Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

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As the flakes of Snowmageddon piled high last winter, Arlingtonians from the Westover neighborhood quickly got their priorities straight. Some hearty souls traipsed over to the Westover Market’s white-blanketed beer garden, where they helped the manager shovel out the place and open the taps.

These suburban adventurers spearheaded a movement from all walks and beer preferences to enjoy the open-air brew, brats and bands that for two years have injected a hip spirit into the Westover shopping strip.

If only life were that easy. This August, the garden’s wafting tunes prompted two neighbors to reach out to police. In came the Arlington County zoning authorities. Ever since, Westover Market manager Devin Hicks has been pouring money and anguish into righting the details of his small slice of our area’s entertainment offerings.

The regulators are concerned not just with noise but with the aging building’s restrooms not handicapped-accessible. They cite a kitchen insufficient for an eat-in venue and seating too close to the grocery aisles.

“It’s outrageous that it takes 2 1/2 years to get a beer garden,” complains Hicks. “And they’re giving me grief on the music permit,” as well as his outdoor TVs, canopies, and parking. “But we’re making a good-faith effort,” Hicks promises, “and in the end, everyone will win.”

The sleepy Westover center, which has long seemed frozen in 1963, is lately seeing some action. The renovated Westover Library re-opened last year, the adjacent affordable housing project was upgraded, the Lost Dog eatery across the street doubled its size and the long-smoky Forest Inn banned smoking.

The beer garden’s homey wood-fence enclosure and funky painted mural have humanized a dull passageway alongside the Post Office. Its music is “some of the best you can find in Arlington,” Hicks says. The sounds flow evenings from 6-10 Fridays and Saturdays, plus an open mic Tuesdays and Wednesdays 7-9.

The pouring of the beer brought an outpouring of community support. There are 2,500 signatures on a petition favoring his project. A Facebook site assembles praise about how the garden brings a taste of “the public square” within walking distance.

The garden makes Westover “more vibrant, more fun and more safe–it’s like a big front porch,” say Bob Schrider and Sue Walton. “It’s the best thing that’s happened in the 27 years we’ve lived in the neighborhood.”

But there are naysayers. A neighbor signed on as “Skeptical” wrote on Facebook: “There is nothing as miserable as hoisting the window on a lovely cool evening only to hear the thump-thump of unwelcome music invading the space inside your home.”

Arlington’s zoning office said in a news release that “it’s great to see such passionate support for an Arlington business!” But zoning commissioner Melinda Artman says polite entreaties will not prevent her from demanding that Hicks rework his plans and comply with such requirements as proper access and egress.

Encouraged by the county board and health authorities, Hicks’ attorney appealed zoning’s ruling so he could stay open on a small scale-nine seats. A meeting of the Board of Zoning Appeals is set for February.

Hicks is now taking bids on construction of a restaurant set off from the grocery section, having already spent some $35,000 on bathrooms. The zoning folks, he says, “are doing their best to make me a Republican.”

 


Charlie Clark may be e-mailed at [email protected]