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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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Elizabeth Bennett-Parker casts her vote on primary day, June 8, 2021, at Matthew Maury Elementary School (staff photo by James Cullum)

Alexandria Delegate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker is running for reelection for Virginia’s 45th District, she announced on Wednesday.

Bennett-Parker will kick off her campaign formally on Jan. 7.

“It’s been an honor to serve the people of Alexandria and I’m going to work hard for them this session and in the future,” Bennett-Parker told ALXnow. “Among other items, I’m working on bills to increase access to mental health services, enhance gun safety, improve voting access for individuals with disabilities, prevent evictions, protect consumers from deceptive practices, address inland flooding, and support working families.”

Bennett-Parker won her seat in November 2021 by defeating Republican Justin “J.D.” Maddox in the general election and incumbent Democrat Mark Levine in the June primary. She began her political career four years ago when she was elected Alexandria’s vice mayorship in her first-ever campaign for office.

Bennett-Parker is now a substitute teacher for Alexandria City Public Schools and is a former co-leader of Together We Bake, a non-profit job training and personal development program for underserved women.

In her announcement, Bennett-Parker listed a number of endorsements, which are listed below.

  • Congressman Don Beyer
  • State Senator Adam Ebbin
  • Delegate Charniele Herring
  • Mayor Justin Wilson
  • Vice Mayor Amy Jackson
  • Councilman Canek Aguirre
  • Councilmember Sarah Bagley
  • Councilman John Taylor Chapman
  • Councilwoman Alyia Gaskins
  • Councilman Kirk McPike
  • Sheriff Sean Casey
  • Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter
  • Clerk of Court Greg Parks
  • School Board Chair Meagan Alderton
  • School Board Vice Chair Jacinta Greene
  • School Board Member Ashley Simpson Baird
  • School Board Member Kelly Carmichael Booz
  • School Board Member Abdel-Rahman Elnoubi
  • School Board Member Christopher Harris
  • School Board Member Michelle Rief
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Field lighting proposal at Hammond Middle School (image via City of Alexandria)

The Alexandria City Council unanimously approved a plan to install lights on a handful of athletic fields, but city leaders also acknowledged neighbor concerns about the project.

The plan is to eventually install new outdoor lighting at five fields around the city, with those lights phased in as the budget and construction timetables allow. Three of the fields could be illuminated as early as FY2023:

  • Francis C Hammond Middle School, 4646 Seminary Road
  • George Washington Middle School, 1005 Mt. Vernon Avenue
  • Jefferson Houston K-8 School, 1501 Cameron Street

The other two, Patrick Henry K-8 School and Recreation Center (4643 and 4653 Taney Avenue) and Eugene Simpson Stadium Park (426 East Monroe Avenue), can’t be illuminated until 2024 and 2025 respectively. The aim of the lights is to extend the usable hours of some of the city’s more overcrowded fields.

The tone of the City Council meeting on Saturday was more cooperative than other debated city topics. While some civic discussions in Alexandria have been combative in the past, local resident organizations were quick to point out areas of agreement with local sports organizations and outline areas for compromise. The meeting featured a range of supporters of the lights and some nearby residents against the lights, but a sizable group of residents who supported the lights but had specific concerns about the lights exacerbating ongoing issues at the fields.

“Varsity Park members are not opposed to lights on the fields, including at Hammond Middle School,” said Bill Rossello, President of the Seminary Hill Association, “but we have significant concerns we feel have not been heard heretofore. All we’ve gotten back is indirectly communicated staff-splaining.”

Rossello said the Hammond field is frequently used by non-permitted adult groups throughout the year. Rossello echoed concerns shared from other neighbors who said their issues lie more in the handling of activities on the field than the lights themselves.

“In warm-weather months, these groups often use the field until dark,” Rossello said. “These groups are known to make a party out of a soccer match, consuming copious amounts of beer, playing music from very loud speakers, setting up food trucks at the site, and relieving themselves on resident properties across the street.”

Rossello said the Seminary Hill Association is asking for:

  • Use limited to permitted youth sports groups
  • If activity is not permitted, the lights are left off
  • Bathrooms installed on-site
  • Recreation, Parks & Cultural Activities staff monitoring field use
  • Trash picked up early each day
  • Rental to adult groups prohibited

Ultimately, the City Council unanimously approved the lights, but several members of the Council said the discussion on Saturday was only the beginning of addressing issues related to use of the fields.

At a previous meeting, Planning Commissioners raised concerns that it can be difficult for someone facing an issue with one of the fields to get a clear answer on who to address those concerns to. One of the recurring items discussed was the need to have a phone number at each site so either local residents or those using the fields have a clear point of contact for issues related to field use.

“I appreciate these questions concerning management and monitoring of fields,” said Vice Mayor Amy Jackson. “As these issues arise what I want to get back to is… making sure the lights don’t continue to be on when they don’t need to be on.”

Jackson also said there have been games on lighted fields where the lights shut off and it wasn’t clear who to contact to get those turned back on.

However, I also want to bring up the flip side of the lights: sometimes those lights will go off in the middle of a game and I’ve been there when it happens,” Jackson said. “It’s disconcerting to players and parents, and there’s no one who can get ahold of anyone to turn on the lights. Again, that phone number comes in really handy. Broken hearts are left on the field if the lights are off and the game’s not over.”

Mayor Justin Wilson said discussion about field use will continue post-approval as the project is implemented.

“I appreciate everyone who added insights into this conversation,” Wilson said. “We’re working to address the concerns we heard and I think as we go forward we’ll work to address any concerns that arise.”

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Alexandria Hyundai‘s special use permit has been extended to 2045 — with conditions.

After nearly three hours of deliberation on Saturday (October 15), City Council approved three special use permit requests to allow the dealership to continue operating until 2045, with the caveat that Council will take another look in 2040 at the permit for a service and storage parking lot.

Kevin Reilly has run Alexandria Hyundai on two acres of land between the 1600 and 1800 blocks of Mount Vernon Avenue for more than 20 years. With Hyundai converting to electric vehicles, Reilly is forced to upgrade his dealership and get an extension to his SUPs, which previously expired in 2025.

Council voted 4-2 (with Council Members Sarah Bagley and Canek Aguirre voting no) approving the SUP for the 22,000-square-foot lot.

Last week, the Planning Commission approved the plan for Alexandria Hyundai to keep operating, but denied the SUP to extend the life of the lot, which Reilly says he needs to keep operating. The parking lot is prime real estate on Mount Vernon Avenue, and the Commission agreed with City staff in finding that it does not comply with the city’s master plan, which outlines more active and pedestrian uses for that stretch of the Mount Vernon Avenue.

Reilly said that he needs the parking lot to stay in business.

“You can’t run a dealership unless you are facility compliant,” Reilly said. “It’s really economically unviable, and if you don’t meet the manufacturer’s customer satisfaction scores. Part of that is if your vehicle is in there (in the dealership), we need to have your vehicle to you immediately. If there’s no there’s no customer satisfaction, I just can’t operate.”

Reilly, a former president of the Del Ray Business Association, was praised for being a good neighbor by Council, and his proposal had the backing of the DRBA, the Del Ray Citizens Association and the Del Ray Land Use Committee.

“When I first moved to Del Ray there were literally just a handful of businesses on the Avenue,” said DRBA’s Gayle Reuter. “We are so thankful that over 20 years ago Kevin Reilly made the decision to move to Del Ray… Many of the events the community loves so much — the Del Ray Halloween Parade, the farmer’s market, Art On The Avenue — wouldn’t have happened without his early support in getting them going.”

Vice Mayor Amy Jackson praised Reilly and thanked him for running his business in Alexandria.

“We do appreciate what you do for the community and in Del Ray,” Jackson said.

The project includes a new service drive-thru lane, service reception areas and the installation of four electric vehicle chargers for community use. The chargers will be installed by this time next year, Reilly said.

The plan also includes a 770-square-foot canopy for a new 1,730-square-foot service reception addition, as well as a 1,500 square foot service reception area.

Praveen Kathpal told Council that the property should be converted to housing or open space, and that keeping the dealership until 2045 on Mount Vernon Avenue is a long time.

“Our current mayor will turn 66 years old in the year 2045,” Kathpal said. “This year’s high school seniors will be unavailable for any 40-under-40 lists. Taylor Swift will be older than Kurt Cobain would be if he were alive today. We’ll be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Coolio’s hit, ‘Gangsta’s Paradise.’ So, do we really want to be storing cars along Mount Vernon Avenue when all of that happens? I don’t think so.”

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Alexandria leaders agree that the city either needs to expand its aging middle schools or completely build a new one.

There are now 15,700 students within Alexandria City Public Schools, and roughy 2,000 more students are expected by 2024. That puts the city in a tricky position, as 10 ACPS schools are more than 70 years old and need continual maintenance, and a surge in elementary school kids means that Alexandria needs more middle school space.

The need for a new school was outlined in a joint facilities update between City Council and the School Board on Wednesday, October 12.

“We’ve got to be creative here with how we do things,” Mayor Justin Wilson said. “We can meet the needs of enrollment in our schools with properties we own today.”

A new middle school isn’t budgeted in the city’s 10-year fiscal year 2023-2032 Capital Improvement Program Budget. Three school replacements are currently funded: the Alexandria City High School (ACHS) Minnie Howard campus, George Mason Elementary School and Cora Kelly School.

The CIP also includes more than $12 million for the renovation of an office building at 1703 N. Beauregard Street for development by 2030. The space could be used as swing space for another school under construction or as a new 600-student-capacity school.

Vice Mayor Amy Jackson is in favor of converting the Nannie J. Lee Memorial Recreation Center (1108 Jefferson Street) into a new middle school. Other options include looking into the availability of land on Eisenhower East or at Simpson Field near Potomac Yard.

The discussion was prompted by a new Joint Facilities Master Plan Roadmap, presented by City Manager Jim Parajon. The roadmap prioritizes city renovation projects based on the condition of public buildings. City Hall, for instance, got an F rating for being “functionally obsolete.”

The roadmap is intended to be a guidance document for Council and the Board, filling in the blanks on potential developments.

A potential new use for the land at George Washington Middle School. (Via City of Alexandria)

The room of local lawmakers erupted in relief and laughter when City Manager Jim Parajon reiterated that the roadmap document is merely a guide.

“Just to be really clear, those illustrations that you saw, they are illustrations,” Parajon said. “It gives us some understanding of how a development or redevelopment could occur, or a renovation could occur.”

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Alexandria Vice Mayor Amy Jackson said the impact of pop star Lorde’s decision to take a plunge into the Potomac River is still rippling out across local environmental agencies.

In August, the New Zealand musician told a stunned D.C. crowd at The Anthem that she’d gone for a swim in the Potomac River. In years past, the river has had a reputation for being notoriously polluted, though the water quality has been gradually improving in recent years.

Jackson, reporting on activity from the Chesapeake Bay Policy and Resources Committee, said Lorde was still the talk of the town at the recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conference.

“We had our 11th annual EPA forum,” Jackson said. “We had a wonderful panel come and discuss [pollutants] and a lot of how groundwater [and] stormwater affects our city and our region, and what we can do to keep our water clean. Of course, this coincides with the Clean Water Act, and of course that all started with Lorde coming and swimming in the Potomac.”

Jackson credited Lorde with reigniting the discussion of whether or not it’s okay to swim in the Potomac River. While it’s still illegal to swim in the river in D.C., it’s legal in Maryland

“No one would probably do that a few years ago, and she’s still well,” Jackson said. “We’ve not heard that she’s come down with anything. We don’t say ‘go swim in the Potomac’ but it was definitely a great marketing tool for Lorde to do that for us.”

At a recent concert in Maryland, Lorde said she feels like a “radioactive creature” after swimming in the river.

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615-621 King Street development proposal (image via City of Alexandria)

The Mansly, a redevelopment of the Walgreens and a bank at 615-621 King Street, got its approval from the City Council — but not without some heavy side-eyeing and one “nay” vote after the Council criticized the underwhelming affordable housing contribution.

Technically, affordable housing didn’t and legally couldn’t have anything to do with the Council vote. The city has a trade set up, securing affordable housing units or contributions in exchange for extra density, but the staff report said the development wasn’t requesting density or height above what’s already recommended in the Old Town Small Area Plan and applicant The Silverman Group hit the bare minimum requirements for affordable housing contribution.

According to the staff report:

The applicant is providing a voluntary monetary contribution of $45,178 to the City’s Housing Trust Fund. This contribution is consistent with the City’s Procedures Regarding Affordable Housing Contributions, including the 2020 housing contribution policy update that established a new contribution rate for non-residential to residential conversions. Dedicated affordable units are not part of this project as the applicant is not requesting increased density, FAR or height through City Code Section 7-700 nor an increase in density beyond that recommended in the Old Town Small Area Plan.

The new development will add 24 residential units to the site along with 6,414 square feet of ground-floor commercial space into the property.

The application also included a request to take the parking requirement for the residential units down to zero, which the City Council had no objections to, but city officials did note that the $45,178 contribution was pitifully low.

“This project does do a lot… my only concern goes back to housing in general within our region,” said City Council member Canek Aguirre. “We know that we have an issue, especially around affordability. If we look at ‘well we’re building more units at market rate is that really bringing down the price for everybody else?’ Not really. Especially because the majority of the housing we need to see built is for 50% of the area median income and below.”

Aguirre was the sole City Council member to vote against the project. While Aguirre’s comments on the development focused solely on the affordable housing aspect, Aguirre said he found enough cause in city ordinance 11-504 — involving adverse effects to the neighborhood — to vote against the project.

“I believe we need to be giving options and availability across our entire city,” Aguirre said. “This just doesn’t do that for me. Of course, that’s not a reason to vote against this, but I believe for some other reasons under 11-504 I will be voting against this.”

While other members on the City Council voted in favor of the project, many added similar comments of disapproval at the lackluster affordable housing contribution.

“There are rules to the game,” said City Council member Alyia Gaskins. “They didn’t come in requesting additional [floor area ratio] so that doesn’t trigger the conversation for on site [affordable housing]. At the same time, when I hear us talk about who this project is going to be marketed to: there are low-income residents in our neighborhoods who fit that description, who want to live near where they work and want to make their lifestyle cheaper and more manageable, who want to have greater access to transit.”

Gaskins said the city should try to do more to push affordable housing more in projects like The Mansly.

“Whatever we can do to be thinking about how do we not limit ourselves from having these conversations,” Gaskins said. “There’s a big difference between saying ‘you’re required to do something’ and saying ‘let’s figure out maybe what we can do to help us reach those goals.'”

Council member Sarah Bagley agreed that the applicant abided by current requirements, but echoed the sentiments of others on the dais that it doesn’t advance the city’s goal of creating diversely priced and inclusive housing.

“There’s a lot of room for a lot of improvement here,” City Council member Amy Jackson added. “All contributions are voluntary and we appreciate the contributions being made, but $45,000 wouldn’t even buy you one of those units if we were really looking at it and they’ll make that in a month’s worth of rent.”

Still, the project was approved in a 5-1 vote.

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After months of back and forth, Alexandria’s City Council ultimately rejected an appeal from neighbors to keep a sidewalk from being built on Polk Avenue at the western edge of Seminary Hill.

The north side of Polk Avenue directly abuts Polk Park with no sidewalk, meaning anyone walking along the north side of the street is forced to cross the street — without a crosswalk at the western end. But the proposed sidewalk would also involve eliminating nine parking spaces neighbors say are desperately needed and would slightly cut into Polk Park.

Kathy Burns, who lives close to the sidewalk, said that there was no recorded history of any pedestrian, child or otherwise, being struck by a car in the area in question. Burns said the main concerns from neighbors were both the loss of nine parking spaces and concerns that there was no clear, evidenced-based reason presented by Transportation and Environmental Services (TES) that the sidewalk was needed.

Many of the speakers were neighbors expressing opposition to the city’s plans, though others were in support — like one who said she lived in townhouses overlooking the site, who said she was in favor of the sidewalk and hoped her two-year-old daughter could eventually use it to walk to Polk Elementary School.

Mike Doyle, founder of Alexandria Families For Safe Streets, said his group supported the installation of the sidewalk.

“We understand the challenge of parking,” Doyle said. “We’re not engineers, but we do know speed kills and speed maims.”

Doyle offered a middle way that some on the dais expressed an interest in: adding the sidewalk but converting one of the travel lanes into a parking lane and making Polk Avenue a one-way street. City Council member Amy Jackson asked staff whether this was a possible alternative.

“I hesitate to offer an assessment; we have not considered turning that street one way,” said Yon Lambert, the director of the Department of TES. “Typically there is an alternative for one-way traffic… There are one-way streets in some neighborhoods, but studying that would cost more.”

Lambert said any additional study of converting Polk Avenue into a one-way street could still happen, but would require additional staff work that would need to be allocated by the city. Still, the discussion left the door open for a potential future where parking spaces are restored but Polk Avenue is converted to a one-way street.

Ultimately, Mayor Justin Wilson said he would likely always side with building a sidewalk.

“I appreciate the input of residents on both sides of the issue,” Wilson said. “Honestly, this is pretty basic for me: I believe every street in the city should have a sidewalk on both sides. Full stop. Period. I don’t believe that’s a debatable question in my mind. That’s just a basic component of the road. We don’t question other components of roads and I don’t think we should question that there should be a sidewalk on both sites.”

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