The Arlington County Board gave a would-be nightclub six months to clean up its act during a Tuesday meeting.
Residents and members of the Arlington Heights Civic Association told stories about waking up at 3 a.m. to patrons of The Pines of Italy, 3111 Columbia Pike, yelling and fighting in the streets immediately outside. Several said they had called the police multiple times. Jay Vennett, an officer in the civic association, said the police told him repeatedly that their hands were tied — that only the county board could help.
"A lot of times I'm sitting just watching a movie and my walls will start shaking. They just shake, shake, shake," resident Melanie Myers said. "I just have to fight with the noise from the club. The music's going on late at night. I've looked at my clock at 3:15 in the morning. Every single weekend … You know when it's going to start spilling out. You see people start trickling out of the club. They loiter. I have seen some really bad fights. I've called the cops several times."
Myers said she saw about 75 people spill out of the club and into the street, "fists flying,” one night last summer. Cars were parked in the middle of the road, allowing partying to take place on one side of the street and fighting on the other, she said.
"I'm afraid for my safety," Myers said. "I can't even sit out in my backyard and maybe enjoy the night myself."
Three shareholders operate complimentary businesses out of the Columbia Pike location: a restaurant, a hookah bar and potentially, a nightclub. The majority shareholder, Jorge Escobar, also owns the building. The site was once a popular Ethiopian restaurant.
Residents said they were happy with the restaurant and hookah bar, and described them as "good neighbors."
The nightclub was another story.
The building has been operated by various people over the last decade. The last live entertainment and dancing permit Escobar had for that address was terminated by the county board in 2002 due to police and fire code complaints.
Since then, Escobar had a string of bad luck with tenants to fill the space, often ending up in court to collect back rent, his attorney said. All three successive tenants operated a nightclub — one, apparently without a permit — causing the pain felt by the neighborhood, Escobar's attorney said.
Escobar lost about $300,000 during that period, his attorney said.
"He's hurting like everybody else," he said. "He wants to open up an operation that doesn't bring people down on him."
Escobar is committed to hiring security, his attorney said. Amplified music provided by a DJ shouldn't bother the neighbors, he said.
Board Vice Chairman Walter Tejada said the owner's credibility had been eroded because of the goings-on at 3111 Columbia Pike. Board member Jay Fisette told county staff to come up with a list of conditions that, if and when permission for live entertainment is granted, the nightclub must adhere to or else risk losing its permit.
Board member Chris Zimmerman said he lives close enough to walk to the Pines of Italy and the adjacent nightclub. Given the proximity of the business to the surrounding neighborhood, "I'm not sure if it will ever be a suitable location" for a nightclub, he said.