With coronavirus cases in Arlington continuing to rise, and large crowds still congregating in Clarendon on weekends, the County Board took action late last week to try to cut down on sidewalk crowding.
The Board unanimously passed an emergency ordinance “prohibiting groups of more than three people from congregating on streets and sidewalks posted with the restrictions, and requiring pedestrians to maintain at least six feet of physical separation from others on the posted streets and sidewalks,” according to a press release.
The ordinance, which will be the subject of a public hearing in September, was approved during a closed session Friday evening. Violations will be treated as a traffic infraction, with a fine not to exceed $100, though Board members said the goal will be to educate the public and achieve voluntary compliance without the need to write tickets.
The action seemed to be aimed at bar-going crowds in Clarendon, as photos are posted on social media of large queues of people outside of nightlife spots like The Lot and Whitlows.
Drove past Clarendon tonight and couldn’t believe how PACKED it was. The lines of multiple bars were filled with people. I couldn’t believe my eyes but Arlington is done for @ARLnowDOTcom . This is extremely careless. https://t.co/OtSizNz0Od
— Nubian Princess (@Notorious_RHS) August 2, 2020
“It’s insane!” local resident Mike Gardell said of the scene this past weekend. “Lines down sidewalks, no social distancing, about one quarter with masks but around their chins or on their wrists. And, for some reason, not one police officer in sight.”
— Eddie (@WFOcom) August 1, 2020
During Friday’s meeting, County Board member Christian Dorsey said Phase 3 of Virginia’s reopening, which allowed more people to gather in restaurants, “has exposed to us a real gap in our ability to ensure the public’s health.” Social distancing can be enforced inside restaurants, Dorsey said, but gatherings on sidewalks was not explicitly prohibited.
“This is absolutely necessary,” Dorsey said of the ordinance, which will be enforced by the police department following a public education campaign and the posting of signs. Board members said the aim is to achieve “a culture of compliance” without a single infraction being issued.
Coronavirus cases in Arlington, meanwhile, continue to rise. Twenty new cases were reported overnight, bringing the cumulative total to 2,945 and the seven-day rate of new cases to 122, a two-week high. There have also been five new hospitalizations over the past week.
The county’s test positivity rate, however, remains relatively low at just 4.4%. Arlington’s average daily testing rate is near an all-time high: 420 PCR-based tests per day.
While cases in Northern Virginia remain steady, the rest of the state is still seeing an elevated level of new cases and a sharp rise in COVID-related deaths.
More on the Arlington’s emergency sidewalk crowding ordinance, below, via a county press release.
Arlington County’s zoning office is undertaking a study to find new ways to encourage affordable housing growth in the county.
The study aims to update the Housing Conservation District (HCD) report — a document which lays out measures to preserve units of affordable housing in several, specially-designated areas across the county.
Zoning staff are currently considering several new “zoning and financial incentives,” like:
- Allowing developers to add more units to a building, or construct a second building on a property, if the developer reserves some units for affordable housing
- Changing some zoning rules about setbacks or maximum building heights to make it easier to replace older affordable housing buildings
- Adopting tax benefits for properties with affordable housing
The 12 areas in Arlington that form the HCD include Leeway Overlee, Glebewood, Waverly Hills, Spout Run/Lyon Village, North Highlands, Westover, Lyon Park, Penrose, Shirlington, and Long Branch Creek.
The original draft of the HCD in 2017 aimed to prevent developers from tearing down older homes in favor of new townhouses.
Earlier this year, the county announced a new “Housing Arlington” initiative to help the county meets its goal of creating 15,800 affordable units by 2040. At the time, staff noted lower-income residents face a housing squeeze given that the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $3,000, and Arlington lost 17,000 market-rate housing units since 2005.
The new study is expected to be completed by early 2020.
County staff are also currently undertaking a study about ways to make it easier to build new elder care facilities, such as allowing developers to build the facilities in more places around Arlington than currently permitted via zoning.
Image (top) via Arlington TV
The outside of Goody’s is now sporting eye-watering lime green and red paint after county zoning regulations forced the pizzeria to cover its colorful, culinary mural.
Tomatoes, olives, mushrooms, cheese, slices of pizza, and gyros adorned the creme-colored walls along with an Italian flag after Goody’s commissioned the mural from a local artist.
The county’s planning department warned the Clarendon staple that Arlington’s zoning ordinance requires permits for artwork that “relates to the advertisement of a business and its services” and that without a permit they’d be forced to paint over the mural.
Goody’s is owned by Glenda Alvarez who took the reins from Vanessa Reisis last spring and was unavailable for comment Friday morning.
Alvarez’s husband Danny Sabouni owns Arlington Watch Works next door and told ARLnow that Alvarez had to repaint Goody’s yesterday (Thursday) but she was not fined.
“We can put bicycles or cars outside, whatever else. But we cannot put posters or signs advertising what we sell,” Sabouni said of the zoning ordinance’s requirements. “It’s pathetic.”
A spokesperson for the Arlington County Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development did not respond in time for publication.
Sabouni says Alvarez is considering commissioning a new mural for the eatery, but it’s a difficult process because the language of the ordinance doesn’t clearly distinguish between what’s a sign and what’s art.
“It’s so vague that nobody can understand it,” he said.
Previously, Alvarez said she painted the building to make it more “attractive” to customers, adding “We just wanted to get a little more attention from people walking by.”
County inspectors famously cracked down on artwork judged to be advertising in 2010 when Wag More Dogs on S. Four Mile Run Drive included dogs in their mural.
Parking Changes Among Child Care Proposals — Changing onerous parking requirements for child care centers is going to be “on the list of proposed ordinance changes we’re introducing” at a community meeting next Monday, according to a tweet from Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol. [Twitter]
Smoke the Dog Dies — “Smoke, the Arlington, Virginia, dog with a bucket list, died this week, the Animal Welfare League of Arlington announced Friday. In July, Smoke captured a lot of hearts in the area when the Arlington shelter announced that he had terminal cancer and that they’d created a bucket list for him.” [WTOP]
Letter: Arlington Lacks Airbnb Enforcement — A letter to the editor argues that Arlington County has been ineffective in enforcement of a short-term rental ordinance passed in 2016. Per the letter: “Short-term rental industry websites showed more than 1,000 units advertised for short-term rent in Arlington as of early July, but only 72 residents had obtained permits, down from 86 in January.” [Washington Post]
Dems Make Money Via Mail — The top fundraising activity for the Arlington County Democratic Committee: sending hand-addressed and hand-stamped letters. [InsideNova]
Tree Falls on Chain Bridge Road — Chain Bridge Road was closed Sunday after a tree fell and took down utility lines, for at least the second time this year. The stretch of Chain Bridge Road in Arlington that was closed is home to the most expensive house in the D.C. area. [Twitter]
Photo courtesy Jeremy Galliani
Arlingtonwood is a tiny, affluent neighborhood nestled near the GW Parkway and Chain Bridge in the far northern corner of Arlington.
Amid what is otherwise an idyllic suburban scene along N. Richmond Street, one house stands out: a low-slung brick home covered in handwritten signs and Sharpie-scrawled writing on the white siding and doors.
“POISONED HOUSE, DO NOT ENTER – KEEP OUT,” reads the writing next to the main entrance. “DO NOT TAKE AND DO NOT REMOVE ANY POISONED ITEMS FROM MY POISONED HOUSE.”
The note goes on to claim that the house was poisoned in 1999 with various “dangerous substances” and that the “poisoning was proved to the FBI and Arlington police including other U.S. government agencies.”
“U.S. President Clinton was informed in 2000 and U.S. President Bush in 2001,” the sign continues.
Needless to say, neighbors are not happy with the signage.
“I have contacted the [county] and Arlington states there is nothing they can do because the signs are on private property,” one resident told ARLnow.com. “These signs affect everyone in the area as this home is stating there are poisonous gases everywhere (in the ground, her house, etc.). People stop all the time and ask if it is safe to be in the area.”
Gary Greene, Code Enforcement Section Chief for Arlington County, confirmed that there is basically nothing the county can do about the signs and writing. He said that the county has received seven complaints about the home in the past 12 years and that the only actionable code violations found — like an overgrown lawn — were corrected by the homeowner, who does not live in the house.
There is one outstanding “minor” code violation, Greene said, but it has nothing to do with the house being vacant or covered with signs. The signs are not in violation of Virginia law or county ordinance, he said.
“The signs, letters and wall writings visible on the front façade of the property were placed there in 2005 by the property owner; they have been a primary driver for complaint calls,” Greene said. “The signs, letters and wall writings are not of a commercial or political nature and have not been found in violation of any of Arlington’s property related ordinances.”
The house, which was recently assessed by the county at $862,500, was nearly auctioned by Arlington County in 2015 for non-payment of property taxes — but the taxes were eventually paid along with a penalty fee and interest, county records show. It is currently in good standing with the tax office after $8,570.16 in property taxes were paid in 2016.
Arlington’s snow removal ordinance requires that sidewalks be shoveled within 24 hours of the end of a snow event with six inches or less of accumulation. As far as the county is concerned, Tuesday’s snowstorm ended at 2 p.m., and thus the sidewalk deadline today is 2 p.m.
If you’ve procrastinated, you might be in for a tough task. Temperatures in the low 20s means that uncleared snow and sleet has turned into a barely penetrable mat of ice.
— Russell Imrie (@tweedyBard) March 15, 2017
A mundane update to a long-standing Arlington ordinance went viral on the internet yesterday when news organizations started erroneously implying that the county was trying to crack down on public cursing.
As ARLnow.com previously reported, the County Board on Saturday considered — and approved — an update to its public drunkenness and profanity ordinance.
The update, meant to bring Arlington in line with a Virginia law that’s on the books throughout the Commonwealth, replaced “drunkenness” with “intoxication” so that police could charge someone who’s under the influence of drugs, rather than just alcohol. It also made the crime a Class 4 misdemeanor, upping the maximum fine for the first and second offense from $100 to $250, but reducing the maximum fine for each subsequent offense to $250 from $500.
Despite the innocuous intent, news outlets both local and national saw something nefarious in the cursing portion of the law, which has been on the books for years. Among the headlines:
- “Arlington Cracks Down on Salty Language” — Washingtonian
- “Arlington raises the penalty for potty mouths” — WTOP
- “Cursing in Arlington could cost you $250” — Washington Post
- “Cursing in Public Becomes Fineable Offense in Arlington County” — WNEW 99.1
- “There’s a racial history behind these types of laws” — The Atlantic CityLab
- “Having a potty mouth will cost you a pretty penny in Arlington, Va.” — New York Daily News
- “Arlington, Virginia, Seems to Think F-Bombs Are Actual Weapons” — Reason.com
- “Arlington, Virginia Has a New Law Against Swearing” — Break.com
How prevalent are the citations for public cursing? Of the 664 citations issued under Arlington’s public cursing and drunkenness ordinance in 2014, four — or 0.6 percent — were for “curse and abuse.”
Arlington County Police Department spokesman Dustin Sternbeck said that in the rare instance an officer actually does issue a curse and abuse citation, it’s usually as a result of calls from residents about people cussing in front of children.
“It’s not like police are out there looking for people using profane language,” Sternbeck said. “It’s calls from members of the public who are concerned about subjects acting disorderly.”
Sternbeck was able to list the circumstances of three of the four cursing citations issued in 2014.
- A public argument between two parties in front of Ballston Common Mall
- A group of men cursing in Tyrol Hill Park in front of children, who then cursed at officers after being asked to stop
- A driver who repeatedly cursed at a police officer after receiving several traffic violations
“Police are not actively seeking out people using profane language,” Sternbeck repeated. “[The ordinance] was just updated to be in line with the state code.”
The Arlington County Board approved an updated noise ordinance last month, amid concern from businesses that it’s too strict and complaints from residents that it’s not strict enough.
A new video from Arlington County (above) reviews why the noise ordinance was updated and what it means for Arlington residents and businesses.
As noted in the video, noise complaints in Arlington should be directed to county code enforcement (703-228-3232) during business hours and to the police non-emergency line (703-558-2222) after hours.
Effective immediately, restaurant managers will be liable for the noise of their patrons if it can be heard in a residence 100 feet or more away from midnight to 9:00 a.m in mixed-use areas, which the county outlines in maps of areas like Clarendon, Ballston, Pentagon City and Columbia Pike.
Anywhere in the county, from 2:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. anyone who can be heard “yelling, wailing, shouting or screaming” can receive a ticket for $100 or more.
“It’s our goal to always do the best we can to balance and be respectful of the quality of life to everyone that’s here,” County Board Chairman Jay Fisette said during the Board’s almost five-hour discussion of the ordinance at its Saturday meeting. “This is another set of tools, in my mind, that helps us to address the not widespread — but they do exist — impacts of noise.”
Residents of condominiums in Ballston and other of Arlington’s urban neighborhoods were calling for more restrictive rules, including setting quiet hours beginning at 11:00 p.m. nightly and from noon to 6:00 p.m. on Sundays. A committee of residents from the Alta Vista and Berkeley Condominiums in Ballston — both within steps of A-Town Bar & Grill — unsuccessfully proposed those stricter rules to the Board.
“[Responsible businesses] have nothing to fear from a strong noise control ordinance,” said Lee Austin, a member of the ad hoc condo committee. “Nor do we want to prevent young people from having a good time. But is it too much to ask they be respectful of residents in the neighborhood late at night and on Sunday afternoon? What we solicit protection from is the crowd noise that comes from irresponsible establishments that serve too much alcohol to too many people too long after they’ve had too much to drink.”
Clarendon and Courthouse residents sent a flurry of emails last week requesting similar restrictions, with former president of the Clarendon-Courthouse Civic Association Chris Keever telling the County Board that the ordinance appears “to have been drafted directly by bar owners who are not even trying to pretend they care about being good neighbors.”
Whitlow’s on Wilson owner Greg Cahill was the first of 17 speakers who addressed the Board about the ordinance on Saturday. He did not advocate for a specific enforcement time, but instead implored the Board to consider the business community as well as the residents when adopting the new regulations.
“We’re a little concerned it could be detrimental to our business,” he said. “Sometimes we don’t get busy until 11 or 12 at night. It could affect our business. It’s going to be hard for us to be responsible for actions people [take] when they’re waiting to get into our bar and restaurant.”
In addition to provisions dealing with mixed-use districts, the new ordinance makes it illegal for anybody or any group of people “to engage during the nighttime in yelling, wailing, shouting or screaming” in a residential neighborhood, if the noise can be heard within 20 feet inside an adjacent home or within 50 feet across a road or property boundary.
The ordinance adopted was revised from the version discussed last month that rankled Arlington’s private swim clubs. Those clubs are now exempted from the residential noise ordinance, provided that their meets that take place between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.
The county’s Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development’s Code Enforcement personnel will pair with the Arlington County Police Department in enforcing the new rules. The new ordinance was written after a 2009 Virginia Supreme Court decision changed the way localities could enforce noise violations. The ordinance now establishes “Objective, quantifiable and defined measurement standards,” according to Arlington County’s press release.
Fisette called the ordinance a “work in progress” and said county staff should bring back any recommended changes at the ordinance’s one-year review. Fisette also made several references to “one establishment in Ballston” that “continues to cause problems for residents,” and said the Board will address that restaurant — understood to be A-Town — when its use permit comes before the Board for review.
The email listserv of the Clarendon-Courthouse Civic Association (CCCA) erupted today in protest over changes to Arlington’s noise ordinance, which the County Board is scheduled to vote on tomorrow (Saturday).
The changes are needed in order to allow police to objectively enforce the noise ordinance; the current ordinance contains subjective enforcement provisions that were struck down by the state Supreme Court. The ordinance attempts to address what county officials say are the top four noise-related complaints in Arlington: loud parties or gatherings, construction noise, animal noises and live entertainment venues.
Business advocates have said that an overly-restrictive noise ordinance could chase away younger residents and discourage local economic development. The new ordinance, county staff says, attempts to find a balance between resident concerns and business needs.
CCCA leaders, however, say that the provisions don’t adequately protect residents in the county’s urban corridors — so-called “mixed use districts” — against noise from parties and outdoor restaurant patios. While for residential neighborhoods the ordinance outlaws “yelling, wailing, shouting or screaming” that’s audible anywhere within 50 feet of the noise source after 9:00 p.m. (10:00 p.m. on weekends), for mixed use districts the noise must be audible indoors, from 100 feet away, after midnight.
“Clarendon is a vibrant mixed use and walkable community and as a neighborhood we generally expect a certain amount of noise related to the restaurants and traffic after those hours,” CCCA President Adam Thocher told ARLnow.com. “However the idea that continued smart growth of our neighborhood is dependent on little to no protection from noise 24/7 is incredible… The CCCA regularly receives feedback on how increasingly loud the outdoor patio space at neighboring restaurants is becoming.”
Even so, Thocher said he was particularly concerned about noise from “keg parties,” which are subject to the same standards as restaurants.
“The idea that the noise from a neighbor’s raucous parties are held to the same noise standards as the restaurant patio is unacceptable even in a mixed use area,” he said.
A former CCCA president, Chris Keever, also weighed in on the issue today, writing the County Board a letter that accused the county of appeasing restaurant owners at the expense of residents of Arlington’s Metro corridors.
“This proposal would leave an overwhelming number of residents of this neighborhood with zero recourse to enforce quiet enjoyment of their own properties,” Keever wrote. “It appears to me to have been drafted directly by bar owners who are not even trying to pretend they care about being good neighbors. It is the right of business owners to make a profit, but not for them to make outrageous profit at the expense of the majority. This is Arlington, not Wall Street.”
The full letters from Thocher and Keever, after the jump.
The Arlington County Board will review the draft noise ordinance at its March meeting.
Among the updates to the ordinance are prohibiting anyone from playing music or TVs loud enough to be heard by a neighbor as close as 20 feet away in an apartment building or 50 feet away across a property line. From the draft:
“It shall be unlawful for any person to use, operate, or play, or to permit the use, operation or playing of, any radio, television, phonograph, record, compact disc or tape player, drum, musical instrument, loudspeaker, sound amplifier or similar device or machine which produces, reproduces or amplifies sound in such a manner as to
create a noise disturbancebe heard within any nearbydwelling unit, house or apartment of another person at least 20 feet from the source of the sound, or at least 50 feet from the source of the sound and either across any real property boundary or at the curb or on the edge of the pavement at any built street.”
The minimum penalty for a noise disturbance violation is proposed to increase from $25 to $100, with a maximum fine of $2,500 and up to 30 days in jail. According to the ordinance, each calendar day a violation is reported or ongoing is a separate offense. All ordinance violations require a warning before a citation can be issued, according to Arlington County Code Enforcement Section Chief Gary Greene.
“Our thinking here is that if you have your TV or stereo or amplifying device so loud that it can be heard a whole room away, clearly and audibly, that would be a disturbance enough for another person that it would be a violation,” Greene said in an email.
The new ordinance was updated partially to allow some violations to be enforced without needing sound-measuring devices — presumably the reason the words “create a noise disturbance” were edited from the above provision. The draft ordinance also forbids motorized lawnmowers and leaf blowers be used after dark and prohibits “yelling, wailing, shouting, or screaming above the level of conversation” in a residential district.
Planning staff said the updated ordinance was written after a yearlong community outreach process. One of the key points to come from the process was regulations on animal noise. In the new draft, a noise ordinance violation occurs when a neighbor hears an animal at least once a minute for 10 consecutive minutes.
All county facilities, employees and contractors with the county, including trash, recycling and leaf collectors, are exempted completely from the proposed ordinance.