There was a time when Arlington — Clarendon, in particular — was known for bar crawls.
There was Shamrock Crawl, the Clarendon Halloween Crawl, and Shirlington’s SantaCon. Thousands of mostly younger people attended. Along with the revelry, however, there were arrests, property damage, public intoxication, and nudity.
Then, in 2014, the Arlington County Board had enough and passed a number of regulations designed to allow local officials at least some control over how bar crawls operated in the county. It made event organizers apply for a special events permit, have insurance, and reimburse the county for any event-related expenses, like the cost of assigning extra police officers.
The regulations not only curtailed the number of incidents related to bar crawls but decreased the number of crawls in Arlington overall. From many people’s perspectives, the regulations worked.
Eight years later, the bar crawl scene in Arlington still hasn’t recovered.
Only 9 bar crawls have been issued special event permits since 2018, per data provided to ARLnow by the county’s Dept. Parks and Recreation (DPR), which manages the process.
“Pub crawls can draw a crowd and impact our community, so their organizers need to have a permit to hold a pub crawl,” DPR spokesperson Susan Kalish told ARLnow. “Special event organizers are required to pay any costs to the County due to their event, such as public safety, trash removal, and more.”
The upcoming crawls include an 80’s and 90’s themed crawl set for this Saturday (Sept. 17) in Clarendon. It’s being co-organized by local restaurateurs Christal and Mike Bramson.
There are two more bar crawl applications pending for this year as well.
While DPR said statistics are not available for permitted bar crawls prior to 2016, anecdotally and going through the ARLnow archives, it appears there are now far fewer bar crawls — especially those of the large, 1,000+ attendee variety — than prior to the enactment of regulations.
While the pandemic certainly impacted the last several years, 2018 and 2019 both only had 3 permitted crawls per year. That’s out of combined 401 permitted special events. With 2022 wrapping up, though, special events are returning to the level of the “before times,” including bar crawls.
“This fall we are pretty much back to pre-pandemic levels of applications,” said Kalish.
It takes a lot more to put on a bar crawl in Arlington today than it did in the free-wheeling days of the early 2010s.
“You’d be surprised how many people who are organizing a special event haven’t thought about all the specifics,” Kalish wrote. “Trash. Toilets. Noise. Flow. The [county’s] Special Events Committee helps them through a number of possible scenarios so they can have a successful event.”
How far in advance organizers need to submit their application, either 30 or 90 days, depends on a number of factors including the size of the crawl. Kalish noted crawls with only three or four establishments on the route usually require less time to process.
“The first year we had [permitted] pub crawls they were quite large, but recently they have gotten much smaller,” Kalish said.
A crawl or organizer “with a satisfactory history” of managing safe events also requires less processing time, as well as one that has a clear mapped route.
Because of these regulations, guidelines, and extra costs, though, some companies have decided to forgo organizing crawls in the county and instead stick to a place where the process is more straightforward and there’s no shortage of potential young and single attendees: the District.
During a debate hosted by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce last night (Wednesday), incumbent Matt de Ferranti (D) and his two independent opponents, Audrey Clement and Adam Theo, explained to a 30-person audience how they would extend a helping hand toward area businesses.
Clement emphasized office-to-residential conversions as a way of reducing the office vacancy rate, which reached 20.8% in the last quarter, and “deal with our housing crisis at the same time.”
“Office-to-residential conversion is a smart approach that both Alexandria and the District of Columbia are implementing,” she said. “There are many reasons this is a sensible strategy, and Arlington’s Missing Middle is not.”
Office buildings are readily available, have more parking than most new apartment buildings and are close to Metro, she said.
“I don’t believe honestly there’s disagreement that we should do office to residential. It’s how we do it,” de Ferranti said. “We are already working on that, but we need to move more quickly.”
Seeing as empty offices are spread throughout buildings, Theo said “conversions are not a silver bullet” and suggested filling these vacancies with schools.
“That is something that’s much easier to renovate for than residential and it helps to tackle our school overcrowding that we’ll be facing over the next decade or two,” and makes more opportunities available to young families in urban areas, he said.
All three, meanwhile, say they would change how businesses are taxed.
“I am concerned about excessive taxation, particularly real estate taxes, but if you can start with shaving off some of those business taxes, that would be just fine with me,” Clement said.
Theo called for removing the business tangible tax, a tax levied on property used in business that requires maintaining records of nearly every item of value that a business owns.
Business tangible tax assessments are expected to increase by 16% this fiscal year, according to the 2022-23 budget. But Theo said the $40 million it netted last year is not worth squeezing support businesses with thin margins.
“The county sneezes and it spends $40 million,” he quipped.
De Ferranti advocated for increasing the threshold for Business, Professional and Occupational License (BPOL) tax, which comprises about 5% of the county’s revenue for this fiscal year, and has been steadily rising over the last decade.
Under the tax — which has long had critics both on the right and the left — businesses with revenue of less than $10,000 owe nothing, while those grossing up to $50,000 pay $30 and those grossing up to $100,000 pay $50. Beyond that, most businesses pay $0.36 per $100 in gross receipts, regardless of whether the business is profitable or not. Some businesses, like stores and restaurants, pay a lower rate while others, like printed newspapers, are exempt.
De Ferranti, however, balked at other tax cut suggestions.
“But broad statements like, ‘We should cut’ — first, our real estate tax rate is the lowest in the region,” de Ferranti said. “Our property values are so high, so that’s why our total bills are higher than some other localities. We have to keep investing when there’s a challenge in our economy.”
Man Accidentally Shoots Self in Crystal City — “300 block of 23rd Street S. At approximately 7:45 p.m. on June 15, police were dispatched to the report of a discharge of a firearm. Upon arrival, it was determined that as the male subject was cleaning his firearm, it discharged resulting in a gunshot wound to his hand… No other injuries or property damage have been reported.” [ACPD]
Home Hunters Keep Housing Hot — “The regional and national real-estate markets may be cooling, but Arlington remains atop the pack in the Washington area when it comes to maintaining home-buyer interest. The county was the highest-scoring among 10 jurisdictions in the latest monthly Bright MLS T3 Home Demand Index.” [Sun Gazette]
More Motorist Mayhem on I-395 — From Dave Statter: “#caughtoncamera: Another 8C crash. This one at 5:50 this morning. It’s pretty much like all the other ones.” [Twitter]
More Permitting Now Online — “Arlington County is launching the third phase of Permit Arlington, its online permitting system, on Tuesday, June 28. Several additional permits and inspections will move into the Permit Arlington system.” [Arlington County]
AFAC Expanding Service — “The Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) is partnering with Homestretch, a nonprofit organization located in Falls Church, to provide free nutritious groceries to recently housed families on the path towards self-sufficiency. The new food distribution center will plan to operate weekly and will be AFAC’s first center serving residents outside of Arlington County.” [AFAC]
Cops Seeking Thief in ‘Space Jam’ Hat — “A man wearing a Bugs Bunny ‘Space Jam’ baseball cap is wanted for grand larceny by the City of Falls Church Police and other Northern Virginia jurisdictions. The man was captured on surveillance video by City of Falls Church businesses in February and June while stealing cash in two restaurants.” [City of Falls Church]
It’s Friday — Sunny and humid throughout the day. High of 90 and low of 75. Sunrise at 5:44 am and sunset at 8:37 pm. [Weather.gov]
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:
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.”
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
(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.
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.”
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
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.
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.
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.