Press Club

It appears that Bowlero — an allegedly rowdy Crystal City bowling alley at the base of apartments — won’t be headed to the gutter this year.

The Arlington County Board this weekend is set to renew use permits for Bowlero (320 23rd Street S.) sparing it from closure, on the conditions that staff will review its operations next January, closely monitor the business in the meantime and review it again in 2025.

But the relationship between the bowling alley and the residents of The Buchanan apartments above it is uneasy. There have been dozens of reports to Arlington County Police Department of fights, drunk and loud patrons, indecent exposure and damaged property.

It reached a point where ACPD hosted an online town hall on March 31 last year to hear tenants’ concerns and discuss the work by officers and Bowlero staff to get crowds under control.

Eighteen months after opening, Arlington County is recommending the Board renew Bowlero’s permits with the one-year review to make sure community concerns about night-time nuisances are minimized. Since it opened in July 2020, there have been nearly 70 calls for service to ACPD.

The county says it supports renewing the permits because the quality-of-life problems caused by rowdy patrons are being addressed through the Arlington Restaurant Initiative (ARI), a partnership between ACPD and restaurants and bars to make Arlington a safe nightlife destination.

Otherwise, it says in a county report, staff found no other problems with the business operating there.

The police department supports the renewal because Bowlero maintains the restaurant initiative accreditation it earned in October 2020, per the report. The alley’s management plays an active role in involving police, ACPD said in the town hall, making half of the 52 calls for service between July 2020 and March 31.

“Bowlero has also implemented proper security measures and best practices, as recommended by Arlington County Police Department (ACPD), for calming and managing crowds, in addition to proactively responding to pending reports on site,” the report said. “The Police Department has not identified any outstanding public safety issues related to the continuation of the subject use.”

These security measures include scanning people with wands and checking bags, the report says. In addition, a neighborhood liaison has been appointed to address residents’ concerns.

Still, members of a nearby civic association have expressed their concerns “about reports of a high volume of late-night noise and potentially dangerous activity related to patrons of the establishment,” the report said.

One former resident, who moved away partially because of the nuisances downstairs, said metal detectors and police’s best practices are “treating the symptoms” but not addressing their root causes: alcohol, prices, promotions and hours.

The permits allow Bowlero to operate from 11 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. Saturday through Sunday.

The former Buchanan resident said the calls to police detailed in the report — chiefly calls about fights and loud and drunk patrons — “seem typical of what I experienced.”

“They are absurd,” he said. “Gun issue? Street fights? Woman exposing herself? These are not just noise complaints, nor was this U Street [a street in D.C. known for its nightlife] prior to Bowlero opening. It was a calm and pretty safe street that turned into a place to actively avoid.”

Here’s the full list of what residents called for in 2021:

Calls to ACPD for service at Bowlero in Crystal City (via Arlington County)
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In a bid to bring more businesses to Columbia Pike, Arlington County staff are seeking to ease zoning regulations for the area.

The Pike could see a variety of light industry businesses, from animal boarding to breweries to indoor urban farms, if the County Board approves the changes, which are slated for a vote next Saturday, Nov. 13.

Development along Columbia Pike is governed by the Columbia Pike Form Based Code, which favors mid-rise mixed-use buildings with housing and ground-floor retail. The kinds of commercial operations the code currently allows by-right or with a use permit, however, are limited.

Permitted uses on the Pike were last revised in 2015 and, according to the county, “the nature of retail has since shifted,” warranting another update. After studying market conditions on the Pike in 2019, staff decided updating the code was the best way to encourage commercial activity.

“Increasing use flexibility through zoning and land use recommendation was identified as most efficient and impactful step to move work forward and permit wider range of uses,” county planner Ebony Dumas told the Planning Commission last night (Monday) during a meeting.

She noted business and community leaders have also advocated for greater retail flexibility to tackle the high vacancy and turnover rates for ground-floor retail and to eliminate use permits, which can be a substantial hurdle for new entrepreneurs.

“There’s a lot of support to update and consider new uses,” Dumas said, recapping the last year’s worth of community engagement on the proposal. “Most agree the existing use table over-utilizes use permits, and more uses should be by-right.”

Commissioner Stephen Hughes credited the last night’s proposal to community advocacy.

“Neighbors, business leaders and business owners all along the Pike have pretty much from day one said, ‘What we want is business, what we want are people, what we want is livelihoods,’ and with that, they want the maximum flexibility possible,” he said.

Arlington County staff propose allowing by-right more variety in office uses, such as recording studios, as well as museums, art galleries and studios. The proposal would allow uses typically seen in industrial districts but currently prohibited under the Pike code, including animal boarding, breweries, distilleries and cideries, artisan workshops, shared commercial kitchens and urban agriculture.

Of the new uses, staff proposed allowing shared kitchens and urban agriculture by-right, meaning business owners would not need a use permit, which makes them subject to certain conditions. Last night, the Planning Commission unanimously voted in favor of allowing beverage facilities and other artisan workshops by-right, too.

“We’re trying to encourage smaller businesses,” Commission Chair Jim Lantelme said. “From simply an economic development point of view, and trying to encourage small businesses, which do contribute to vitality of neighborhood, if wherever we can do it by-right, that’s the best way to go.”

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An “immersive group gaming entertainment facility” is coming to Ballston Quarter.

That could mean something like an escape room, or virtual reality gaming experiences.

The entertainment facility will take up about 2,217 square feet of space located at Suite 2233, on the second floor of Ballston Quarter, according to a permit filed with Arlington County. The permit had no further details about who or what is coming.

When asked what it could be, a spokesman for Brookfield Properties, which manages the retail at Ballston Quarter, said he can’t say.

“We are not able to comment on this as we don’t comment on behalf of our tenants,” he said.

After making a few inquiries, it’s still a mystery. 5 Wits, which provides live-action immersive experiences and already has a location in Ballston Quarter, said it’s not expanding.

“At this time, there is no expansion planned for 5 Wits Arlington,” a spokesperson said.

VR Zone DC Arcade and VR Arena, a virtual-reality gaming experience with locations in D.C. and Rockville, Maryland, also confirmed it’s not that company: “It’s not us and we unfortunately don’t know who’s coming to Ballston.”

Two years ago, The VOID — a virtual-reality gaming experience that received a lot of media attention — announced it was coming to Tysons Corner Center. But the poster-child for VR arcades faced financial problems and its Tysons location has since shut down.

The VR gaming concept, generally speaking, has reportedly struggled to take off and faced significant setbacks during the pandemic.

Hat tip to Chris Slatt 

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(Updated 4:05 p.m.) Arlington restaurants can now apply to increase the number of diners they are permitted to serve indoors and outdoors, according to Arlington Economic Development.

The county is allowing restaurants to temporarily up their maximum capacity so that the eateries can keep using — and possibly expand — their pandemic-era temporary outdoor seating areas (TOSAs), even as indoor capacity restrictions have lifted, the AED newsletter to local businesses said.

Kate Bates, President and CEO of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, praised the decision.

“The Chamber of Commerce applauds the county for moving forward to extend TOSAs in way that works for restaurants and the community,”  Bates said. “We shared this with our member restaurants, and they are very pleased. Some made big investment in TOSA areas and they’re able to use that to draw in more customers.”

When restaurants prepared to reopen last summer, they needed outdoor dining to make up for the space they lost inside to social distancing requirements. Additionally, the format had a lower risk of transmission than indoor dining.

So in May 2o2o, the Arlington County Board approved a process through which restaurants could obtain a permit to set up these seating areas, provided that they met fire and safety codes. In December, the board granted restaurant and bar owners the ability to set up in common areas, such as plazas.

One year later, capacity restrictions governing Virginia restaurants have lifted. In Arlington, that means restaurants still using their TOSAs could technically exceed their permitted occupancy maximums. So the county is allowing restaurants to request a temporary certificate of occupancy (TCO) for their TOSAs, which will allow them to operate these seating areas while also operating at full capacity indoors.

The TCOs will expire with the TOSAs, which will remain in operation at least through 2021. The seating areas are permitted by the county’s Continuity of Government Ordinance, which will run for six months beyond the declared end of the pandemic.

“We really can’t emphasize enough that, even though TOSAs were helpful, restaurants still faced incredible losses and decimation,” Bates said. “In 2021, restaurants still need support from the losses over the last 16 months.”

But restaurant owners can’t run out and set up more outdoor seating just yet. Inspections, permits and amendments will be required to make these changes, according to AED.

Those interested in getting a temporary occupancy permit should schedule a free code consultation with the county, the economic development agency said.

“To ensure the safety of all restaurant staff and patrons, the Virginia Building and Fire Prevention Code regulates capacity limitations,” said AED. “For this reason, the ability to obtain a TCO for a TOSA will depend on a restaurant’s individual circumstances and existing indoor and/or outdoor capacity.”

Those interested in expanding their TOSAs must also submit an amendment to the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority, which regulates liquor sales in these seating areas, the newsletter said. TOSAs approved for liquor sales will be able to serve drinks at least for through the end of 2021.

But the processes put in place last year did not work for all restaurants. The owner of Summers Restaurant said delays in TOSA permitting are one reason why the establishment closed last year.

And Medium Rare owner Mark Bucher said application troubles and fire codes made it impossible to seat his Arlington guests outside and keep them warm — without breaking the law.

Going forward, Bates said the Chamber wants to see the county “make it work” for restaurants facing extra hurdles, rather than coming up reasons for barring them from participating. The process needs to be a streamlined “not just on paper but in practice,” she said.

Eventually, the Chamber would like to see these outdoor seating areas become permanent parts of local codes, she said.

“This is community-building,” Bates said. “Outdoor dining makes Arlington vibrant and promotes other community interactions.”

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The interior of a salon on Lee Highway is set to be demolished and renovated, according to a permit filed with Arlington County.

The salon is New Image Hair Designs at 5800 Lee Highway, in Leeway-Overlee, across the street from Sloppy Mama’s Barbecue. All the finishes, plumbing and electrical fixtures will be removed and non-structural interior walls will be taken down, according to the permit.

The listed owner of the property is an LLC associated with Brian Normile, the president of Arlington-based home builder BCN Homes, which holds the demolition permit for the property.

Normile is also a partner in the Liberty Tavern Restaurant Group, which owns Liberty Tavern, Lyon Hall and Northside Social.

Rumors on the local Nextdoor social networking site that the salon would be converted into a new restaurant could not be immediately confirmed. Multiple requests for comment from the Liberty Tavern owners were not returned, nor was a request for comment from BCN returned.

Image via Google Maps

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A permit filed with Arlington County suggests that a potentially historic house in Dominion Hills may not be long for the world.

The Febrey-Lothrop House at 6407 Wilson Blvd, also known as the Rouse estate, has been the subject of sale speculation this year. The 9 acre property on which it sits is considered to be a “generational” land acquisition opportunity for the county and a prime site for a potential residential development, should it sell to a developer.

A historic designation for the property has been proposed, however. From a Sun Gazette article last week:

Members of the Arlington government’s Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB) voted 10-0 on Nov. 17 to move forward on a preliminary study toward determining whether the 9-acre Rouse estate at the corner of Wilson Boulevard and North McKinley Road meets qualifications to be designated as a local historic district.

The bone of contention? The trust that controls the property doesn’t want the study, or the historic designation, to move forward.

The property is owned by a trust set up by sportsman Randy Rouse, who purchased the estate (then consisting of 26 acres) in 1951 and owned it until his death at age 100 in 2017. His widow currently resides on the circa-1907 main house.

Not only is the house more than a century old, but its former residents are of some note: Alvin Lothrop, one of the founders of the Woodward and Lothrop department stores chain; business magnate and aviator Howard Hughes; and actress Audrey Meadows of The Honeymooners fame.

A historic designation, should it be approved, may limit the development potential of the property. Also from the Sun Gazette:

Inclusion in a county-government local historic district in Arlington restricts the maneuverability of property owners in terms of what they can do with their property.

While owners of properties being considered for inclusion as a local historic district could always attempt what might be considered a nuclear option – razing the structures to the ground before a vote on such a designation takes place – such a move likely would result in a reaction that would complicate efforts to redevelop the parcel down the road.

A recent permit filing could be a prelude to the aforementioned “nuclear option” of a preemptive demolition.

This week the county approved a permit application to cap off the property’s sewage line. A sewer cap is one of the requirements for obtaining a demolition permit.

“[The] kiss of death of any house is the sewer cap on,” a tipster tells ARLnow.

Demolition of the house would forestall restrictions that may be imposed by a historic district designation. The actual plans for the property could not be immediately confirmed, however.

In April, Falls Church News-Press columnist Charlie Clark reported that while the trustees for the property were not actively marketing it, they had received an unsolicited offer that was seriously considered.

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A proposal to return Arlington Court Suites Hotel to its original purpose, an apartment building, is slated to be considered by the Arlington County Board on Saturday.

The 187 guest rooms at 1200 N. Courthouse Road would become 180 homes, possibly condominiums, according to an application filed by the property owner. This hotel-to-residential project is just a couple of blocks south of the Court House Metro station.

County staff are advising the board to approve the plan, which has been amended after Transportation Commission members argued that the original plans provided too much parking.

“Overall, the applicant’s proposal presents an opportunity to provide new housing units within a transit-rich neighborhood through the conversion of an existing building in a manner that is generally consistent with applicable County adopted plans and policies,” the staff report says.

One feature includes an upgraded and expanded pedestrian route making it easier to get to and from the Metro station and the Arlington Boulevard Trail. The route will also connect with nearby apartment and condo buildings, but will not be ADA accessible due to how steep the the grade is, the staff report says.

The project is exempt from providing mandatory affordable dwelling units, according to county staff.

“Given that the proposed density of the subject site plan is decreasing, and is a renovation of an existing building, the ADU provision does not apply,” the document says.

An apartment building was originally constructed on the site in 1962, and was turned into a hotel in 1980. In 2005, the County Board approved a plan to construct 252 new multifamily, townhouse and stacked residential units nearby, known currently as the Vista on Courthouse and the Bell at Courthouse.

The ratio of parking spots to dwellings for the renovated building has been the subject of scrutiny. In February, Transportation Commission members unanimously objected to the first iteration of the plan, which knocked the original 203 spots to 171.

The revised plan includes 150 spaces for a new parking ratio of 0.83 spots per unit. Many of those would be located on a surface parking lot, with the rest in a garage under the building. A county policy adopted in 2017 said parking at residences near Metro stations could be as low as 0.2 spaces per unit.

In a letter to the Board, Transportation Commission Chair Chris Slatt said his commission appreciates the reduced parking and added pedestrian route.

“That said, many commissioners remarked that they would support an even lower parking ratio given proximity to (the) Metro and encouraged the applicant to further reduce the amount of parking on-site, particularly the surface parking,” he wrote.

The County Board will meet virtually this Saturday, Oct. 17, starting at 8:30 a.m.

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A proposal for a large outdoor café in Clarendon is set to be considered by the Arlington County Board this weekend.

The owner of the Clarendon Square office building at 3033 Wilson Blvd is requesting permits to operate an outdoor café and kiosk in an open area of the property, catty-corner from the Clarendon Metro station.

The proposed café would have 125 seats outside and 59 seats inside, according to a county staff report.

“The outdoor café will occupy the majority of the existing plaza and be enclosed by moveable planters,” the staff report notes. “Although all existing trees will be maintained, the existing raised planter walls will be redesigned to accommodate the outdoor seating.”

The kiosk will serve “grab-and-go beverages” to both passersby as well as those dining at the outdoor café. It’s being considered by the County Board separately from the café.

“The kiosk will operate the same hours as the restaurant and outdoor café and will be located on private property at the corner of Wilson Boulevard and North Highland Street,” the staff report says.

The County Manager recommends approving both the outdoor seating and the kiosk, with a County Board review in one year.

Clarendon Square is a 7-story office building constructed in 1987 and managed by Carr Properties, a real estate investment trust with two properties in Clarendon and one in Courthouse. The agenda item was deferred one month because when it came up in September, county staffers were still working with Carr on café furnishings, design and sidewalk width concerns.

The building contains ground-floor retail including a bank, a UPS Store, and a café called Waterhouse Coffee & Juice Bar. The existing plaza is publicly accessible and has raised planter beds with trees, shrubs and flowers.

The proposed café will serve restaurant-goers late into the night, according to the county documents. The building owner is asking for permission to pipe music in until midnight on Friday and Saturday nights. Music will end at 10 p.m. on weeknights.

In August, the Lyon Village Citizens Association asked that the building owner keep noise to a minimum after midnight, manage crowds and have overnight security of the outdoor seating area. The Clarendon-Courthouse Civic Association voted to support the proposal during its August meeting, provided that the 8-foot clear walkway is maintained on Wilson Blvd.

The café proposal comes amid a shift towards outdoor dining during the pandemic, and a spate of redevelopment in parts of Clarendon.

The County Board will meet virtually this Saturday, Oct. 17, starting at 8:30 a.m.

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After nearly 40 years, Joe Javidara said the future of his soccer-themed bar Summers Restaurant in Courthouse (1520 N. Courthouse Road) hinges on a permit he said is being processed through Arlington County government.

The restaurant announced on Monday that it was temporarily closed until it could get a permit for outdoor seating.

Like many local restaurant owners with insufficient indoor seating to allow for social distancing, Javidara said getting one of the county’s temporary outdoor seating requests is crucial to ensuring that customers feel safe returning to local eateries.

Jessica Margarit, spokeswoman for the Department of Community Planning, Housing & Development, said the county has received 110 applications for Temporary Outdoor Seating Area permits. Of those, 75 have been approved. Four were denied while 13 remain under review. The other 17 are listed as inactive — meaning they have not followed up with staff on requests for additional information — and one was withdrawn.

Asked about it by ARLnow, Margarit said the county had not received a new TOSA application from Summers yet.

Dear Summers friends,We will TEMPORARILY CLOSE until we get an outdoor seating permit from the Arlington, County. …

Posted by Summers Restaurant & Sports Bar on Monday, August 31, 2020

It’s a process the county has worked to make easier over the last few months, but Javidara faces a critical snag: his sidewalk is too narrow. An earlier application in June was denied because staff found that putting the restaurant space on the sidewalk would not allow enough space for pedestrians to safely maneuver.

“This time, I went to county and told them we’re going to close, we’ve closed already,” Javidara said. “We got the application. Hopefully we’ll see. They’re going to send the engineer to check it out… Without the outside seating we can’t pay the rent.”

Javidara’s solution had been to utilize the on-street parking area, removing four parking spaces to make way for tables with a cleared space on the sidewalk between the seating and the restaurant for pedestrians to pass through. It’s a move that’s been implemented in places like Clarendon and Shirlington, and in other jurisdictions like Alexandria, to the benefit of local restaurants.

He tried that approach in June, arguing that no one was coming to work in the nearby buildings anyway, but was rejected.

“We tried to open anyway, but we’re losing a lot of money and paying $20,000 in rent,” Javidara said. “And there’s no sports, so it feels like everything is against us.”

It isn’t the first time Summers Restaurant has been in dire straits. In 2014, Javidara expressed similar concerns about increasing rent possibly driving the restaurant out of business.

Now, he’s been told the application could be processed sometime in the next two or three weeks. Margarit said the average application reviews for TOSA permits take 5-10 days, sometimes less.

“They’re slow these days,” Javidara said. “By the time we get it, it could maybe be the end of October. There might still be a few weeks of nice weather. We’ve been here for 37 or 38 years, but if this doesn’t go through we’re going to go.”

Regardless, the building Summers calls home may not be long for this world: the entire block is set for redevelopment.

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Morning Notes

More on Arlington’s Drive-Through Testing — “Arlington County and the Virginia Hospital Center launched a coronavirus sampling site Wednesday, but a short supply of test kits and limited lab processing ability are forcing them to be selective with who they see.” [WAMU]

Grocery Stores With Senior-Only Shopping Hours — “Some DC-area grocery stores are offering or plan to offer special shopping hours for senior citizens, and in some cases other vulnerable people, during the coronavirus crisis. [Washingtonian, Twitter]

County Asks Landlords for Leniency — “We ask that you consider now what you can do to ease burdens for tenants who may have difficulty paying their rent in the coming months because of illness or financial hardship related to ongoing business disruptions and closures.” [Arlington County]

Cristol to Commercial Landlords: Don’t Fire Cleaners — “These men and women are the unsung heroes of the Coronavirus pandemic and they can least afford to lose wages and benefits during this crisis. At the same time that cleaners and security officers have stepped forward to do their jobs during this outbreak, they are now being threatened with layoffs and reductions.” [Press Release]

St. Patrick’s Day Celebration Questioned — The Celtic House on Columbia Pike is closed now, but it was one of the only local bars to stay fully open on St. Patrick’s Day. Some are questioning that decision as governments and medical professionals urge people to stay at home and maintain social distancing to prevent the spread of the deadly disease. [Facebook, Twitter]

Some Restaurants Decide to Close Completely — Galaxy Hut in Clarendon, which initially stayed open for takeout meals, is instead “shutting this puppy down.” [Twitter]

Arlington Musician Takes Shows Online — “Singer and songwriter Justin Trawick’s livelihood as a stage performer who did more than a dozen shows a month ground to a halt recently as the coronavirus pandemic shut down his concert venues.” [Reuters]

County Permit Office Closed — “The Arlington County Permit Office is now CLOSED for in-person customer service. Many services remain available online.” [Twitter]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image via Gensler

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