Arlington, VA

When Chef David Guas of Bayou Bakery in Courthouse delivered food to the security personnel in the District on Monday, it took two-and-a-half hours and many phone calls — even to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser — to pass each checkpoint. 

“When I arrived the Commander of that unit and the policeman literally cheered, [saying] ‘Bayou Bakery is here,'” Guas tells ARLnow.

Bayou Bakery and Arlington-founded District Taco are helping nourish the 25,000 servicemen and women, along with law enforcement, deployed to protect the nation’s capital during the 59th Inauguration.

The homegrown Mexican chain donated 2,000 burritos to the National Guard on Monday. The day before, Guas said he and his crew worked into the night to prepare biscuits and sandwich lunches for the Monday delivery.

The two join about 30 D.C.-area restaurants distributing meals to the multitudes, hailing from Maine to Guam. The heightened security is in response to the mob of Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.  

District Taco donated burritos that were pledged during a “Buy One, Give One Burrito” campaign in December.

On Monday, CEO and co-founder Osiris Hoil cashed in all 2,000 BOGO burritos to feed the National Guard. He said they were so popular that supplies ran out long before the lunch hours ended.

“When I saw the brave servicemen and women protecting the Capitol building, I knew exactly where I wanted those pledged burritos to go,” Hoil said in a press release. 

District Taco also donated hundreds of burritos to essential workers in hospitals and food banks last October and November. Hoil said he is proud to continue this longstanding tradition of giving back.

“Thanks to the support of our community, our restaurants are still open,” Hoil said. 

Guas also uses his food for good. He co-founded Chefs Feeding Families during the pandemic and has cooked for the annual awards dinner put on by Blue Star Families.

“Not having served in the military myself — but having grandparents that did — I’ve always jumped at the opportunity to help our men and women in uniform who protect our freedom,” he said.

Guas credits his involvement to Micheline Mendelsohn Luhn and Spike Mendelsohn, his friends and two of the family members behind We, The Pizza. The duo told ABC News that D.C. restaurants — despite struggles during the pandemic — are pitching in to provide fresh food to upwards of 5,000 people, who might otherwise have to rely on pre-packaged military meals, each day.

Photos (1) via District Taco, (2-3) via Bayou Bakery

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A recent national report has revealed that rents in Arlington have dropped by 14.8% since last March, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by ApartmentList.com.

Arlington has had the seventh-largest decrease compared to other (much larger) markets, like New York, San Francisco, and Seattle. D.C. had the fifth-largest decrease.

Between December and January, Arlington rents decreased by nearly 2.5%.

The median two-bedroom rent in the county is now $2,032, according to the report. However, Arlington still has the most expensive rents in the D.C. region, topping fellow close-in suburbs like Bethesda and Alexandria.

There’s one huge reason for the drop.

“It’s really tied to the economic carnage [from] the pandemic,” says Terry Clower, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University. “Most of the jobs that we have lost have been in the hospitality services and retail sectors, which are typically disproportionately renters.”

Clower says parsing out data shows the pandemic has also caused behavioral changes in terms of renting. In general, high-rise units have seen a larger drop in demand than lower-rise properties, Clower notes.

If part of your calculation of where you want to live at the moment is based on how dense the development is, how [crowded] it is in the elevator,” says Clower. “Then, you are less likely to live in a high rise.”

Ballston and Rosslyn, in particular, have seen an influx of these dense-living types of properties, mostly due to construction prior to the pandemic, though there are more in the pipeline.

What’s more, there’s lower desire at the moment to live in high-density areas, according to Clower. While rent prices have declined in Arlington, they’ve risen in further D.C. area ‘burbs.

“Areas like Fredericksburg, Virginia… or Charles County, Maryland, rents have increased,” says Clower. “You’re getting… that effect of fleeing the dense inner suburbs to the less dense outer suburbs.”

The need for more space, as well, has shifted some renters to exploring buying single family homes. Between a lack of housing inventory and rising home values in Arlington, says Clower, demand for residences in the outer suburbs have also exploded.

“Most households in our region are two-income earner households, especially families with school-age children,” says Clower. “Kids need a place and both [parents] need some place to work inside the house, preferably not the kitchen table.”

Plus, lower interest rates have also encouraged first-time home buyers.

While rent decreases may be good for renters, it’s not good for property owners, developers, or even the county as a whole.

Clower says smaller landlords, those that only own a few properties, are not getting any break on mortgage payments, meaning decreasing rents impact their ability to pay their mortgage. In terms of the bigger developments, units are generating less revenue.

“They are less valuable in the market, which means that… the property taxes paid to local governments should be reduced as well,” says Clower. “Because they’re less valuable and generating less income.”

Arlington County depends on these property taxes to balance its budget and provide services to residents. But the full impact of all of this may not be seen until further into the future.

“The fiscal and economic down side of this pandemic is going to last well beyond… when we start getting the pandemic under control through the vaccinations,” says Clower.

Right now, it just may be a great moment to rent in Arlington. Clower says we can probably expect a continued slight dip in rents, but the big drop-off probably has already happened with vaccinations starting to happen.

“If you are looking for a good deal and prefer to be a renter,” says Clower, “it’s probably a good time to lock in a relatively long term lease.”

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The Arlington County Board is slated to review plans for two residential towers at 1820 N. Fort Myer Drive that include substantial affordable housing contributions.

The proposal from Arlington-based Snell Properties would replace the Ames Center office building across from the Rosslyn Metro station. A south tower will abut the Hyatt Centric hotel and a north tower will surround the existing Arlington Temple United Methodist Church and Sunoco gas station, dubbed “Our Lady of Exxon.”

Although the church and gas station will be “redeveloped in place,” the skywalks — which provide an elevated pedestrian connection to the Metro station — will be demolished, according to the County.

Along with plans for the Holiday Inn and the RCA building, the proposal from Snell will further change Rosslyn’s skyline, demolishing the existing building, formerly occupied by the Art Institute of Washington.

The proposed towers, 30 and 31 stories tall, include 740 multifamily units and about 10,146 square feet of retail space. Up to 225 of the residential units may devoted to an interim hotel use, while the apartments are leased.

In a report, staff highlighted the affordable housing units in the building, committed as such for the next 30 years.

“The Rosslyn Coordinated Redevelopment District area, where this project is located, is one of the most expensive rental markets in the County,” staff said. “There are currently no [committed affordable units] within the RCRD.”

Twenty-four one- and two-bedroom units will be reserved for households making up to 80% of the Area Median Income.

Typically, such units are reserved for those who make up to 60% AMI, but staff said Rosslyn is so expensive that reserving units for up to 80% AMI “will better leverage the community benefits value while providing much-needed affordability directly in this area.”

Snell Properties is also committing nearly $2.5 million in cash toward affordable housing. The County said this sum could create about 29 units in future developments that are affordable for households earning up to 60% of the Area Median Income.

The project additionally includes a $5 million cash contribution for the Fort Myer Drive tunnel project, which includes plans to convert the road into a two-way street, remove the tunnel, widen sidewalks and add protected bike lanes.

A cement plaza will separate the two towers and form one segment of a planned pedestrian pathway that County planners call the “18th Street Corridor.” This street-level walkway will replace the existing, elevated passages. Mid-block crosswalks will join the plaza to 18th Street N.

Those who participated in community engagement from July and September “were universally in support of [the] removal of both skywalks,” staff said.

The towers will share four levels of below-grade parking and the south tower will have four levels of above-grade parking — 574 parking spaces in total.

The County said “there are no outstanding community issues” but the mechanical penthouse roof and elevators may block or hurt the view of D.C. from the Central Place Observation Deck.

The south building will be built in phase one, along with an interim open space and other streetscape improvements. The second phase will see more activity: construction of the north tower, the plaza and remaining streetscape improvements, as well as the removal of the skywalks.

The County Board is expected to review the project at its Saturday meeting.

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(Updated at 12:45 p.m.) Traffic is light. Police dispatches are run-of-the-mill. Many residents are at home, watching their televisions.

In contrast to the chaos of two weeks ago, Inauguration Day has been uneventful in Arlington.

Arlington County Police confirmed this morning that its officers are remaining in the county, not needed for the unprecedented security presence in D.C. Instead they remain in Arlington, albeit on high alert.

Arlington County Fire Department personnel are, however, supporting their counterparts in the District today.

“It’s an all hand kind of a day,” said ACFD spokesman Taylor Blunt.

Blunt said the fire department responded to a regional call for mutual aid from the D.C. fire department, which is supporting the inauguration. Firefighters from Arlington, along with other Virginia and Maryland fire departments, are helping to fill D.C. fire stations and respond to calls in the District.

The fire department also has “additional resources” active in the county, should anything happen here.

Arlington emergency personnel are monitoring the inauguration activities in the county’s Emergency Operations Center, ready to respond to threats and incidents as needed.

At the U.S. Capitol, meanwhile, the American tradition of a transfer of power to the new administration is underway. Among those attending the inaugural ceremony is Arlington’s congressman, Rep. Don Beyer.

The newly-sworn-in President and Vice President will briefly visit Arlington this afternoon, as they and several former presidents — the Obamas, the Clintons and the Bushes — lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.

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Morning Notes

Va. Denied Reimbursement for Riot Response — “The Federal Emergency Management Agency has denied requests from Maryland and Virginia for an emergency declaration to cover expenses associated with responding to the Capitol riot and increasing security around President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. FEMA’s decision — which both states plan to appeal — could mean the states would not receive federal funds for providing law enforcement personnel and other support.” [Washington Post]

Barriers Block Bridge — “Gate being put up at the Memorial Bridge. It’s now completely closed until Thursday morning.” [Twitter]

VP Pence Says Farewell — From outgoing Vice President and former Arlington resident Mike Pence: “Thank you for the privilege of serving as your Vice President these past four years, it has been the greatest honor of my life. On behalf of our Wonderful Second Lady, Karen Pence, and our entire Family, Thank You and God Bless America.” [Twitter]

Beyer Rips Trump One Last Time — From Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.): “At long last, Donald Trump will leave office tomorrow. His presidency and administration will be remembered for unprecedented incompetence and corruption.” [Twitter]

Change of Plan for 3rd-5th Graders — “We have decided to transition 3rd-5th grade students to the ‘concurrent instruction’ model, similar to the model adopted for secondary students… Students will be able to continue in their current class, with their current teacher, regardless of the model they selected.” Meanwhile, APS Superintendent Francisco Durán said in a School Talk email that “we do not have new student return dates to announce yet.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Changes for Annual Homeless Count — “Nicole Harmon, who oversees housing assistance for Arlington County, Va., says her county will make a number of changes when it conducts its count on the night of Jan. 27. ‘Safety is one of our primary concerns,’ she said. ‘We’re no longer able to take vans, where you could load up six to eight volunteers and staff to go out and perform the count.'” [NPR]

Car vs. Tree Crash Near Pentagon City — “A driver crashed into a tree near a condo building at 1515 S. Arlington Ridge Road this morning. We’re told the driver, who was shook up and evaluated by medics, mistook the gas pedal for the brake.” [Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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The 57-year-old Highlander Motor Inn is now closed and will be torn down to make room for a CVS store, owner Billy Bayne tells ARLnow.

The two-story motel at 3336 Wilson Blvd, near Clarendon, has been closed since December. Bayne expects demolition to begin on the building in March and the CVS to open in the fall.

This wasn’t unexpected. Plans have been in place since at least 2016 and permit applications were filed in December 2019.

Nonetheless, it has Bayne looking back fondly on the motel that his family has owned since the early 1960s.

“We have a lifetime of memories there,” says Bayne. He remembers spending time with his father at the motel, shooting baskets in the back, and going to Mario’s Pizza next door. He also remembers when local high schoolers had keg parties in the modestly-appointed rooms.

However, he says the motel shutting down and being demolished is ultimately a good thing.

It’s been increasingly hard to make money in the lodging business over the last two decades, Bayne notes, particularly with the rise of discounted rate websites and Airbnb. Plus, given Arlington business and hotel taxes, small hotels have to charge higher rates to stay afloat, says Bayne.

“[Customers] have a choice to stay at the Highlander or a Marriott for a hundred dollars,” says Bayne. “And I can’t compete against that anymore.”

Bayne says he’s leasing the land to CVS, which will continue to provide a revenue stream for him and his children. Bayne declined to provide monetary specifics about the deal, but did say it’s long-term.

In April, Arlington’s Dept. of Human Services rented out the Highlander as temporary COVID-related housing, providing a financial lifeline during an otherwise rough time for the hotel business.

The motel provided “quarantine/isolation space for low-income individuals who were living in overcrowded or congregate settings, and unable to effectively quarantine or isolate,” a department spokesperson told ARLnow this past summer.

Bayne is effusive in his praise of county officials for working with him, and the fact that they essentially kept the hotel going for another six months. While he charged Arlington a discounted rate, it helped pay the bills.

“[County] workers were all very professional and nice. The county was super,” he says.

The praise is despite years of legal wrangling with Arlington over the development of the property. The legal battles — which Bayne ultimately won after the Virginia Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from the county — cost him at least $250,000, he says.

But with development finally happening, Bayne’s animosity towards local officials seems to be waning.

“Obviously, I had my differences with them but the county was very good to us,” he says.

Bayne also owns Crystal City Sports Pub and the Crystal City Restaurant gentlemen’s club, which he briefly considered renaming “National Landing Strip” after the relatively new collective term for Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard.

As of the moment, he says changing the business’s name is not on his priority list, while adding that “if Bezos wanted me to do it, I would do it.”

The local restaurateur is thinking about retirement but says the pandemic set him back “a few years.” He’s had to dig into savings and sell stocks to weather the storm and will reevaluate his options once his daughter gets through school.

Meanwhile, he’s remembering and expressing gratitude to those that have kept the motel going through the decades. This includes Nettie Harris, head of housekeeping for more than 30 years.

“She was the Highlander Motor Inn, the epitome of the place,” Bayne says. “When I think of [the motel], I think of my father and her. She’s family.”

When asked if he plans to watch the demolition of his family’s long-time business, he was noncommittal. But he will certainly share one last memory in front of the building before it comes down, commemorating the end of an era.

“I’m going to take pictures of it before it happens,” Bayne says. “And there will be one final picture before it gets torn down with me, my wife, and my kids.”

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Arlington is continuing its final preparations for a presidential inauguration unlike any other.

In wake of the U.S. Capitol riots and a still-raging pandemic (though, cases are currently on a downward trajectory), tomorrow’s inauguration of President Joe Biden will be a scaled-down and highly militarized affair.

A number of bridges connecting Arlington to D.C. are either completely shut down or have significantly altered traffic patterns.

Memorial Bridge is now closed through Thursday morning at 6 a.m. D.C.-bound lanes on the Roosevelt Bridge and the 14th Street Bridge will also be closed until Thursday morning, but lanes leaving the city “will flow normally” according to a Metropolitan Police Department traffic advisory. There are also a host of D.C. road closures.

Key Bridge will remain open, but there’ll be no access to Whitehurst Freeway and only local traffic may turn right on M Street. Thru traffic can only turn left onto Canal Road/MacArthur Blvd, according to the advisory.

Chain Bridge will remain open in both directions, as well as the Wilson and American Legion Bridges connecting Virginia to Maryland. Despite the unprecedented bridge closures today, traffic on N. Glebe Road leading to Chain Bridge appeared little changed from a typical weekday, suggesting that between the pandemic and the inauguration many would-be commuters were staying at home.

Traffic on the Key Bridge was heavy this morning (as seen in the photo above), as was the traffic being diverted from the 14th Street Bridge.

The county is advising residents to use the live cameras that are set up to monitor traffic.

On Friday, a joint statement from Virginia lawmakers said that this inauguration “will see the strongest Capital-area security response in history” and local law enforcement is trying to have a response “that balances protecting public safety in a manner commensurate with available intelligence about threats without going too far.”

Reiterating previous statements, the Arlington County Police Department says there will be an increased “visible and non-visible” police presence in the county tomorrow. ACPD also remains in contact with neighboring law enforcement agencies about changing information and intelligence.

At this time, there are still no known threats to Arlington County, and the department still hasn’t committed to providing resources outside of the county on Inauguration Day, per ACPD spokesperson Ashley Savage.

Newly unsealed court documents, meanwhile, reveal that members of Oath Keepers militia, a far-right extremist group currently being investigated by the FBI, booked rooms for January 5 to 7 at the Comfort Inn hotel in Ballston, ahead of the January 6 storming of the Capitol.

In a Facebook message referenced in the documents, a Oath Keepers member said that the location would allow them to “hunt at night.”

Earlier this month, Arlington County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti told ARLnow that the county was aware of at least one local hotel hosting Trump supporters. The situation was monitored, he said, but no behavior there rose to a level of concern at the time.

ARLnow contacted Comfort Inn and was told by an hotel employee that management “definitely does not want to comment” on the allegations included in the documents.

We also have reached out to the hotel’s parent company Choice Hotels, but have yet to hear back as of publication time.

Jo DeVoe contributed to this report.

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A man was robbed of his gun by an armed, masked man over the weekend in the Green Valley neighborhood, according to Arlington County police.

The alleged incident happened around 8:30 a.m. Saturday on the 2400 block of S. Lowell Street.

“The victim was waiting outside for a ride to a shooting range when he was approached from behind by the unknown suspect,” said today’s ACPD crime report. “The suspect then grabbed a case containing a firearm from the victim. When the victim turned around, he observed the suspect pointing a firearm at him. The suspect then fled on foot.”

“The suspect is described as a Black male, approximately 6’1″-6’2″, wearing blue jeans, a black hooded jacket, black ski mask, and black and red shoes,” the crime report continues. “The investigation is ongoing.”

The robbery was not reported to police until Monday afternoon, the crime report noted.

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Pandemic-related data trends in Arlington are pointing in a positive direction, at least for now.

As of Tuesday morning, the average daily rate of new cases is 94, compared to a local pandemic peak of 123.4 average daily cases one week ago. Since Saturday, 340 new cases have been reported.

Two new COVID-related deaths have also been reported since Saturday. There have been 20 new hospitalizations over the past week, according to Virginia Dept. of Health figures.

The average rate of vaccinations is also up in Arlington, after nearly two thousand Arlington Public Schools employees received vaccine doses on Saturday and Monday. According to state health department data on vaccinations, as compiled by ARLnow, an average of 419 daily vaccine doses have been administered in Arlington over the past week, up from just over 200 daily doses a week ago.

As of this morning, according to VDH, a total of 6,364 doses have been administered in Arlington, with 656 people having received the full two-dose course of the vaccine. The latter represents 0.34% of the county’s adult population.

ARLnow has heard numerous complaints from readers about the vaccination effort so far, ranging from concerns about vaccinations not going quickly enough, to a botched rollout of the county’s vaccine scheduling system, to assertions that people who do not currently qualify for vaccinations are being allowed to register and receive them.

Arlington officials, meanwhile, say the biggest constraint to local vaccinations is a lack of supply from the state, not challenges with vaccine scheduling and administration. Virginia officials, in turn, say they’re only expecting first-round 110,000 doses per week from the federal government.

The county issued the following press release about vaccine supply on Monday.

Arlington County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said today that the County’s ability to inoculate those eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine is limited only by the availability of vaccine supply.

“Today Arlington will be inoculating 900 Arlington County teachers, after inoculating 900 on Saturday,” de Ferranti said. “We have the capacity to do at least 2,000 doses per day or 14,000 per week, and we can do more if we were assured a greater supply. The County Manager and our Public Health Director have informed me that currently, we are being promised only 1,400 doses this week of the first-dose vaccine.

“Arlington has the infrastructure, staff, and preparation in place to continue to deliver the vaccine at the scale of these two events, and we are ready to use considerable additional staff from our Fire Department to scale immediately to do more vaccines. Supply of vaccine is the only limitation on our ability to put shots in arms,” de Ferranti said. “While we are aware that the uncertainty of federal distribution to the states seems to be affecting our local supply, we seek a commitment from the Virginia Department of Health that more doses will be allocated to Arlington. We are ready to expand our weekly throughput immediately to 10,000 doses per week, but we need assurance from VDH on delivery of first vaccines and greater clarity about the arrival of second doses.”

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A proposed rendering of the new VRE station in Crystal City (Rendering courtesy of National Landing BID)

A new Virginia Railway Express station could bring Amtrak service to Crystal City, says a new report.

The expanded and relocated station is set to open in 2024 and Amtrak is currently “exploring” adding regional service to this station.

This according to a National Landing Business Improvement District report released earlier this month, detailing a number of significant transportation projects scheduled for completion over the decade (many of which long have been in the works).

Responding to inquiries from ARLnow, an Amtrak spokesperson wrote in an email that the planning remains underway “so it’s premature to discuss in depth expansion plans.”

The VRE station station will be built on land owned by real estate developer JBG Smith and will be designed to host Amtrak trains as well as Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) trains. (Neighboring Alexandria has an existing Amtrak station.)

The $50 million two-track station will be built on Crystal Drive between 12th Street S. and Airport Access Road, about a quarter mile from the current one-track station. That existing station was built about 40 years ago and has been called a “operational bottleneck.”

Tracy Sayegh Gabriel, executive director and president of the National Landing BID, says bringing an Amtrak station to Crystal City would “shrink the region” and would enable a “direct one-seat ride between our region by commuter rail.” Some day those heading to New York City might be able to just head to Crystal City to get on a train, rather than trek into D.C. and battle crowds at Union Station.

Gabriel does note that Amtrak has yet to decide about adding a station there.

Along with a new VRE station, a new two-track railway bridge across the Potomac is also being planned. It will replace the 116-year-old Long Bridge and is estimated to be completed by 2030. Gabriel says the existing bridge is also a “bottleneck.”

Other projects highlighted in the report include the $650 million Project Journey at Reagan National Airport set to be completed this year, the continued construction of the new Potomac Yard Metro station, adding a new entrance to the Crystal City Metro station, replacing Route 1 with a “unifying, urban boulevard,” and a pedestrian walkway over the George Washington Memorial Parkway connecting Crystal City to the airport.

According to Gabriel, the airport bridge would create a five-minute walk from the train station to the airport, as opposed to a walk that’s currently long and somewhat dangerous.

All of these projects together, including the possible presence of Amtrak, could transform the neighborhoods collectively known as National Landing, said Gabriel.

“Investments of this scale are really positioning us to be the most connected downtown in the country,” she said.

Full press release about the report is below.

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