Things were looking up for Richard Romero, founder of Seichou Karate in Alexandria. The Old Town dojo is facing imminent closure thanks to redevelopment, but Romero finally found a new home just northeast of Springfield.
But, like a crane kick at the end of a karate championship, Romero said some surprising zoning issues have cropped up that could spell trouble for plans to open Seichou Karate at 5710 General Washington Drive.
“We found a place on General Washington Drive in Fairfax,” Romero said. “It’s in a warehouse-type structure. The space is just off I-395. It’ll be a good new home for us but we’ve encountered some difficulties.”
After 18 years in Old Town, Romero struggled to find a new space to fit the needs of the dojo. Romero said larger businesses like Amazon have been buying up warehouses and flex space in the area and, after 18 months of searching, he found a suitable location in Springfield.
Romero admitted he was so excited by the new location and worried he’d lose it that he didn’t do a feasibility study.
“I didn’t do a feasibility study and that was a mistake,” Romero said. “I had no idea we would run into so many bureaucratic complications.”
The main issue, Romero said, has been parking. Romero said the school will have 20 students and two staff and Fairfax County has told him that it means he needs 22 parking spaces, which is unlikely for the shopping center-like space.
“That’s where we’re really hung up right now,” Romero said. “They say I need 22 parking spaces, 24/7. But that doesn’t reflect how our business works.”
Romero said his classes get started around 4:30/5 p.m., which is when many of the nearby light industrial and supply businesses close.
“There’s plenty of parking if you go there any time of the day,” Romero said, “but the county says this space — with maybe 20 tenants in the whole building –simply doesn’t have enough parking spaces to include all the tenants.”
A Fairfax County spokesperson said because Seichou Karate is a new use for the site, it has different parking requirements than the previous tenant.
“When a new tenant has different parking requirements than the previous tenant, it requires a more in-depth review of the application by the county,” the spokesperson said. “The previous use was an establishment for production that only required four spaces. Seichou Karate is a school of specialized instruction that requires several more parking spaces to accommodate staff and students.”
The spokesperson said in these cases, the applicant must submit a parking tabulation to demonstrate the site can accommodate the parking required for this use, which the spokesperson said Seichou Karate has not.
“I’ve tried to reason with them,” Romero said. “I’ve said ‘please, look at the parking lot during the daytime’ but they say no, the rules are the rules.”
Romero said that parking tabulation required by the County is costly, around $5,500, with a $1,000 filing fee.
“To boot, since July, I’ve been paying two landlords,” Romero said. “We’re not causing congestion and there’s plenty of space… They’re not willing to apply those rules in a way that makes sense.”
Romero said he has to be out of his current space in Alexandria by Dec. 31 and it’s looking unlikely that Seichou Karate will be open in Fairfax by that time.
“Getting that ready by December, even if it were approved now, is fanciful at best,” Romero said. “It’s really a kafkaesque nightmare.”
Alexandria health director reflects on sudden retirement, tenure with city — “When Dr. Stephen Haering, director of the Alexandria Health Department for the past 11 years, unexpectedly announced his retirement on April 9, he did so for what he called ‘deeply personal’ reasons. Haering, whose retirement was effective immediately according to a city news release, told the Times in an interview that his departure was ‘not associated with the pandemic response.'” [Alex Times]
Vaccination drive brings a dose of hope for restaurant workers — “More than 1,000 restaurant and small business employees have filed through the doors of the old Fireflies restaurant over the past few weeks with the same purpose: receiving COVID-19 vaccinations. The location’s current vacancy made this the perfect site to administer such a large number of shots, Bill Blackburn, restaurateur and co-owner of Homegrown Restaurant Group, said. Blackburn joined forces with community organizer Charlotte Hall and Scott Shaw of Alexandria Restaurant Partners – who donated the space – to orchestrate the Alexandria Restaurant Drive whereby restaurant workers could receive vaccinations in a streamlined way.” [Alex Times]
Bren Mar Park demolition project to begin — “Demolition work will begin at Bren Mar Park on Collier Lane and Edsall Road in Alexandria, Virginia, as the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) removes a home on the property.” [Fairfax County]
Reimagined ‘Taste Of Old Town North’ to be held over 2 months — “The Reimagined Taste of Old Town North will start on April 21 and will continue through June 21. During the two-month period, residents can purchase a Taste Passport for $10 to use at participating businesses. These businesses will offer discounts to Passport holders.” [Patch]
Today’s weather — “Intervals of clouds and sunshine (during the day). High 63F. Winds WNW at 10 to 20 mph… A few clouds from time to time (in the evening). Low 44F. Winds NW at 10 to 20 mph.” [Weather.com]
New job: Taekwondo instructors and camp counselors — “Our growing company is currently seeking motivated and enthusiastic individuals who are GREAT with people to join our team at multiple locations. Our programs include martial arts classes for all ages, as well as After-school & Summer Camp programs for children 6-12 years old. Work hours tend to fall in the afternoons, evenings and Saturday mornings. This is a part-time position that can lead to a full-time position with excellent opportunity for advancement.” [Indeed]
Stuck at home? Potomac Kempo has been teaching Japanese martial arts virtually through the pandemic.
The dojo has a number of locations in Alexandria, and while hundreds of students are starting to come back the business is transitioning from offering online-only services.
Jeff Gibbs manages the Huntington location and has practiced Kempo for nearly a quarter-century. He’s a third-degree black belt and said that online courses can be effective, but not as impactful on developing real skills.
“Contact is necessary for training and self-defense,” Gibbs told ALXnow. “Now, if your interest is just to stay in shape while doing something mentally engaging, then sure, that is not a problem. If it’s a kid looking to just have improved focus or having a half-hour of focusing on something, and their parents need a break, then we can focus on that.”
Gibbs said instructors have been told to take their fighters outside if it gets too crowded indoors.
“It turns out martial arts can be learned just fine in the rain,” Gibbs said.
Potomac Kempo isn’t the only local dojo in the virtual training arena. Seichou Karate in Old Town has also been hosting courses online to keep students training through the pandemic.
Photo via Potomac Kempo/Facebook