Alexandria, VA

Latest Torpedo Factory Plan Redesigns First Floor — “As far as the first floor, staff plans to make the space more interactive, which could involve relocating artists throughout the building. Specifically, Ruggiero mentioned relocating a print-maker studio from the third floor to the first, as well as the Art League’s art supply store.” [Alexandria Times]

Alexandria Offers Emergency Child Care for Low Income Families — “The Alexandria City Council approved a request in September from DCHS and the Alexandria Emergency Child Care Collaborative (ECCC) to utilize Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to support this child care initiative. The initiative is limited to 150 children total, who will be assigned on a first-come, first-served basis.” [City of Alexandria]

Alexandria Restaurant Partners Seeking Chef for New Concept — “As we are moving our Majestic Culinary team to our newest Concept, Ada’s on The River, we are interviewing for an experienced and passionate Executive Chef and Sous Chef to join our team” [Salary]

Veterans Commemorate Amid Pandemic — “On Nov. 11, the Friends of Rocky Versace commemorated the 102nd anniversary of the armistice to end World War I with a Veterans Day ceremony at Blessed Sacrament School Hall, a change from its usual location at Mount Vernon Recreation Center due to COVID-19 restrictions.” [Alexandria Gazette]

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Local nonprofit Casa Chirilagua is planning to keep with the spirit of Thanksgiving by distributing meals to those in need, but needs some public help for setup and distribution.

“We are distributing 500 meals for Thanksgiving on Wednesday, Nov. 25,” said the organization, which provides assistance in the Chirilagua and Arlandria neighborhood. “The setup will begin at 1:30 p.m. and the distribution will begin at 2:00 p.m.”

Casa Chirilagua needs volunteers to help

  • Setup tables
  • Organizing the boxes
  • Helping manage the line
  • Make sure people are remaining socially distanced,
  • Handing out boxes
  • Taking tickets
  • Handing out masks
  • Cleanup

The organization asked that those who volunteer make sure they have not been exposed to COVID-19 before they volunteer, that they haven’t experienced any symptoms of respiratory illness within the last 14 days, and that they don’t live with someone who is considered at risk.

Volunteers can sign up through the Volunteer Alexandria website.

Staff photo by James Cullum

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As the city continues to adapt to primarily virtual meetings, Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker is spearheading an effort to open up new ways for the public to provide input on city affairs.

While the move coincides with the extended online-only year of city governance, Bennett-Parker said the issue also taps into earlier lack of online access for city residents.

“While residents can watch our meetings on channel 70, stream our meetings online, and access recordings afterwards, they did not have a way to truly participate online until we moved our meetings to Zoom in response to COVID-19,” Bennett-Parker said in a message to the City Council. “This memo seeks to build upon this experience and sustain it once we return to in-person meetings, recognizing that requiring in-person attendance creates barriers to participation.”

Bennett-Parker noted in the memo that in some ways, the city is restricted by the Code of Virginia. Section 2.2-3708.2 outlines specific requirements for virtual engagement, but Bennett-Parker noted in her memo that the code section specifically states that the section should not be construed to “prohibit use of interactive audio or video means to expand public participation.”

“Our ability to expand options for public comment via the use of video and audio means is thus a question of policy and resources.,” Bennett-Parker said. “With the agreement of my colleagues, I would like to ask staff to return to Council with information regarding what resources would be needed to expand our ability to receive public comment at Council meetings…”

Bennett-Parker requested that the staff look into accepting the following forms of public input:

  • Submission of video or audio files sent directly via email or through a link to YouTube or a cloud service such as Dropbox, to a designated email address;
  • Calling a telephone number established for this purpose and leaving a message; and
  • Providing live remote comments via Zoom, Skype, or similar platform once we return to in-person meetings and are no longer in a state of emergency.

Eventually, Bennett-Parker said other boards and commissions could adopt a similar standard.

“While this initiative, if ultimately approved, would start with Council, it would be my hope that it could be expanded to the Planning Commission and other Boards and Commissions that receive public comment,” Bennett-Parker said.

Bennett-Parker’s memo is scheduled for review by the City Council at the meeting tonight.

Staff photo (pre-pandemic) by James Cullum

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With the approach of the yuletide season, the Lee-Fendall House (614 Oronoco Street) in Alexandria has decked out the home in full 19th century regalia for candlelight tours.

“Celebrate the holiday season with evening candlelight tours of the Lee-Fendall House decked out in Victorian splendor,” the Lee-Fendall House Museum & Garden said on Facebook. “Our antique toy exhibit will also be on view.”

The home was originally built in 1785 on land purchased by Major General Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee.

The tours are offered every half hour starting at 5 p.m. and ending at 8 p.m. The museum warned that space is limited and reservations will be required. Face masks and social distancing will also be required for tours.

Tickets for the holiday tours are $8 for adults and $3 for children ages 6-13.

Photo via Lee-Fendall House Museum and Garden

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After a unanimous vote at the Alexandria School Board meeting last night, the names T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School were voted out — with the replacements still to be decided.

Over the next few months, the School Board will seek public feedback before settling on a new pair of names. The new names will be chosen by the Board in the spring and go into effect at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.

“I’m excited for this moment,” said Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, who recently threw his name in among supporters of the change. “It’s finally here. On behalf of our students: this is a historic moment for everybody. For many years people have been trying to have the name of T.C. Williams in particular changed… I want to commend the Board for allowing us to be able toe explore and get information from our community.”

T.C. Williams High School is the biggest public high school in Virginia, and is named after former ACPS Superintendent Thomas Chambliss Williams, who was an avowed segregationist. Matthew Maury Elementary School is named after an oceanographer and Confederate leader.

While efforts to rename T.C. Williams High School began in the 1990s, a renewed push this year was tied in with nationwide discussions about renaming honors to the Confederacy and other symbols of racial oppression.

“We can’t change history, but we can change what history we choose to honor,” said School Board member Michelle Rief. “The names were selected not because of their accomplishments, but as declarations of our community values in 1929 and in 1962. We have an opportunity to right that wrong.”

While the School Board members unanimously supported, others acknowledged that the symbolic change is far from the end of the discussion about eliminating vestiges of racism in the school infrastructure.

“T.C. and Maury no longer reflect who we are as a society, at least in Alexandria,” School Board member Heather Thornton said. “This is a symbolic step. Changing the name of T.C. is not going to do anything to eliminate systemic racism and barriers. It’s not going to solve anything. I hope people stay engaged and know this is a first step, but there are many things we need to have community engaged on.”

Thornton also pointed to disproportionality in suspension rates and graduation rates as lingering reminders of inequality in Alexandria City Public Schools, topics discussed later in the meeting.

“We can change the name all we want,” Thornton said, “but if we don’t change foundational issues I don’t think we will really achieve what we’re hoping to achieve as a school division.”

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Morning Notes

Alexandria Library Offers New Online Learning Tool — “During this time of school closures, expanded online learning, and social distancing recommendations, access to premium research tools that provide access to information from reliable sources is important. Alexandria Library Offers Online Resource Tool EZProxy to make access to these resources easier to use.” [Zebra]

Southern Living Profiles Alexandria at Christmas — “Although it may look the part, Alexandria, Virginia, is not the kind of Hallmark-movie small town where all the locals grew up together and you’ll undoubtedly run into your high school sweetheart while picking up a fresh baguette at the neighborhood bakery. The community here is tight-knit, but anyone can join.” [Southern Living]

Coronavirus Spike Leads to New Restrictions — “In restaurants, on-site sale and consumption of alcohol must end at 10 p.m., and the restaurants must close by midnight. Parties of more than 25 may not be seated or served, and customers must be served at tables 6 feet apart (and not at bar seating). Masks must be worn at all times when not drinking or eating.” [Alexandria Gazette]

Animal Welfare League of Alexandria Seeking Care Technician — “Responsible for daily cleaning and feeding of the animals at the animal shelter and other associated tasks. Weekend work will be required; Saturday or Sunday availability is required. This is a part-time Temporary position.” [Paylocity]

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Just as the scooter program was starting to take off in Alexandria and the electric vehicles became ubiquitous on Old Town streets, new data shows the pandemic tanked scooter usage in the city throughout 2020.

A report going to the City Council tomorrow (Tuesday) showed that while scooter usage exceeded 2019 levels in January and February of 2020, by March the pandemic had started to hit scooter usage. In April and May — during the stay-at-home order, ridership tanked to near non-existence in the months that had been the peak of ridership in 2019.

Ridership slowly started increasing again through June and July, peaking for the year in August.

The Alexandria Ad Hoc Scooter Task Force met for the first time in September to consider whether to move into the next phase of the program — which it was determined would be no different given time constraints — or let the pilot program expire later this year.

In light of the unusual circumstances of 2020, the Alexandria Ad Hoc Scooter Task Force is requesting that the pilot being extend to December 31, 2021, by the City Council. The extension would grant staff more time to develop strategy and gather feedback for the third phase of the program.

Graph via City of Alexandria

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The old Robinson Terminal North, once the abrupt northern end to the Old Town waterfront, is no more.

Demolition was mostly wrapped up this weekend after a quick tear-down, and the plan is to make the location part of the broader effort to reform Old Town’s sewer system called the RiverRenew program.

“Behind me is the Robinson Terminal North warehouse,” said Kelvin Coles, deputy design manager for the RiverRenew program, in a video. “Many residents and visitors will recognize this large steel building as the dividing landmark between Oronoco Bay park and Founders Park.”

The property a coal storage facility, along with other industrial uses, and ultimately a Washington Post shipping hub before it was decommissioned in 2013.

The property is adjacent to outfall 1, one of four sewer outfalls in Old Town that is the subject of the combined sewer system overhaul. On average, there are around 30 overflow events at outfall 1 alone. The plan is to build a diversion facility to direct the outflow into a tunnel.

Construction on the new project is expected to begin in spring 2021 and continue through winter 2024. The facility will be mainly below ground once complete.

Above ground, the plan is to extend Pendleton Street into a promenade. The program is planned to feature benches and potential space for programming.

Pendleton Street Extension image via RiverRenew

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Old Town neighbors raised eyebrows at a proposed development at 1415 Princess Street that staff said would fit all the zoning requirements, but still puts nearby residents in a tight bind.

Viewed from the street, 1415 Princess Street appears to be a house-sized vacant lot on the largely residential street in the Parker-Gray neighborhood. But the empty space at 1415 Princess Street is actually part of a three lot segment, two of which came forward to the Board of Architectural Review as part of a proposed development that would rub right up against the front doors of neighboring homes.

Steve Davidson, in particular, told the BAR that the new development would be pressed up right against the front door of the house, located on the side of the building.

“If this building is built, it will cover the entire front of the house I am living in,” Davidson said. “That door is my front door. That building, the proposed structure, would be up against the property line which is only four feet two inches from the site of my house.”

Davidson said the proposed development would obliterate light access into the house and would turn the front door into an alley.

“That seems like a bad idea,” Davidson said. “I can’t understand why we’d put three properties in a little narrow strip like that.”

Other residents on the street expressed concerns that the new development could impact other nearby houses. Read More

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Police announced yesterday that local resident Justin Benedict (55) had died as a result of injuries from a vehicle crash in Old Town on Friday.

“The Alexandria Police Department is investigating a vehicle crash that occurred on Friday, November 20, 2020, at S. Washington Street and Wilkes Street,” Alexandria police said in a press release. “At approximately 4 p.m., police responded to a crash involving a vehicle and a pedestrian.”

Police said the driver remained on the scene and Benedict was brought to a local hospital where he died.

“Members of the Crash Reconstruction Team are investigating the crash,” police said. “Witnesses to this crash or anyone with video footage are asked to contact Officer Nancy Gordon at 571.289.6794.”

Photo via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Alexandria Featured in Profiles on Region’s Oldest Homes — “One of the interesting aspects of the Ball-Sellers House is that some of the original roof is protected under a later roof. That’s also the case with the oldest surviving house in Alexandria: 517 Prince St., or what’s known as the Murray-Dick-Fawcett House. The oldest part of the house dates to 1772. There is access to the space between the old roof and the roof that was later built above it at a less-severe pitch.” [Washington Post]

West End Contractor Wins Big Missile System Contract — “The U.S. Navy awarded Alexandria-based Systems Planning and Analysis Inc. (SPA) an $85 million contract to provide technical support for the Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missile system, the company announced this week.” [Virginia Business]

ACPS Food Distribution Closed for Thanksgiving Break — “ACPS food distribution sites will be closed this Wednesday, Nov. 25 and Friday, Nov. 27 for Thanksgiving Break.” [Twitter]

Alexandria Regal Hiring Staff Again — “Floor Staff team members are classified based on individual theatre needs, and/or employee availability, as either variable hour, part-time fixed, part-time regular or full-time hourly employees whose primary responsibility is ensuring our guests receive exceptional service.” [Glassdoor]

George Washington’s River Farm Listed for Sale — “River Farm, the 27-acre property once owned by George Washington that now serves as the headquarters for the American Horticultural Society, was officially listed on the open real estate market at $32.9 million on Nov. 13.” [Alexandria Times]

Staff photo by James Cullum

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For over four years, Alexandria Police have failed to get body worn cameras off the ground. A new report going to City Council this Tuesday outlines the costs and staffing issues that have played a part in that extended delay.

“Oftentimes, jurisdictions do not realize the true extent of costs to implement a program that is based on deploying technology devices,” City staff said in a report. “The belief that the costs are solely the devices and associated licensing fees leads to disastrous results when the ripple effects of that technology are felt. The proliferation of cloud-based technology solutions actually adds to the impression that the cost of the desired ‘e-widget’ is all that is needed for consideration. In few areas could the purchase of technology in one agency have a huge impact across many others the way that BWC programs do.”

The new report coming to the City Council follows a push earlier this year Alexandria Police to adopt a body worn camera program.

The report acknowledges, however, that Alexandria is one of the few jurisdictions in the area that doesn’t have a body worn camera program either implemented or in the works. Fairfax County Police Department implemented body worn cameras earlier this year — and within the year an officer was charged with assault and battery after being caught on camera assaulting a black man — and the Arlington County Police Department and Sheriff’s Office are both scheduled to start a body worn camera program in 2021.

Of the 17 regional law enforcement offices surveyed, only the Falls Church Police Department and Charles County Sheriff’s Office did not have body worn camera programs.

“The City is one of the few remaining law enforcement agencies in the [region] who do not employ BWC,” the report said, “though many agencies are phasing in and not yet fully deploying BWC to their staff due to unrealized costs and the need for additional staffing that were not funded.”

The report said Alexandria plans to eventually implement body worn cameras. The Alexandria Police Department would require a total of 325 body worn cameras, while the Sheriff’s Office would require 175 and the Alexandria Fire Department would need seven. As noted earlier in the report, the cameras also come with an increased cost for data storage and staffing. The report outlines a program that would phase-in body worn cameras to offset the upfront cost.

Another part of that report put the estimated total cost at between $1.4 to $2 million at first-year costs alone.

The report is scheduled to be received by the City Council at the meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 24.

Photo via Tony Webster/Flickr

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