Alexandria, VA

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No more than once a year, ALXnow conducts a reader survey. The eight-question 2021 ALXnow Reader Survey should take no more than 5 minutes to fill out, but will have a big impact on the site.

The survey asks about potential new features, adjustments to our news coverage, and your satisfaction with our Alexandria reporting. We’ll put the responses into action throughout 2021.

We would greatly appreciate if you would take the time to tell us how we’re doing and what we can do better, by taking the survey. Thank you!

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The Basilica School of Saint Mary (310 S Royal Street) in Old Town could grow by two new buildings if a new development application goes through.

The Catholic Diocese of Arlington is requesting permission to build a new library and media center at their 400 Green Street property.

“St. Mary’s has operated on the Property since 1948, and has grown and changed along with the needs of the student body and the community,” the diocese said in the application. “The proposed addition would connect two school buildings on the Property and allow students to safely travel between the two classroom buildings. Site improvements include reorienting the parking lot and student pick-up and drop-off area, adding one elevator for ADA accessibility, and other landscaping and playground improvements.

Even with the added buildings, the diocese said the floor area ratio (FAR) of 0.7 is still significantly below the permitted 1.5 FAR.

“The proposed addition connects the southeast corner of the Main Building with the northwest corner of Stephen’s Hall and contains approximately 19,298 square feet of floor area on the library level,” the diocese said.

The proposal will also add a new tower to the campus, described as “architecturally distinct from the existing cupola” but still borrowing from parts of the main design.

The new design also aims to cut down on the traffic from the school piling up on nearby streets.

“Currently, the existing pick-up and drop-off pattern involves significant queuing in surrounding streets and neighborhood,” the diocese said. “In order to internalize the pick-up and drop-off traffic, the Applicant proposes to reorient the pick-up and drop-off area to the rear of the school, behind the gym. Parents will enter the School from South Royal Street, drive under the proposed addition to the rear of the school, where faculty will direct the pick-up and drop-off process. To exit the School grounds, they will drive down a one-way alley along the western side of the Main Building and exit on to Green Street.”

The item is scheduled for review at the Thursday, April 8, Planning Commission meeting.

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With this week giving Alexandrians their first taste of warmer weather, locals are turning their attention to the upcoming cherry blossom season.

This cherry blossom season, generally running through March and April, is a regional celebration of the Japanese tree marred for the second year by the specter of COVID-19.

Local tourism group Visit Alexandria has compiled a list of activities that help locals celebrate the holiday while respecting COVID precautions — though some activities are higher risk than others.

In terms of viewing the cherry blossoms, Visit Alexandria said one of the best ways is via Potomac Riverboat Water Taxi. Water Taxi admission is $13 for one-way trips or $21 for round-trip tickets. The boats depart the Alexandria Marina (1 Cameron Street) and have limited capacity to allow for social distancing.

“Cruise from Old Town Alexandria to Washington, D.C., to enjoy the famous cherry blossoms from the water,” Visit Alexandria said in the events rundown. “Potomac Riverboat by Hornblower offers a 25-minute direct water taxi from Old Town to The Wharf development in D.C. From the dock at The Wharf, it is a 10-minute walk to the cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin… Water taxis are operating at half capacity; masks and physical distancing are required.”

Another options is electrical bike tours along the Mount Vernon Trail starting at 210 N. Lee Street.

A few local restaurants are planning on offering specials to celebrate the festival. Captain Gregory’s at 804 N. Henry Street is planning to host a Cherry Blossom Celebration on March 26 from 5-10 p.m.

“Captain Gregory’s will host an outdoor patio celebration of the cherry blossoms in partnership with Beam Suntory,” Visit Alexandria said. “Enjoy a mobile highball cart, themed décor and more. Savor Captain Gregory’s ‘Winter in Tokyo’ menu in-person or celebrate the Japanese blossoms at home with takeout. The menu includes a selection of Japanese spirits such as Suntory whiskey, Roku gin, Haku vodka, sake, yuzu and other Japanese staples like sochu, alongside savory dishes such as edamame and crab hushpuppies. Cocktails to-go are available from sister shop Elizabeth’s Counter’s grocery section.”

Other restaurants offering cherry blossom specials include:

A free cherry blossom exhibition will also be on display at the Torpedo Factory Art Center (105 N. Union Street) from March 31 to May 2. All three floors will feature displays of floral-themed art. Admissions is free and the gallery is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Photo courtesy L. Barnes/Visit Alexandria

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Just Listed in Alexandria

Just Listed highlights Alexandria City properties that came on the market within the past week. This feature  is sponsored by the Jen Walker Team (Licensed in VA) of McEnearney Associates Realtors®. 

Welcome Back!

Jen Walker here with The Jen Walker Team! We are a real estate group based out of Alexandria. I, along with my two rock-star team members, Sue Kovalsky and Micki MacNaughton, have more than 35 years of experience in real estate and sold over $107 million in 2020!

Our featured Just Listed property this week is this 3 BD/2 BA condo in Seminary Walk. It has a bright, open floor plan with a separate dining room. The kitchen boasts stainless appliances and granite countertops. Management, gym, bike and party rooms, and storage units are all conveniently located on-site. The condo comes with two permit parking spaces. For further information, please reach out to us!

49 Skyhill Road, #203, Alexandria, VA 22314The Jen Walker Team

Click here for Just Listed properties in Alexandria and call The Jen Walker Team to schedule a home tour at 703-675-1566 or email [email protected].

In this midst of COVID-19, we will not be hosting any in-person open houses. We will, however, be going live on our Instagram every weekend for our virtual tours. Stay updated with our virtual tours by following us on our Instagram page for updates.

Happy House Hunting!

In our highly competitive Alexandria market, the Jen Walker Team has the insider knowledge to connect you with homes that are not even public yet. With more than 35 years of experience, the Jen Walker Team has the expertise to answer questions, calm fears, and streamline your transaction. Want to see other homes not featured in this article? Contact our team today!

Please note: While The Jen Walker Team provides this information for the community, they may not be the listing agents of these homes. Equal Housing Opportunity.

McEnearney Associates Realtors®, 109 S. Pitt Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 #WeAreAlexandria

Just Listed highlights Alexandria City properties that came on the market within the past week. This feature is sponsored by the Jen Walker Team (Licensed in VA) of McEnearney Associates REALTORS®.

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James Harris has been coming to Christ House to get an evening meal for about a year ever since he lost work from the pandemic.

“Strange how all that started,” Harris told ALXnow just before 5 p.m. outside the Old Town charity. “It just popped up out of the blue, so I’ve been coming here for about a year since business got quiet.”

Alexandria’s homeless increased to 207 people, a 5% increase over 2019, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ annual report on homelessness in the region. The report for 2021 is being gathered now and should be ready by the end of next month, although it’s not clear yet if there’s a change this year, despite high unemployment figures.

Lesa Gilbert, director of the city’s Department of Community and Human Services Center for Economic Support, said that homeless do not have to sleep outside in Alexandria.

“You have an option to stay in our winter shelter in the Lee Center,” she said. “It’s open all day. We also have warming shelters throughout the city.”

Earlier this month, a homeless woman was found dead in Arlandria. Her death was not suspicious, according to police, and the city reportedly offered her help.

Last year, the city put homeless in hotels during the initial months of the pandemic, although the practice has since been discontinued. Carpenter’s Shelter also moved its David’s Place shelter for the chronically homeless at Landmark Mall to a smaller location at 930 N. Henry Street in Old Town.

Gilbert doesn’t know if the number of homeless will rise in 2021, but said that a federal extension of the eviction moratorium for renters beyond March 31 will help. There have been numerous protests throughout the city from renters asking for an extension.

“We’re doing the best we can in terms of connecting residents to the Virginia Relief Program, as well as the programs that we have here locally or locally funded dollars to prevent folks from losing their housing.”

Carpenter’s Shelter Executive Director Shannon Steene says that volume at the shelter decreased from 60 to 42 people to encourage distancing, and that the eviction moratorium must be extended.

“This past year has been such a mind bending experience,” Steene said. “There are several hundred households in the city of Alexandria influenced by that moratorium. That clearly affects what volume we see here at the shelter.”

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Feeling stressed? Momma’s Hemp at 1314 King Street carries $2 lollipops infused with CBD that are supposed to calm you down, give you energy, make you creative and focused.

Jennifer Bright and her eldest son, Devin Pullen, opened the shop on Tuesday. The pair also opened a location in their hometown of Culpeper, Virginia, in 2019.

“Old Town is kind of like coming to a foreign country, but I’m getting used to it,” Bright told ALXnow.

Before going into business for themselves, Bright said she was wrongly fired from her job as a customer service representative for a retail store in Culpeper for bringing in CBD edibles to the office. The products won’t get customers high since CBD, or cannabidiol, is a completely legal cousin of the marijuana plant and has no psychoactive effects.

“I wish we had opened my business sooner, but being the single mom of four boys, I depended on that money and just felt comfortable in that position,” Bright said. “I feel like it happened for a reason, even though I didn’t understand it at the time. But now that I look back at it, it inspired us to do this, to push ourselves.”

Bright said that Pullen was experiencing anxiety, and that prescription medication wasn’t helping. So, they ventured into CBD. Products at the store include coffee, teas, candies, lotions, bath bombs and vapor cartridges.

“We’ve been watching him crawl out of the shell that he’d been in for quite some time,” Bright said. “It’s wholistic healing, and I’m using it, too. I’m not on any heavy medication. I feel better now than I have in my entire life. It just provides a great body relaxation. If you deal with anxiety or have pain, it’s gonna just help take that edge off. “

Bright said that she and her son are waiting for marijuana to get legalized in Virginia so that they can sell it.

“That’s kind of what we’re waiting for,” she said. “The plan is to keep these two open, and then open more locations down the road.”

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Morning Notes

Independent Investigation Clears ALX Chamber CEO of Wrongdoing — “The Chamber will be immediately scheduling workplace professionalism training for all staff and Chamber leadership and the Chamber’s Code of Conduct will be updated and clearly communicated to staff and members.” [Alexandria Living]

Beyer Votes ‘YES’ as House Passes Equality Act — “The House just passed the Equality Act, which would protect LGBTQ Americans from discrimination in the workplace, in housing, in receiving health care, and more. I voted YES; this is the final vote:” [Twitter]

Council Approves Stormwater Fee Increase — “City council unanimously passed an ordinance doubling the stormwater utility fee from $140 to $280 during Saturday’s public hearing. The increased fee will add $155 million into the city’s coffers over the next 10 years and will help fund an ambitious new flood mitigation action plan, according to city staff. The plan includes various capacity and spot improvement projects meant to overhaul Alexandria’s crumbling stormwater infrastructure.” [Alex Times]

Single Complaint, Lengthy Permitting Process Jettison Classical Concert Series — “There is a noise ordinance in the city – I totally respect it – but our musicians are softer than the birds that chirp along with us, way softer than the airplanes that fly overhead, way softer than the cars and the motorcycles and all the traffic that moves around us.” [Alex Times]

Councilman John Chapman’s Campaign Kickoff Event is March 7 — “Excited to announce my official re-election campaign kickoff event on Sunday, March 7, at 3pm. Check out my website or FB page for more details. chapman4council.com” [Twitter]

Community Invited to Give Feedback on Colasanto Pool Redesign — “The City of Alexandria has hired LSG Landscape Architecture for the project, which will build on recommendations from a 2016 community survey and the city-sponsored 2012 Aquatic Facilities Study. Funding for the project is made possible by Alexandria’s Capital Investment Program as well as a Community Matching Fund through a partnership with the Del Ray Gateway Project.” [Zebra]

Today’s Weather — “A mix of clouds and sun in the morning followed by cloudy skies during the afternoon. High 51F. Winds E at 5 to 10 mph…. Cloudy with periods of rain. Low around 40F. Winds SE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 90%. Rainfall near a quarter of an inch.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Staff Member –“We are seeking dedicated professionals who are reliable, hardworking, and passionate to join our wait staff here at Il Porto Ristorante. Should have at least one year of experience working in high volume dine in restaurant. Compensation is $800-$1200 a week. We will be accepting application’s daily Starting March 1, 2021 between 2-4 p.m.” [Indeed]

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Most of all, what Hard Times Cafe (1404 King Street) staff said they’ll miss about Mike Dankwa is his ever present smile and deep-bellied laugh.

In a GoFundMe raising support for Dankwa’s family — organized by Cindy MacIntyre and Hard Times owner Richard Kelly — MacIntyre said Dankwa was an optimistic and cheery presence at the restaurant.

Last Friday, Feb. 19, Dankwa died as a result of complications from COVID-19, Zebra first reported.

“Mike succumbed to COVID-19 on Friday the 19th and leaves behind his lovely wife, Gina; three children and a large extended international family,” MacIntyre said. “Originally from Ghana, he settled in Woodbridge, VA over a decade ago… We hope you will join us with a generous donation to help cover the cost of Mike’s funeral and to support his family as they deal with this unexpected tragedy.”

Dankwa had been at hard times since 2002, working as assistant manager while studying at George Mason University.

“Mike was the friendliest, most positive person at Hard Times,” Kelly said in the post. “He was always there for his staff and our many customers who loved to come visit with him.”

The post noted that Dankwa enjoyed golf and hockey, and was an avid fan of the Washington Capitals.

“It’s heartbreaking to post this but Mike Dankwa the long time GM at Hard Times in Old Town passed away last Friday after a month long battle with Covid,” MacIntyre said. “Mike wasn’t just my Boss during my years there he became someone I considered a friend. He leaves behind his wife, a young son and a daughter in college… He will be truly missed.”

At time of writing, the GoFundMe has raised $4,020 of its $50,000 goal.

Photo via GoFundMe

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As Congress deliberates approval of a $1.9 trillion stimulus package, Alexandria is trying to figure out how it will spend its share.

Alexandria is anticipating $26 million to $34 million, depending on the final plan. The $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal includes $350 billion for local governments.

“Our pleas for Washington to come to the table with some significant local government expenses have apparently nearly been answered,” Mayor Justin Wilson said at City Council’s legislative meeting on Tuesday. “

Last year, the city received $27.5 million in federal funds that were allocated to the state government. This time, the federal funds would go directly allocation to localities, and would be available in May at the earliest.

City Manager Mark Jinks presented a preliminary proposal to Council on how the funds should be spent. It resembled the city’s 2020 Coordinated Community Recovery Plan, which focused on food insecurity, rental eviction prevention and small business grants. Jinks said that the city has been waiting for federal funding since last May, when the U.S. Senate sat on Heroes Act funding after it passed through the House of Representatives.

“We want to get your feedback, let you know where we are, and we’ll come back in probably the beginning of April when we know what the appropriations are,” Jinks said. “What we don’t know is how long do we have to spend the money. If we have three or four years to spend
it, then that’d be a different spending strategy, then if like the last bill said, you had to spend it in 12 months, which we did.”

Alexandria’s consumption tax receipts, including sales, restaurant and lodging revenue generated about $65 million per year, according to Visit Alexandria CEO Patricia Washington.

“This year we’re forecasting to be down $13 million before recovering halfway back up to $58 million in FY22,” Washington said.

Kate Garvey, the director of the city’s Department of Community and Human Services, wants to continue the supporting eviction protection efforts, as well as the city’s food assistance program with ALIVE!.

“It depends a lot on the amount of money that comes to us,” City Councilwoman Del Pepper said.

Wilson said that the city should use the funds to make structural investments for lasting changes.

“Instead of funding childcare, let’s get a childcare facility,” he said, and asked that city boards and commissions fill out a survey on how they think the funds should be spent. “Let’s build capacity that is our going to outlast just recovery of this year, and help us in the future.”

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City Manager Mark Jinks has proposed a budget this year that includes a real estate tax rate decrease of 2 cents.

The announcement came as welcome news to local property owners, from residents to business owners who faced a particularly difficult year as a result of COVID-19. The announcement was conjoined with a budget that belt tightening that trims down some of the city’s larger ambitions and won’t fill some currently vacant positions.

The budget also faced some detractors who argue that the city should take more steps to ease the burden on local residents and commercial property owners. In a recent Agenda Alexandria meeting, City Council candidate Bill Rossello said the narrative of a lightened burden on local residents doesn’t match the reality of an overall tax increase.

“I look at the budget the way it’s been presented and something that always seems to concern me is when we lead with a narrative around the tax rate,” Rossello said. “The tax rate is only one part of the equation for the actual taxes that people pay… While we’re looking at a proposed 2 cent tax rate decrease, when you do the math, for the average household it comes out to be almost a 6% tax increase in real dollars and that’s what really matters to residents: how much more or how much less am I going to pay?”

On the other side, some of the city’s transit and infrastructure ambitions are being scaled back as a result of the tax rate decrease. For instance, City Manager Mark Jinks said in the meeting that DASH will be forced to choose between density and coverage in a budget that will not allow it to keep all current lines operational and move forward with its planned higher-frequency service in areas of greater density.

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