Alexandria, VA

Old Town Books, a book shop near the waterfront at 104 S. Union Street, is celebrating one year in business this weekend.

On Saturday, Nov. 23, the book store is celebrating its one year anniversary with a variety of events throughout the day. The event will feature cake, free storytime at noon, with sing-alongs and special happenings throughout the day.

The book shop started as a pop-up shop last November in the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership’s pop-up program, according to Alexandria Living Magazine. The store found its new, permanent home in May.

Every purchase on Saturday will come with a free bookmark and sticker, according to the website.

The bookstore has an active book club and running lists of current favorites by employees.

Photo via Old Town Books/Facebook

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Whether you’re actively searching for your new home or are just beginning to consider making a move, open houses are the perfect way to start your search.

Open houses allow you to get a feel for things such as neighborhood, how far your budget will go, must-haves in your new home, and some design inspiration.

As the #4 expansion team in the country, HergGroup Greater Washington’s website has a comprehensive list of open houses and homes for sale in Alexandria and beyond.

Here’s a sampling of the local open houses this week:

The preceding feature was sponsored by HergGroup Greater Washington.

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The City is planning to host a meeting to gather feedback on its plans to revitalize the Fort Ward Museum and Park.

The Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities is scheduled to hold a community meeting about Fort Ward Park on Wednesday, Dec. 11, at 7 p.m. in near St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes Middle School (4401 W. Braddock Road).

The meeting will discuss provide an opportunity to learn about capital projects coming in 2020 related to park improvements, according to the city website.

Fort Ward, built to defend Washington D.C. during the Civil War and later home to an African American community, is slated to receive a series of upgrades to make the site a more accessible and attractive tourist destination in Alexandria.

The plan is to update the existing museum at the site with a new film and exhibits that show the fort’s history and its evolution from military structure to a community hub.

Plaques across the site will include information from trenchworks and artillery placement to a recognition of the Fort Ward community that still lives in the surrounding area (some of whom are struggling with Alexandria City Public Schools over a plan to add lights to the T.C. Williams football field).

Upgrades for the park at 4301 W. Braddock Road include:

  • Museum enhancements: An updated site-wide film and overview exhibit
  • Orientation station: A map that will include a scale, tactile model of the site
  • Orientation station duplicate: Similar to the one above, located at the opposite side of the site
  • Historic home footprint: A metal frame outline of the footprint of an original home built at the site
  • Community gateway: A marker signifying the start of a trail with information about the African American community that lived at Fort Ward
  • Commemorative space: A small space with seating and some informational panels that encourage visitors to reflect on the site’s history
  • Interpretive wayside panels: Updated panels to include more information about the site’s history
  • Site markers: Low-profile markers that indicate historic features that are no longer visible at the site

“Every square foot of Fort Ward Park is used and in demand — for historic interpretation and preservation, for recreation and as native woodland and open space,” the city said in its Fort Ward plan.

Elements of the plan include healing areas of erosion and compacted soil in the park, which have contributed to stormwater problems. The open space aims for the project also include adding more greenery to the open space.

Photo 1 via Visit Alexandria

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The squeaky wheel on the bus may get the grease, as the Alexandria Transit Company Board of Directors has directed staff to find a way of restoring or replacing a bus line through Seminary Road cut from current plans to overhaul the bus network.

DASH, the city’s bus system, is preparing to shift its bus service from a model focused on widespread coverage of the city to one that focuses on high-frequency service in densely populated corridors.

One of the casualties of this change would be the AT2 bus line. The bus line starts in Lincolnia and works up through the West End to the Mark Center before running down through the heart of Seminary Hill and into Old Town.

Steve Sindiong, an urban planner for the City of Alexandria, said that the DASH Board of Directors told staff at an earlier meeting that they need to go back and restore service in that corridor.

“That’s what we’re working on right now,” Sindiong said. “We’re looking at different approaches to service on Seminary [Road] and Janneys [Lane].”

The removal of the lines caused outrage at a meeting at the Burke Branch Library in October, where a packed room of local residents said they were concerned that they would lose access to the city’s bus service.

DASH tweeted that AT2 riders would be able to reach Old Town through a transfer at Landmark Mall or Southern Towers, but plans for the bus routes by 2022 eliminate service east of Inova Alexandria Hospital (4320 Seminary Road).

Sindiong said the replacement bus line would have, at a minimum, some weekday service.

The city is also currently in discussions with the Department of Defense, which funds the AT2x route that runs directly from the King Street Metro station to the Mark Center. It is currently an express bus, meaning it makes no stops on Seminary Road, but staff said in the October meeting that they were cautiously hopeful that it could be opened up to local residents.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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It’s a problem for which sympathy may be difficult, but the City of Alexandria has too many impounded cars on its hands.

The city is considering purchasing 4001 Wheeler Avenue, a parking lot across the street from the Port City Brewing Company, and turning it into storage for impounded vehicles. The city would purchase the property from the Jeffrey Lee Yates Trust, which earlier this year received a go-ahead from city officials to open the long-awaited Yates Pizza at 3000 Duke Street.

The city had to substantially reduce the size of its existing impound lot to facilitate the construction of Fire Station 210 at 5255 Eisenhower Avenue. The reduction reduced the city’s impound capacity by 60 percent, from 220 vehicles to 80 vehicles.

During peak periods at the impound lot, staff noted in a report that the number of vehicles impounded exceeded the site’s storage capacity, forcing them to temporarily park on DASH bus property. But with DASH planning to expand its facilities, that temporary space could disappear in three years.

“The city requires a parcel of at least 35,000 square feet to provide the space required to serve as an overflow impound lot,” staff said in a report. “To prepare for the loss of the existing parcel, the city has identified a privately-owned parcel at 4001 Wheeler Avenue, which will address the City’s need for additional vehicle storage.”

The site is amid one of the few remaining concentrations of light industrial uses in Alexandria and is currently a surface parking lot, meaning little negative impact is expected on the adjacent neighborhood.

Consideration of whether the potential purchase is consistent with the city’s Master Plan is scheduled for the Thursday, Dec. 3, Planning Commission meeting. The cost of the property purchase is not currently listed on city documents.

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(Updated at 10 a.m.) A suspected gas leak has prompted the evacuation of George Washington Middle School.

The school at 1005 Mount Vernon Avenue, near the Braddock Road Metro station, was evacuated shortly after 9:30 a.m. amid cool (45 degree) but sunny weather, due to an odor of natural gas inside the building. The fire alarm was said to be sounding as students walked out of the building.

Numerous Alexandria firefighters are on scene, investigating reports of a gas odor in the auditorium area, possibly coming from a rooftop heating unit, following reported heating problems in the building on Wednesday. Washington Gas is also responding to the scene.

First responders discussing letting students and staff back into an unaffected part of the building during the gas leak investigation, according to scanner traffic.

Update at 10:30 a.m. — Students have been let back into the middle school, according to ACPS.

Photo via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Meeting About Detention Center Held Last Night — “Should a youth detention center in Northern Virginia stay open? That question spurred passionate debate at a series of public meetings this month, as the operators of the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center make decisions about the future of the facility… ‘I would like to see the facility stay open because it helps youth,’ said Bill Cleveland, former vice mayor of Alexandria.” [WTOP, Twitter/@AmyJacksonVA]

City Council Approves Waterfront Restaurant — “The Mill, a southern kitchen and market, gained approval to open in a historic Alexandria warehouse at 10 Duke Street on the waterfront. City Council voted on Nov. 16 to approve the special use permit and encroachment into the public right-of-way on Duke Street for a balcony, steps and signage.” [Patch]

Xmas Tree Selected for Dec. 8 Tree Lighting — “After scouting for the Del Ray Christmas tree by air over the Naughty Pines tree farm in Dickerson, Md., the perfect specimen has been identified. They found it in Anderson’s single engine Cirrus airplane, and all they have to do now is inspect it on the ground, cut it down, lift it onto a trailer, and haul it over to Mount Vernon Avenue.” [Zebra]

NORAD Exercises Planned Tonight — “Don’t be frightened if you see and hear military aircraft speeding overhead… The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is expected to conduct air exercises over the Washington area from Thursday night into early Friday morning. Flights are scheduled between midnight and 5:30 a.m.” [WTOP]

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(Updated 5:35 p.m.) Watch out, Red Lobster, there’s another crustacean crawling into town across Van Dorn Street.

According to a city permit application, the national seafood chain Crafty Crab is planning on moving into the shell of Portner Brewhouse (5770 Dow Avenue) in the Modera Tempo mixed-use development. A representative of the applicant confirmed the new location was part of the national chain.

Crafty Crab offers a wide selection of seafood focused primarily around the eponymous crab, along with sides like fries and corn on the cob.

The company has locations in Maryland, including one across the Potomac in Prince George’s County, but the Alexandria location would be the franchise’s first in Virginia.

Portner Brewhouse was a brewery from the great-great granddaughters of Alexandrian brewer Robert Portner. It closed in 2018, one year after it opened. In the wake of the closure, city staff identified a chronic shortage of parking for retail as the cause of several closures in the shopping center.

On Saturday, the City Council authorized Modera Tempo to allow retail parking in the unused residential space of its garage.

Photo 1, 2 via Jay Westcott. Photo 3 via Crafty Crab Seafood

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Some residents are downright angry at what they describe as major traffic backups caused by recent changes to Seminary Road.

Last month the city repaved and re-striped a portion of Seminary Road, changing it from two vehicle travel lanes in each direction to one lane in each direction, a center turn lane and two bike lanes. Some construction activity is still underway but people who opposed the project from the outset have wasted no time in decrying what they say is a significant increase in traffic as a result.

Last night NBC 4 reporter Adam Tuss covered the controversy during an evening news broadcast.

“Get rid of these stupid islands, get rid of these bike lanes,” local resident Phil Cefaratti told Tuss. “People on my side are very, very frustrated… we’re basically calling on City Council, especially the mayor, do to something about this.”

Cefaratti echoed other residents who call the result of the changes a “traffic nightmare” and Seminary a “parking lot” during rush hour, saying it now takes up to 20 minutes to go a mile at times.

Tuss also interviewed a resident who was happy about the changes, saying it’s a safety improvement. Some took to Twitter after the broadcast to voice similar views.

City staff told Tuss and previously told the City Council that they expect the daily delays to ease as work concludes and some signal timing changes are implemented.

“While we understand that delays are frustrating, the corridor is still under construction and all of the components that work together to make this project work are not yet complete,” Hillary Orr, deputy director of Transportation and Environmental Services said in a memo. “While there have been some increased queues during the peak half-hour in the morning, we are still generally seeing vehicles able to get through a signal in one cycle.”

Opponents of the changes, meanwhile, are continuing to speak out and have formed a Facebook group to coordinate and gripe. One recent post on the exceedingly active Facebook group says that Mayor Justin Wilson has agreed to watch observe traffic congestion with residents on an as-yet undetermined weekday morning.

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The new art project coming to Waterfront Park (1 Prince Street) next year will feature a series of silhouettes representing the city’s history of slavery.

The concept renderings from artist Olalekan Jeyifous feature four three-dimensional silhouettes, each roughly 11 feet tall, with industrial imagery carved into the bodies. The figures will face out towards the river. The ground of the plaza will be covered with a pattern referencing African-American quilting — mixing traditional symbols with ones that represent industries from the city’s past — like an armory and rail tracks.

The art would replace the Mirror Mirror installation — which also reflected a piece of the city’s history. The displays are part of a series by different artists called Site See: New Views in Old Town.

Diane Ruggiero, director of the Office of the Arts, unveiled the designs to the Waterfront Commission yesterday (Tuesday) morning. The designs were approved at the Arts Commission meeting that evening.

Ruggiero said Jeyifous visited Alexandria in the spring and went on a tour around town. Jeyifous’ visit to the Freedom House (1315 Duke Street) — once the headquarters of the largest domestic slave trading firm in the United States — was one of the visits that ultimately helped shape the project, Ruggiero said.

The artwork is expected to be installed in March, according to Ruggiero.

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 This week’s Q&A column is sponsored and written by Joan Shannon, Lifetime Top Producer, Diamond Award, of The Shannon Group and McEnearney Associates Realtors®, the leading real estate firm in Alexandria. To learn more about this article and relevant Alexandria market news, contact Joan at 703-507-8655 or email [email protected]. You may also submit your questions to McEnearney Associates via email for response in future columns.

Question: Should you decorate your home while it is on the market during the holiday season?

Answer: You may have a dilemma in trying to decide what to do — should you or shouldn’t you decorate? How much or how little can you decorate? Will you offend a prospective buyer if you decorate? The intersection at which the holidays and real estate meet can be a particularly stressful one. And while there are many factors that go into your decision such as cost, time and personal preference, I recommend first taking into account your family’s wishes and expectations.

For more than seventeen years, I’ve shown and listed hundreds of homes in Alexandria and neighboring areas during the holiday season and I’ve developed a list of suggestions for homeowners.

Unless you are traveling away from home for the holidays, you may be pining for your ole’ favorites and wishing to decorate up a storm, as usual. Almost everyone loves the added charm and magic we bring into our homes in the month of December and there are ways to use this brief time as an opportunity to showcase your home in its most spectacular light.

Very often, a home is its most beautiful during the holiday season and your efforts can bring a buyer to the table if you keep these helpful hints in mind:

  • Minimize your decorations. A little holiday decorating goes a long way, especially when your home is on the market. Remember, you aren’t decorating for a magazine shoot and buyers want to see the bones of the house without having to move your decorations.
  • Focus your efforts. Even if you skip a tree but want to have that holiday “feel” choose a special focal point such as the mantel(s) or a stairway and decorate that area. For instance, you may choose to decorate the mantels with fresh greens, pinecones, white candles, holly and red berries and suddenly you’ve brought your home into the holiday spirit without even opening the door to the attic. A visit to your neighborhood florist or garden center for a few items can give your home the sights and scents of the season.
  • Perhaps, the front door, entry or porch is where you’d like to focus your holiday decorations. Choose a fresh green wreath with new holiday ribbons and use fresh garland trim around the front door. Check out the Heather and Greens Sale (December 6-7) at The Campagna Center for some fresh boxwood, pine and heather.
  • “Sprinkle” some of the other rooms with a few hints of the special holiday season but don’t go full bore with them. A holiday pillow or candle is usually enough to keep the theme going.

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