Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

Early Morning Fracas in Va. Square — “At approximately 1:09 a.m. on February 24, police were dispatched to the report of a fight in progress. Upon arrival, it was determined that the suspect entered a business and allegedly began selecting merchandise. The victim refused the suspect service citing restrictions on the sales of alcohol during the overnight hours. The suspect and victim became engaged in a verbal dispute that escalated to a physical altercation, during which the victim was able to recover the merchandise. The suspect re-entered the business… at which point a witness intervened.” [ACPD]

Developers Selected for GMU Expansion — “George Mason University has picked a team of developers to manage the construction of the Amazon-induced expansion of its Arlington campus… The university hopes to finalize a development agreement with Edgemoor and Harrison Street by December and start construction by spring 2022. It plans to open the building by summer 2025. The Arlington campus, is located on Fairfax Drive just west of Clarendon.” [Washington Business Journal]

YHS Swimmer Breaks Two Nat’l Records — “US National Teamer Torri Huske made her mark on the final day of the 2021 VHSL Class 6 State meet, breaking two National High School records. Huske, a senior at Yorktown High School, began her meet by swimming a time of 1:53.73 in the 200 IM, chopping a tenth of a second off of Dagny Knutson’s National Public High School record of 1:53.82 that had stood since 2009.” [Swim Swam]

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Metro is asking the public to weigh in on possible options for drastic service cuts, including potentially closing several Arlington stations in January 2022.

On Wednesday Metro announced that the public comment period for its 2022 fiscal year budget had officially opened.

With it, they are asking riders to fill out a survey about what options they’d be willing to deal with beginning on Jan. 1, 2022 if more federal money is not received.

The options on the survey include closing Metrorail every day at 9 p.m, trains arriving only every 30 mins at most stations, and shuttering up to 22 stations that have low ridership or are near others.

That list includes four stations in Arlington: Clarendon, Virginia Square, Arlington Cemetery, and East Falls Church.

Screenshot of the Metro survey, asking about potential service cuts in 2022 (Photo via Screenshot/Metro press release)

These were the same stations that were closed earlier in the pandemic due to lower ridership and construction.

The survey also asks about prefered options for cutting Metrobus service, including a number of lines that run through Arlington and Northern Virginia.

Proposals include consolidating the bus system into 50 lines that serve only the highest ridership routes as well as limiting overall service to about half of pre-pandemic levels.

Metro is asking riders to fill out the survey by Tuesday, March 16 at 5 p.m.

The potential cuts come as Metro continues to say they are facing a significant budget shortfall if no additional federal money is received — a shortfall caused in large part by decreased ridership during  the pandemic.

The Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority says ridership has decreased by 90% overall on Metro.

Back in December, Metro was promised more than $600 million in the latest coronavirus relief package. That funding, notes Metro, has helped to avoid layoffs, provide essential service, and prepare for riders returning.

But even with that funding and other austerity measures, “there is not enough money to fill the entire budget gap for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2021,” Metro’s press release says.

There’s a decent chance, however, that this public survey will become moot.

President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan has $20 billion earmarked for public transit agencies. At this time, however, it remains unclear how much would go to Metro if the plan does pass in Congress.

Still, county leaders say the potential cuts are concerning.

“Arlington agrees with Metro that federal funding is essential to ensuring that the sort of drastic cuts that could profoundly impact Metro in Arlington will not have to be made,” writes Arlington Board Chair Matt de Ferranti in a statement to ARLnow. “Our Senators and Representatives fully support Metro funding in the federal legislation currently under consideration on Capitol Hill. We are grateful for their critical leadership and are staying in close contact to ensure this critical federal support for our community gets enacted and appropriated. “

In recent weeks, though, service changes have already come to Metro based on the revised 2021 budget approved in November.

Starting last week, trains started coming every 12 mins on the Orange, Blue, Silver, and Yellow lines. However, Metrobus will start expanding service beginning on March 14. Buses are being added on 125 lines and weekend service is being expanded.

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Seven Arlington Metro stations will be getting new escalators.

This is part of a $179-million, seven-year project that begins in May to replace old escalators and install 130 new heavy-duty ones at 32 stations across the Metro system.

In total, 36 escalators across seven Arlington stations will be replaced.

They are:

  • Rosslyn (8 escalators)
  • Ballston (6 escalators)
  • National Airport (4 escalators)
  • Pentagon (5 escalators)
  • Pentagon City (4 escalators)
  • Crystal City (6 escalators)
  • Virginia Square (3 escalators)

The new escalators will have up-to-date safety features and LED lighting. The contract for the project was awarded to the Finnish engineering company KONE.

The escalators set to be replaced include four in Rosslyn that date back to 1977 and rise nearly ten stories. At 207 feet high, they are among the world’s longest, continuous escalators.

“Replacing these escalators that average 38-years old, will ensure we maintain reliability for our customers today and into the future,” Metro General Manager/CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld said in the press release.

To install the new escalators, KONE will have to demolish the existing escalators and remove them piece by piece.

No more than 18 escalators will be out of service at any given time, the transportation agency promises.

For the last decade, Metro has made it a priority to fix, rehabilitate, and replace frequently breaking escalators. By the time this project is completed, Metro will have replaced or rehabilitated 84% of its escalators since 2011.

However, Metro has not set forth a timeline beyond the work beginning in May.

The full press release from Metro is below.

Read More

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After a little more than two years in business, the Burgerim at 3811 Fairfax Drive is closed.

Thanks to a reader tip, we can confirm that the restaurant closed before the new year. It opened on the ground floor of a Virginia Square office building in the fall of 2017, and is among a handful of Burgerim locations that have closed over the past year in Virginia.

At its peak Israel-based Burgerim had hundreds of locations throughout the country. It was listed as the fastest growing burger chain in the country in 2019, but that same year faced bankruptcy as its CEO fled the U.S. for Israel amid allegations of deceptive sales practices against franchise owners by promising unrealistic profits.

The burger joint features packages of up to 16 gourmet mini-burgers, in addition to other sandwiches, chicken wings and salads. Currently, the nearest Burgerim location is in Ashburn.

Neighboring businesses in Virginia Square include Thai Treasure and Tropical Smoothie Cafe.

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Time is ticking down to weigh in on the initial phases of an update to the development plan for the Clarendon neighborhood.

Arlington County is inviting people to provide online feedback on proposed updates to the 2006 Clarendon Sector Plan through Friday, Jan. 8.

“We’d like to have you provide your feedback, comments, questions by visiting the project website or by contacting staff,” said Brett Wallace, principal planner, CPHD in a video presentation from mid-December. “We’d also like to get some input on online survey questions.”

The update to the 14-year-old sector plan was prompted by a series of pending redevelopments. Arlington County began mulling over these changes in February.

In this round of public comments, the County is focusing on improvements to the pedestrian and bicycle experience along Fairfax Drive and Wilson Boulevard between Clarendon Circle and Kirkwood Drive.

“As a pedestrian, what is your level of comfort when accessing and using pedestrian facilities along Fairfax Drive between Clarendon Circle and Kirkwood? How would you improve the pedestrian experience along this section of Fairfax Drive?” is one such question.

The County is also asking people to rank whether they would like to see wider sidewalks, street trees, on-street parking, café seating or other amenities. The sector plan currently recommends preserving two “historic” buildings on the north side of Wilson Boulevard, which the County says will make it difficult to realize all these improvements.

The process for changing the sector plan started in September, followed by the first of five engagement session. The next online engagement opportunity will be posted in late January or early February.

The County cites multiple projects in the Clarendon Circle area that do not meet the sector plan’s requirements. They include changes to St. Charles Catholic Church, as well as mixed-use buildings where Joyce Motors used to be and on the Wells Fargo/Verizon Site.

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Morning Notes

State Dept. Staying in Rosslyn — “The Department of State will be staying put in an aging Rosslyn office building for another two decades after the General Services Administration ruled out options elsewhere in Northern Virginia for the agency’s space needs. The General Services Administration intends to seek a succeeding lease of 20 years with the owner of 1800 N. Kent St.” [Washington Business Journal]

Va. Square Development Underway — “Mill Creek Residential has begun construction of Modera Kirkwood, a 270-unit apartment community in Arlington, Va., in the heart of the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor… at 3415 Washington Boulevard.” [Commercial Observer, Multi-Housing News]

Combine VRE and MARC? — “Creating a unified brand and fare policy for the Washington region’s commuter rail systems could help reduce travel times and improve economic development opportunities over the next few decades, according to a new report released Thursday… [The report says] plans should begin to physically connect the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) and Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) lines and create a unified brand and fare policy to make commuters’ travel experience faster and easier.” [InsideNova]

Does Anything Look Different?Updated at 10 a.m. — We made some upgrades to the website last night. Expect some additional minor updates over the next few weeks.

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County staff want to amend zoning ordinances to let some restaurants more easily establish outdoor cafés near the Ballston, Virginia Square and Courthouse Metro stations.

Arlington County has allowed outdoor cafés in most commercial and mixed-use districts since 1978, with the exception of a few zoned districts. The County Board is slated to review an amendment allowing cafés in one such zoning district — the “R-C” district — this weekend.

“Outdoor cafes are compatible with the district’s purpose and intent and would further bolster the economic vitality of restaurants located with the district,” the staff report said. “Outdoor cafes enliven the streetscape, provide passive surveillance of the street, and enable people’s participation in street life.”

The outdoor cafés in question could be either on private property, as a by-right use, or on the sidewalk, with an approved permit. It would apply to restaurants within R-C — “Multiple-family Dwelling and Commercial District” — zoning.

An informal survey conducted by the County found a majority of residents who responded support this change. Of the 69 respondents, 85% supported the amendment because cafés would have a positive effect on on activating street life.

“Other common themes included helping out restaurants during a challenging economic period, enabling restaurants to respond more effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic, and seeking out opportunities to reclaim street parking for outdoor cafes in areas with narrow sidewalks,” staff said.

Concerns expressed by survey respondents ranged from noise, keeping pedestrian pathways clear and charging rent for the use of public space.

This amendment does not involve the program for temporary outdoor seating areas, or TOSAs, staff said.

“In response to the need for increased public health measures to combat the coronavirus, Arlington County permits restaurants, bars and cafes to establish temporary outdoor seating areas (TOSAs) which resemble outdoor cafes but are regulated and permitted under different laws,” staff said.

Rather, this amendment has been a work plan item for the Planning Division for a while now — “well before on the onset of COVID-19,” Arlington County spokeswoman Jennifer Smith said in an email.

“One benefit of TOSAs is that some of the restaurants who have been advocating for this amendment were able to have temporary outdoor dining since June through the TOSA process,” Smith said. “With the approval of this amendment, they can pursue a permanent outdoor café.”

Although the change comes as struggling restaurants lean on outdoor dining, even in the winter months, outdoor cafés have been part of Arlington County’s plan to enliven retail corridors for the last five years.

In the 2015 Retail Action Plan, outdoor cafés are encouraged because they improve the pedestrian experience in and increase the number of “third places” for the community to gather.

“‘Third places’ — locations outside of home or work where people meet, socialize and learn from each other — are highlighted as community elements that, when present, can add activity and excitement to street life as centers of gathering,” the County’s web page says.

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YogaWorks in Arlington has permanently closed due to the pandemic, but the company is still offering online classes and workshops.

The Los Angeles-based yoga company expanded in 2017, and took over the studio at 3528 Wilson Blvd from local company Tranquil Space. YogaWorks filed for bankruptcy last month, and announced it would close all of its studios around the country.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for our industry and business, including mandatory studio closures and social distancing-imposed attendance restrictions even where studios have been permitted to reopen,” YogaWorks CEO Brian Cooper said in a statement. “After considering a number of alternatives to overcome the financial challenge of the studio closures, we determined that implementing an orderly restructuring process is in the best interest of all of our key stakeholders, most notably our dedicated teachers and passionate students.”

Cooper said that the company has adapted to the pandemic by expanding its digital platform, with more than 40 live streaming yoga classes per day and upward of 1,000 hours of pre-recorded classes and yoga workshops.

“We look forward to continuing to serve our loyal students and positioning YogaWorks for long-term success,” Cooper said. “We will continue to make decisions that provide the most benefit to our team, students, and partners, and we are confident that we will emerge from this process a stronger organization.”

The former YogaWorks space — a one-story building next to the Arlington Arts Center in the Virginia Square area — is now listed for lease.

File photo

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(Updated at 4:20 p.m.) Initial preparations are underway for a major transformation of the George Mason University campus in Virginia Square.

Fencing is currently going up around the former Kann’s Department Store on the GMU Arlington campus, next to the FDIC office complex, in preparation for demolition. The aging, mid-century brick building, at 3401 Fairfax Drive, is set to be torn down starting in early 2021.

The demolition will make way for a $250 million expansion project, which will see the construction of an expansive new building to house new tech-oriented facilities.

“The university is transforming its Arlington campus to create a new innovation hub for the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor,” GMU said of the project. “The multi-million dollar expansion project will include an approximately 500,000 SF state-of-the-art building that will serve as the headquarters for Mason’s Institute for Digital Innovation and its proposed School of Computing.”

A university press release from July further clarified the GMU would occupy most of the building, while private companies may also lease space in it.

“Utilizing the site of the former Kann’s Department store, the Institute for Digital InnovAtion headquarters will be a mixed-use, multi-tenant building with approximately 400,000 square feet of new building space adjacent to Mason’s existing presence in Virginia Square,” the press release said. “Mason will occupy approximately 225,500 square feet of the new space, leaving 135,000 square feet available for leasing by industry partners.”

Abatement work will follow the fencing installation, and demolition is expected to start early next year. Design work on the new facility is expected to be complete by the fall of 2022, followed by a construction project which should be complete by mid-2025, according to an information packet about the project.

The overall goal is to position GMU, plus Arlington and Northern Virginia as a whole, as a new tech powerhouse.

“By 2024, Mason projects it will have more than 10,000 undergraduate and 5,000 graduate students enrolled in computing-related degree program. More than just an addition to the Arlington skyline, the new building will directly serve those students,” the information packet says. “The first of its kind in Virginia, [Mason’s proposed School of Computing] will graduate future leaders in key tech fields and position Arlington as a global leader in computing.”

GMU is currently trying to raise $125 million, which will then be matched with another $125 million from the state, for the graduate programs. The university is set to receive another $110 million from Virginia to establish the undergraduate programs. The funding was announced in the wake of Amazon’s decision to locate its HQ2 in Arlington.

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Morning Notes

Study: Arlington Has Safest Drivers in Va. — The insurance website Insurify says Arlington has the safest drivers in Virginia. Drivers in the county “demonstrate exceptional dedication to their own safety and to the safety of others around them,” the website says. [Insurify]

Local Toll Lanes May Be Sold — “Transurban is selling off stakes in its US toll roads because it wants to strengthen its balance sheet… Transurban owns the 95 Express Lanes, 495 Express Lanes and 395 Express Lanes toll roads near the US capital, but traffic on the motorways has been hard hit by the pandemic… The Virginia assets have the longest concession periods of Transurban’s assets with asset lives out to 2087.” [Australian Financial Review]

Police Response at Va. Square Metro — Metro Transit Police and Arlington County Police responded to the Virginia Square Metro station last night for a person who jumped on the track bed. Orange and Silver Line trains were stopped in both directions while the person was taken into custody. [Twitter]

Arrest Made in Silver Line Sexual Assault — “Metro Transit Police today arrested the individual suspected of an attempted rape Tuesday, October 6 aboard a Silver Line train in Northern Virginia. Kendrie Roberts-Monticue, 21, of Reston, was taken into custody this morning at the home of a family member in Virginia.” [WMATA]

Metro Closure Planned in Early 2021 — “Arlington Cemetery and Addison Road stations will be closed for approximately three months for full platform replacement and station renovation… [During the work] Yellow Line trains will provide all trans-Potomac service for stations Pentagon and south.” [WMATA]

APS Getting More CARES Act Funding — “More than $220 million in federal coronavirus relief is headed to Virginia schools, according to an announcement from Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday… Arlington County schools will receive $4.7 million.” [DCist]

‘Tiger King’ Star Indicted in Va.Updated at 8:30 a.m. — “Following an investigation by Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s animal law unit, Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, the owner of Myrtle Beach Safari, has been charged with one felony count of wildlife trafficking, one felony count of conspiracy to wildlife traffic, four misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to violate the Endangered Species Act, and nine misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty” [Press Release]

Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler

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