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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 Amhad 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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George Mason University Shrubbery Fire Extinguished Near Bill of Rights Eagle

Three shrubs caught on fire beside George Mason University’s Bill of Rights Eagle in Virginia Square.

The fire broke out on this afternoon (Friday) just before 1 p.m., engulfing the shrubbery and a patch of mulch. The flames were quickly extinguished by responding firefighters, and a college employee said that it wasn’t a major incident. Classes were in session at the time but there was not report of any evacuation.

A facilities worker told ARLnow.com that the flames were three feet high, and that a glass office window adjacent to the fire was cracked as a result.

Another facilities worker, who said that he had worked for the college for the past 20 years, said that the college’s shrubbery had never caught on fire before.

He added that his colleagues had not seen anything odd in the area prior to the fire, but that several people tripped and fell while running away.

Unveiled last May with much fanfare, the GMU Antonin Scalia Law School’s “Bill of Rights Eagle” did not appear to suffer any damage from the fire.

Warm weather has helped spark a number of small mulch and grass fires around Arlington over the past day or so.

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Medium Rare to Open Virginia Square Location This Weekend

The new Medium Rare in Virginia Square will be opening Saturday (April 14) at 5 p.m. for dinner, according to owner Mark Bucher.

The restaurant, known for its fixed-price steak, frites, and “secret sauce,” will then open for brunch Sunday at 10:30 a.m.

The location, on the ground floor of the Latitude Apartments, is opening a little later than what had been previously reported. ABC license application notifications were first posted in November 2017.

Medium Rare has three open locations outside of Virginia — two in D.C. and one in Bethesda.

The steakhouse has help wanted signs posted in the window seeking servers and a hostess. Open interviews will be every day from 10:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m., according to the signs An end date for the open interviews was not listed.

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TMZ Publishes Video of NBA Star Cheating on Khloe Kardashian at Darna Lounge

The attention of the celebrity gossip world is briefly focused on Virginia Square, of all places.

TMZ last night published video of Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers center and the father of mother-to-be Khloe Kardashian’s baby, at Darna Restaurant and Lounge (946 N. Jackson Street).

More from TMZ:

TMZ obtained this surveillance video recorded October 7, 2017 at a hookah lounge outside Washington D.C. You see Tristan with 3 women, 2 of whom are fully engaged with Khloe’s baby daddy.

Tristan makes out with one of the women, tongue and all. The other grabs his head, brings it to her chest and he motorboats her. And the same woman grabs his junk.

Thompson was in town to face the Washington Wizards.

The video is additional evidence that Thompson is a “serial cheater” and is “devastating” to the famous Kardashian clan, reports People.

Darna, meanwhile, is back open after being shut down in February due to safety violations.

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Service Restored Between East Falls Church and Clarendon Metro Stations

Service was restored between East Falls Church and Clarendon Metro stations after grinding to a halt Thursday morning (April 5) for several hours.

Service was restored at about 8 a.m., but delays are expected to last at least throughout the morning. Metro referred to the incident as both a track problem and fire department activity at the Virginia Square Metro station.

The Arlington Fire Department tweeted that the Virginia Square Metro station was evacuated at about 6:20 a.m. due to smoke in the tunnel.

At about 6:58 a.m., the department tweeted that fire department units were going back in service, that much of the smoke was clear, and that commuters should expect “residual delays.”

The suspended service affects the Orange and Silver lines directly, though Metro tweeted that blue line delays were possible considering the congestion built up from the other lines.

On the highways, drivers reported heavier than usual traffic.

“We all suffer when the Metro fudges up,” one driver told ARLnow, who was stuck on I-66 in what she said was unusually heavy traffic for that part of her commute.

Several would-be riders took to Twitter to report long lines for WMATA buses and shuttles, as well as a general sense of “chaos” and “meltdown” at certain stations.

File photo

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Medium Rare Sets Expected Virginia Square Opening Date

Looks like Virginia Square residents won’t have to wait long for the opening of prix-fixe steakhouse Medium Rare.

The restaurant had signs up as early as November 2017, but co-founder Mark Bucher confirmed via email that the restaurant is targeting to open the first week of April.

Currently, the popular chain has three open locations — two in D.C. and one in Bethesda, Md.

Medium Rare is known for its relatively inexpensive pre-fixe dinner menu of bread, salad, and culotte steak with fries and a “secret sauce” for about $20.

Photo courtesy of Leslie Koch

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ARLnow Co-Hosting March Madness Viewing at Latitude Apartments

Want to watch the Sweet 16 on the sweet rooftop terrace of the Latitude Apartments (3601 Fairfax Drive) in Virginia Square?

ARLnow is co-hosting a March Madness viewing party at Latitude next Thursday, March 22, from 6:30-9 p.m. Drinks and snacks will be provided and there will be four TVs so you won’t miss any of the action.

Come watch the games, mingle with ARLnow staffers and grab some ARLnow and Latitude swag.

The event is free but RSVPs are requested.

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