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Even after pushback by groups ranging from tenants and worker unions to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), Alexandria’s City Council approved a major step for the GenOn Power Plant redevelopment’s Coordinated Development District (CDD) in a 6-1 vote at a meeting last night (Tuesday).

As with earlier contentious developments, City Council members said they acknowledged concerns about the project, but Mayor Justin Wilson said the prospect of finally cleaning up the power plant site eclipsed those issues.

“This is a really big deal today and this is a long time coming,” Wilson said. “If you walked down our waterfront in the 90s and started in the south and walked north, you’d walk through a series of industrial sites and this is the last one that we are talking about redevelopment of.”

Wilson said of all of the industrial redevelopment along the waterfront, redevelopment of the power plant is likely the most challenging and the environmental rehabilitation of the site goes a long way to overriding other concerns.

“The most significant public amenity we are talking about in this is the clean-up of this site,” Wilson said. “And if you don’t believe me go right now to the real estate assessment page. This site is 18 acres and is assessed at $10 million. Eighteen acres in the city of Alexandria would cost you hundreds of millions of dollars, but the reason it doesn’t is because of the dramatic environmental cleanup required on this site.”

While the project had its supporters in the public comment section, several representatives from local unions also showed up to voice concerns that the new development would only generate low-paying jobs. Another concern is that the planned public-private partnership to create affordable housing at the site was built on a shaky foundation, with the possibility of the partnership falling through for one reason or another and the city not getting the full amount of affordable housing units as currently planned. City Council member John Chapman agreed that “it doesn’t excite me that we have the possibility of losing this and only being stuck with a certain amount of housing.”

“I’m excited to see us get to this point,” Wilson said. “I think this is a transformational project. Is this what everyone wants for the site? Of course not. But I think we have a tendency in this city to love these projects to death and I don’t want to see that happen to this one because I think this is so important. 15% of nothing is still nothing. We’ve learned that on projects around the city before.”

The vote on the project was broken up into a motion to approve a master plan amendment for the site and the CDD concept plan. The master plan amendment was approved unanimously, but Council Member Alyia Gaskins was the lone vote against the CDD concept plan.

“I think this is a big deal,” Gaskins said. “I think this will be transformational… [but] right now we are not using this to its highest and best potential. I also think we have said over and over that this is a place where we are reserving the opportunity to do really creative and innovative things. For me, one of the things I think is the most innovative is the PPP and the opportunities for affordable housing. At the same time, that’s the most shaky part.”

Gaskins said there are too many unknown factors, particularly at a state level, behind the public-private partnership plans to fully trust for a development of this scale.

“There are things we can’t predict,” Gaskins said. “While I love this project, I love our people more. It’s a good project and we need to keep this moving forward, but I don’t feel that we are fully living up to the promise and the vision outlined in the small area plan around housing.”

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Alexandria leaders will be on-hand on Thursday, July 14, for the unveiling and dedication of AlexRenew’s RiverRenew Tunnel Project.

The $454.4 million project will replace Old Town’s 19th century combined sewer system with a tunnel system, sewer infrastructure and improvements to AlexRenew’s wastewater treatment plant — all to prevent 130 million gallons of combined sewage from flowing from four outfalls into the Potomac River every year.

The dedication will be held on July 14 from 9 to 11:00 a.m. at the Alexandria Renew Education Center and Meeting Space (1800 Limerick Street).

The Virginia General Assembly mandated in 2017 that the project be completed by July 1, 2025. The groundbreaking for the project was held last fall.

The tunnel project is partially funded through a $321 million loan from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act and $50 million from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Late last month, a RiverRenew tunnel boring machine was delivered to the project site.

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Spotted lanternflies on a branch (courtesy of Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia)

Residents in Arlington and Alexandria can now report suspected sightings of the spotted lanternfly, an invasive insect spreading around the region.

Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia has launched an online survey for people to report suspected cases of the spotted lanternfly. The organization is a volunteer group working to promote “environmentally sound gardening practices,” in partnership with Virginia Cooperative Extension, according to its website.

The survey asks people to report the location of the sighting and submit photos of what they have seen, among other information. If the insect shown in the survey is an actual spotted lanternfly, MGNV may then ask the sender to catch the insect and bring the sample to the organization.

“It may not be necessary for somebody to collect the sample, but we definitely would like pictures,” said Cordelia Collinson, a summer intern who helped to set up the form.

Spotted lanternflies are currently present in several Northern Virginia counties, spanning from Augusta to Prince William, according to a national distribution map from the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program.

The invasive insect was first detected in the state in Frederick County back in 2018. Collinson and others working on the reporting project saw the bug in Leesburg, in Loudoun County, last week as well.

“The spotted lanternfly is spreading throughout Virginia, we predict that it is coming towards us, we just don’t know when,” Collinson said.

This insect is a “potentially very serious” pest that targets grapes, peaches, hops and other agricultural crops, according to an information webpage from Virginia Cooperative Extension. It was first discovered in the U.S. in Pennsylvania in 2014.

“Just going off from the damage that happened in Pennsylvania to agricultural crops, that’s concerning for Virginia agriculturalists, especially for the grape industry, the vineyards, and also apple orchards,” Collinson said.

The state is concerned about spotted lanternflies because they are swarm feeders that suck juice out of plants, where hundreds of them may feed on the same plant at once, which may cause significant damage, Collinson said.

She added that the insect also leaves behind a sweet excrement that promotes the growth of a black mold and can attract insects like wasps. An infestation of spotted lanternflies may lead to a quarantine, where businesses in the area need to get a government permit and inspect their goods leaving the area, according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

“Shipping and different product transportation [will be] a bit more regulated because [the state wants] to make sure that no spotted lanternflies are hiding under goods or on the other side of the truck, because that’s how they spread primarily,” Collinson said.

Spotted lanternflies are usually in their nymph stage right now and will become adults in late July. As nymphs, they are either black with white spots or red with black stripes and white dots before becoming adults. As adults, spotted lanternflies have wings around an inch long that are tan with black spots on the outside and red patches on the inside, Collinson said.

She added that because the adults usually have their wings closed, it is hard for a person to see the red patches distinctive of the species. As a result, she urged people reporting a sighting to include photos of the insect with its wings closed and open respectively.

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This week’s Q&A column is written by David Howell, Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer, of McEnearney Associates Realtors®, the leading real estate firm in Alexandria. To learn more about this article and relevant market news, contact David at 703-855-5089 or email [email protected]. You may also submit your questions to McEnearney Associates via email for response in future columns.

Question: How was the real estate market in the City of Alexandria for the first half of 2022?

Answer: At the end of June, we like to take an in-depth look at contract activity in the City of Alexandria for the first half of the year compared to the same months of the previous year. To put contract activity into context for the first half of 2022, we will first look at month-end inventory and the number of new listings coming on the market year-to-date.

  • At the end of June, there were 0% fewer homes on the market in the City of Alexandria compared to last June. Overall, for Northern Virginia that number is 8.1% fewer homes, so inventory for the City is tighter than the region overall.
  • With the exception of March, so far this year the number of new listings coming on the market each month was down. Year-to-date, the number of new listings has decreased 9.2%.

The next set of charts break down contract activity for the first six months of 2021 and 2022 by price and by property type. Alexandria has seen decreases across all property types (condos, attached and detached homes), and the only price category with an increase was for homes priced $300,000-$499,000.

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Alexandria is developing a request for proposal (RFP) to potentially sell a tiny parcel of land at 2 King Street on the Alexandria waterfront.

The 1,825-square-foot property is between Waterfront Park and The Strand Street, and has been rented out as a parking lot for neighboring businesses since it was acquired in the 2014 land swap with the Old Dominion Boat Club.

On June 28 (Tuesday), Council unanimously declared it surplus property and authorized the city manager to issue an RFP for its sale and redevelopment. Once created, the RFP will go through a public review process.

The property holds eight parking spaces, seven of which were leased on a month-to-month basis. The city took in $15,000 per year renting out the spaces, until they were terminated on May 27 to coincide with the temporary closure of The Strand Street to vehicular traffic.

“Surface parking lots are not a desirable use in this area, and are non-conforming with the current zoning, since the intent for strand Street is to become pedestrian oriented,” Al Coleman, deputy director of the city’s Department of General Services, told Council. “The limited depth of the property makes it difficult to develop independently.”

In June 2019, the city received an unsolicited offer for the property, opening the possibility of its potential sale, Coleman said.

City staff will draft an RFP this summer and fall, and City Manager Jim Parajon will provide the final document to Council in the winter.

Via City of Alexandria

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Children and adults who missed their Hogwarts letter can celebrate Harry Potter’s birthday with a special tour of the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum.

This July 31, the Apothecary Museum will celebrate its annual Harry Potter guided birthday tour with the 25th anniversary of J.K Rowlings’ first wizarding book, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

The tours explore the apothecary and “the historic muggle medicines that inspired the Herbology and Potions of Harry’s wizarding world,” according to the City.

The Harry Potter tours have been popular for potions-masters-in-the-making for several years. The museum still has all of the original ingredients that were in the pharmacy when it closed in 1933, including cannabis, opium, Dragon’s Blood, Mandrake Root and Wolf’s Bane.

Tours are every 30 minutes from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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Morning Notes

Gourmet Mexican Opens in Del Ray — “The shop sells high quality and authentic Mexican food and other goods.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]

It’s Wednesday — Heavy rain starting in the afternoon. High of 85 and low of 78. Sunrise at 5:51 am and sunset at 8:38 pm. [Weather.gov]

Monticello Park Designated Community Forest — “Monticello Park in Alexandria is barely seven acres. But if ever a park punched above its weight, it’s this one.” [Washington Post]

Uncovered Alexander Hamilton Letter has Alexandria Connection — “An archive employee who stole the letter was arrested in 1950 and found to have sold it, alongside other documents from America’s founding fathers, to rare books dealers, according to Massachusetts court filings. In November 2018, the letter emerged at an auction house in Alexandria, Virginia, before coming into the custody of the FBI the following year.” [CNN]

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While the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) is working through plans to make September fare-free for all riders, that could be extended into October for Alexandria riders dealing with the Metro shutdown.

Plans for the VRE are headed to review at the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission’s meeting on Thursday, July 7.

A report (page 155) from VRE CEO Rich Dalton said that while the pandemic has hit VRE’s ridership, a month without fares would simultaneously be a “thank you” to loyal customers and could attract new riders to the VRE:

September is typically a month where the regional transportation system is strained, as kids return to school and workers return from summer vacation, and it historically has been one of the highest ridership months for VRE. This September, many federal agencies are expected to transition to more permanent in-office work schedules, moving away from the remote work scenarios implemented during the pandemic. While many agencies and private employers will still allow some teleworking, most will require a higher in-office presence for their workers. Staff believes offering free fares for the month of September will encourage commuters who are considering various commute options to try VRE.

The fare-free month also coincides with the start of the shutdown of Metro lines south of National Airport.

“Starting on September 10th, WMATA will shut down Metrorail stations south of Reagan National Airport on both the Blue and Yellow Lines,” the report said. “This shutdown will last at least six weeks, and VRE will be a major contributor to the mitigation efforts in the region. Allowing riders to board for free during September will maximize usage of VRE during the first half of the shutdown.”

The report also says VRE is planning to extend the free fare into October for riders traveling between Alexandria or Crystal City and either going across the river to L’Enfant or union Station or going south towards Franconia-Springfield.

“Providing free fares for these zones in October will continue VRE’s enhanced role in mitigating the effects of the Metrorail shutdown,” the report said.

The report said passenger fare revenue in April and May this year has been between $1.1 and $1.2 million.

“We do not expect significant growth in ridership from this level during the summer months, but ridership in September is expected to increase as employees return to the office,” the report said. “If average daily ridership were to increase to 10,000 trips per day, the expected monthly fare revenue would also increase to approximately $2.3 million.”

The foregone fare revenue, the report said, would be between $1.2 and $2.3 million — without factoring in the impact of the Metrorail shutdown.

“VRE’s existing federal pandemic relief funds will provide a backstop to replace this foregone revenue,” the report said. The expected impact to VRE of the proposed free fares in September and October for zones 2/3 specifically is more modest. Current ridership to/from/between zones 2 and 3 is relatively small at only 400 trips per day, with most of that ridership occurring at the
Backlick Road station. Of course, if a significant share of passengers impacted by the Metrorail shutdown shift over to VRE, that figure could increase substantially.”

The report said the VRE will be applying to a grant from the Department of Rail and Public Transportation to cover the lost funds for offering fare-free transportation in Alexandria.

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Updated 4:30 p.m. — A spokesperson representing Hilco Redevelopment Partners shared an email with WMWAA indicating that the Airports Authority “is comfortable that the City of Alexandria does not need to ‘defer’ decisions slated for this Application today; instead, the Authority welcomes the City’s expressed commitment in its decision to require increased coordination between MWAA and the City as this Application moves forward.”

The spokesperson also said that because no specific building heights are proposed, the building heights cannot be considered a threat to DCA safety

The CDD process is strictly to discuss zoning and master planning- there are no specific buildings proposed at this time. Given there are no buildings being discussed, and thus no proposed building heights, we do not believe it is possible for there to be a threat to DCA safety. We would like to request the article be retitled accordingly, as we find the current title to be misleading. Please note: when applications are submitted for DSUP discussions, building heights will be included. At that point, MWAA would weigh in on building height and its potential effects.

Earlier: In a letter to Alexandria’s City Council, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) has shared concerns that the proposed redevelopment of the GenOn Power Plant could pose a hazard to air traffic at the nearby National Airport.

Alexandria City Council will consider a proposal tonight (July 5) by Hilco Redevelopment Partners to transform the shuttered GenOn Power Plant in Old Town North into a six block, 2.5 million square-foot mixed use development. The property is 1.2 miles (6,336 feet) from DCA, and the proposal would allow the construction of buildings up to 197 feet above ground level.

The MWAA letter says the structure heights proposed for Blocks C through F of the development “would likely introduce penetrations to Critical Air Navigation Surfaces and would likely impact existing and future air navigation at Reagan National.”

MWAA’s analysis said the approaches to and from the main runway are already constrained by limitations caused by tall structures in Rosslyn, Crystal City and Alexandria, as well as the prohibited airspace east of the Potomac river over large sections of D.C., according to MWAA Planner Gregg M. Wollard.

The letter says a preliminary analysis determined the structure heights should be lowered by approximately 19 feet to ensure no impacts on air travel with the tallest of those blocks coming in at 186 feet and the tallest in the total development as 197 feet. MWAA is also requesting that approval be deferred until the applicant, Hilco Redevelopment Partners, files a permit with the Federal Aviation Administration.

“It is recommended that the City of Alexandria defer its full final approval until a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) 7460 is filed by the applicant, in accordance with FAA requirements well in advance of construction, and a formal determination is made by FAA for all proposed structures,” Wollard wrote. “In addition, the proposed site will be exposed to loud and frequent noise from low-flying arriving and departing aircraft because of its proximity to DCA’ s existing Runway 1/19.”

The MWAA letter said that the buildings penetrating the airspace would have a negative impact on airport operations.

“If buildings penetrate these surfaces, they can have an adverse impact on airport operations,” the letter said, “such as restricting the type of aircraft that can operate, destinations that can be served, and impose aircraft weight limitations (i.e., reduced passengers, cargo, and fuel).”

The letter comes after tenants and worker groups in the area also shared concerns about the sweeping redevelopment plans for the site.

James Cullum contributed to this story

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The Alexandria City Council is poised to approve an amended plan to build a 473-unit affordable housing complex in Arlandria, now that St. Rita Catholic Church has signed off on the project.

Citing safety concerns for parishioners and children, St. Rita Catholic Church and the Catholic Diocese of Arlington sought legal action against the City and the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation when the development was approved in January.

A key feature of the AHDC Glebe/Mount Vernon project was construction of two loading docks and a new private road with public access adjacent to St. Rita’s playground that would connect E. Glebe Road and Mount Vernon Avenue.

The roadway and loading docks have since been removed, and the Planning Commission unanimously approved the changes last week. The changes take away one affordable unit in exchange for a new publicly accessible walking area where the alley is, as well as construction of a playground.

“Consequently, the revised project has been changed for the better,” Roy Shannon, an attorney for the diocese, told the Planning Commission. “The ultimate objective for the church is the safety and the health of its parishioners, especially the young children who attend the church in the school.”

City Council on Tuesday (July 5), will vote on the new changes, as well as on repealing the ordinance they approved in January and eliminate the roadway from consideration.

Attorney Duncan Blair represents AHDC, and said that the modifications are universally agreed upon.

“We look forward to moving forward with the first phase, which is utility relocation, including improving stormwater in the area to benefit the community, underground parking and then shortly be able to go vertical and provide the much-needed housing,” Blair told the Planning Commission.

Blair said that the demolishing of the existing buildings at 221 West Glebe Road and 3606, 3608, 3610, 3612 and 3700 Mount Vernon Avenue will take up to two years, in addition to massive utility relocation and construction of a two-level underground parking garage. He said that the 3.26-acre development of the two new affordable housing apartment buildings would be finished in late 2025 or early 2026.

Alexandria is experiencing an affordable housing crisis and lost 14,300 (or 78%) affordable housing units between 2000 and 2022. The city has pledged to produce or develop thousands of units to meet 2030 regional housing goal set by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

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