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(Updated 4:15 p.m. on Nov. 3) With 31 of 33 precincts reporting, Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson won a victory over Republican opponent Annetta Catchings on Tuesday.

The general election win came months after Wilson defeated his political rival, former Mayor Allison Silberberg, in the June primary.

Wilson is married with two children and was elected in a special election to Council in 2007 after the resignation of then-Vice Mayor Andrew Macdonald. He lost reelection in 2009, was reelected in 2012 and was elected vice mayor in 2015. For his day job, he is a senior manager at Amtrak.

“It’s a thrill to win reelection,” Wilson said. “It’s been a long couple of years, and divisive. We went straight from the pandemic to the election and didn’t really get out of the pandemic. Now we can turn the page. I’m really excited about this new Council. It’s full of people who want to move the city forward, and by all accounts, we’re anticipating difficult results at the state level.”

Catchings, who moved to the city last year, clashed with Wilson over issues like the city’s guaranteed basic income program and the community policing review board.

Catchings congratulated Wilson for his victory in a letter to her supporters Wednesday morning.

“In a heavy Democrat city with its own built-in machine, at least 31% of voters were asking for new leadership, a balanced government, and liked the message that I brought to the table,” Catchings wrote. “I began this race as a concerned parent and I will continue to be a voice, and an advocate for the people.”

City Council member Amy Jackson, leading the City Council race with 14.59% of the votes, is poised to become vice mayor. Jackson, a former teacher and school administrator who won election in 2018, push increased government transparency and economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic as centerpieces of her reelection bid.

“I listened to the community and I did my job,” Jackson said. “As long as the future Council listens to the community, we’ll be in good shape.”

The Next City Council

The other five slots on City Council were filled by Democrats Aalyia Gaskins, John Taylor Chapman, Kirk McPike, Sarah Bagley and Canek Aguirre.

Gaskins, McPike and Bagley are newcomers to the City Council. Councilwoman Del Pepper retired, Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker was elected to represent the 45th District in the Virginia House of Delegates and Councilman Mo Seifeldein left politics altogether.

“I am feeling proud of the campaign that we ran,” Bagley said. “I worked until the last minute. I am thrilled that I get this opportunity, to be quite honest. I live in a special place with a lot of talented people. And I’m honored and excited that I get to work for them.”

Turnout in the election was bolstered by the gubernatorial race between former Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe and Republican challenger Glenn Youngkin. McAuliffe carried Alexandria but will likely lose the statewide election.

“We had a long campaign, and we were hoping for different results at the statewide level,” McPike said. “We have so many issues, like affordable housing and flooding that we have federal dollars for, but will affect the statewide dollars we get. Alexandria is a bastion of democracy, and we need to show that there is a way forward in a progressive manner, even if we didn’t show that in the statewide level today.”

The Republican victory in the governor’s race puts some of the city’s goals in jeopardy.

“On a lot of progressive issues that this community thinks is important, as evidenced by our election result, residents are going to look at local government to lead, because we’re not going to have a partner in the state in a lot of cases,” Wilson said. “The region is going to have to speak much more clearly about its progressive values.”

The candidates will be sworn into office in January.

James Cullum and Vernon Miles contributed to this story.

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Even from the dais, City Council member Amy Jackson says there are things that happen in the inner workings of government that fly below her radar.

Grant programs approved, private discussions that shape public policy, funded projects with stalled progress — Jackson said her time on the Council has helped show that there’s still more that needs to be done to make city government more transparent.

“I feel that, again, our city has some transparency issues that I know I’ve been well aware of since seeing FOIA (Freedom Of Information Act) documents where I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s interesting. That’s the first time I’m seeing that too,'” Jackson told ALXnow. “The community is well aware that there are problems. I hate to be the one saying, ‘We need more meetings,’ but I also think we need to have more honest communication.”

With at least three of the six spots on the City Council guaranteed to turn over and a competitive race, Jackson said she’s hopeful some things can turn around.

One of the changes Jackson hopes for is taking the improvement in the working relationship between Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) and city staff to a more public level.

“The city manager and superintendent tout that they have one of the best working relationships on record between our schools and city,” Jackson said. “I think that’s great and I think we’ve made some headway because of that relationship and partnership. The flip side is: the rest of us aren’t in the room when they’re discussing things, so we hear about it second hand. So the message seems to get lost in the translation.”

Jackson said it’s the kind of miscommunication that can cause friction between the boards: like when Jackson took ACPS to task over concerns that demolition at MacArthur Elementary School hadn’t happened nearly a year after it was initially approved. School Board members and Superintendent Gregory Hutchings later pushed back against the criticisms, saying the project is on schedule to open in January, 2023.

“Council gave approval for the demolition last September,” Jackson said. “It was supposed to come down. So when I’m on the advisory committee and it had already happened that, before COVID, when schools came in front of us — they were saying they were $5, $6, $7 million over budget for the new MacArthur. Look, I got egg on my face, because we’re all in those meeting’s asking about the budget and we’re told everything is hunky-dory, then we go into the meetings and everything is different than it was in a meeting a week ago.”

Part of the change in that relationship, Jackson could say, is a little closer oversight on the City Council part over how ACPS spends its budget.

“This is where the City Council says ‘okay, this is your budget, this is what you asked for’ and even this year we give them what they ask for, but the problem is we don’t ask the ‘how are you going to spend out money,'” Jackson said. “We see some of the budget but we don’t see the line items. It’s like a parent-child relationship that you’re trusting what they’re going to use the money for, but it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of community outreach for the School Board. When it comes to the city council — there’s an element of ‘go talk to your school board’ but I’m hearing from the community that they’re trying to do that, asking questions, but they’re not getting anything.” Read More

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Alexandria City Councilwoman Amy Jackson argued with members of the School Board and Alexandria City Public Schools staff at a budget meeting last night (Wednesday) over construction of the new Douglas MacArthur Elementary School.

Jackson, who is running for reelection, lambasted the school system earlier this week on Facebook with a one minute video. In the video, Jackson stands outside MacArthur wearing a face mask with the words “Your Vote Matters” printed on it, raises her left hand questioningly and then says: “March 1, 2021. Almost a year and no construction has started at MacArthur. When is it going to happen?”

Jackson wrote that the project is a ticking clock for the community, that Council was told demolition would start last month, and then made impassioned comments at Wednesday night’s joint City Council/School Board meeting on the budget. She said it’s up to the school board and ACPS to field concerns from the community on social media, and that she’s tired of answering their questions on the issue.

“My issue is the communication,” Jackson said. “That’s it. That’s my issue, the communication because whatever your answer is, it cannot be any worse than not hearing anything at all.”

While the project is in development, MacArthur students are using the old Patrick Henry Elementary School as swing space.

School Board Chair Meagan Alderton said she did not appreciate Jackson’s comments, and said that she does not engage on social media because it is not the “real world”.

“Maybe we all need to reconsider how we behave as elected officials on social media,” Alderton said. “You all have direct channels to the School Board. You have access that other people do not have. Use that, as opposed to blasting our staff and our School Board on social media. I don’t find it appropriate, and I don’t find it fair.”

Alderton continued, “Unfortunately, this was a budget session about the combined funds budget, which is focused on social, emotional and academic learning. And we had to deal with this. That’s a problem for me.”

ACPS Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., said despite delays over easement concerns with Dominion Energy, that construction is on schedule to open the school in Jan. 2023. Fence panels were erected this week at the property, and ACPS staff will have its pre-construction meeting with the city on Friday. Additionally, asbestos abatement at MacArthur starts next week, and clearing the building is a process that can take weeks before demolition can happen.

Hutchings also said that ACPS communicated project updates to the MacArthur community in a Jan. 26 school advisory group meeting, and on Feb. 11 in a school-wide newsletter.

“When we talk about being on time, we’re talking about the delivery of the new school,” Hutchings said. “That is the main concern that we had from the school’s point of view. And that’s been the main concern of the community thus far. With all the work that we’ve done with having our swing space at the old Patrick Henry location, we know we have to be out of that space for students to arrive in January of 2023.”

A member of the advisory committee, however, told ALXnow that it has not met with ACPS since late last year and that the Jan. 26 meeting did not happen. Still, the representative said that the group was aware of the 2023 completion date.

“We’ve been provided many dates throughout this process,” the member told us. “The advisory group requested updates via email multiple times over the last six months and those requests went unanswered for weeks or longer.”

The member continued, “And since the school email update was drafted by a principal, not the central office, it was only distributed to parents who receive school communications. It did not go to those signed up for ACPS updates related to this project or to the advisory group who was simultaneously requesting updates.”

School Board member Ramee Gentry said it was important to keep misinformation from being spread.

“The other issue I have and I think we have to be cautious of is spreading misinformation as (elected officials),” Gentry said. “The information that was shared (by Jackson) was not accurate.”

School Board Vice Chair Veronica Nolan said that Facebook is a tool used by upper middle class residents, and that it fosters inequity.

“One third of our students’ parents do not speak English, and 63% of our parents are from low income backgrounds,” Nolan said. “Should I as an elected be jumping every time an upper middle class person wants to speak? Am I supposed to be a slave to the tool? Instead I want everyone to have access, and that is (through) public hearings, transparent meetings that are recorded such as this one, the website, newsletters (and) the ACPS blast.”

Photo via Amy Jackson/Facebook

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Alexandria’s City Council recently approved guidelines for the creation of new Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), self-taxed commercial areas where a new organization could be dedicated to turning the area into a commercial destination.

The approval comes five years after a proposed BID in Old Town divided local businesses and was ultimately sent back to the drawing board by the City Council.

BIDs have been up and running for years in nearby localities like Arlington and D.C. While BIDs organize activities and help provide amenities above what the city would ordinarily offer, many businesses along King Street said they were concerned about the additional taxes a BID would impose.

Now Julian Gonsalves, assistant city manager for public-private partnerships, said it’s possible that BIDs could be incorporated into new development around Landmark and the West End. The prospect also seems to have more support from the City Council this time around.

“I know I don’t have the scars from the dais like a couple other council members do here, but some of us that were running to be up here at that time also heard a lot from community members; both pros and cons,” Vice Mayor Amy Jackson said at the meeting. “I was always in the pro-bid section or a lot of reasons… I hope a lot of businesses around Alexandria will continue to follow this form. I know a lot in the playbook continues to be tweaked and structured.”

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The topic of Business Improvement Districts (BID) is back at Alexandria’s City Council and five years after one proposal was crushed, there are signs BIDs could be seen more favorably by a new Council.

BIDs are self-taxing districts established by property owners that aim to boost the economic vitality of the commercial area. There are a handful of BIDs in Arlington in areas like Crystal City, Rosslyn and Ballston. The BIDs organize activities and events in those districts, as well as handle amenities above and beyond what the city (or county, in Arlington’s case) would typically provide. The possibility of a BID in Old Town proved unpopular among many local businesses, however, who were concerned about the additional tax.

After several heated public debates, the City Council ultimately voted against the creation of a BID in Old Town.

“For those who have been up here for a little while, some of us have some scars from this,” said Mayor Justin Wilson, “but it’s good to be back talking about it.”

The new guidelines aim to make the creation of a BID a more structured process.

“The goal for creating these guidelines [is that] during the previous effort it was realized by the community that the lack of guidelines in the city was problematic,” Julian Gonsalves, assistant city manager for public-private partnerships, told the City Council at a meeting last night (Tuesday). “The idea behind adopting these guidelines is to create a framework first before any of these applications come in later on.”

The new guidelines include stipulations like requiring the support of at least 60% of businesses within the commercial district and an outline of ten steps from a letter of intent to final approval.

The goal for the new BIDs would be to turn commercial areas into hotspots of in-person commercial activity.

“Property owners might say: we want to have events for foot traffic here,” Gonsalves said. “Because of that foot traffic, it will be more beneficial for property owners to have restaurants or retails, it will make those more lucrative.

Gonsalves said the focus of a potential BID has shifted away from Old Town to parts of the West End that aren’t currently major attractions but are working through redevelopment plans.

“One of the examples being planned is Landmark or the West End,” Gonsalves said. “Right now there’s nothing there. In order to make sure that’s a hub for the city, they want to have a Business Improvement District so that you have foot traffic coming to a completely new hub that is competing with other districts around the region.”

City Manager James Parajon said BIDs can provide enhanced trash collection, enhanced amenities, and higher quality of lighting compared to what the city typically provides.

Vice Mayor Amy Jackson said she wasn’t on the dais for the earlier BID debates, but said she was generally supportive of the idea.

“I know I don’t have the scars from the dais like a couple other council members do here, but some of us that were running to be up here at that time also heard a lot from community members; both pros and cons,” Jackson said. “I was always in the pro-bid section or a lot of reasons… I hope a lot of businesses around Alexandria will continue to follow this form. I know a lot in the playbook continues to be tweaked and structured.”

Wilson said there’s potential for a BID to do good for the city’s lagging commercial sector.

“I’ve long supported the kind of collectivism that a BID can enable,” Wilson said. “A BID is what members make of it. Ultimately it will be what the collective property owners proposing a BID decide what is beneficial to them… We will see how this plays out and where we get them. They’re in use all over this planet, and there’s a reason they’re in use all over this planet.”

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More than a dozen anti-abortion activists were individually led out of Alexandria’s City Council Chambers on Tuesday night (June 28), as Council unanimously approved a resolution to protect access to abortions in the city.

Members of the California-based group Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust sat in Council Chambers holding signs depicting graphic photos and drawings of aborted fetuses. The group spent the last several days demonstrating outside the U.S. Supreme Court leading up to last week’s overturning of Roe v. Wadebanning abortion in more than a dozen states.

Mayor Justin Wilson told the audience repeatedly to quiet down or he’d clear the chamber, and asked police to remove more than a dozen protestors, including A.J. Hurley, national director of the group.

“Bodily autonomy is a basic human right,” Wilson said. “I’m not really fond of resolutions that, you know, take stands on issues that we don’t have a lot of impact on, and this is not one of those. I think the reason this resolution is before us is because it has specific actions that are very much in our purview.”

Hurley is from Los Angeles, California. He said that the mission of the organization is to seek a federal ban on abortion, and doesn’t believe he will see that happen in his lifetime. Hurley was eventually escorted from Council Chambers by police after an outburst. Members of the group also shouted on megaphones and banged on plastic buckets outside City Hall.

“If this city council is going to produce edicts and statements and resolutions moving towards ordinances, they should know the faces of the children that they affect,” Hurley said.

The resolution states that “it is not possible to ban abortion, but only to ban safe and legal abortions,” and asks that the City Manager consider budgetary proposals for the FY 2024 budget to “ensure accessibility of reproductive health services, safe abortion services, accessible maternal and child health services for low-income Alexandria residents.”

The resolution also calls on the City Attorney to join ongoing or future lawsuits “to protect the availability of abortion services in Alexandria,” as well as land use protections for providers.

When told by a protestor that she doesn’t understand the issue because she hasn’t had an abortion, Vice Mayor Amy Jackson asked, “How do you know I haven’t?”

“When we’re talking about personal freedom and women’s health care, it should be the women’s choice, not men,” Jackson said.

Council Member Kirk McPike drafted the resolution. McPike previously expressed regret about City Council withdrawing an earlier proclamation of support.

“Fortunately right now we are in Virginia, and in Virginia abortion remains legal,” McPike said. “There’s nothing we can do from this dais or as City Council to override state law. If that changes, we will not be able to limit that. What we can do is work within the powers that we have as a city body, to ask our city manager in our city attorney to take on active roles in helping us protect this right to reproductive choice here in our city, whether that’s through revising our planning and zoning rules, whether that’s by joining lawsuits, whether that’s by putting language in our legislative packets. “

Council Member Alyia Gaskins, who noted in the meeting that she is pregnant, said that the Supreme Court ruling is an attack on the rights of women and families.

“We must be relentless in protecting the health and wellbeing of our people and the citizens we serve,” Gaskins said.

Council Member Sarah Bagley directly addressed the anti-abortion activists holding signs.

“I look at these photos, I see you pointing at them,” Bagley said. “What I don’t see is the woman whose life was saved because the ectopic pregnancy would have killed her. What I don’t see with these photos is a woman who desperately wanted a child but was told that (with) these fetal abnormalities would never have survived.”

Many residents also sat in Council Chambers holding signs thanking Alexandria for its pro-abortion efforts, including Sandy Marks, chair of the Alexandria Democratic Committee.

“Our council is entirely unshaken,” Marks said. “There have been a few interruptions, business is moving smoothly. They’re attempting to make noise outside, but our good governance is not going to be disrupted by a small number of out of town visitors that are here to try to obstruct a meeting that is going very smoothly.”

Delegate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker (D-45) also sat in the audience.

“I’m here because I believe everyone should be able to access safe abortions,” Bennett-Parker said. “I’m here today to support City Council and this resolution to protect abortion access in Alexandria and Virginia. I’m here because people should be able to make decisions about their own body, their own future and their own lives.”

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Alexandria Vice Mayor Amy Jackson took fire from one of her colleagues Tuesday night (June 14) against the appointment of former School Board Member Christopher Lewis to the Alexandria City Public Schools Law Enforcement Partnership (SLEP) Advisory Committee.

Jackson said that Lewis already serves on the city’s Community Policing Review Board and recommended Mike Mackey, the director of the Alexandria Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Service Unit.

Council ended up voting 6-1 (with Jackson in opposition) to appoint former Lewis as its representative on the 16-person SLEP Advisory Committee, which is tasked with reimagining the Alexandria Police Department’s relationship with the school system — including school resource officers at Alexandria City High School and the city’s two middle schools.

“I just don’t think that he is pro-police,” Jackson said of Lewis. “I don’t, and that’s fine. But when I’m looking for someone to put on this particular task force that helps see all the situations and all the perspectives of everyone in the city, finding someone that doesn’t have that outlook and is already close-minded to certain aspects of it, I would not want to see on this particular committee.”

Lewis, the CEO of Public Knowledge, was a School Board member from 2013 to 2019, and last month was named one of Washingtonian Magazine’s 500 most influential people. Lewis was in meetings today and could not comment on this story.

Councilman Canek Aguirre said Lewis has an unparalleled resume, and that Jackson’s comments were “egregious” and “insulting.”

“It’s rather egregious to say that he’s not pro-police,” Aguirre said. “I’d ask where in the past has he ever said that he’s not pro-police. He doesn’t say that. That’s very insulting.”

Mayor Justin Wilson said that both Mackey and Lewis are great to work with.

“My hope is that they (SLEP) are a solutions-oriented group trying to bridge some difficult issues in the community, and coming up with thoughtful policy designs that ultimately can be accepted by both the City Council and the School Board, ” Wilson said. “I think Chris has a good background can help bridge that.”

City Council adopted a number of resolutions Tuesday night aimed at curbing violence within Alexandria City Public Schools, including Wilson’s and Council Member Alyia Gaskins’ memo on their Youth Safety and Resiliency plan.

Gaskins said that the community is still reeling from the death of Alexandria City High School Senior Luis Mejia Hernandez on May 24.

“We also know that many of our young people right now are dealing with the loss of a friend, a classmate,” Gaskins said. “We have parents who are grieving the loss of their son. And so this is really an opportunity for us to as we say in the memo listen, learn, and act.”

Of the 18 arrests of ACPS students between August and December 2021, a vast majority of students arrested are Black.

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. resigned last week and did not attend the meeting. He is out of the office until June 21.

Per the approved plan, staff will return to Council with a proposed timeline to start engaging kids, parents and ACPS staff on youth trauma and mental health within the school system.

“I think we are dealing with an urgent crisis,” Gaskins continued. “We have a great community that rallies and steps up when there’s a challenge, and this is our opportunity to do that once again, and to really build new relationships with our young people to let them know they’re cared about, and to take some important steps that invests in their mental health and their overall resiliency.”

Council also unanimously approved a gun violence prevention resolution, which encourages the school system to “review school curriculum, safety protocols, and professional development” related to gun safety and suicide prevention.

Wilson said that it’s time to step back, listen and learn from the community on what it wants regarding safety in schools.

“I think out goal should be to, first of all, step back, listen and learn,” Wilson said. “I think part of the message here is a little bit of humility in our policymaking and a recognition that for a community as diverse, and with a set of needs that we have in our city, there’s not going to be a set of policies that would guarantee that our community is going to be immune from this kind of violence.”

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Updated at 7:45 p.m. — A short-staffed Alexandria Police Department is reducing its services to the community, the department announced on Wednesday (June 2).

Police will no longer respond to calls for service that fall under another agency’s responsibility or respond to old crime scenes that show no danger to the public.

“The Alexandria Police Department like most law enforcement agencies across the nation has experienced a significant reduction in their workforce due to resignations and retirements,” APD said in a release. “While APD remains dedicated to providing excellent public safety services, this reduction in officers has affected the way APD will deliver services to the community.”

Police said that the changes will “prioritize the workload to better serve the Alexandria Community.”

The department is budgeted for 311 sworn officer positions, but currently has 291 sworn officers on payroll, which includes 13 that are still in the academy that have yet to fully graduate their police training, according to APD.

Police Chief Don Hayes said that officers will continue to actively police neighborhoods.

“Just like everybody else, the pool is smaller, and everybody’s in the same pool,” Hayes told ALXnow in a recent interview. “When you have Arlington County whose down 60 (officers), Fairfax is down 100, Prince William is down 40, and we’re down about 23 and you’re looking for qualified candidates, but everybody is not qualified to do this job. They just don’t meet the qualifications. And you can’t lower your standards because you’ll have more problems bringing them in than you will without them.”

Mayor Justin Wilson says that he prefers to have APD officers working at the highest level of service, and that the City is working to increase staffing.

“My preference is always going to be that we provide the highest level of service to our residents, all of the time,” Wilson said. “As we work to return to our authorized staffing levels in the Police Department, I understand the Chief’s decision to prioritize response to calls where the physical presence of our officers is most critical. The dedicated men and women of APD have done excellent work, with lower staffing levels, in recent years to keep our community safe. These changes will focus their efforts on the incidents where they can make a real difference in the safety of our City.”

Vice Mayor Amy Jackson says that the move is unfortunate, and that the answer is about budgeting and collective bargaining. She also said she was not surprised by the announcement.

We as a community need to lift up our police department,” Jackson told ALXnow.And I think when our city does that, the region will also do that and we will be able to attract and retain talent with the skill set needed to work here in Alexandria. And right now, we aren’t attracting or retaining the talent that we want here for our department. It’s a sad state of affairs. I believe we have the leadership that will get us to that expectation.”

Police officers got a 6% raise in City Manager Jim Parajon’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget, which goes into effect next month.

The Department will also providing more support for online and phone reporting, and is working on an outreach campaign on the changes.

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Police at the Bradlee Shopping Center where an 18-year old was stabbed and killed on May 24, 2022. (staff photo by James Cullum)

(Updated at 5:45 p.m.) Alexandria Police were at the scene of Tuesday’s brawl prior to the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Luis Mejia Hernandez, according to video of the incident obtained by ALXnow.

Hernandez was stabbed during a brawl with 30-50 teenagers in the McDonald’s parking lot. A video of the incident obtained by ALXnow showed police cruisers at the scene and an officer attending to Hernandez immediately after he was stabbed.

Mayor Justin Wilson says it will take a citywide effort to protect kids.

Wilson said that he has been in constant contact with Alexandria City Public Schools leadership and the police. On social media, he wrote that he first checked to see that his son was at the school and not at the shopping center.

“Parents and members of our community have used their voices to demand solutions, implemented immediately,” Wilson wrote. “That is also my reaction as a parent.”‘

Wilson said that those ideas include hiring more police officers, hiring more mental health counselors, more gang prevention, and security training around school facilities.

“It requires city, schools, non-profits and the community all rowing in the same direction,” Wilson told ALXnow.

A GoFundMe campaign has so far raised more than $12,000 for Hernandez’ family. No arrests have been made yet.

In-person school was canceled at ACHS on Wednesday — the day after the incident.

“A Titan was murdered,” Vice Mayor Amy Jackson told ALXnow. “There’s still a lot of video that has to be looked at by police.”

https://twitter.com/Gabriel3lias/status/1529421663019974656?fbclid=IwAR3nl6Rxrm__JHW9Z8xkdihSnWQ9RwM9JXyMqEYGwlCHExrGQrSMrqbxNgU

Alexandria School Board Member Kelly Carmichael Booz tweeted that she was gutted by the news of the day, and that there will be “more to say and more actions to take to fight for the safety of our children, and likely a lot of unhelpful finger-pointing.”

“Tonight I put my kids to bed and gave them a hug and a kiss and sang our songs,” Booz tweeted. “Tonight a family in Alexandria cannot put their son to bed and 18 families in Texas have empty beds with kids the same age as my own. I’m gutted. I grieve for the families.”

City Councilman Canek Aguirre tweeted that “Action is needed. Thoughts and prayers are not enough.”

The Alexandria Council of PTAs sent out the following note:

Our hearts break for the loss of the Alexandria City High School student today and we stand with their family, all students, teachers, staff, and community members who need support today.
We also hold all of the community members in Uvalde, Texas in our hearts and minds and recognize the impact that event has on our own community members.
If you or anyone you know needs mental health support during these times, a reminder that ACPS school counselors are available and you can also call your school for help. Additionally, this resource from the National Association of School Psychologists: https://www.nasponline.org/…/mental…/addressing-grief
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2121 Eisenhower proposal, image via SK+I Architecture

A last-minute disagreement between city staff and developers of a new development in Carlyle raised concerns about fairness in the city’s development process.

There was little indication before the City Council meeting (item 12) on Saturday, May 15, that the development at 2111 and 2121 Eisenhower Avenue would take up two hours of discussion and argument.

At the public hearing, the project faced both criticism from affordable housing advocates for its lackluster contribution and an 11th hour objection from staff over a technical development detail that amounted to a $1 million fee discrepancy.

The central question was whether or not the above-ground parking space at the site qualified as part of the square footage of a building for purposes of things like the developer contribution to affordable housing.

Vagueries and disagreement in what the city was asking from the developer led City Council member Kirk McPike to describe the whole issue as “Calvinball” — a reference to the game played in Calvin and Hobbes where the rules are inconsistent and change mid-game.

The staff report recommended approval, and there was no discussion of this issue at the Planning Commission.

“In recent days it’s become clear that there’s a difference of opinion between the applicant and staff on how to apply the $5.46 per square foot toward the above-ground parking portion of the residential development,” said Karl Moritz, Director of Planning and Zoning. “First, I do need to apologize to the applicant for the extreme lateness in bringing this issue to our collective attention … but staff’s view is that the Eisenhower East Plan is clear on what the contribution applies to and even more clear on what is exempt.”

Moritz said the condition applies to development built above ground and developments approved under the previous plan are exempt. The plan also exempts commercial development because the market for commercial development is challenging. Finally, the plan exempts bonus density applied to affordable housing.

Moritz said part of the analysis is what value is being created by the upzoning that the plan is providing — the increase in value that each property owner is getting.

Attorney Cathy Puskar represented applicant Mid-Atlantic Realty Partners and not only expressed disagreement with staff’s conclusion that the parking should qualify as square footage to be factored into the developer contributions, but said the process by which the issue was raised was unacceptable.

“We often have issues that come up at the last minute before we come to you at City Council and it’s always unfortunate but we’re able to work through it,” Puskar said. “In this instance it’s not only unfortunate it’s egregious. I received a call 23 hours before this hearing telling me that high-level staff at planning and zoning had a different interpretation of our obligation on the developer contribution than had been discussed during the small area plan, than had been agreed to, and has been documented in the conditions.”

Puskar said the disagreement amounted to a $1 million additional fee to pay the city.

The vagueness of the rules and their implementation in the development sparked some frustration from the dais.

“We’re voting on this language, we all agree on the language, but nobody agrees on what the language means,” McPike said. “There’s kind of a Calvinball aspect to this.”

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