — “Danny Boice, the CEO and founder of private investigation company Trustify Inc., allegedly used company money to pay for personal expenses, including $600,000 for a documentary film about him and his wife, Jennifer Mellon, according to a new lawsuit filed by former Trustify employees seeking back pay and other damages.” [Washington Business Journal]

Forum to Discuss Dementia — “A community forum on Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 23 from 6:45 to 8:45 p.m. at Shirlington Library.” [InsideNova]

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Judge Strikes Down Lawsuit Challenging Washington-Lee Name Change Vote

A judge has struck down a lawsuit challenging plans to rename Washington-Lee High School, though name-change opponents are holding out hope that they may yet convince a court to block the process.

Three current W-L students were hoping to reverse the School Board’s vote to strip Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s name from the building, arguing that the Board misled the public and failed to follow its own established procedures in making the decision back in June.

But Arlington County Circuit Court Chief Judge William Newman ruled today (Wednesday) that the students didn’t have grounds to challenge the vote, and that the Board didn’t commit any errors egregious enough to warrant the legal action.

Though he stopped short of tossing the case out of court or barring the students from adjusting their claims, he also granted a motion by School Board attorneys to dismiss the case, throwing up a key legal roadblock for the suit.

“Even though I can see things could’ve been done differently here, I can also see that, under the statute, there’s nothing wrong here,” Newman said.

For W-L alumni upset with the name change, about a dozen of whom watched the proceedings Wednesday afternoon, the result isn’t necessarily unexpected, but is disappointing nonetheless. Many have spent the months since the renaming vote aggressively pleading their case, with some even backing an independent challenger to one of the Board members who supported the name change.

Dean Fleming, one W-L alum who’s helped marshal opposition to the name change, told ARLnow that the ruling won’t deter those efforts, as it merely gives opponents “another bite at the apple.” Jonathon Moseley, the attorney representing the students, was a bit more hesitant, however.

“We do have the ability to rewrite [the suit],” Moseley said after the proceedings. “But we will have to think about whether a rewrite will cure what the judge saw to be a problem.”

Chiefly, Newman agreed with many of the procedural arguments raised by the Board’s attorney, John Cafferky.

Moseley and the students claimed that the Board erred when it first voted to change its policy governing the names of all Arlington Public Schools, then decided to initiate a name change for Washington-Lee immediately afterward, citing Lee’s “principal legacy” as a soldier for the Confederacy and defender of slavery.

Yet Cafferky pointed out that the Board largely followed the process it laid out in September 2017 to govern the name change deliberations. Though the Board did circulate some other possible guidelines in January that would’ve called for another round of community engagement before a name-change vote, Cafferky noted that the Board never formally adopted that change, and stuck with its initially established procedures.

“Everyone knew darn well that renaming the school was a possibility,” Cafferky said. “It wasn’t a surprise, because by that point, there had been all kinds of engagement for the past nine to 10 months.”

Moseley argued that it would’ve made more sense for the Board to “go back to the community, talk to them, advertise and then have a vote” before changing W-L’s moniker. But Cafferky also charged that it was within the Board’s discretion to guide how the process was managed, noting that “renaming procedure is not a provision of law.”

“The school could hold an essay contest to change the name or take nominations from the floor during a meeting,” Cafferky said. “They have a great deal of flexibility here.”

Procedure aside, Moseley and the students claimed that the school’s name was “part of their community experience,” and changing it would force them to shell out cash to change the names of uniforms and clubs. Yet Cafferky argued that such negative impacts on the students were “speculative,” considering that Washington-Lee won’t actually receive a new name until the Board votes on the matter next month.

Similarly, he pointed out that the Board is considering “Washington-Loving” and “Washington-Liberty” as the new names for the school, which could avert the need for any cumbersome logo or uniform changes by maintaining the “W-L” acronym.

With Newman’s ruling, the Board’s renaming work is set to move ahead (though it has not been without additional controversy). The Board will review new name proposals for the first time tomorrow (Thursday), then is set to vote on the matter on Jan. 10.

Moseley said his clients may well file an amended suit before that vote, though the impending holidays could complicate scheduling.

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School Board Vigorously Defends Washington-Lee Renaming Process in New Court Filings

Opponents of the decision to change the name of Washington-Lee High School have long claimed the School Board improperly cast aside its established engagement process on the matter — but the school system has now provided its most robust rebuttal of those charges to date.

A trio of students at Washington-Lee are hoping to block the school’s renaming with a lawsuit targeting the School Board and other top Arlington Public Schools officials, arguing primarily that the Board rushed a vote on the issue and failed to follow its proscribed process for accepting public comments on the name change.

The Board and its lawyers have already asked a judge to toss out the suit, claiming that the question of whether Board members followed their proposed engagement schedule is irrelevant in the legal proceedings. But, in a legal memorandum filed in late October, the APS lawyers argue extensively that the Board “properly followed its procedures in voting to rename W-L,” should the students’ legal challenge survive a judge’s scrutiny.

In short, name-change opponents have accused the Board of misleading the community by promising a two-step process, and not delivering; they argue the Board pledged to first revise its policy for naming all county schools, then consider whether to change Washington-Lee’s name specifically. Instead, the Board changed the naming policy, then voted to rename W-L all on the same night back in June.

The students backing the lawsuit, who have asked the court to withhold their names despite some giving on-camera interviews about the case, even claim a recording of their meeting with Board Vice Chair Tannia Talento bolsters those arguments. In that conversation, Talento did admit that “there was never any intentional engagement to the community about specifically changing [the name of] Washington-Lee.”

However, in the Oct. 26 motion, the School Board’s attorneys argue that name-change challengers have misunderstood what Board members promised to do.

The motion points specifically to the Board’s vote in October 2017 to adopt a four-stage process for drafting a new school naming policy. That process involved a staff committee identifying the names of schools that “may need to be considered for renaming” based on a revised policy governing school monikers, which ended up including W-L. Then, the Board agreed to “in tandem” adopt the new naming policy and “begin a renaming process for any schools that may need to be renamed.”

That means the lawyers believe Board followed its planned process during its June meeting, despite the claims to the contrary.

The Board’s attorneys do note that Superintendent Patrick Murphy did proposed a “modified procedure and timeline” for the process in January, which did allow for a separate round of community engagement and Board vote on a potential W-L renaming.

However, the lawyers write that “at no point did the School Board vote to adopt this alternate procedure and/or its accompanying timeline,” making it merely a proposal and not set policy. The attorneys even go on to describe Murphy’s January plan as a “non-binding, contingency plan” that “never supplanted the naming process or its accompanying timeline that had been previously adopted by the School Board in fall 2017.”

“Plaintiffs’ specific allegations that the School Board gave no advance public notice that the revised naming policy would be considered for a vote — and that the amendment was not circulated to the public in advance of its June 7, 2018 meeting — are both factually contradicted by the plaintiffs’ own amendment complaint and exhibits, and are legally irrelevant in any event,” the lawyers wrote.

Certainly, there are a variety of other legal arguments that the Board’s lawyers make to justify their earlier request that the case be dismissed. They believe the students don’t have standing to sue — as all of them are currently seniors, and won’t be attending the school by the time it’s set to be renamed in fall 2019 — and that the lawsuit improperly targets Board members and school leaders in their personal capacities, rather than the Board as a whole.

The attorneys also point out that a Fairfax County Circuit Court judge dismissed a similar legal challenge to the renaming of J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church earlier this year. That school is now known as Justice High School.

The students and their attorney now have until Dec. 7 to file a motion rebutting the Board’s claims. A judge is set to hold a hearing on whether the case can go forward on Dec. 19.

Meanwhile, the Board has pressed ahead with the renaming process, in the hopes of voting on a new name for Washington-Lee next month.

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Morning Notes

When Is Trick Or Treating in Arlington? — Wondering about tomorrow’s Halloween candy gathering? There are no official trick-or-treating hours in Arlington, but as in previous years you can expect to see the first little ghouls and goblins around 6 — sometimes a bit earlier — and the last door knocks should happen by 8 or 9 p.m.

Engagement Ring Found in Courthouse — “I found an engagement ring today on Wilson and N. Troy… Happy to reunite if owner can provide accurate description!” [Twitter]

ACPD Lieutenants to Split Settlement — “Lieutenants in the Arlington County Police Department will split a pot totaling $1.24 million and the county government would avoid the possibility of legal action under an agreement inked – without public notice – on Oct. 23. The agreement, tacked on without forewarning to the community at the end of a County Board meeting, brings the county government in line with changes in federal law regarding overtime payments through the Fair Labor Standards Act.” [InsideNova]

AWLA Fundraiser a Success — Via an email from the Animal Welfare League of Arlington: “We are thrilled to announce that $45,000 was raised for animals in need at our 3rd annual Pints4Paws Pet Fest! We are so grateful to the more than 800 guests that attended, and to all of the volunteers and sponsors that made this event possible.  Thanks to you, we are going to be able to continue saving thousands of lives every year!”

Emergency Exercise at Fort Myer — Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hill “will conduct a Full Scale Exercise today, Oct. 30. Community notifications will be delivered until 4 p.m. by text, email, and loudspeaker.” [Twitter]

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State Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Highlander Motel Case, Clearing the Way for Redevelopment

The owner of the Highlander Motel in Virginia Square has secured a key legal victory, potentially allowing the property’s redevelopment to move ahead, and now he’s vowing retribution against county officials for tying up the process in court for years.

The Virginia Supreme Court declined last Wednesday (Oct. 10) to consider an appeal from the county in a case challenging local businessman Bill Bayne’s plans to replace the aging motel with a CVS Pharmacy. That means Bayne should be able to push forward with the redevelopment of the hotel, located at 3336 Wilson Blvd, after a judge twice tossed out legal action from county officials seeking to block those plans.

Bayne, who also owns the Crystal City Restaurant and co-owns the Crystal City Sports Pub, believes the county’s challenges were simply an attempt to scuttle his latest business venture, all at the cost of thousands in taxpayer dollars. With this latest legal victory in hand, he fully plans to renew talks to knock down the 55-year-old hotel in favor of the pharmacy, and then take the county back to court for his trouble.

“It’s not right what they’ve done, and it’s not right for them to do it to anybody,” Bayne told ARLnow. “But there’ll be a day of reckoning in court and a judge will decide if it’s right.”

County attorney Steve MacIsaac did not respond to requests for comment on the court’s ruling. But, in past legal filings and hearings, county lawyers have portrayed Bayne’s plans as not only a violation of some complex zoning laws, but also a “noxious use” of a property that sits quite close to some residential neighborhoods.

Even still, judges have twice disagreed with the county’s arguments in the case, and the Supreme Court ruled that there was “no reversible error” in those decisions for the high court to consider. Bayne believes the court declined to take up the matter for a simple reason: “Would you want to hear a joke case?”

“Why do you have to get told you’re wrong three different times?” Bayne said.

Bayne says his original plans for the pharmacy, as first sketched out roughly three years ago, would’ve netted him close to $45 million over the term of the 50-year lease for the property (which has been in Bayne’s family since at least 1985, county records show).

He hopes to revive a similar deal with CVS now that the court battles seem to be over, but he can’t be sure that the company will look kindly on the delay.

But with the legal wrangling over the years, Bayne expects he’s lost as much as $1.8 million while the project has stalled. He fully plans to recoup those losses by taking the county to court, and he says he’s contemplating legal action against everyone from the county zoning administrator to County Manager Mark Schwartz to current and former County Board members.

“It’s not OK to do this to somebody,” Bayne said. “There will be ramifications for this.”

Bayne says he’s not quite sure on the timetable for any potential litigation just yet. County court records don’t reflect any evidence that Bayne or one of his companies has filed suit against county officials, as of Tuesday morning.

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School Board Presses for Dismissal of Lawsuit Challenging Washington-Lee Name Change

Arlington’s School Board is asking a judge to toss the lawsuit challenging the renaming of Washington-Lee High School out of court.

Attorneys for the Board and the school system filed a motion Friday (Aug. 31) pressing for the dismissal of a case brought by three current students at the school, who are looking to stop the Board from following through on its plans to strip Robert E. Lee’s name from the school later this year.

The Board argues that the attorney for the students made a series of legal missteps in crafting the suit, and that the students don’t have standing to sue in the first place. Accordingly, they want to see an Arlington Circuit Court judge dismiss the case with prejudice — Jonathon Moseley, the attorney representing the students, didn’t immediately return a request for comment on the Board’s latest motion.

Chiefly, the students argue that the Board didn’t follow its own stated procedure for renaming the school, when it voted this June to change its policy governing all school names and immediately initiated the process for renaming Washington-Lee. They even introduced a recording of Board member Tannia Talento as evidence earlier this month, claiming that her admission that “there was never any intentional engagement to the community about specifically changing [the name of] Washington-Lee” helps support their claims.

But attorneys for the Board and Arlington Public Schools countered in their motion that the “internal guidelines adopted by the School Board do not establish any legal mandate on the part of the School Board,” making claims about how the renaming process proceeded irrelevant.

Even still, they add that the students failed to prove that the Board even “failed materially” in following its own procedures — name change opponents claim the Board promised an additional round of community engagement before deciding to change the name, which is now set to be ready in time for the 2019-2020 school year. The Board circulated a variety of potential timetables for such a change, including one calling for a lengthier debate on the change, but did ultimately follow the stipulations of a September 2017 memorandum from Superintendent Patrick Murphy on the process.

Additionally, the Board points out that the three students involved in the case are all seniors at Washington-Lee, meaning the name change won’t take effect until after they’ve graduated. The attorneys argue that means they don’t have standing to sue in the first place, as they won’t be impacted by change.

“Any alleged damage after graduate is entirely speculative,” the lawyers wrote. The students have claimed that any name change would hurt their prospects for college admission, as schools might not associate Washington-Lee’s strong academic reputation with its new name, and that “developing students psychologically identify their school as a source of personal identity and security and are harmed by feeling that their school is bad.”

The Board’s lawyers even point out that Virginia law only allows for “parents, custodians or legal guardians” to ask a court to overturn a school board’s decisions as further evidence showing that the students don’t have any legal standing on the matter.

A judge has yet to schedule a hearing on the Board’s motion, but the renaming process is moving ahead, in the meantime.

The Board is set to appoint members of a renaming committee on Thursday (Sept. 6), which will meet several times over the coming months to determine possibilities for new names for Washington-Lee. The Board is aiming to vote on a new name in December.

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W-L Name Change Opponents Claim New Recording Strengthens Legal Challenge

The students suing to block the renaming of Washington-Lee High School believe they have a powerful new piece of evidence to offer in support of their case.

The three W-L students behind the legal action claim that one School Board member, Vice Chair Tannia Talento, admitted in a recent conversation to a key contention of their lawsuit: that school officials failed to solicit enough community feedback on the name change before the Board’s June 7 vote on the matter.

An attorney for the students submitted a transcript of a recording of that conversation as evidence in Arlington County Circuit Court earlier this month, arguing that it helps prove that the Board didn’t follow its own public engagement process ahead of the W-L decision.

Arlington Public Schools officials have been adamant that the renaming process was conducted properly, even as some W-L alumni have expressed increasing frustration about the removal of Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s name from the building. The transcript also shows that Talento noted in the conversation that the Board circulated several different timelines for how the renaming might proceed, meaning that there may not be an easy answer to the question of whether the Board followed its own guidelines for the process.

But name change opponents are confident that her admissions amount to yet more proof that a judge will someday halt the Board’s plans to have a new name for W-L ready for the 2019-2020 school year.

“They skipped over the community involvement that they’d planned on, and Talento discussed that with them,” Jonathon Moseley, an attorney for the students, told ARLnow. “It adds to the same allegations that were there before, but we think it’s important.”

Through a Board spokeswoman, Talento said that the transcript “reflects my initial overall recollection of the discussion” with the students, which she believes occurred during one of her regularly scheduled “open office hour” sessions. She says the students didn’t inform her in advance that they’d be attending, or that they wanted to discuss the name change.

“It is important to share that the students did not ask or let me know that I was being recorded during the meeting,” Talento said. “I do not have anything to add to the discussion I had with the students.”

Moseley said he was unsure of the exact circumstances of the conversation in question, but he believes it happened immediately before the students decided to file the lawsuit and that they informed Talento that they wanted to discuss the name change in advance of the meeting. The students have asked the court not to reveal their identities, though two gave on-camera interviews to WUSA 9 about the suit.

Moseley believes the key section of the transcript comes when Talento tells the students “there was never any intentional engagement to the community about specifically changing [the name of] Washington-Lee.”

The students and other W-L alumni argue that the Board moved too quickly by voting to change its policy guiding how all schools should be named, then kicking off a process to change W-L’s name specifically that same night.

In legal filings, and the conversation with Talento, the students point to a Jan. 30 document released by APS that calls for a separate community engagement process on W-L, culminating in a final decision on the name by sometime this winter. To the students, Talento’s statement is a clear admission that the Board ignored its stated processes by agreeing to change the name in June.

However, Talento also notes in the conversation that the January document was a “back-up” plan, in case APS couldn’t meet its original timeline for the process.

She pointed out that Superintendent Patrick Murphy penned a Sept. 19, 2017 memo back when the Board first contemplated a name change, stating that the Board could direct APS staff “to begin a renaming process for any school(s) that may need to be renamed to conform with the new School/Facility Naming Policy.” That more closely mirrors the procedure the Board ultimately followed.

According to the transcript, the students told Talento that those dueling timelines confused them, and they were taken aback when the Board voted to concurrently change the name policy and W-L’s name. Talento expressed some sympathy for the students, and suggested that they could still advocate for the Board to “send [the name change] to committee for consideration.”

She also discussed the possibility of that APS could “find another Lee” to take Robert E. Lee’s place in the school’s moniker. One option the group discussed was Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, Robert’s father and a famous officer in the Revolutionary War.

“That would have to be determined by the [naming] committee and the school, but it minimizes costs,” Talento told the students.

As it stands now, the committee Talento alluded to will indeed have the final say on advancing new names for the Board to consider later this year. Unless a judge intervenes on the side of the students, that committee will start meeting sometime this fall.

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UPDATED: County Intervenes in Census Bureau Case, Explores Opioid Lawsuit

Update, July 25 at 4:25 p.m. 

County attorney Steve MacIsaac clarified that the county is intervening on behalf of the Census Bureau in a different case than the one originally described in this article. We regret the error.

Arlington County is weighing filing a lawsuit targeting pharmaceutical companies over the opioid crisis, and intervening in a separate case as well to protect the Census Bureau’s practice of counting undocumented immigrants in population surveys.

The County Board voted unanimously last Wednesday (July 18) to move ahead with the legal action, after consulting with county lawyers behind closed doors.

The county is retaining the services of some outside lawyers to explore the possibility of joining dozens of other localities in suing drug manufacturers over fallout from the opioid crisis. Arlington recorded a 245 percent spike in patients seeking treatment for addiction to drugs like heroin and fentanyl from 2015 to 2017, and any lawsuit would seek to secure damages against pharmaceutical companies involved in flooding the market with prescription drugs that can often lead to addiction.

However, the Board would need to approve the specifics of any opioid lawsuit before the county moves forward with legal action.

The county also plans to lend its support to the Commerce Department in an ongoing federal case, after the state of Alabama mounted a legal challenge to the “resident rule.” The state is looking to ban the Census Bureau from counting undocumented residents in any count of an area’s population, as census data is used to determine boundaries of congressional districts and hand out federal money.

Arlington is joining with a variety of other localities to oppose that move, considering that the county has a large undocumented population. Census data show that Arlington had roughly 29,400 non-citizens living in the county through 2016. That was equivalent to roughly 13 percent of the county’s total population, one of the highest margins in the country.

 

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County Settles Lawsuit Alleging Police Officer Rammed into Pedestrian in Crosswalk

Arlington County is paying out $97,000 to settle a lawsuit from a woman alleging that a police officer struck her with a car while she was in the middle of a crosswalk near Rosslyn.

The County Board voted unanimously to approve a settlement agreement last Wednesday (July 18) with Samantha Birr, an Arlington resident who filed suit seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages in circuit court in December 2017. The Board discussed the matter in closed session, and did not reveal additional details of the settlement ahead of its vote.

Birr had claimed that she suffered serious injuries stemming from a crash that took place on Jan. 13, 2015. She alleged that Marling Montenegro, then a county police officer, slammed into her with a police vehicle as she attempted to cross Lee Highway near where it intersects with N. Veitch Street, just past the MOM’s Organic Market.

Montenegro’s lawyers insisted in legal filings that she did nothing wrong, asserting that Birr was equally at fault for the accident, yet the county’s settlement averts the need for a trial on the matter that was originally scheduled to start Wednesday (July 25).

County attorney Steve MacIsaac was not immediately available for comment on the settlement, but county police spokesman Ashley Savage told ARLnow that Montenegro is no longer with the department. Savage added that the county commissioned an “internal administrative” investigation of the matter, but declined to share the results, citing privacy considerations.

Birr declined to discuss the settlement, and her attorney did not respond to a request for comment on the case. But, in legal documents, Birr’s attorney claimed that the incident “significantly affected [her] liveliness and livelihood.”

The lawsuit claims that Birr was heading home from her Rosslyn office immediately before the crash, walking west on a sidewalk along Lee Highway. As she turned right to cross the highway, she says Montenegro suddenly turned right off of N. Veitch Street, striking her on her left side.

“The impact knocked Ms. Birr onto the hood of [Montenegro’s] vehicle, where Ms. Birr’s left elbow smashed into and cracked the vehicle’s windshield,” Birr’s attorney wrote in the suit. “Ms. Birr rolled off the hood of the vehicle and fell onto the ground.”

Birr claims that she had a “walk” sign from a nearby crosswalk signal at the time, and said that Montenegro “did not stop, slow down or yield” for her. Additionally, she says that Montenegro did not have her lights flashing and was not responding to an emergency at the time, a fact that Montenegro’s lawyers conceded.

Birr’s attorney claimed she “sustained serious and continuing injuries to her elbow, arm and hand, including nerve damage, chronic pain, numbness and decreased sensation in and use of various body parts” as a result of the crash, necessitating surgery.

Accordingly, the suit alleged two different counts of negligence against Montenegro, and demanded $350,000 in damages stemming from each one.

Montenegro’s attorneys pushed back on all of those accusations in a Jan. 19 filing, even asking to have the suit dismissed in its entirety. However, a judge denied that motion in a May 18 hearing, setting up the trial that was eventually averted by the county’s settlement.

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State Supreme Court Could Decide Fate of Highlander Motel Redevelopment

The Virginia Supreme Court could soon decide the fate of the Highlander Motel near Virginia Square, as the property’s owner continues to push to redevelop the site.

Arlington County has been locked in a legal battle with local businessman Bill Bayne for nearly two years now over the property at 3336 Wilson Blvd, arguing that Bayne shouldn’t be able to use an existing parking lot for the same purpose after replacing the 55-year-old motel with a CVS Pharmacy.

The matter went before the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals in July 2016, and was twice considered by Arlington’s circuit court, with a judge ultimately deciding last year that Bayne should be able to move ahead with his plans. But Bayne says the county is appealing that ruling to the state’s highest court, which could drag out any redevelopment of the property indefinitely.

“There is no reason for them to fight it,” said Bayne, who also owns the Crystal City Restaurant and co-owns Crystal City Sports Pub. “There’s no upside benefit for them… You’re dealing with an old, outdated property that’s behind its time. It’s much better for a neighborhood to have a CVS than an old, beat-up hotel.”

Bayne hopes the Supreme Court will decide by late August whether or not it will hear the county’s appeal. If the court takes the case, Bayne fears it could drag out the process for “another year” or more, further endangering his already damaged plans to redevelop the property.

But even if the court rejects Arlington’s appeal, Bayne worries his deal with CVS has already likely “fallen apart.” He was set to sign a 50-year lease to bring the pharmacy to the site, bringing him close to $45 million over the term of the lease, and believes he may never engineer a redevelopment of the lot even if he emerges successful in court.

“There would’ve already been a CVS built and open, but they’ve dragged me through a legal process that’s taken years,” Bayne said.

County Attorney Steve MacIsaac did not respond to requests for comment seeking clarity on why the county is appealing the court’s ruling.

The county’s legal filings over the years suggest Arlington officials were concerned with the size of the pharmacy Bayne hoped to build, particularly on a site bordering residential neighborhoods just on the edge of Clarendon, even though county lawyers challenged the project on the basis of some arcane zoning laws.

The legal spat over the Highlander began when Bayne asked for permission from the county to use a parking lot just behind the motel on N. Kenmore Street as parking for the proposed CVS.

A county zoning administrator pointed out that the hotel’s owners received permission when the motel was built back in 1963 to use that lot as “transitional” parking, and never sought any subsequent zoning change. That same lot would help Bayne’s company meet the county’s parking requirement for a retail building of the CVS’s size, a shop that would essentially replace the motel in its entirety.

The county changed its zoning ordinance in 1983 to ban the use of transitional lots for meeting minimum parking requirements, as Arlington moved toward a more transit-focused mentality and officials viewed requests for large parking lots more skeptically. Accordingly, the zoning administrator rejected Bayne’s proposal, setting up a hearing before the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Board members pressed Bayne’s lawyers on whether he couldn’t simply shrink the proposed CVS and reduce the need for more parking. Land use attorney Evan Pritchard noted in the July 16, 2016 hearing that CVS viewed a smaller location as “no longer worth the trouble” of pursuing.

The Board unanimously denied Bayne’s appeal, arguing that the zoning administrator’s interpretation of the law was the correct one, even if such a distinction over parking lots seemed trivial.

“I’m not saying the proposed commercial use is a bad one, or that it even isn’t in the interest of Arlington County, but the County Board has written the zoning ordinance this way,” Board member Peter Owen said during the hearing.

Bayne appealed that ruling to the county’s circuit court, arguing in an Aug. 11, 2016 complaint that simply using the parking lot for a different establishment would not “change the character or intensity” of the property.

But in motions opposing Bayne’s appeal, county attorneys reiterated their historical zoning arguments and repeatedly cited the size of Bayne’s proposed CVS as a troublesome factor.

“It is as a result of the size of the CVS that all required parking can’t be located on the site,” assistant county attorney Christine Sanders argued in a trial on the matter.

In an Oct. 26, 2017 motion, Sanders also dubbed Bayne’s effort “an end run around the public process of a rezoning” from a residential designation to a commercial one, which “continues to foist upon the neighborhood a noxious use” of the property.

Retired Judge Alfred Swersky sided with Bayne, and denied the county’s subsequent request for another hearing, setting up a potential state Supreme Court fight.

Bayne says he “fully expects” to emerge victorious in the end, whether he’s ultimately able to realize his vision of a CVS on the property or not. He simply remains frustrated that this process has even dragged on for so long in the first place.

“It’s a good thing for the county, how can you argue with it?” Bayne said. “They’ve been told they’re wrong twice by a judge, why do you need to be told a third time?”

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Arlington Bar Owners Cheer Chef Geoff’s Happy Hour Advertising Lawsuit

A restaurant owner has filed a lawsuit over Virginia’s happy hour advertising laws that prohibit promoting specific discounts or prices.

Geoff Tracy of Chef Geoff’s, which has a location in Tysons, filed his lawsuit in federal court in Virginia, claiming that the law is unconstitutional as it violates his First Amendment right to free speech.

More from a press release from the Pacific Legal Foundation, which has an office in Clarendon and is representing Tracy:

The law prohibits placing prices on happy hour advertising, as well as using any terminology other than “happy hour” and “drink specials.” Nor can business owners promote “two-for-one” drinks-they must be referred to as “half-priced” drinks instead.

This means ads promoting specials such as “Wine down Wednesdays” and “$5 Margaritas” are perfectly legal at Tracy’s restaurants in Maryland and D.C. But at Chef Geoff’s Tysons Corner… the exact same ads violate state law and could lead to fines and suspension of his liquor license.

“Advertising is crucial to the restaurant business, especially in Metro D.C. where happy hours are popular and competition among eateries is fierce,” Tracy said. “But Virginia would rather punish me than encourage economic prosperity.”

Pacific Legal Foundation, which defends individual liberties nationwide, represents Tracy free of charge. PLF argues that Virginia’s happy hour law not only harms Chef Geoff’s bottom line, it’s also unconstitutional.

“The First Amendment clearly protects Americans’ ability to speak truthfully and freely about their business practices,” said PLF attorney Anastasia Boden. “This law reflects outdated notions about alcohol best left in the Prohibition days.”

Several Arlington bar owners, contacted by ARLnow, agree with Tracy’s position.

Mark Handwerger, who owns Clarendon’s The Board Room, “knew that Virginia has a whole mess of strange rules and laws” but said this specific law doesn’t make sense.

“My whole reaction to this is: why?” Handwerger said of the law. “What’s the point? Gas stations are allowed to put up their prices, so why can’t bars?”

The law isn’t just illogical for businesses, but for customers as well, according to some local bar owners.

“It’s always been the most confusing thing for customers,” said Tony Wagner, owner of Columbia Pike’s BrickHaus “Unless they call, or they’re on site, they have absolutely no idea what the specials are.”

Wagner, is in favor of amending the law, because even though “the law itself is clear but very restrictive… in such a competitive environment like Arlington, how do you stand out if you can’t stand out?”

Scott Parker, co-owner of multiple Arlington establishments like A-Town Bar & Grill and Don Tito’s, says the law puts Virginia bars, particularly those closer to competitors in D.C. and Maryland, at a disadvantage.

“Consumers these days are used to fast information,” he said. “So when they can’t get what they want from Arlington, but across the water in D.C. and they can see exactly what they are going to be getting, it’s hard to compete with that.”

Curt Large of Rosslyn’s Continental Beer Garden said he’s “100% behind Geoff Tracy’s lawsuit,” adding that “it’s absurd, confusing, and an embarrassment to Virginia that it has such a law and vigorously enforces it.”

“The restriction treats the citizens of Virginia like children,” he added.

A web page for the Dept. of Alcoholic Beverage Control (Virginia ABC) notes that “it can seem confusing” and that “you’re not alone” if “you have questions about what you can and can’t do related to happy hour.”

At least one bar owner in Arlington, however, did not believe that a lawsuit is necessary.

“It’s an outdated law but you move on and find different things to focus on when advertising,” wrote Ramesh Chopra, owner of Ballston’s First Down Sports Bar & Grill.

“You can’t get hung up on this law or that law,” Chopra said. “Your sole concentration shouldn’t be happy hour to get people in the door.”

File photo

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State Bill Would Provide Big Tax Breaks to Arlington Country Clubs

A state bill targeted at helping country clubs in Arlington would cost the county more than $2 million in tax revenue, an internal county report says.

HB 1204, patroned by Fairfax and Prince William County Del. Tim Hugo (R), passed the House of Delegates last week by a vote of 65-33-1. The bill would “reserve to the Commonwealth the power to classify golf courses as land dedicated to open space for assessment and tax purposes,” according to an internal Arlington County fact sheet.

More from the bill’s summary:

Requires the assessing official in any county that experienced at least a 14% increase in population from 2010 to 2016 to specially and separately assess real property that is devoted to open space and contains at least five acres based on the actual physical use of the property, if requested to do so by the owner. The measure is effective for taxable years beginning on or after January 1, 2018.

The bill only would apply to Arlington and Loudoun counties, we’re told, and it would primarily affect the tax assessments of two entities: Army Navy Country Club and Washington Golf and Country Club, both in Arlington.

The country clubs are currently suing the county, challenging their respective assessments. Arlington assesses each based in part on their potential value as developable land, meaning that the assessments — and yearly tax bills — are much higher than if the clubs were assessed only on the basis of their current use.

Army Navy Country Club, near Pentagon City, was assessed at $149 million this year, and paid $1.5 million in taxes last year, according to county records. Washington Golf and Country Club, located along N. Glebe Road near Marymount University, is assessed at $79 million and paid about $839,000 in taxes last year.

The internal county report says that the country clubs are both currently assessed as “large acreage parcels,” valued at about $12 per square foot. By comparison, some residential property near WGCC is assessed at nearly $100 per square foot. Should the legislation pass, the assessed value of the clubs is expected to drop to around $0.50 per square foot, costing the county nearly $2.4 million.

“This is a bad bill for Arlington County government and for Arlington County property owners,” said County Board Chair Katie Cristol, adding that it would set a “damaging precedent.”

The Virginia Municipal League is opposing Hugo’s bill, which is currently being considered by the state Senate. In an email, the organization urged localities to take action.

“Notwithstanding the arguments posed by the bill’s proponents, the measure shatters existing state policy,” the email said. “If approved, nothing will prevent future General Assemblies from giving away local tax dollars and disregarding land use and tax policy decisions that belong to local governments. And, for the record, HB 1204 does not obligate the Commonwealth to reimburse local governments for the resulting lost revenues.”

The state Senate’s Finance Committee is expected to discuss the legislation at a hearing Tuesday morning.

At its meeting Saturday, two County Board members supported advertising a higher property tax rate, based on the risk of lost tax revenue from the bill. A majority of the Board, however, voted against raising the rate.

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