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Facing high rates of pandemic-era apartment vacancies, Dittmar Company is looking to recoup its losses through short-term rentals.

The Tysons-based developer and property management group is asking the Arlington County Board for permission to convert up to 75 furnished apartment units in three Arlington buildings into flexible hotel rooms.

Randolph Towers in Ballston, Courtland Towers in Courthouse and Virginia Square Towers in Virginia Square will each have 25 units available as short-term rentals under the proposal.

These “Flexible Units,” which comprise less than 5% of the total units in each building, may be rented for short-term stays of fewer than 30 days or long-term stays of more than 30 days. Dittmar will require a minimum length of stay of at least three consecutive nights, and the units cannot be rented for more than 90 nights in a calendar year, according to a county staff report.

Currently, the furnished units are “rented by foreign embassies, corporations, universities, medical facilities, and other tenants desiring long term residential stays,” Nicholas Cumings, Dittmar’s legal representative, wrote in a letter to the county this spring.

They are “typically vacant for three months out of the year and require significant operational costs (i.e. provision of utilities, furniture, housekeeping facilities and housekeeping personnel, etc.),” said Cumings, an attorney with the land use firm of Walsh Colucci.

The new arrangement would allow Dittmar to offset the losses from when such furnished units are vacant, Cumings said. The conversions would be in effect for up to five years.

County Manager Mark Schwartz recommends the County Board approve the request during its meeting on Saturday. The County Board previously heard the requests in May and, following staff recommendation, deferred them to allow for more conversations and analysis, county staff wrote.

“Concerns have been raised by the community and Planning Commission regarding the potential impacts on housing affordability and the absence of County policy on temporary conversions of residential to hotel use,” the staff report said. “Since the Flexible Units may be rented by any individual seeking either a long- or short-term furnished stay, staff expects the temporary conversions to have limited, if any impact on the broader housing supply or rental rates.”

One resident told ARLnow he thinks this arrangement will lead to a spike in travelers in the building.

“Although they claim now to rent furnished units to institutional partners (like universities or embassies), I worry that Dittmar will seek to rent them on a day-to-day basis,” the resident said. “This will ruin the nature of communities that are primarily for long-term tenants. When we finally get through the pandemic and people can travel more freely, I worry that these buildings will become prime destinations for countless travelers.”

In his letter, Cumings wrote that Dittmar “has no desire to operate as a hotel and seeks the ability to rent their existing furnished units for short-term stays in order to offset the cost of vacancies throughout the year.”

The rental units will be a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units, mostly located on the lower floors, “with some premium furnished units located on the penthouse floors,” he said.

The County Board will be meeting in-person on the third floor of county government headquarters, at 2100 Clarendon Blvd in Courthouse. It resumed in-person meetings in June after switching to virtual meetings last year due to the pandemic.

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A new event in the Virginia Square area, Cars & Coffee, will kick off on Saturday with live music, classic cars and free doughnuts and coffee.

This weekend, Good Company Doughnuts & Cafe will provide the treats and drinks while blues performer and Ballston local Memphis Gold will provide the entertainment.

Cars & Coffee will take place in the parking lot of 3901 Fairfax Drive and is being co-hosted by the Ballston Business Improvement District and Skanska Commercial Development. The free event will take place every other Saturday from 8-11 a.m. through Aug. 7.

Local car enthusiasts can register online to display their cars for the show.

Skanska purchased the Fairfax Drive parking lot space in 2019 to convert it into a public plaza and office building. Although the project near Arlington Central Library has been plagued with delays, the company plans to break ground there in the near future.

“At Skanska, we create spaces built to serve communities,” said Mark Carroll, Executive Vice President for Skanska USA Commercial Development’s local office. “We’re looking forward to starting that journey even before we put shovels in the ground here in Ballston.”

Ballston BID CEO Tina Leone shared Carroll’s sentiment, saying she hopes the event will bring people out into the community and allow them to get to know their neighbors.

“It’s encouraging and exciting to see people coming out, supporting local music, local businesses and just generally being a community again,” Leone said. “We have a strong network here in Ballston and we support each other immensely. It’s amazing to see it happening in real-time with events like Cars & Coffee.”

Photos courtesy of Ballston BID

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A man is facing charges after police say he fired an air gun at a bird yesterday morning in the Virginia Square area.

Police responded to the area of Wilson Blvd and N. Kenmore Street just before 8 a.m. Tuesday for reports of a man with a gun. Officers arrived and were told by a witness that the man fired an air gun “in the direction of a bird,” according to an Arlington County Police Department crime report.

The suspect, 69-year-old Ytiyti Ytity, was allegedly in possession of three air guns, which were taken by police. He was released on a court summons.

Ytity is no stranger to local police blotters, with arrest records stretching from California to Florida.

More from ACPD:

WEAPONS VIOLATION, 2021-06220034, Wilson Boulevard at N. Kenmore Street. At approximately 7:52 a.m. on June 22, police were dispatched to the report of a person with a gun. Upon arrival, it was determined that the witness observed the suspect allegedly pull an air gun out of his backpack and discharge it in the direction of a bird. Arriving officers located the suspect, he was positively identified and three air guns were recovered. Ytiyti Ytity, 69, of No Fixed Address, was charged with Discharging an Air Gun in Public and released on a summons.

Arlington’s pickleball players, eager to see the sport grow, will soon have more courts to play on.

The YMCA Arlington Tennis & Squash Center, at 3400 13th Street N. in the Virginia Square area, is repainting three tennis courts to make room for six pickleball courts. This change is part of an effort to meet the growing demand for facilities as the sport gains popularity.

“In the D.C. region, pickleball is exploding,” said Carlo Impeduglia, Associate Director of Racquets at the Y in Arlington.

He attributes the local and nationwide surge in interest in pickleball and other racquet sports to people searching for social sports where players can stay distanced during the pandemic.

The new courts at the Y facility will feature blended lines and changeable nets so players can choose either tennis or pickleball, Impeduglia said. Currently, the tennis courts have pickleball lines taped on.

Members will be able to reserve courts and participate in drop-in play, instructional clinics, socials and special events, he said. More permanent courts could be added in the future, too.

The changes come as the YMCA (3422 13th Street N.) seeks to upgrade its facilities in Arlington, replacing the Y as well as tennis and squash center with a seven-story tall apartment building and three-story tall facility that has a swimming pool and tennis and pickleball courts.

At the regional level, the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington is jumping on the craze and opening pickleball courts throughout the D.C. area. Other new courts can be found at the Y’s locations in Bethesda-Chevy Chase and Silver Spring.

“The response to pickleball has been overwhelming by our membership,” said Pamela Curran, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington. “Pickleball is the perfect pandemic sport since people can still socially distance and get great exercise both outdoors and indoors at an extremely affordable price.”

Adrie Custer, the moderator of the Facebook group Pickleball Friends of Arlington, Virginia, said she has also seen a surge in interest. The group was founded in 2016 and today has more than 430 members — but nearly 200 of those members joined in the last year, she said.

“Once someone actually plays pickleball, they are hooked,” she said. “We expect our numbers to keep climbing. I believe it’s true that pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in America. It is a game that can be played enjoyably at many skill levels and by people of all ages.”

Players typically are 50 years of age and older, but Impeduglia said he has seen and heard of kids as young as 4 and seniors as old as 90 hitting the courts.

“It’s really all ages, all levels,” he said. “The sport has no boundaries.”

Nationally, the sport grew 21.3% to 4.2 million players in 2020, according to the USA Pickleball Association.

Arlington County Parks and Recreation provides indoor as well as outdoor courts for the sport, and classes are available for young players, too.

The county has added pickleball lines to multiple courts over the last few years and noticed an increase in overall use in parks amid the pandemic.

“The pandemic has not seemed to slow its growth,” county parks department spokeswoman Susan Kalish said of the sport. “It’s definitely popular in Arlington and the region in general.”

Photo via Lauren Bryan/Flickr

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(Updated at 11:05 a.m.) A new boozy barbershop is under construction in Ballston, setting up a coming battle between a growing national chain and a homegrown, expanding local shop.

Scissors & Scotch is currently under construction on the 4000 block of Fairfax Drive, about halfway between the Ballston and Virginia Square Metro stations.

The shop, on the ground floor of the recently-constructed J Sol apartment tower, will offer customers haircuts, straight razor shaves, and hair removal services, in addition to alcoholic drinks, as the name suggests. The Kansas City-founded chain has an existing location in D.C.’s Navy Yard neighborhood, and another planned at Union Market.

Scissors & Scotch is not the only upscale barbershop in the area, however.

Bearded Goat Barber opened in 2019 at 4201 Wilson Blvd, several blocks away, and will soon offer customers a complimentary beer or cold brew coffee with their haircut. The barbershop is in the process of applying for a new type of Virginia ABC permit that allows licensees to serve limited quantities of free alcohol.

“We are applying so that we can get a market license which would allow for a complimentary beer for each customer upon every visit,” Bearded Goat partner Scott Parker tells ARLnow.

Bearded Goat has been expanding since opening its inaugural Ballston location. It recently opened in Navy Yard and is now expanding to Shirlington.

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What’s old is new again: a vacant restaurant space near Clarendon that was formerly a Dunkin’ Donuts is soon going to be home to a “next generation” Dunkin’ store.

Exterior modifications are currently underway on the standalone restaurant space at 3300 Wilson Blvd, about halfway between the Virginia Square and Clarendon Metro stations.

The space — which has parking and a drive-through — was once a Dunkin’ Donuts, before it closed and was succeeded by a procession of other eateries including Peruvian chicken restaurant Pio Pio, Indian-Pakistani-Bangladeshi restaurant Naan Kabob, and (very briefly) Red Hook Lobster Pound. It has been vacant for at least a year.

A PR rep for Dunkin’ confirmed to ARLnow that the Massachusetts-based chain is making a triumphant return.

“The store is slated to open toward the end of summer,” the rep said, adding that it will be one of Dunkin’s “next generation” store concepts.

Next generation Dunkin’ stores typically feature front-facing bakery cases, tap-based iced coffee and tea pours, and mobile order pickup areas.

There is no shortage of coffee shops in the area. Among others, local favorite Northside Social is two blocks away, and a pair of existing Dunkin’ locations — one in Clarendon and another in Virginia Square — are each about six blocks away.

Hat tip to G. Evan Pritchard. Photos (2, 3, 5) courtesy of Dunkin’.

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In 2016, Arlington was ranked the third “Healthiest City in America.” In 2021, a tobacco and vape shop is replacing a yoga studio in Virginia Square.

Los Angeles-based YogaWorks closed its location at 3528 Wilson Blvd late last year after declaring bankruptcy during the pandemic. The one-story building next to the Arlington Arts Center was listed for lease and, recently, a sign went up advertising that a store called “Tobacco Hut” is coming soon.

The sign says the store will offer CBD, kratom, and vape products, as well as cigars. Photos of a store in McLean with a similar sign show and array of glass smoking pipes and other marijuana accessories.

No other information about the store, including its opening date, was immediately available.

Other businesses on the block, two blocks from the Virginia Square Metro station, include a 7-Eleven, a dry cleaner, and an HVAC supply wholesaler.

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The YMCA has filed some early concept plans with Arlington County sketching its vision for replacing its Virginia Square facility with two structures — a new gym and an apartment building.

This project at 3400 and 3422 13th Street N. represents the last of three developments concentrated within a seven-acre site along Washington Blvd, from N. Lincoln Street to Kirkwood Road.

The first two have been approved: a 270-unit apartment building, “The Kirkwood,” for the southeast corner, where Kirkwood Road and Washington Blvd intersect, and an affordable housing project on the site of American Legion Post 139.

The Y’s proposal is not only the last — at 4.39 acres, it is also the biggest.

According to the planning documents, the YMCA proposes a three-story tall facility with a swimming pool and tennis and pickleball courts, nearly 52,000 square feet of recreation space, and 325 parking spaces across a two-level garage. The apartment building would be seven stories tall and have 374 units, with 330 spots across two levels of parking.

The proposed project is about five blocks from the Virginia Square Metro station — a nine minute walk, according to Google Maps.

Members of the Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association have a number of concerns with the project, according to a letter from President Maurya Meiers to the county.

The YMCA development is “the largest project in the mix, will have the most impact on the surrounding community, [and] it most directly and conspicuously abuts the largest number of community residences,” she said.

In the letter, Meiers said the project is too massive, one story too tall and provides too little public green space. She asserted that the project will significantly increase traffic, which they predict will hurt the character of the community, and exacerbate an existing street parking shortage.

“The plan presents two massive, boring structures that encroach and overshadow the neighborhoods around them,” Meiers said. “This was not at all what was presented in the [General Land Use Plan], not at all what we expected, and not at all what we want.”

(A General Land Use Plan, or GLUP, is Arlington’s primary policy document guiding development in specific parts of the county.)

Meiers added that the planners should have explored the option of placing residences above the YMCA facility. Most importantly, she added, they should have considered placing townhouses next to single-family homes, an option that was “totally ignored, even though it would provide the most respectful and effective transition.”

Neither the Y’s legal representation nor the architect were immediately available for comment.

Meiers also said questions remain about the Ball Family Burial Grounds, the gravesite of the family that is the namesake for Ballston. The gravesite has murky ownership and is in need of research and repair, according to a staff report.

“We will be looking forward to see how this project can be leveraged to improve conditions on the grounds,” Meiers said.

The county’s planning division has asked for community input on changes to the 2006 Clarendon Sector Plan in light of these three projects, on the outskirts of the neighborhood, as well as several others in the Clarendon area.

Photos via Arlington County

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Parts of Arlington County have been experiencing power problems this morning.

Currently, more than 1,200 power customers are reported to be in the dark in the Virginia Square, Cherrydale and Ballston neighborhoods, according to an outage map from Dominion Energy.

Some complication have been reported from that outage, including tripped fire alarms, smoke from generators starting up, non-functioning traffic signals and a potential power surge in a building.

Several traffic light issues were reported earlier this morning, in Clarendon and Ballston. It’s unclear if those problems are related to the current power outage.

https://twitter.com/WTOPtraffic/status/1374341756666384392

Update at 11:05 a.m. — The outage is down to about 350 Dominion customers, per the power company’s website.

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(Update 5:15 p.m.) Demolition has begun on the exterior of the old Kann’s Department Store to make way for George Mason University’s Arlington campus expansion.

A University spokesperson confirmed to ARLnow that demolition of the interior began in November and the exterior demolition began this week. It’s expected to be completed in the fall.

Fencing went up in November around the mid-century building that has a long Arlington history.

First opened in 1951 as the suburban branch of a popular D.C. department store, Kann’s Department Store at 3401 Fairfax Drive became a gathering spot for many in Arlington. The department store featured three-floors, an escalator, a restaurant called the “Kannteen,” and monkeys.

Yes, the shoe department had a large glass-windowed monkey display with live monkeys from Brazil.

To this day, Arlingtonians hold fond memories of shopping at the department, as Charlie Clark documented earlier this month for the Falls Church News-Press.

In 1975, GMU acquired the building at Virginia Square.

For many years, it was used to house GMU’s law school (named after the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016) and became known as the “Original Building.” It was thought at the time that it was only law school in the country that had an escalator.

In an alumni remembrance from last year, many former students recounted how this building was where they bought clothes as a kid and earned their law degree as an adult.

In soon-to-be-demolished building’s place and on the same site will go an expansive, new, glass and steel building perhaps emblazoned with a distinctive green “M” at the top.

When demolition of the old building is completed, the university will begin design and construction work on the $250 million expansion. Money for the expansion, spurred by the arrival of Amazon’s HQ2, is coming from a combination of state funds and private donations.

The new building will have about 360,500 square feet of space, and is expected to be LEED Platinum-certified. It will house faculty from Institute for Digital InnovAtion and the university’s new School of Computing.

The expansion will help create “the Rosslyn-Ballston Innovation Corridor, an innovation district that will be the first of its kind in Virginia,” GMU says.

The university is expected to occupy about 60% of the space while private companies may lease other portions of it. GMU is predicting that the expansion will add 3,000-4,000 additional students to the Arlington campus by 2024.

Last month, GMU’s Board of Visitors authorized the university to begin negotiating with Mason Innovation Partners, a consortium made up of developers and investors, as the developer of the expansion project.

Following the demolition, construction is slated to start in the spring of 2022. The building is scheduled to open in the summer of 2025.

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With the Highlander Motor Inn in its final days, the 57-year-old motel was paid one last visit over the weekend by long-time fans.

About 100 members of the motorcycle club Boozefighters rolled up on Saturday afternoon to pay their respects to the place they’ve stayed and partied at every Memorial Day weekend since 1992 while participating in Rolling Thunder.

The Boozefighters were first founded in 1946 by World War II veterans.

“[The Highlander] let us get away with stuff that other hotels wouldn’t have,” says Jeff Thompson, president of the Falls Church chapter of the Boozefighters. “Wonderful memories. It was important for us to say goodbye.”

In honor of the Boozefighters’ long-time patronage of the Arlington motel, they will be getting the iconic neon sign that has welcomed passersby on Wilson Blvd. The sign will come down next week, owner Billy Bayne confirms, at which point the club will take it to their museum in Fort Worth, Texas.

For decades over Memorial Day weekend, Highlander Motor Inn was the site of hundreds of motorcycles and veterans from around the country, barbequing and reminiscing in the parking lot.

Bayne — who also owns the Crystal City Restaurant gentlemen’s club — says the group rented the motel every year and it was a “big party,” which the hotel was happy to host.

Rolling Thunder ended its annual D.C. rally in 2019, and this year is set to meet at a New Jersey 4-H fairground.

CVS was expected to take possession of the Highlander and begin demolition this month, but that has been delayed. According to Bayne, April 13 is now the new target date for this to happen.

Bayne’s family operated the motel since the early 1960s, before shuttering it earlier this year. Bayne still owns the land the motel sits on.

One of the Highlander’s last acts was as temporary COVID-related housing. In April 2020, Arlington’s Dept. of Human Services rented out the entire motel to provide quarantine and isolation space for low-income individuals living in overcrowded or congregate settings.

Beyond keeping the sign, members of the Boozefighters were allowed to spray paint and ride their bikes inside of the motel, as well as take a few other mementos.

“Only because it’s being torn down,” Jackie Bayne, Billy Bayne’s sister, told ARLnow. She dubbed the raucous sendoff “The Highlander Swan Song.”

Thompson says said he kept a room key, a key chain, and the number off of the door of the room he’s stayed in for the last 20 years.

“I’m very sad to see it go,” he said. “Billy and Jackie were such gracious hosts. “We wouldn’t have been able to do this at any other hotel.”

 

 

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Photos courtesy of Boozefighters Falls Church chapter/Simon Vansteyn

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