Arlington, VA

Today is the summer solstice — pools are open, schools are out, the Fourth of July is around the corner — but the planned 22,000 square foot beer garden outside Clarendon is still shuttered.

“The Lot,” owned by local restaurant scene veteran Mike Bramson, was originally supposed to open in the summer of 2017. Then that got pushed back to the summer of 2018. Then spring of 2019. After some additional construction, Bramson told Eater he was anticipating an opening earlier this month.

Located at 3217 10th Street N., at the busy corner of 10th Street N. and Wilson Blvd, The Lot looks mostly complete from the outside. There are new trees, a fence, picnic bench seating, string lighting, a pergola and a pair of large signs. What there is not, yet, is any sign of life.

Bramson did not respond to requests for comment from ARLnow, but a review of Arlington County permitting activity shows that his efforts to get county permitting and zoning officials to allow him to build new bathrooms and a food prep area, and to open the beer garden, have all been rejected.

The issue seems to be existential for Bramson’s would-be business. In short, there does not appear to be a legal mechanism to allow a standalone, permanent beer garden in Arlington County.

The reason for the rejection of The Lot’s zoning applications to open as an outdoor cafe, county officials say and permitting records indicate, is that under Arlington County code an outdoor cafe must be an accessory use to a physical, indoor restaurant. Furthermore, an outdoor cafe can’t have more seating than the indoor restaurant.

The Lot has no indoor seating and was planning to serve food from food trucks.

“The building permit under review is for interior alterations to the existing building; to create restrooms (required by Inspections Services Division) and a food prep area (required by the Public Health Division) in order to use the outdoor café area and beverage trucks,” Gina Wimpey, spokeswoman for Arlington’s Dept. of Community Planning, Housing & Development, told ARLnow via email.

“Since they included the outdoor café space in the permit, Zoning cannot approve the café space in the absence of a restaurant with indoor seating (required by the Zoning Ordinance),” Wimpey added.

Luckily for The Lot, there does appear to be a possible workaround. It could figuratively latch itself to a nearby restaurant — Bramson’s Social Restaurant Group owns Pamplona and Bar Bao in Clarendon — and operate on a temporary basis.

“They can open the outdoor café as a short-term use associated with other restaurants within 2,000 feet, but it must have more indoor seats than the proposed outdoor café,” Wimpey said. “This has been discussed with the applicant and they’re working towards a solution. Until the Certificate of Occupancy for the short-term use is issued, the building permit cannot be issued.”

So why can The Stand, a Social Restaurant Group-owned food kiosk in Crystal City, continue serving without indoor seating? Because it technically isn’t considered an outdoor cafe under county code.

“1601 Crystal Drive [The Stand] currently has a Certificate of Occupancy for a food service kiosk and has had one in this location since at least the late-1990s,” Wimpey said.

Beer gardens have been blossoming around the D.C. area over the past few years — including in Arlington, next to bricks-and-mortar restaurants — and are a popular warm weather destination. But Wimpey said there is no movement in Arlington County’s policy-setting ranks to allow stand-alone beer gardens.

“There isn’t anything planned in the proposed 2019-2020 work program,” she said,.

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Arlington is considering a new online system that would digitize the county’s permitting system.

The new system aims to move the Permit Office’s application process into a digital database while phasing out paper applications. Staff is expected to start testing the system — now dubbed “Permit Arlington,” after formerly being known as “One-Stop Arlington — next month.

The project is being divided into two phases, with different types of permits going digital-only at two different times. Phase I is expected to launch at some point following the testing.

“Customers will be able to apply either 24/7 from a computer or mobile device, or will still have the option to come into the office during regular business hours to use a kiosk with staff assistance,” said Deborah Albert, the project’s program manager. “Customers will still have to visit the office in person for Phase II permits, which are anticipated to go online in 2020.”

There are 33 permit types included in this summer’s Phase I testing, including right-of-way use permits, site-plan applications, and civil engineering plans.

Arlington Board Chair Christian Dorsey said during the annual State of the County address this week that the new system would be “a welcome relief for many of our community’s businesses.”

He added that “it’s taken longer to get to this point” because each type of permit application has a different process and has to be manually coded into the digital system.

“We know that we have more to do to make our county government as efficient and user-friendly as possible for everyone — businesses and residents,” he said.

Many businesses have cited the county’s lengthy permitting process as a reason for delayed openings over the years. Arlington requires business owners to seek separate permits for zoning, building, and business licensing, and to take other steps before they can open their doors. Most applications have to be filed in person at the county’s Permit Office in Courthouse. It’s a time-consuming process some business leaders said stifles innovative business.

Restaurateur Mike Cordero told ARLnow in a podcast interview that opening Don Taco in Alexandria showed him just how fast that city’s permit process was compared to Arlington’s.

“I think it’s a major issue that we have to wait so long to get a permit when other counties and other jurisdictions are giving it to them right away,” he said. “I don’t know how they’re going to take care of Amazon.”

Meanwhile, some permit fees are increasing next month with the start of the new fiscal year on Monday, July 1. According to Albert, the increases include:

  • A 2.5% inflationary increase to the Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development’s Development Fund fees, including the Department of Environmental Services development-related fees.
  • A 5% increase in the Automation Enhancement Surcharge for building, electrical, plumbing, gas, elevator, and fire protection systems permits and for zoning permits
  • New fees for Special General Land Use Plan studies and for Conceptual Site Plan applications.
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A new stand-alone Starbucks appears to be coming to the location of a former bank branch along Lee Highway.

Permits have been filed to replace the former BB&T Bank at 5515 Lee Highway with a coffee shop.

A permit filed on Monday (April 29) seeks approval for extensive renovations to the building and its drive-thru window.

Remodel of existing building for new coffee [shop], interior alteration, new walls, floor, ceiling, electrical, plumbing, mechanical, exterior work, new canopy, new drive through window and associated equipment, trash enclosure, mechanical units.

The Arlington Economic Development website says the new tenant for the 2,609 square-foot building is Starbucks, as does the permit on the window of the building.

Once it opens, it’s unclear what will happen to the nearby Starbucks store at the Lee-Harrison Shopping Center, a block away.

The new cafe would be the first drive-thru Starbucks in Arlington, though there are others throughout the region. The closest is a drive-thru at Barcroft Plaza (6365 Columbia Pike) in Falls Church. Another Starbuck drive-thru is planned to open tomorrow (May 2) at 367 Maple Avenue E. in Vienna.

Hat tip to Chris Slatt

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Morning Notes

Dorsey: Safety Over Late Night Hours — “Metro Boardmember and Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey… says Metro’s first responsibility is not to run as much service as possible, but to keep the service that is being run as safe as possible. He supports more maintenance.” Meanwhile, Metro is considering a plan to subsidize late night Uber and Lyft service. [Twitter, Washington Post]

Arlington Redistricting on Kojo Show — The always-controversial redrawing of school boundaries in Arlington was the topic of a recent discussion on the Kojo Nnamdi Show, featuring APS Superintendent Patrick Murphy and community leaders. [Kojo Nnamdi Show, Twitter]

Zoning, Permitting Offices Closing Tomorrow — “Arlington’s planning and DES permitting offices are running away for a long romantic Valentine’s weekend. When they return [on Tuesday], they will live as one exclusively on the tenth floor of 2100 Clarendon Blvd.” [Arlington County, Twitter]

Snow Threats Coming This Weekend, Next Week — “In the past day, computer models have begun advertising the potential for a snow event on Saturday. And it may mark the start of a series of winter storms that streak across the Washington region.” [Washington Post]

Check Out ARLnow’s Instagram — ARLnow’s Insta currently features photography from around our fair county. Coming soon: more photos, plus contests and other exclusives. [Instagram]

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Arlington officials say Goody’s pizzeria in Clarendon didn’t earn the county approval it needed before painting a new mural on its storefront — but the county won’t be taking drastic action against the restaurant just yet.

Helen Duong, a spokeswoman for the county’s Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development, told ARLnow that zoning inspectors visited the restaurant and “concluded that the artwork is considered a sign under Arlington County’s zoning ordinance because the artwork relates to the advertisement of a business and its services.”

That means Goody’s needed a permit before adding the painting earlier this month, but Duong says the eatery “did not receive prior approvals from the county.”

She added that inspectors delivered a “courtesy notice” to the restaurant last Thursday (Nov. 15), laying out steps for how the business can remedy that issue, but has not forced Goody’s to cover up the new artwork or taken any other punitive measures against the restaurant. The county has taken such steps against other businesses in the past, including when it briefly tangled with Wag More Dogs on S. Four Mile Run Drive over similar murals.

Glenda Alvarez, the restaurant’s owner, says she has yet to seek any county approval for the mural, a fact Duong confirmed. She was unaware of any need for a permit before commissioning the artwork, which she says she hoped to add because the building “was not attractive enough.”

“We just wanted to get a little more attention from people walking by,” Alvarez said.

Alvarez took over ownership of the restaurant earlier this spring, after its previous owners sold her the business. Goody’s closed briefly in April to account for the changeover before reopening in May.

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Arlington officials are outlining more details about potential changes on the way for the county’s childcare policies, raising the possibility that Arlington could soon allow more children in small daycare centers, cut back on the permitting and zoning requirements for daycares and reduce the number of staff required for each center to operate.

County leaders have spent years studying what they could do to make childcare more accessible and affordable for Arlington parents, signing off on some broad goals with a “Childcare Action Plan” this summer. But the County Board is also hoping to make some more specific tweaks to its childcare ordinances, and a survey released this week reveals some of the proposals officials could consider before the year is up.

The Board has already agreed to set up a new subsidy to defray childcare costs for families that don’t qualify for state assistance, and plans to streamline some of its online resources for parents looking to find childcare options. Yet, after holding a community forum on the topic this month, the Board could endorse a dozen or more separate policy changes this December.

The new survey looks to collect yet more opinions on the proposed changes. Chiefly, the county could soon allow up to 12 children in small, family daycare homes, up from the current limit of nine. That change would match state law, which permits up to 12 kids in such a setting.

The Board could also do away with its requirement that anyone looking to open a new family childcare center first secure separate “use permits” from the county, making the process “by-right” instead to speed the proliferation of those daycare facilities. Additionally, the Board could eliminate limits on operating hours for those centers, or allow them to open earlier or stay open later to better accommodate working parents.

Another option the Board could consider would be changing its zoning ordinance to set more uniform standards for daycares, in order to help compensate for a lack of permit reviews. New guidelines could include limits on the hours of outdoor playtime for kids or requirements surrounding screening and buffering for playgrounds.

As for larger daycare centers, the Board may also allow them to bump up classroom sizes across kids of various age ranges. For instance, the county currently caps daycares at 10 children per class for two-year-olds, 16 per class for three-year-olds, and 25 per class for kids ranging from 6 to 14.

The Board could choose to adopt state standards instead, including a limit of 24 kids for age 2 and 30 for age three, with no cap on the number of kids per class above the age of six.

Finally, the Board could reduce the number of caregivers each daycare is required to have on staff, or change up its educational requirements for daycare staffers. The county currently stipulates that daycare providers should have two years of college experience, with evidence of childcare-focused coursework — the Board could move instead to state standards, which require a high school diploma and a set amount of relevant experience and training.

The survey on childcare changes is set to close by Friday (Oct. 12).

Photo via Arlington County

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After months of back-and-forth with county inspectors, Darna Restaurant and Lounge looks to be out of the woods.

The Virginia Square bar, located at 946 N. Jackson Street, is now in line to win a key permit renewal from the County Board this weekend. County staff say Darna successfully resolved its outstanding code violations last month, and they’re recommending that the Board allow the lounge to stay open, at least for the next year.

Arlington briefly shut down Darna earlier this year, citing a variety of health and safety code violations at the site, though it did manage to resolve enough of those to re-open in April and attract some attention from both Tristan Thompson and TMZ.

But the county found more issues at the restaurant this summer, and even charged owner Ahmad Ayyad with a misdemeanor for his failure to secure the proper building permit for doing some work on the property. By Aug. 17, however, county staff wrote in a Board report that Ayyad had “resolved all violations” at the restaurant, and earned a new “certificate of occupancy.”

Staff noted in the report that Darna still ran into a few problems over the past few months — on July 27, the fire marshal’s office cited the restaurant for being over capacity by several dozen people.

Even still, the county staff is recommending that the Board renew Darna’s use permit through September 2019. The Board will take up the matter on Saturday (Sept. 22) as part of its consent agenda, which is largely designed for non-controversial items to be approved all at once.

The county’s case against Ayyad and his Maaj Corporation remains active, however. He’s set for an adjudicatory hearing in Arlington General District Court on Sept. 27, per court records.

File photo

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Should Arlington open up more of its on-street parking to shoppers, commuters and other visitors, or continue to use a permit system to protect neighborhood parking spots?

That’s the sort of question county officials are asking as they collect feedback on how Arlington’s residential permit parking system is working. County staff are about halfway through a two-year review of Arlington’s residential parking practices, and they’ve opened up an online survey on the subject through July 16.

The zoned parking program is intended to ensure that residents can park near their houses in neighborhoods near business districts, employment centers and Metro stations. Residents were previously able to petition the county to have their street zoned, pending an analysis by county staff.

The County Board is planning to hold a work session on residential parking in the coming months and establish a working group to study the matter, after voting last August to put a moratorium on any additions or changes to the county’s 24 zones where parking permits are required.

The moratorium sparked complaints from some residents. There were 16 active petitions at the time from people looking to add new permit parking zones or change existing ones.

Among those worried about changes to the program is Penrose Neighborhood Association co-president Pete Durgan, who thinks the survey is tilted toward the goal of scaling back parking restrictions.

“Can you imagine what would happen to the single family areas near Ballston, Clarendon and Columbia Pike?” she asked, in an email to ARLnow.com.

County staff last reviewed Arlington’s parking program back in 2003, and the Board has since wrestled with the question of how to balance the concerns of residents looking to keep cars off their crowded streets with the frustrations of people hoping to find a place to park near the county’s burgeoning business districts.

The Board has also increasingly encouraged developers to move away from building off-street parking options in Metro corridors, in favor of adding new bike or car-sharing options, a policy change some worry will push residents to park on the street instead.

The survey asks respondents to rank the importance of the availability of on-street parking versus other factors, like the availability of public transit and open public space. The county also wants to hear what people think about how easy it should be for commuters or other visitors to park in their neighborhoods, and to evaluate whether “parking on public streets is a shared resource that should be open to all.”

The county first started its residential permit program in 1973 to keep commuters to Crystal City and D.C. out of residential areas. A series of court challenges to the program ultimately advanced to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the justices unanimously upheld the program’s legality in a 1977 decision.

County staff are hoping to wrap up this latest review of the program by the summer of 2019, when they could once again start considering petitions for changes to permit zones.

File photo

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A Virginia Square lounge and restaurant may have a permit renewed at tomorrow’s Arlington County Board meeting despite outstanding code violations.

Darna Lounge was closed in February due to “numerous violations of the Building, Fire, Zoning and Environmental Health codes, affecting the health, safety and welfare of the public.” The structure was deemed unfit for habitation but has since reopened.

According to a county report, most of the violations have been corrected and the applicant is “diligently pursuing resolution of the outstanding issues.” But some still remain, per a county staff report.

The establishment was allowed to reopen after correcting the major violations that were identified during the coordinated inspection. The applicant was granted an extension to April 1, 2018 to come into full compliance. A building permit to correct the outstanding violations was submitted on March 12, 2018, for the purpose of addressing unapproved alterations to the building. However, the applicant was not able to meet the April 1, 2018 deadline. The Inspection Services Division (ISD) has provided comments to the applicant that require revisions to the drawings associated with the building permit. The applicant is in the process of addressing the comments and resubmitting the revised drawings.

Despite the building concerns, the County Manager’s office is recommending that the Board approve a renewal of Darna’s live entertainment and dancing permit, with an administrative review in three months.

“Staff finds that at this time the applicant is reasonably working to resolve the outstanding violations, which are not deemed to be of a life, health or safety concern,” the report said, “Therefore, staff recommends renewal of the subject use permit with a three (3) month County Board review (July 2018).”

Staff also notes that police reported no recent issues with the business and that Darna reps “attended the Arlington Restaurant Initiative training on April 7, 2018 conducted by ACPD officers.”

The lounge recently gained some national notoriety as the location where Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson was caught on camera cheating on his pregnant, reality TV star girlfriend, Khloe Kardashian.

Darna, at 946 N. Jackson Street, opened back in 2012.

File photo

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(Updated at 2:15 p.m.) A Japanese chain restaurant may be a few steps closer to opening its doors in Clarendon.

Interior work has finally started on the restaurant, which first announced that it was “coming soon” to the former Brixx Pizza space at 1119 N. Hudson Street last May. The restaurant has an active commercial tenant buildout permit.

A application for Virginia ABC permit to serve wine and beer, meanwhile, was filed on Monday and is now pending. The permit suggests the restaurant will seat 101-150 people.

The restaurant’s interior was still in the buildout phase as of Tuesday afternoon, when a propped open front door showed construction material and unfinished fixtures within.

Gyu-Kak is a Japanese yakiniku restaurant chain with locations throughout the U.S., in addition to locations in Japan and other countries. This would be the chain’s first Virginia location, according to Gyu-Kaku’s website.

An email to Gyu-Kaku was not immediately returned, and a phone call to the number listed on a permit application had a full inbox and couldn’t accept a voicemail.

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Columbia Pike’s L.A. Bar & Grill has temporarily closed due to a state licensing issue.

The bar submitted its Virginia ABC license renewal application in the beginning of March, and the previous alcoholic beverage license expired at the end of March.

“We should have applied earlier, [but] hindsight is 20/20,” said Stephen Hubbard, the bar’s general manager.

The process is ongoing, and Hubbard anticipates that it will take “at least a couple of weeks,” though he isn’t sure.

In the meantime, the bar is taking advantage of the license renewal period and “doing some facelifting” in the form of painting and other tidying up efforts.

Back in 2016, L.A. Bar & Grill, at 2530 Columbia Pike, was ranked among UpOut’s top ten “ridiculously cool” D.C.-area dive bars.

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