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Police: FBI Agent Helped Break Up Gas Station Towing Dispute That Led to Stabbing

A FBI agent helped break up a scuffle last week between a tow truck driver and the owner of a car he was towing at a Crystal City gas station, according to Arlington County Police.

Police have charged 33-year-old Arlington resident Norman Mitchell Brawner, Jr. with malicious wounding in connection with the brawl last Thursday (May 10) at the Exxon station near the intersection of 23rd Street S. and Route 1. Police believe a man confronted Brawner as he began to tow his car, then a fight broke out between the pair that resulted in Brawner stabbing the man.

While Arlington police initially reported only that a federal law enforcement officer witnessed the confrontation, spokeswoman Ashley Savage now tells ARLnow that an FBI agent at the station intervened when he saw the two men start fighting.

“An FBI agent witnessed the incident and gave commands to cease the assault while displaying his firearm,” Savage wrote in an email. “The suspect left the scene and the tow company contacted police with the suspect’s location. The FBI agent remained on scene with the victim until police arrived.”

Savage says the victim was taken to a nearby hospital with “serious but non-life threatening injuries.” She would not confirm which towing company Brawner was working for, but WJLA reports that it was Advanced Towing — which has faced persistent allegations of predatory towing practices and which made national headlines in 2015 after video emerged of then-ESPN reporter Britt McHenry berating an Advanced employee.

The company’s owner, John O’Neill, did not respond to requests for comment on the incident, though signs at the Exxon alert drivers that anyone parking illegally will be towed by Advance Towing.

Brawner is set to appear in Arlington County General District Court on June 22 for a preliminary hearing.

Photo courtesy Arlington County Police Department

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Lopez Touts Changes to Bill That Would Have Raised Towing Fees in N. Va.

(Updated at 6 p.m.) A new bill is raising the statewide cap on towing charges to $150 but won’t require Northern Virginia localities to raise their towing rates as was initially proposed, according to Delegate Alfonso Lopez (D-49).

HB800 initially required towing rate increases to $150 for standard-size vehicles, $250 for medium-size vehicles, and $500 for large vehicles, but only in Northern Virginia.

Lopez says he reached an agreement with the Republican patron of the bill, Del. David Yancey (R-94), to amend it to remove the large towing fee hike. It will instead raise the cap to $150 statewide, while also letting Northern Virginia localities set their own towing rates by removing a requirement — currently in law — that the rate be set at $135, according to Lopez’s office.

“Rather than dramatically increasing the amount that tow truck companies can charge unsuspecting Virginians, we should be working to address the practice of predatory towing in Northern Virginia,” the delegate’s office said in a press release.

File photo

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Morning Notes

Advanced Towing Lobbied Hard for Bill — Advanced Towing spent $10,000 on lobbyists and made a $1,500 donation to state Sen. Barbara Favola while successfully pushing for a state bill to override Arlington’s second-signature towing requirement. Supporters of the bill say it passed and McAuliffe ultimately signed it because it had the support of the business community. Advanced is one of the largest towing companies in Northern Virginia and has drawn the ire of many local residents for its ruthless efficiency at trespass towing from private lots. [NBC Washington]

Russian Military Jet Flies Over Arlington — Yesterday an unarmed Russian military jet flew over the Pentagon, CIA headquarters, and the U.S. Capitol “as part of a longstanding treaty that allows the militaries of the United States and Russia to observe the other from the air.” [CNN, Axios]

Arlington Still Hiring Teachers — Arlington Public Schools is still hiring teachers for the upcoming school year. “A total of 280 full- and part-time contract positions were unfilled as of Aug. 1… as the school system continues to process applicants,” the Sun Gazette reported. [InsideNova]

Uber, Lyft Make Mark on Local Restaurant Biz — Although readers were skeptical in a poll late last year, the Washington City Paper reports that Uber and Lyft are having a significant impact on the local restaurant industry, drawing customers from a wider area geographically than would have visited before the ride hailing services existed. It’s also bringing more customers to hot non-Metro-accessible restaurants. And it’s not just hipster-y D.C. restaurants drawing customers from around the region: Lyft said Clarendon’s Don Tito was its most visited bar in the D.C. area in 2016. [Washington City Paper]

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Morning Notes

High School Proposals on the Table in June — A pair of proposals for adding high school seats are on the table at Arlington School Board meetings next month. The board is expected to approve a $3.6 million construction contract for adding 300 seats to Wakefield High School, while Superintendent Patrick Murphy will recommend the board approve a “hybrid” option for adding another 1,300 seats, with 600 seats at the Education Center site near Washington-Lee and 700 at the Arlington Career Center. Despite the added capacity, Murphy expects that it will eventually be necessary to build a new 2,200 seat comprehensive high school to keep up with rising enrollment. [InsideNova, InsideNova]

Marriott’s Longest-Standing Employee Is in Crystal City — Cecil Exum, a 79-year-old omelette maker at the Crystal Gateway Marriott, is Marriott’s longest-standing employee. He’s been with the company for 61 years, since the Marriott family ran a “Hot Shoppes” root beer stand and opened its first hotel, the Twin Bridges Motor Hotel in Arlington. [Washington Post]

POTUS at ANC on Memorial Day — “President Donald Trump honored those who lost their lives serving the nation as he participated in a solemn wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery Monday and told emotional stories of just a few who perished.” [Daily Mail]

Cars Towed During Clarendon Memorial Day Ceremony — Some veterans attending the annual Memorial Day ceremony at the war memorial in Clarendon reportedly had their cars towed from a bank parking lot nearby. Del. Patrick Hope (D) tweeted photos of the cars being towed and called it “disgusting.” He directed the tweet at Del. Tim Hugo (R), the sponsor of the bill (now law) that blocked Arlington County from enforcing a “second signature” requirement for certain trespass tows. [Twitter]

Photo courtesy Peter Golkin

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McAuliffe Signs Bill Overriding County’s Towing Changes

Local businesses will not have to authorize each individual tow from their property after Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) signed a bill ending the would-be practice.

HB 1960 overrides Arlington County’s towing regulations that required a so-called “real-time authorization” of each tow during business hours. The county’s regulations were set to come into effect on July 1.

The bill, introduced by Del. Tim Hugo (R-40), prevents any jurisdiction in Northern Virginia from requiring the authorization, also known as a second signature. The first signature is the contract that authorizes a company to tow from a particular property.

Having previously railed against the requirement, Arlington Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Kate Bates praised McAuliffe’s decision.

Bates said in a statement:

The signing of this important legislation into law is a huge win for the Arlington business community. Arlington businesses rely on being able to provide clear, available parking for customers, employees and visitors in order to stay viable, and HB 1960 empowers and protects these businesses so they can continue to do just that. By removing the ability of local lawmakers to force businesses to adhere to a second authorization towing requirement, this legislation returns the decision-making power about the removal of illegally parked vehicles back where it belong: in the hands of private property owners and business owners.

McAuliffe said in an interview on WTOP this morning that he signed the bill after having conversations with representatives of local chambers of commerce and small businesses.

“I always will come down on the side of the small business community, so I signed the bill,” McAuliffe said.

County Board chair Jay Fisette told ARLnow.com he was “disappointed” at McAuliffe’s decision, after he initially tried to amend the bill. Fisette said the second signature is necessary to prevent predatory towing.

“For us, it’s important because predatory towing has gotten worse over recent years, and an increasing number of people are affected by it,” Fisette said. “There is a better balance that can be struck to reduce the number of tows that occur in the first two minutes that somebody parks in a space.”

Fisette said he hopes the Chamber and county can now work together to find a way to address both parties’ concerns.

One minor change requested by McAuliffe, concerning fines for towing operators in Northern Virginia that will apply each time they make an improper tow or violate certain towing regulations, was made to the final bill by the legislature. The bill also calls for towing operators to notify the local animal control office when a car is towed with a pet inside.

Local Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48) spoke forcefully against the bill on the floor of the House of Delegates during the General Assembly’s reconvened session earlier this month to discuss McAuliffe’s amendments and vetoes.

He said the fact that other localities like Virginia Beach and Stafford County have a second signature provision shows inconsistency. He said the General Assembly should have “left well alone” for jurisdictions to decide.

“My big concern with this bill is I don’t quite understand why having granted this authority to localities over a decade ago, Northern Virginia is being now carved out and this authority to pass ordinances like the one Arlington did is being stripped away in some localities but not others,” he told ARLnow.com. “There are other localities that do use this authority and apparently it works well without any hue and cry and uproar.”

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General Assembly Rejects McAuliffe Towing Bill Amendment

The Virginia House of Delegates last week voted down Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s (D) plan to gut a towing bill that targets Northern Virginia. The bill now goes back to McAuliffe.

McAuliffe’s amendment to HB 1960 would have removed language preventing jurisdictions in Northern Virginia from requiring a “second signature” to authorize a tow from a commercial property. The second signature comes at the moment of the tow; the first signature is the contract that authorizes a company to tow from a particular property.

The bill would affect all of Northern Virginia, known as Planning District 8. It overrides regulations passed by the Arlington County Board last December to amend the county’s towing ordinance.

Included in the County Board’s package was a controversial provision requiring businesses to authorize individual tows. That provision brought objections from the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and others in the business community.

McAuliffe had tried to lessen the impact of the General Assembly’s towing bill by adding suggested language requiring the second signature. But Fairfax and Prince William counties Del. Timothy Hugo (R-40) said at the House’s reconvened session April 5 that requiring a second signature is not practical.

Hugo, the bill’s chief patron, said needing a second signature would prevent the likes of churches, restaurants and apartment complexes from quickly removing illegally parked cars.

“What this amendment would allow, is it would require every time the tower wants to tow that illegally parked car, they’ve got to find the preacher, the restaurant manager, the president of the homeowners’ association, they’ve got to find a second signature for that tow,” Hugo said during the debate.

Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48), a member of Arlington’s House delegation, said it was unfair that Northern Virginia be singled out in the bill while the likes of Stafford County and Virginia Beach can require a second signature.

“The question here is why should we single out one locality or one portion of the state to be treated differently from every other portion of the state,” Sullivan said. “There’s no justification that I’ve heard for doing so.”

Debate brought some testy exchanges on the House floor during the one-day session where lawmakers debated McAuliffe’s vetoes and proposed amendments to other passed legislation. Del. Patrick Hope (D-47) echoed Sullivan’s sentiment, asking why the bill only applies to Northern Virginia if it “is such a good idea,” and why it thus could not apply statewide.

“If the gentleman wants to put that bill in next year, he’s more than welcome to do so,” Hugo said in response.

Then Del. Mark Levine (D-45) questioned why Virginia Beach is able to keep prohibiting predatory towing but Arlington County cannot, and he said that McAuliffe’s amendment would make one towing standard apply across the commonwealth.

Hugo said the amendment would only affect Northern Virginia, then House Speaker Bill Howell (R-28) ended debate.

“How petty that Republicans would try to pass a law overruling a predatory towing local ordinance in Democratic Northern Virginia while allowing the exact same predatory-towing ordinance in Republican Virginia Beach,” Levine wrote in an email to supporters.

The House rejected McAuliffe’s amendment by a 67-33 vote. The governor now must either sign or veto the bill.

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Morning Notes

Update on New Hotel Near Rosslyn — A new Homewood Suites hotel being built near Rosslyn recently celebrated its “topping out.” The 11-story hotel, which replaced the former Colony House Furniture store, is expected to be completed by early 2018. [Commercial Property Executive]

Gov. Recommends Changes to Towing Bill — Gov. Terry McAuliffe has sent a trespass towing bill back to the General Assembly with significant recommended changes. The bill in its current form would raise towing fees in Northern Virginia and prohibit Arlington from enacting its new “second signature” requirement on tows during business hours. [InsideNova]

Hospitality Workers Lauded — The Arlington Chamber of Commerce held its 13th annual Hospitality Awards on Tuesday. From a press release: “One winner, Fayssal Samaka of the The Ritz-Carlton, Pentagon City once checked in a family at the hotel, when he overheard that the father was recovering from cancer. Samaka arranged for the family to stay in the Presidential Suite and even booked them a tour. A few months later, the family informed the general manager that the father had passed away, and because the last trip they took together as a family was at The Ritz-Carlton, they would come back every year on vacation.” [Arlington Chamber of Commerce]

Project Explores Arlington Communities — A just-submitted doctoral dissertation examines “the processes of community development, suburbanization, and segregation that Arlingtonians, black and white, used to create lasting communities that met their own needs and reflected their own preferences.” The project’s exhibits include the local history of government housing during World War II, Arlington’s historically black communities, and the history of the American Nazi Party in the county. [Built By the People Themselves]

Flickr pool photo by Lisa Novak

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Morning Notes

Bronx Pizza owner Mike Cordero teaches Arlington students how to make pizza (photo courtesy Alexis Fedoroff)

It’s Groundhog Day — Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow today, suggesting that we’re in for six more weeks of winter. The meteorological scolds at the Capital Weather Gang, however, think the prognosticating groundhog is wrong and that spring may arrive early. [Capital Weather Gang, Accuweather]

More Details on Nestlé DealLanding Nestlé is a huge win for Arlington County, for Rosslyn and for 1812 N. Moore Street owner Monday Properties, which stuck to its plan of keeping the skyscraper’s top floors empty as it awaited a big tenant. As part of the deal, Monday will put the company’s logo on two sides of the building, will nix a restaurant space to build a separate entrance for Nestlé’ employees, and will “more than double the size of the building’s wellness center to include space for spinning, yoga and pilates.” [Washington Business Journal]

Towing Bill Fails in Senate — A legislative effort to sandbag Arlington with state-mandated towing regulations that are friendlier to towing companies has failed in the state Senate. But a similar bill is still alive in the House of Delegates. [InsideNova]

Library Tells Story of Stratford Desegregation — Arlington Public Library is launching “a unique online exhibition and searchable database – built from thousands of photos, documents and recordings – surrounding the legal and moral battles that culminated with four courageous African American students taking their seats on Feb. 2, 1959 at Arlington’s Stratford Junior High School.” Dubbed “Project DAPS,” the collection will debut Feb. 25. [Arlington County, Project DAPS]

Catholic Diocese Launches New Website — The Catholic Diocese of Arlington has launched a new website. The new bishop, Bishop Michael Burbidge introduced the redesigned website in a video. [Catholic Diocese of Arlington, YouTube]

Arlington Men’s Club Turns 10 — Arlington has a “secretive and haphazardly organized” group called the Men’s Development Club. The club, formed 10 years ago, is basically an excuse for dads to get out of the house and drink beer with other dads. [Falls Church News-Press]

Photo courtesy Alexis Fedoroff

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Va. Bill Would Raise Towing Fees, Override Arlington’s New Regulations

A towing standoff outside Ray's Hell BurgerA bill being considered by the Virginia General Assembly would increase towing fees and override Arlington County’s new towing regulation changes.

The House of Delegates bill, HB 1960, was proposed by Del. Tim Hugo, a Prince William and Fairfax County Republican. It would modify Virginia’s existing towing law with a number of provisions that would only apply to Northern Virginia jurisdictions in the state’s “Planning District 8,” which includes Arlington.

Among the proposed Northern Virginia-specific changes:

  • Raise the base towing fee to $150 and the maximum towing fee to $200.
  • Prohibit Arlington’s new “real time authorization” requirement, which requires businesses to authorize each individual tow.
  • Require that the chair of a local towing advisory board be a licensed towing operator. Currently, the chair of Arlington’s towing advisory committee is a local citizen.

An Arlington County fact sheet about the bill states that it “would unnecessarily restrict the ability of local governments to provide protections to vehicle owners in the taking of their property without their consent.”

“I would describe it as a very consumer unfriendly bill,” County Board Vice Chair Katie Cristol told ARLnow.com. “It raises tow rates for the second year in a row with no fair market assessment to justify that.”

Cristol is encouraging residents to reach out to their local delegates and state senators to encourage them to work to defeat the bill.

“We think it’s a bad deal for our community and we hope people will let their state legislators know that they think so too,” she said.

On a statewide basis, the bill would require tow truck drivers to notify animal control when they tow a vehicle “that is occupied by an unattended companion animal.” It also establishes a $100 fine for towing operators that violate state towing regulations, to be paid to Virginia’s Literary Fund, and prohibits the appointment of anyone other than towing operators, law enforcement representatives and a single member of the general public to a towing advisory board.

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Arlington County Board Approves Towing Changes, Despite Some Business Opposition

Towing dispute outside the Arlington DMV (file photo)Above the objection of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and numerous local business owners, the Arlington County Board on Tuesday approved a series of changes to its towing ordinance, including a controversial provision requiring businesses to authorize individual tows.

The so-called “real time authorization” provision was approved with a delayed implementation date: July 1, 2017. That will give the County Manager time to “identify alternative strategies to mitigate aggressive towing practices and provide an interim report,” according to a county press release.

The provision, which was not recommended by the County Manager nor the county’s Trespass Towing Advisory Board, requires “real time authorization for all tows from commercial property conducted during business hours.” Currently, businesses can grant blanket pre-authorization to towing companies to tow any vehicle trespassing on their lots.

Other provisions approved unanimously by the County Board include:

  • “Require tow truck drivers to photograph the vehicle at all four corners, providing vehicle owners with important safeguards should their vehicle be damaged, and providing towers with protection against false damage claims.”
  • “Requiring that the receipt given to the vehicle owner include a disclosure that photos and/or video evidence taken before the tow are available upon request and the contact information for the County office that handles trespass towing complaints.”
  • “Requiring towing and recovery operators to properly secure all loads to meet all safety standards.”
  • “A new requirement for signage/markings on the interior of parking lots or facilities to provide additional, clear information to vehicle owners about the parking restrictions on the property. This requirement builds upon the existing requirement for signs at all vehicle entrances.”
  • “Extend the eligible area for the location of storage facilities from three miles to three and one-quarter miles. This could allow more eligible locations for storage facilities, giving property owners more contractors to choose from without burdening vehicle owners in retrieving their vehicles.”

“These amendments provide important protections to vehicle owners whose vehicles are taken without their consent,” County Board Vice Chair Jay Fisette said in a statement. “We believe these reasonable requirements support the rights of Arlington County property owners and their tenants to enforce restrictions on their property while providing common sense standards for how vehicles are removed.”

The Board also authorized two additional towing fees: $25 for towing a vehicle in the evening (7 p.m.-8 a.m.) and $25 for towing a vehicle on a weekend or holiday. The changes were required by state code. Together, the fees could increase the initial charge for a tow (not including storage fees) to as high as $185.

Another provision prohibits towing companies from towing public safety vehicles, except at the direction of police.

Arlington County Board on 9/27/16The Board spent more than two hours on the towing ordinance amendments, mostly focusing on the real time authorization provision — which was also referred to as a “second signature” requirement.

During the public comment period, a number of business owners spoke out against it.

“I’m opposed to the second signature for the fact that I already have a detailed contract with the towing company that I use,” said a business owner, identified as a Mr. Fernandez. “It takes away from my employees that have to go out and sign these tow tickets or email, or whatever it is, it just doesn’t make any sense and I’m opposed to it.”

John O’Neill, the owner of Advanced Towing — which is perhaps the biggest trespass tower in the county — also spoke out against the provision.

“We believe that the second signature will cause adverse safety and operational problems for us, property owners and business owners,” he said. “There’s a misconception the property owners or business owner lets us tow at will. That is false. Towing is a last resort most property owners have examined. It is not a first choice.”

Takis Karantonis, a Columbia Heights resident and the former director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, said that both residents and business owners he talked to agreed that overly aggressive towing was a “serious problem” in Arlington that was discouraging customers from shopping in certain areas.

“The bottom line is that everybody, literally everybody, both on the business side and on the customer side, recognizes that the predatory towing — not every towing — that happens on purpose is a problem,” he said.

County Board members sounded off on the real time authorization provision, with John Vihstadt taking the most skeptical tone.

“I am supportive of the remainder of the staff report,” he said. “I am also in agreement of Mr. Fisette apart from the second signature. Businesses have an incentive to keep accessible and adequate parking for the customers, and that is their lifeline. And in Arlington in many places, we don’t have enough of it.”

Jay Fisette was the primary champion of the real time authorizaiton requirement. He spoke at length about why he thought it was necessary, noting that he did not think the low number of formal complaints lodged against towing companies was representative of what he sees as widespread consumer frustration.

I see this no question as a consumer protection issue. What this real time authorization requires is somebody to recognize and sign off on using technology, if necessary, that this is a valid and reasonable tow. I’m not saying technically. You’ve heard probably 97% of them are technically a legitimate tow because of someone has stepped off the property and I’ve read plenty of emails to this office over time and plenty of complaints.

This item we have had plenty of people write about the reality of stepping off the curb and in 20 seconds, the car is gone. Who really is winning in that regard, there’s only one person. It’s not the business, because the space was going to be freed up in another minute of two. The person is only gone inside or next-door to the ATM to get money to eat in the Taco Bell. Nobody wins. This allows that property owner, that business, to justify that that person isn’t standing before them doing business. It won’t take long. It’s going to allow every one of the legitimate tows to still occur.

My hope is that 5% or 10% of those tows where in fact, it is one of our patrons or someone that has inadvertently stepped aside to a neighboring business will not get punished. Nobody is willing when the tow company works with a spotter or some other mechanism to see a technical violation, runs in and tows that car, oftentimes not even hooked up well.

In addition, the company seems to use intimidation tactics to discourage complains including screaming at me when I attempted to explain I only stood on the sidewalk. Parking complaints are taken by polite and reasonable county employees with whom it is possible to hold a normal conversation. For this reason, I urge you to not use the number of towing complaints made to police as a reasonable data point. Arlington’s current towing practices hurt residents and local businesses.

County Board Chair Libby said she wasn’t sure whether the second signature requirement would remedy the “ATM” issue.

“We have some major issues and problems and the second signature won’t get at it, we can think we are done, but all of these remain,” Garvey said. “It’s so complex and I think we need to majorly work on them. What’s the point of driving 100 feet from one business to another when they’re next door? We don’t want that happening… a lot of work has to be done in the business community.”

Other County Baord members agreed.

“What we are trying to do here is to get at this issue of what to do when the punishment far exceeds the crime,” said Christian Dorsey.

“I am regretful that the business owners are not hearing from the customers the way that we’re hearing from customers as residents of the county,” said Katie Cristol. “If they did there would not be a need for government action.”

Additional reporting by Samantha Moore

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Morning Notes

Christmas trees on the Food Star lot on Columbia Pike (photo courtesy Peter Golkin)

Lyon Park Mansion Auction Is Tonight — The huge “Pershing Manor” mansion at 3120 N. Pershing Drive is scheduled to hit the auction block at 5 p.m. tonight. The opening bid is $750,000, though the property is assessed at $4 million. [ARLnow, ARLnow]

McHenry Talks About Towing Spat — ESPN sportscaster Britt McHenry is opening up about the time she berated an Advanced Towing employee in Arlington — and was caught on camera doing so, in a video that would go viral around the world. McHenry says she regrets what she said during the 2015 incident. The fallout has hurt her both professionally and personally, she says. [Marie Claire]

Garvey’s Swearing In Ceremony — Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey will be sworn in for her second full term today. The ceremony will take place in the County Board room (2100 Clarendon Blvd) at 5 p.m. It will feature remarks from Garvey and a poem from Arlington County Poet Laureate Katherine E. Young. [Arlington County]

Developers Want Gondola, Boathouse — At a Bisnow event in Pentagon City last week, local developers said they’re generally supportive of the proposed Rosslyn-Georgetown gondola, though they’d also be interested in a Rosslyn boathouse to connect with a local water taxi system. Rosslyn, they noted, has fewer opportunities to develop its waterfront than jurisdictions like Alexandria, Prince George’s County and D.C. [Bisnow]

Volunteers Needed for Wreath Laying — The group Wreaths Across America is seeking volunteers to help lay wreaths on gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. The holiday tradition will take place this coming Saturday morning. [Wreaths Across America]

Photo courtesy Peter Golkin

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Podcast: Arlington Chamber CEO Kate Bates on Towing, Airbnb and More

Kate RocheAs leader of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, Kate Bates (née Roche) has lately taken an active role on issues like trespass towing and Airbnb rentals.

The Chamber is very much opposed to a proposed addition to the county’s towing ordinance that would require business owners to individually authorize each tow from their parking lots. The Arlington County Board is set to take up the issue this coming Tuesday, with the County Manager recommending against the so-called “second signature” requirement.

On Airbnb and other short term rentals, the Chamber has actively engaged its members on the county’s new proposed regulations, which are going before the Board on Saturday. With hotels in support of additional regulations, and apartment owners against (they would like the option of generating revenue through Airbnb while they lease up new buildings), the Chamber has declined to take a stance beyond encouraging its members to make their own voices heard.

In this week’s 26 Square Miles podcast, we asked Kate about those issues, about the current business climate in Arlington — including why so many restaurants and retailers have been closing lately — and about her ascension to the role of President and CEO of the Chamber at a relatively young age.

Listen below or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google PlayStitcher or TuneIn.

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Morning Notes

Local laundromat (Flickr pool photo by Drew H.)

Post-Election Harassment in Arlington — Among the incidents of “harassment and intimidation” reported across the country following the election was one in Arlington. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a woman was crossing the street when two men in a car yelled, “you better be ready because with Trump, we can grab you by the p***y even if you don’t want it.” [Independent UK, Southern Poverty Law Center]

GOP Wants Va. Electoral College Change — Following another year of Virginia being a blue state in the presidential election, state Republicans are pushing to change Virginia from a “winner take all” state to one that allocates Electoral College electors by congressional district. [InsideNova]

Heavy Traffic This Morning — With rain and fog slowing things down, heavy traffic has been reported on local highways throughout the morning rush hour. [Twitter]

Chamber Threatens to Go to Richmond on Towing — If Arlington County follows through on a proposal that would make it harder for property owners to have trespassing cars towed off their lot, the Arlington Chamber of Commerce says it may go to Richmond to lobby for a law superseding Arlington’s regulation. [InsideNova]

Flickr pool photo by Drew H.

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County Board Advertises Update to Towing Ordinance, With Some Modifications

Arlington County Board on 9/27/16The Arlington County Board on Saturday spent an hour and a half discussing changes to the county’s towing ordinance.

The Board voted to advertise a series of changes — final approval is set for next month — but not before making some alterations to the County Manager’s recommendations.

The alterations were essentially intended to prevent towing malfeasance. Among them:

  • The Board inserted a provision that requires towing companies to receive authorization from the property owner to tow a vehicle, which would apply only to non-residential properties during business hours.
  • The Board kept the current requirement that tow truck drivers photograph the condition of a vehicle before towing it, and added a requirement that tow companies notify those who have been towed that they may view the photos upon request.
  • While the County Manager recommended language stipulating that tow companies must notify police of a tow within 10 minutes, rather than “immediately,” as currently worded, the Board gave itself the option of requiring police notification prior to a tow.

The Arlington Chamber of Commerce objected to the authorization requirement — also referred to as a “second signature” — on the grounds that it could cost businesses more time and money to remove trespassers who park on their lots.

A towing standoff outside Ray's Hell BurgerThe Chamber sent a letter to the Board expressing its “vehement opposition” to the requirement. Chamber President and CEO Kate Bates also spoke at the meeting.

“Nobody likes it when their car is towed but that is not justification for putting significant burden on property owners,” said Bates.

County Board Vice Chair Jay Fisette proposed the addition of the second signature requirement. It passed, but with at least two County Board members saying they were unlikely to support it when a final vote is taken next month.

Fisette said that the low number of formal complaints against towing companies — there were 87 towing complaints and seven violations recorded by the county in 2015 — does not reflect the reality of widespread disdain for so-called “predatory towing” practices in Arlington.

As evidence, Fisette cited an ARLnow.com poll from last year in which 84 percent of respondents — nearly 2,300 people — said towing companies in Arlington were more predatory in their conduct than “just doing their job” for local businesses.

“It’s actually refreshing to have the Vice Chair cite an ARLnow poll,” said Board member John Vihstadt, to laughter in the County Board room.

Fisette also cited an ARLnow.com opinion column that recounted someone being towed from the former Taco Bell lot on Wilson Blvd in 2000 while eating at the restaurant — because a spotter saw him walk next door to get cash from an ATM.

A resident who spoke at the Board meeting agreed with Fisette’s assessment of towing practices.

“Many mom and pop restaurants are being harmed by aggressive and predatory towing… it’s driving business away,” said Sarah McKinley, a towing critic and the vice president of the Columbia Heights Civic Association. “A second signature creates a balance and gives retail owners some control over this situation so they aren’t so damaged.”

The Chamber, however, said towing companies provide a valuable service to local businesses. The Chamber supported the County Manager’s original proposal, which it described as a “compromise.”

“We… emphasize our vehement opposition to the addition of a second signature requirement for the removal of illegally parked vehicles or the prohibition of parking ‘spotters’ to monitor parking areas,” the Chamber wrote in its letter to the Board.

“The addition of either would present significant administrative and cost burdens to implement and would deteriorate the level of service provided by towing contractors to local businesses who must keep parking areas clear and available to their employees, visitors and customers to remain financially viable,” the letter said. “We appreciate the steps the County has been working towards to make Arlington a more business friendly community, and urge extreme caution to the Board in exploring proposals that would shift things in the opposite direction.”

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Photo: Bentley Gets Towed in Clarendon During Bar Crawl

Bentley being towed in Clarendon (Photo courtesy Clarendon Nights)

Someone apparently brought their baby blue Bentley to Saturday’s Halloween bar crawl in Clarendon — but didn’t pay enough attention to the temporary no parking signs on Wilson Blvd.

The $200,000+ coupe, with New York tags, was towed by Redman Fleet Services, the towing provider to the Arlington County Police Department.

No additional information was immediately available.

Photo courtesy Clarendon Nights

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