Alexandria, VA

(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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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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Morning Notes

City Phone Service Restored — The City of Alexandria’s non-emergency phone lines are working again after service was restored Tuesday night. A cut to a fiber optic line caused the outage, a city spokeswoman said. [Twitter/@AlexandriaVAGov]

House With George Washington Connection on Airbnb — “George Washington may have slept here, and now so could you… in the heart of Old Town Alexandria in Virginia, where a house that once belonged to the first U.S. president is available to rent. The George of Old Town is a 6000-square-foot townhouse on Cameron Street, and it is available on Airbnb.” [WTOP]

Life Savers Recognized by AFD — “Recently when a colleague collapsed, his coworkers dialed 9-1-1 and performed CPR until fire department units arrived. Yesterday, AFD recognized Stefan Jaeger, Rebecca Rosario, Tammy Lafley, and Nick Canfield for their heroic acts that helped save a life.” [Twitter]

Nutcracker Returns Next Month — “Now in its 11th year, the Alexandria Community Nutcracker is continuing its own tradition of performing the famous ballet with a modern twist by including tap, jazz, gymnastics, Irish dance, and hip hop in the choreography. More than 250 dancers and musicians, from age 3 to age 18, bring the magic and eloquence of Tchaikovsky’s 1892 classic score to life on stage at West Potomac High School.” [Gazette Packet]

Bread & Water Back Open — After a devastating fire at the Belle View Shopping Center, local bakery and cafe Bread & Water has reopened. That has also allowed the company’s locations at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria and Pentagon Row in Arlington to reopen, as the Belle View store supplied each location with fresh bread and other offerings. [Zebra]

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The sun is shining and last night’s light rain is a distant memory, but the lower portion of King Street in Old Town is flooded nonetheless.

The Potomac River has inundated portions of King Street, Prince Street and The Strand, as it has done in the past — as recently as last month. The water is thus far only causing minor impacts, including prompting the King Street Trolley to temporarily turn around at City Hall.

https://twitter.com/DASHBus/status/1196842284840574977

The National Weather Service has continued its Coastal Flood Advisory from last night, which now runs through 3 a.m. Wednesday. High tide happened around 1:15 p.m. this afternoon and will happen again at 1:35 a.m. tonight.

“Up to one half foot of inundation above ground level is possible,” NWS said in the advisory, below.

…COASTAL FLOOD ADVISORY REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 3 AM EST WEDNESDAY… * LOCATIONS…SHORELINE IN ARLINGTON COUNTY AND THE CITY OF ALEXANDRIA. * TIDAL DEPARTURE…TWO TO TWO AND A HALF FEET ABOVE NORMAL. * TIMING…AROUND THE TIME OF HIGH TIDE. THE NEXT HIGH TIDE AT ALEXANDRIA WILL BE 1:35 AM TONIGHT. * IMPACTS…UP TO ONE HALF FOOT OF INUNDATION ABOVE GROUND LEVEL IS POSSIBLE. WATER IS EXPECTED TO APPROACH THE CURB NEAR THE INTERSECTION OF KING STREET AND STRAND STREET IN ALEXANDRIA. PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS… A COASTAL FLOOD ADVISORY INDICATES THAT ONSHORE WINDS AND TIDES WILL COMBINE TO GENERATE FLOODING OF LOW AREAS ALONG THE SHORE. &&

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(Updated at 2:15 p.m.) A new bubble tea joint near the Braddock Road Metro station called Spill the Tea could start serving next month.

The restaurant will be located at 515 Braddock Road, in the space once occupied by the now-shuttered Aveda. The exact opening date for Spill the Tea is still TBD, however.

According to co-owner Natalie Hilunmonkul, the restaurant is finishing up some construction but plans to open sometime in December.

“We haven’t really found any other place that has a full bubble tea bar,” Hilunmonkul said of potential local competition.

The shop will focus on bubble tea, but Hilunmonkul said it will also serve food.

“For the most part, the menu will be small and simple,” Hilunmonkul said. “We’ll have classic milk teas and fruit teas, maybe seasonal items. For food, we’re keeping it simple: soups, salads, and Vietnamese summer rolls.”

Vernon Miles and Airey contributed to this story

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Morning Notes

Carpenter’s Shelter Getting Amazon Donation — “A nonprofit that is building a $2 million facility for the homeless in Old Town Alexandria says it has reached its fundraising goal after receiving $300,000 from Amazon, Inc… The donation from Amazon is the latest example of how the retail giant is trying to be a good corporate citizen in Northern Virginia.” [Washington Post, Patch]

Digital Plaudits for City — “Alexandria has been ranked the fourth top digital city of its size in the United States, according to the 2019 Digital Cities Survey… This is the 15th consecutive year Alexandria has been ranked in the top 10, including two years in first place.” [City of Alexandria]

MacArthur Students to Relocate to Henry — “Alexandria City Council has given the green light to Alexandria City Public Schools to use the old Patrick Henry Elementary School facility as temporary swing space for Douglas MacArthur Elementary School students, potentially reallocating $60 million dollars and speeding up the delivery of the new school.” [ACPS]

Closures Planned for Thanksgiving — “All City of Alexandria government offices will be closed on Thursday, November 28, and Friday, November 29, in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday.” [City of Alexandria]

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Expect some flooding near the waterfront in Old Town tonight.

The National Weather Service has issued a Coastal Flood Advisory, set to go into effect at 8 p.m. and run overnight. The Potomac River is expected to be up to 2 feet above its normal levels at high tide, around 12:30 a.m., approaching the curb at the intersection of King and Strand streets.

Old Town last experienced significant coastal flooding just over a month ago.

More from the National Weather Service:

…COASTAL FLOOD ADVISORY IN EFFECT FROM 8 PM THIS EVENING TO 5 AM EST TUESDAY… THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN BALTIMORE MD/WASHINGTON HAS ISSUED A COASTAL FLOOD ADVISORY, WHICH IS IN EFFECT FROM 8 PM THIS EVENING TO 5 AM EST TUESDAY. * LOCATIONS…SHORELINE IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA AND ARLINGTON COUNTY AND THE CITY OF ALEXANDRIA. * TIDAL DEPARTURE…ONE AND A HALF TO TWO FEET ABOVE NORMAL. * TIMING…AROUND THE TIME OF HIGH TIDE. HIGH TIDE AT WASHINGTON CHANNEL IS AT 12:12 AM OVERNIGHT. HIGH TIDE AT ALEXANDRIA IS AT 12:30 AM OVERNIGHT. * IMPACTS…SHORELINE INUNDATION IS EXPECTED ALONG PORTIONS OF THE SEAWALL ADJACENT TO OHIO DRIVE AND THE HAINS POINT LOOP ROAD AND NEAR THE TIDAL BASIN. WATER IS EXPECTED TO APPROACH THE CURB NEAR THE INTERSECTION OF KING STREET AND STRAND STREET IN ALEXANDRIA. MINOR SHORELINE INUNDATION UP TO ONE FOOT ABOVE GROUND IS POSSIBLE ELSEWHERE. PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS… A COASTAL FLOOD ADVISORY INDICATES THAT ONSHORE WINDS AND TIDES WILL COMBINE TO GENERATE FLOODING OF LOW AREAS ALONG THE SHORE. &&

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An Alexandria man accused of manufacturing and distributing anabolic steroids has been sentenced to prison time.

John Russell Kestel, 38, was sentenced to serve five years in federal prison for the illicit steroid business, which was run “in a clandestine laboratory in the basement of his home in Alexandria.”

Federal prosecutors say Kestel also “concocted homemade versions of pharmaceutical drugs intended to counter the side effects of long-term steroid abuse.” He allegedly conducted the business using a private Facebook group.

More from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia:

An Alexandria man was sentenced today to five years in prison for manufacturing and distributing anabolic steroids and money laundering.

According to court documents, John Russell Kestel, 38, ran an anabolic steroid manufacturing and distribution conspiracy for at least three years. Kestel imported raw steroid powders from China and manufactured them into consumable steroid products in a clandestine laboratory in the basement of his home in Alexandria. In addition to steroid products, Kestel concocted homemade versions of pharmaceutical drugs intended to counter the side effects of long-term steroid abuse.

Kestel then distributed his homemade steroid products through social media sites including Facebook. After confirming the interest of potential clients in a private Facebook group, Kestel would direct them to a password-protected website where they could place orders and make payments.

Kestel utilized an elaborate money laundering scheme to conceal and disguise the nature of the proceeds of his steroid manufacturing and distribution operation. The money laundering scheme involved bank accounts that had been opened by the defendant in a multitude of names, including the names of real people known to the defendant and using their personally identifiable information.

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Jesse R. Fong, Special Agent in Charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Washington Field Division; Kelly R. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge, Washington, D.C. Field Office, IRS-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI); and Mark S. McCormack, Special Agent in Charge, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations, Metro Washington Field Office, made the announcement after sentencing by U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Trigger and Assistant U.S. Attorney Dennis M. Fitzpatick prosecuted the case.

Photo by Analuisa Gamboa on Unsplash

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A 77-year-old Fairfax County man was struck and killed by a driver on Duke Street near the Alexandria Commons shopping center over the weekend.

The crash happened around 7:30 a.m. Saturday on Duke Street at Sweeley Street.

Police say Fairfax County resident John Thompson, 77, was crossing in the crosswalk when he was struck. He later died at a local hospital.

The driver remained on the scene and thus far there’s no word on any charges being filed, though police say they’re still investigating the crash. More from an Alexandria Police Department press release:

The Alexandria Police Department is investigating a traffic crash that occurred on Saturday, November 16, in the 3100 block of Duke Street.

At approximately 7:35 a.m., police responded to the area for a pedestrian struck in the intersection of Duke Street and Sweeley Street. Initial investigation indicates Mr. John Thompson, a 77-year-old Fairfax County resident, was crossing Duke Street in the crosswalk when he was struck by a motor vehicle. Mr. Thompson died from his injuries at a local hospital. The driver of the vehicle remained on the scene.

Members of the Crash Reconstruction Team and Criminal Investigations Section are investigating the crash. The investigation is ongoing. Alexandria Police ask that witnesses with information regarding this incident contact Officer Charles Gardiner at 703.408.6375.

Last month a car ran into the front of the Sweetfrog frozen yogurt shop at the Alexandria Commons shopping center.

Photo via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Stolen Vehicle Prompts Police Helo — “The Alexandria Police Department stopped a stolen vehicle in the 3000 block of King Street. A helicopter has been requested to assist.” [Twitter/@AlexandriaVAPD]

Route 7 Bus Lanes Planned — “New plans for rapid bus stations and bus lanes along Route 7 in Northern Virginia show the changes that could come to the busy commuter route over the next decade. A new conceptual engineering report lays out 18 specific bus rapid station locations from Tysons to Alexandria.” [WTOP]

Hospital Uses Temporary Cowbell Alert System — “It got a little noisy at Inova Alexandria Hospital on Thursday, Nov. 7, as hospital staff had to get creative in the in-patient unit by giving patients cowbells during an upgrade to the call bell system. Extra hospital staff were deployed to help patients during the four hour shutdown before the system was back online. There were no reported issues.” [Zebra]

Thousands of Coats Donated — “It wouldn’t be the holiday season in Alexandria without Willie Bailey’s annual coat drive. By the end of the year, Bailey and his team of volunteers from the Alexandria Police Department, Fire Department, and Sheriff’s Office have distributed more than 4,000 winter coats to city youth.” [Zebra]

Nearby: Elaborate Light Display Taking Year Off — “Collingwood Lights will not open this winter, ending a tradition for thousands of local residents. Elaborate, music-synched light displays have given joy to many people for more than two decades at Bill and Jan Vaughan’s home at 1601 Collingwood Road. In 2018, the couple won $50,000 in ABC television’s ‘The Great Christmas Light Fight.'” [Alexandria Living]

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Morning Notes

Residential Parking Permit Changes in the Works — “Changes to the city’s residential parking permit program are underway and both residents and businesses are concerned about what the proposed changes could mean… The most controversial change, which staff has since removed from its list of recommended changes, would have eliminated the three-hour parking option for non-permit holders in RPP districts.” [Alexandria Times]

Port City Brings Home Gold Medal — “Several Northern Virginia craft brewers brought home medals from the 2019 Great American Beer Festival, including two gold medals… Port City Brewing in Alexandria won a gold medal for its German Pilsner in the Kellerbier or Zwickelbier category.” [WTOP]

T.C. Grads Raise Money for Scholarships — “Nobody remembers the T.C. Williams Titans like former graduates, and this week the final totals were tallied in the annual Clash of the Titans fundraiser for the Scholarship Fund of Alexandria. In all, T.C. alumni raised $46,736 for the fund, which annually gives $1 million in scholarships. And this year, bragging rights for the class to raise the most goes to… the T.C. Williams Class of 1993, which raised $5,870.” [Zebra]

More Plaudits for the City — “Southern Living Magazine has named Alexandria the perfect setting for a Hallmark Christmas movie… “You’ll find yourself wondering: ‘Was that Candace Cameron Bure I just saw crossing King Street?'” Southern Living wrote. [Alexandria Living]

Smoke Alarm Drive This Weekend — “VOLUNTEER OPP: We’re partnering with @RedCrossNCR to install smoke alarms for residents in the Westover area on Saturday, Nov. 16.” [Twitter/@AlexandriaVAFD]

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