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Darna Lounge Poised to Finally Resolve Permit Problems

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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New Burger Restaurant Coming to Virginia Square

Virginia Square is getting a new spot for burgers.

The new burger eatery is “coming soon” to 3811 Fairfax Drive, according to the chain’s website. No word yet on an opening date.

The office building was previously home to Water & Wall restaurant, which closed in early 2017.

Burgerim, which describes itself as “an international fast casual franchise with a shiny new concept,” serves “gourmet burgers” in the “uno, duo, trio, or 16 pack.” Also on the menu: “chicken wings, onion rings, sandwiches, salads, and other favorites.”

On its website, the chain says it was founded in 2011 and has since expanded to 160 locations.

Photo (bottom) via Google Maps

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‘Erasian’ Restaurant Could Be on the Way for Virginia Square

A new bar and restaurant could be on the way for an office building along Fairfax Drive in Virginia Square.

Records show that a restaurant dubbed “Erasian” is applying for a license to serve wine, beer and mixed drinks in a space at 3811 Fairfax Drive.

Representatives with the company backing the venture, ABR LLC, didn’t respond to requests for comment on their plans for the restaurant. But the permit application, filed on Aug. 14, shows that the proposed restaurant would have space for anywhere from 101 to 150 people.

The office building is also home to a Tropical Smoothie Cafe, and was once the home of Water & Wall, a restaurant backed by chef Tim Ma that closed last year.

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Arlington Officials Hail the Arrival of Small Business SyLearn as a Modest, Yet Meaningful, Win

While most ribbon cuttings for new businesses around Arlington tend to be full of pomp and circumstance, SyLearn’s grand opening in a modest Virginia Square office building Wednesday was a family affair.

CEO Jay Chandok, who helped found the new IT training company, busily urged guests to help themselves to a full buffet, as the daughters of Chandok and other staff members snapped pictures of new arrivals with iPhones. One made sure to introduce each visitor to one of her dolls, which she’d given a Hawaiian name: Leilani.

The event, much like SyLearn itself, was relatively small in scale. But Arlington officials say arrival of such businesses in the county is just as important as some of the bigger names economic development staffers are focused on these days.

“People think that they spend all their time on the Amazons and Nestles of the world, and while those are certainly important, this is really the bulk of what they do,” County Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey told ARLnow. “It’s these small businesses that we hope will become big businesses someday.”

Chandok says the county indeed helped connect him with real estate brokers as he searched for a home for his new business, which was born out of another, similar program he worked on in Arlington.

He landed on a suite in an office building at 3330 Washington Blvd. It sits just behind George Mason University’s Arlington campus, but a bit off the beaten path of the bustling Rosslyn-Ballston corridor — Dorsey expects that certainly helped “lower the cost of entry a bit.”

Chandok hopes to eventually start hosting as many as 200 students each year in the space, with a pool of eight instructors to help them earn certifications on the latest software, or even make a career change and embrace IT.

“We’re looking to help people who aren’t going through four-year institutions, and we’re not bound by the same red tape as they are,” Chandok said. “We can help career changers, or career upgraders. Anyone who’s looking to test the waters and see what else is out there.”

With a legion of federal agencies, not to mention contractors, nearby, Chandok surely won’t lack potential customers. Dorsey also hopes that the county’s school system will consistently “provide a pipeline of talented students” interested in IT, noting that “we can only do so much” when it comes to career education.

Board member Libby Garvey, a longtime School Board member herself, also pointed out that SyLearn could be a perfect fit for the many veterans in Arlington, should they want to build on the tech training they received in the military.

“They have incredible talent that we need to tap into,” Garvey said.

With that sort of pool of would-be students available, Dorsey expects to be attending another ribbon cutting for SyLearn sooner, rather than later.

“As he grows, I want you to find him a bigger space,” he implored the economic development staff in attendance.

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Virginia Square Resident Catches Burglar on Video

A Virginia Square resident returned from work on Tuesday to find his house had been burglarized.

The resident, whose first name is Tom, said in a Reddit post that the suspect rummaged through his house and stole electronics and jewelry.

“Posting them here so in case you see a screaming deal on a laptop on Craigslist or Letgo, and you see that this is the guy selling it to you, then please send me a DM so I can update the police with his whereabouts,” Tom wrote in the post.

There was a bit of good news: Tom has a “pet cam” in the basement to keep tabs on his pet rabbits, and the video camera captured a relatively high resolution view of the suspect. Tom gave police a copy of the video and also posted it to YouTube for all to see.

The burglary happened at some point between 12:45 and 2:50 p.m. on Tuesday, according to Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Kirby Clark.

“An unknown suspect gained entry to a residence and stole numerous items of value,” said an ACPD crime report. “The suspect is described as a black male with dreadlocks, wearing a gray sweatsuit. The investigation is ongoing.”

Tom, who lives near the Rocklands Barbeque restaurant, suggested to ARLnow.com that the burglary was a crime of opportunity in an otherwise low-crime neighborhood — and may be a bit of a cautionary tale for other residents. After trying to force the back door open, the burglar was able to get easy access to the home via an unlocked back window, he said.

“During one of the recent rain storms when it got cooler than normal, we took advantage and opened all the windows to get a nice fresh cross breeze,” Tom said. “Only problem is I forgot to re-lock the back window after closing it.”

While Tom is asking for direct messages from Redditors who might see his pilfered belongings for sale online, police are asking members of the public to contact them directly with any tips.

“Anyone with information is asked to contact Detective C. Cook of the Arlington County Police Department’s Property Crimes Unit at 703-228-4164 or [email protected],” Clark wrote. “To report information anonymously, contact the Arlington County Crime Solvers at 866.411.TIPS (8477).”

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Plans to Redevelop American Legion Post into Affordable Housing Complex Take Shape

Plans to redevelop the American Legion post in Virginia Square into a seven-story affordable housing complex are inching forward.

The Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing has drawn up a preliminary proposal for the property at 3445 Washington Blvd, advancing plans to purchase the site and someday build 161 multifamily homes there. APAH would also include about 8,000-square-feet on the bottom floor of the building to let American Legion Post 139 stay on the property, which it’s called home for decades.

The proposal, which was submitted to the county last month according to the Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association, also calls for an underground parking garage at the site, and a new alley to access the building off Washington Blvd.

County planners started preparing in earnest for big changes in the area starting last year, approving a handful of zoning changes to clear the way for changes at the properties along Washington Blvd.

The adjacent YMCA of Metropolitan Washington is planning to build a new, 100,000-square-foot facility on its property at 3422 13th Street N., while another developer hopes to build a six-story apartment building at the intersection of Washington Blvd and N. Kirkwood Road.

The Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association plans to discuss the American Legion proposal in more detail at its monthly meeting tonight, at 900 N. Taylor Street starting at 7 p.m.

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BREAKING: Firefighters Extinguish Blaze in Virginia Square

Arlington firefighters have been called to the scene of a kitchen fire at an apartment building in Virginia Square.

First responders managed to extinguish a blaze at a two-story garden apartment building along the 3600 block of Wilson Blvd around 4 p.m. today (Monday).

The work has prompted the closure of one block of Wilson Blvd in both directions as firefighters secure the scene, according to a tweet from county police.

There’s no word yet on the cause of the fire or if anyone was inside the building.

Photo via Google Maps

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Darna Lounge Facing More Legal Trouble Due to Permit Woes

The Darna Restaurant and Lounge in Virginia Square has run into a bit more legal trouble, with the county now pursuing criminal charges against its owner.

County officials briefly shut down the restaurant earlier this year after discovering a variety of health and safety code violations on the property, located at 946 N. Jackson Street.

Darna managed to address some of those problems and re-open in April, long enough to capitalize on its newfound notoriety for being the scene of a TMZ-worthy incident involving NBA star Tristan Thompson, but it seems the restaurant’s managers have yet to resolve all the problems the county identified.

Prosecutors have charged owner Ahmad Ayyad and his Maaj Corporation with one count of performing work without proper permits, a misdemeanor charge. He’s set for a hearing in Arlington General District Court on Aug. 1, according to online court records, and could face a fine of up to $2,500 if he’s convicted.

Per a staff report prepared for the County Board, the trouble stems from Ayyad’s failure to secure a building permit from the county for some “unpermitted construction and modifications” inspectors discovered on the property when they briefly shuttered Darna.

Staff write that Ayyad has rectified the bulk of the code violations inspectors identified earlier this year, but still hasn’t managed to win the necessary permit for that construction, some of which involves “a stage used for the live entertainment” at the restaurant.

He submitted several applications for new permits, prompting the County Board to allow Darna to remain open in the meantime, but county inspectors rejected each one. Code enforcement officials ultimately decided to pursue the misdemeanor charge “due to the lack of progress by [Ayyad] to secure the building permit, complete the required modifications and to schedule and pass the final inspection.”

Even with all this legal wrangling, the Board is still set to allow Darna to stay open as Ayyad resolves these issues. The Board will consider a two-month use permit renewal for the lounge at its meeting Saturday (July 14), giving Ayyad until September to make some progress on these issues.

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State Supreme Court Could Decide Fate of Highlander Motel Redevelopment

The Virginia Supreme Court could soon decide the fate of the Highlander Motel near Virginia Square, as the property’s owner continues to push to redevelop the site.

Arlington County has been locked in a legal battle with local businessman Bill Bayne for nearly two years now over the property at 3336 Wilson Blvd, arguing that Bayne shouldn’t be able to use an existing parking lot for the same purpose after replacing the 55-year-old motel with a CVS Pharmacy.

The matter went before the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals in July 2016, and was twice considered by Arlington’s circuit court, with a judge ultimately deciding last year that Bayne should be able to move ahead with his plans. But Bayne says the county is appealing that ruling to the state’s highest court, which could drag out any redevelopment of the property indefinitely.

“There is no reason for them to fight it,” said Bayne, who also owns the Crystal City Restaurant and co-owns Crystal City Sports Pub. “There’s no upside benefit for them… You’re dealing with an old, outdated property that’s behind its time. It’s much better for a neighborhood to have a CVS than an old, beat-up hotel.”

Bayne hopes the Supreme Court will decide by late August whether or not it will hear the county’s appeal. If the court takes the case, Bayne fears it could drag out the process for “another year” or more, further endangering his already damaged plans to redevelop the property.

But even if the court rejects Arlington’s appeal, Bayne worries his deal with CVS has already likely “fallen apart.” He was set to sign a 50-year lease to bring the pharmacy to the site, bringing him close to $45 million over the term of the lease, and believes he may never engineer a redevelopment of the lot even if he emerges successful in court.

“There would’ve already been a CVS built and open, but they’ve dragged me through a legal process that’s taken years,” Bayne said.

County Attorney Steve MacIsaac did not respond to requests for comment seeking clarity on why the county is appealing the court’s ruling.

The county’s legal filings over the years suggest Arlington officials were concerned with the size of the pharmacy Bayne hoped to build, particularly on a site bordering residential neighborhoods just on the edge of Clarendon, even though county lawyers challenged the project on the basis of some arcane zoning laws.

The legal spat over the Highlander began when Bayne asked for permission from the county to use a parking lot just behind the motel on N. Kenmore Street as parking for the proposed CVS.

A county zoning administrator pointed out that the hotel’s owners received permission when the motel was built back in 1963 to use that lot as “transitional” parking, and never sought any subsequent zoning change. That same lot would help Bayne’s company meet the county’s parking requirement for a retail building of the CVS’s size, a shop that would essentially replace the motel in its entirety.

The county changed its zoning ordinance in 1983 to ban the use of transitional lots for meeting minimum parking requirements, as Arlington moved toward a more transit-focused mentality and officials viewed requests for large parking lots more skeptically. Accordingly, the zoning administrator rejected Bayne’s proposal, setting up a hearing before the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Board members pressed Bayne’s lawyers on whether he couldn’t simply shrink the proposed CVS and reduce the need for more parking. Land use attorney Evan Pritchard noted in the July 16, 2016 hearing that CVS viewed a smaller location as “no longer worth the trouble” of pursuing.

The Board unanimously denied Bayne’s appeal, arguing that the zoning administrator’s interpretation of the law was the correct one, even if such a distinction over parking lots seemed trivial.

“I’m not saying the proposed commercial use is a bad one, or that it even isn’t in the interest of Arlington County, but the County Board has written the zoning ordinance this way,” Board member Peter Owen said during the hearing.

Bayne appealed that ruling to the county’s circuit court, arguing in an Aug. 11, 2016 complaint that simply using the parking lot for a different establishment would not “change the character or intensity” of the property.

But in motions opposing Bayne’s appeal, county attorneys reiterated their historical zoning arguments and repeatedly cited the size of Bayne’s proposed CVS as a troublesome factor.

“It is as a result of the size of the CVS that all required parking can’t be located on the site,” assistant county attorney Christine Sanders argued in a trial on the matter.

In an Oct. 26, 2017 motion, Sanders also dubbed Bayne’s effort “an end run around the public process of a rezoning” from a residential designation to a commercial one, which “continues to foist upon the neighborhood a noxious use” of the property.

Retired Judge Alfred Swersky sided with Bayne, and denied the county’s subsequent request for another hearing, setting up a potential state Supreme Court fight.

Bayne says he “fully expects” to emerge victorious in the end, whether he’s ultimately able to realize his vision of a CVS on the property or not. He simply remains frustrated that this process has even dragged on for so long in the first place.

“It’s a good thing for the county, how can you argue with it?” Bayne said. “They’ve been told they’re wrong twice by a judge, why do you need to be told a third time?”

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BREAKING: Fire in Virginia Square

Arlington County firefighters are on scene of a fire on the seventh floor of a mid-rise residential building in Virginia Square.

Initial reports suggest the fire is on the balcony of an apartment on the 900 block of N. Pollard Street.

The fire has been extinguished, according to scanner traffic. No injuries have been reported.

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Condo Board Moves Meetings to School Over Concerns About Armed Resident

The board of a condominium building in Virginia Square is moving its meeting spot after a resident brought a gun to two board meetings.

In a letter sent to residents, transcribed below, the board of the Tower Villas (3800 Fairfax Drive) condo community says that while the armed man didn’t violate any current rules, the gun “caused certain attendees of these meetings fear for their safety.”

Because trying to ban guns from the board meeting — held in the building lobby — would be a legal gray area, the board said it decided to move its meeting to Washington-Lee High School, where guns are prohibited by law, “until the Board receives assurances from this individual that they will no longer bring a firearm to future Board meetings.”

Reached by phone, a building manager declined to comment.

The full letter is below.

Dear residents:

It has been alleged that a member of the Tower Villas community has brought a firearm to the past two Board of Directors meetings. The Board has been made aware that this has caused certain attendees of these meetings fear for their safety. Members of the Board share these concerns. The Board reached out to this individual and respectfully requested that they confirm whether a firearm was in their possession during those meetings, and requested that the individual no longer bring the firearm to meetings if one was in their possession. While a response was received, the communication did not conclusively respond to either of the Board’s requests.

The Board has consulted with legal counsel and believes that the best course of action to address residents’ safety concerns is to conduct Board meetings at a location where firearms are prohibited by law. While the Board believes that it is within its right to prohibit members from bringing firearms to Board meetings held on the common elements, the enforcement of such a prohibition (should this individual choose to ignore it) could prove to be costly and time-consuming.

As such, the Board of Directors meetings will be held offsite at the Washington & Lee High School just a few blocks away until the Board receives assurances from this individual that they will no longer bring a firearm to future Board meetings. However, due to lack of availability, the Board’s June meeting has been postponed. We will keep all residents informed of the date and time of our next meeting.

We understand that this breaks from a longstanding Tower Villas tradition of conducting Board meetings in our lobby, but out of an abundance of caution, the Board believes that this is a reasonable and prudent course of action. It is our hope that this will be a temporary measure. We appreciate your understanding and encourage you to attend our offsite meetings.

Thank you,

The Tower Villas Board of Directors

Photo via Google Maps

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Atrium Cafe Opens in Virginia Square With Poke and Promise

Atrium Cafe (901 N. Nelson Street) has opened in Virginia Square, offering Asian-fusion cuisine, coffee, beer and wine.

Since opening last Monday (June 11), Atrium has serviced breakfast, lunch and dinner crowds with menu items that include egg salad sandwiches, smoothies, rice cups and milk tea.

Hawaiian poke features prominently in the cafe’s offerings, following a national food trend that has been slowly catching on in Arlington.

Atrium Cafe’s owner DJ Lee said he started serving poke bowls in the cafe’s D.C. locations about eight years ago after visiting a poke restaurant in Los Angeles with his family, though at first customers didn’t know what it was.

“I really loved it so I [said], ‘I can do it, something like this,'” Lee said. “People didn’t know about that kind of concept… but right now, they like sushi and all the things like that, so people change.”

This location is Atrium Cafe’s seventh and its first outside the District. Arlington’s Atrium Cafe occupies the space previously claimed by Jen’s Kitchen, which closed in late December.

On his way out, one customer noted that he had stopped going to Jen’s Kitchen because he was unhappy with their customer service, but has thus far been impressed by the service and food at Atrium Cafe.

“I try to make it the fastest [and] cleanest, and try to make it taste good too,” Lee said. “That’s my goal.”

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Sprinklers Help Contain Condo Fire in Virginia Square

One person was sent to the hospital after a fire in a Virginia Square condominium Friday morning.

The fire was reported around 6:30 a.m. at the high-rise Hawthorn condo building, which is located at 820 N. Pollard Street, across Wilson Blvd from Gold’s Gym.

The fire was contained by a sprinkler system, allowing firefighters to quickly extinguish the flames. Large ladder trucks were used to help with the firefighting effort.

One condo resident was taken to a hospital emergency room for observation, according to the Arlington County Fire Department. The Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating the cause of the blaze.

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ACFD Extinguishes Fire on Apartment Building Roof

Arlington County firefighters extinguished a small mulch fire on the roof of an apartment building over the weekend.

The fire broke out around 4:15 p.m. Saturday on the roof of the new Latitude Apartments in Virginia Square, on the 3600 block of Fairfax Drive.

Smoke could be seen coming from the top of the building, prompting a large fire department response. The fire was extinguished and no one was hurt. The cause is under investigation, according to ACFD.

Photo courtesy @surrrewhynot

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County Board to Consider Removing Black Box Theater from Va. Square Development

A black box theater is expected to be formally removed from the plans for a development in Virginia Square at this weekend’s Arlington County Board meeting.

The County Manager’s office has recommended that a new site plan amendment be approved that would remove the theater from the development’s required community amenities.

Mark Schwartz, the County Manager, moved to absolve the developer of the black box theater requirement last year. Though the theater was in line with the Virginia Square sector plan, its initial operational and financial costs, as well as ongoing operational costs that would rely on tax support, were deemed too high.

Considering those costs, the project didn’t align with “a shift in strategy which talks about delivering cultural programming with low-cost, high-impact investments,” said Schwartz.

The new site plan will convert a previously approved 3,180 square feet of ground floor retail space into office space, 2,725 square feet of retail space to office space, and add 2,725 square feet of office space at the penthouse level.

The proposed plan would also lower the building’s height by eight feet, eliminate a mezzanine level, and add an outdoor terrace at the penthouse level.

The mezzanine level is no longer necessary, as it was intended to support the black box theater. County staff found that “the proposed site plan amendments are reasonable adjustments in the approved site plan and respond to the removal of the black box theater.”

The site was previously home of the Arlington Funeral Home, which closed in 2011 after 55 years in business.

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