Alexandria, VA

Pedestrians are getting a little more room to walk down King Street this weekend, but the new changes aren’t the planned pedestrian zone that has stirred up conversations in Old Town.

“The City has temporarily widened the sidewalk on the south side of the unit, 100 and 200 blocks of King Street, to allow more room for pedestrians to stay at least 6 feet apart while walking,” the city said in a press release.

Starting at 7 p.m. tonight, traffic will be prohibited from driving east on King Street past S. Fairfax Street, Alexandria Living Magazine first reported. The City of Alexandria clarified, however, that this isn’t part of broader pedestrian zone plans, but is instead an attempt to stall the spread of coronavirus as more people take to city streets.

“We are just widening the sidewalk on one side of the street to help pedestrians observe physical distancing guidelines,” City spokesman Craig Fifer said in an email. “Vehicular traffic will be one-way instead of two-way on those two blocks to free up the space used to widen the sidewalk. This is not related to the King Street Place proposal, and is not intended to encourage anyone to come to the area.”

The change will be in effect until Tuesday, May 26, according to the city. The city will also have additional law enforcement in the area to maintain compliance with the law. Northern Virginia is still under a stay-at-home order and gatherings of more than 10 people are still prohibited, with only essential trips outside of home permitted.

“To accommodate the wider sidewalk, vehicles on these three blocks may travel one-way westbound only (i.e. away from the river),” the city said. “Pedestrians, motorists and cyclists should stay alert and observe all posted signage and instructions from law enforcement officers.”

Staff photo by James Cullum

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In his weekly virtual town hall, Mayor Justin Wilson said signs are good that Alexandria could be pulling out of the worst of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our percent of positive tests have been going down for an extended period of time,” Wilson said on Thursday night. “Our new hospitalizations are either going down or level at the moment. There’s still a number of days to go, but we’re heading into a situation where we could be ready to go for phase 1.”

Wilson also noted that Inova Alexandria Hospital has 50 COVID-19 patients, meaning the hospital is fine as far as capacity is concerned.

Alexandria and the rest of Northern Virginia had reopening delayed because the region was still a coronavirus hotspot. While there’s no official word on the matter from Gov. Northam, Wilson said Phase 1 for Northern Virginia will likely be similar to the rest of the state’s reopening guidelines.

As the city looks towards the first stage of reopening, Wilson said questions are already looming about what happens next.

“One of the questions that will now be something we work through is what do we do after Phase 1?” Wilson said. “Is there an effort to resynchronize with the rest of the state for Phase 2 or do we stay behind for the rest of the transition.”

Two testing sites are planned to open Monday, at Landmark Mall and Corra Kelly, with 3,000 tests being distributed for free. Wilson said this will be the first widespread testing for asymptomatic cases and Wilson said it should help give an idea of the spread in the community.

Wilson advised those going to get tested to wear marks and bring sunscreen because a line is likely.

Wilson also acknowledged that there had been a coronavirus outbreak at all nine of the city’s long-term care facilities.

“The city has experienced 11 total outbreaks,” Wilson said. “That’s multiple cases in one location. All nine of our long-term care facilities are deemed to have had an outbreak. Some of those are with only one or two cases, some with many more.”

Wilson said of the then-1627 cases (that’s gone up to 1,657 today), only 125 cases came from outbreaks, and 103 of those were from healthcare workers.

“Most cases are community transmission,” Wilson said. “I think that’s an important distinction and demonstrates why stay at home orders are so important.”

Staff photo by James Cullum

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The Old Town Business Association is putting together a charity event next week called Good. Works. Alexandria aimed at both encouraging people to shop at local businesses and have a portion of the proceeds donated to a charity of the customer’s choice.

On Wednesday, May 27, customers shopping at a participating local restaurant or retailer can, at checkout, designate a Spring2Action charity of their choice and the business will donate a portion of the proceeds to that charity.

“As you know, the nonprofit and small business communities have taken an unprecedented blow during the COVID-19 shutdown,” the Old Town Business Association (OTB) said in a press release. “We need to work together to ensure we all succeed. On May 27, Alexandria’s retailers and restaurants will host a giving event called Good. Works. Alexandria with a percentage of sales going to the local nonprofit community, when lunch or dinner is ordered or purchase made.”

Businesses that have not yet signed up for the program can still register online today.

So far, participating retailers include: Read More

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The George Washington Middle School Parent Teacher Association is donating $9,000 to Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) to help restore the exterior grounds of the school.

A memo regarding the donation said last December a community member approached ACPS about starting a fundraiser to help restore some of the outdoor learning space at the school. The GW PTA donated a total of $9,000 on May 13. Any donations above $2,500 must be approved the School Board, which is scheduled to review the donation at tomorrow’s meeting.

“The donation will support the well-being of students and staff at George Washington Middle School by providing a restored outdoor space that can be used for learning, instruction and other educational purposes,” staff said in the memo. “The donation has no identified undesirable, unacceptable, or hidden costs. It will serve all students, staff and community of George Washington Middle School.”

If the donation is approved, the memo states that the ACPS Operations Department will work through the next steps needed to restore the school’s outdoor learning space.

Like the rest of ACPS, GW is currently closed for the remainder of the school year.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Alexandria Restaurant Partners (ARP) is switching things up this weekend, with a planned reopening in Shirlington and a Del Ray restaurant opening a new brunch menu.

“Lena’s Wood-Fired Pizza & Tap (401 E Braddock Road) will launch a limited brunch menu starting this weekend,” ARP said in a press release. “Brunch will be available from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.”

Items available include:

  • Breakfast Pizza: mozzarella, eggs, bacon, roasted red peppers, alfredo sauce
  • Italian Sausage and Egg Panini: spicy Italian sausage, fried egg, provolone, garlic aioli
  • Egg Salad Panini: crisp pancetta, egg salad, mustard, tomato, arugala, scallions, focaccia bun
  • Wood-fired Frittata: mushrooms, roasted peppers, caramelized onions, mozzarella, mixed green salad

“Orders can be placed via LenasWoodFire.com for carry-out and delivery, or for delivery on UberEats, GrubHub and Postmates,” ARP said.

Lena’s Wood-Fired Pizza & Tap was the only ARP restaurant not to close after Gov. Ralph Northam’s order limiting businesses to six patrons and was one of the early adopters of the cocktails-to-go directive.

Also opening is Palette 22 (4053 Campbell Avenue) in the Shirlington neighborhood of Arlington. The restaurant will reopen for take-out and delivery starting Memorial Day, Monday (May 25). The restaurant will offer a limited menu of local favorites, plus a selection of signature cocktails and sangria.

Photo via Lena’s Wood-Fired Pizza/Facebook

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With schools being closed for the duration of the school year and Alexandria still in lockdown until the end of May, Alexandria City Public Schools highlighted the annual faculty awards in an online post celebrating the support staff, teacher, and principal of the year.

ACPS announced the winners on Monday, May 18.

  • Andrew (William) Sharpe: 2020 Support Staffer of the Year
  • Ashley Sandoval: 2020 Teacher of the Year
  • PreeAnn Johnson: 2020 Principal of the Year

ACPS also released some fun facts about the ACPS award recipients.

Sharpe is not only a building engineer at T.C. Williams High School Minnie Howard Campus and an employee for 36 years, he is also a class of ’78 Titan who holds the school record for longest kickoff return for a 96-yarder set in 1978.

Sandoval, a physical education teacher at Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology, arranged for swimming lessons for every fourth grade student in her school.

Johnson, principal of James K. Polk Elementary School, has worked in Alexandria schools for 35 years and led the school to winning the Let’s Move Active Schools National Award.

ACPS highlighted Sharpe in a post on Monday and Sandoval in a post today (Wednesday), with an upcoming message that will honor Johnson on Friday.

The schools also recognized and celebrated National Merit Scholar Leah Nickelsburg. Nickelsburg, a senior at T.C., was awarded $2,500 by the academic organization that recognizes excellence in students across the U.S.

ACPS also announced more plans for graduation on Saturday, June 13. A virtual ceremony will be streamed starting at 9:30 a.m. on ACPS TV Channel 71, Facebook Live and the ACPS website.

“While our school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic have upended our traditional ending to a school year, we have been hard at work trying to plan the most meaningful and special ways to recognize you while also being responsible to ensure our duties to prevent the spread of any disease and ensure public safety and health,” said T.C. Principal Peter Balas.

The keynote address is scheduled to be given by world champion sprinter Noah Lyles, a 2016 T.C. graduate who is part of the US Olympic team that was originally scheduled to compete in Olympics in Tokyo, Japan this summer.

Photo via @CKelemPE/Twitter

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While T.C. Williams High School students aren’t gathering in-person to celebrate graduation, local celebrations are being held including a special lighting of the George Washington Masonic Temple.

“On Saturday, June 13, 2020, we encourage all residents of the most wonderful City of Alexandria to light up their homes in red, white and blue to support the graduating Class of 2020 from T.C. Williams High School,” Principal Peter Balas said in a newsletter. “I am excited to announce that the George Washington Masonic Temple will be illuminated in red, white and blue on June 13 in recognition of our graduates. Let’s light up the whole city!”

ACPS has a website set up for a virtual graduation event that day — featuring a comically outdated dab — but there are few other details so far.

Balas said locals should try to light their homes up red, white and blue to honor graduates on June 13. Those who participate are also encouraged to share their pictures with Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) via @ACPSk12 on Twitter using the #TCW2020 hashtag, or post on the ACPS Facebook page.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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The sprawling Atrium building in the heart of Old Town (277 S. Washington Street) could be getting a major facelift as the building tries to attract new tenants.

The building, constructed in 1978 in a neo-traditional style, is five-stories tall and roughly 139,000 square feet. It takes up the entire block and one of its largest tenants is the Eagle Bank at the corner of S. Washington and Duke Streets.

“The owner plans to reposition, modernize, and add new amenities to the building,” the W.C and A.N. Miller Development Company said in an application. “A large multi-floor tenant will be moving out of the building within the next few years and this will be the best time to do the work to minimize disruption to the remaining tenants.”

The application does not specify which tenant is leaving.

Many of the renovations will be internal, though the application says the planned use will hopefully bring more nightlife to that corner of southern Old Town.

“To attract new tenants, the existing penthouse fitness center will be converted to a conference center/lounge and roof deck amenity for the use of its tenants,” the company said. “This amenity is also being planned for use after business hours and on weekends and holidays for special functions. Additional improvements include refreshing the building entrances and other interior upgrades.”

Plans show the upstairs fitness center’s conversion into a lounge with rooftop views of Old Town.

The application also notes that the current entrance to the building is dark and uninviting, so new plans feature an illuminated archway less set-back from the street.

The upgrades are planned for review at the Wednesday, June 3, Board of Architectural Review meeting.

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Alexandria City Public Schools reiterated in a School Board meeting last Friday (May 15) that the upcoming school year won’t start before Labor Day (Sept. 7) but the next school year likely will.

In a memo to the board, Chief Human Resources Officer Stephen Wilkins said that Calendar Committee recommended the 2021-2022 school year start at on Aug. 28. School officials warned, however, that this could change depending on the long-term impact of COVID-19.

“We may be revisiting the 2021-2022 calendar again,” Hutchings said. “It may look completely different than what we have presented… With everything that’s happening with the pandemic, calendars for this year and next year could look different.”

The school district said earlier that the state legislature’s change to the requirement that schools start after Labor Day — colloquially known as the King’s Dominion Rule — came too late to give families enough time to plan for the schedule change in the 2020-2021 school year.

While officials said Alexandria is not alone in pushing back plans to start before Labor Day until the 2021-2022 school year, the school system shouldn’t fall behind other jurisdictions moving to a pre-Labor Day start to ensure that Alexandria students have as much academic time as students in other regional jurisdictions.

“We reviewed the calendars for our region,” Wilkins said. “Many jurisdictions have a pre-Labor Day start. Our concern was to align our calendars with our neighbors.”

The School Board is scheduled to vote on the calendar recommendation in one of its meetings later this month.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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A planned senior care facility called The Landing in Potomac Yard is returning to the city for approval of some changes to reflect new city guidelines.

Silverstone Healthcare Co. is applying to the City of Alexandria to increase the size of a project at 2602 Main Line Blvd., originally approved in 2018, from 150 units up to 190 units in one building but with an overall decrease in units.

The plan had been to build two buildings with 336 units, but changes in the designs and in local ordinances have led to a series of changes to that plan to make some of the spaces more flexible, leaving the project with a new total of 313 units.

“Since the original approvals, the applicant has refined the unit mix for Building 1 to replace the assisted living units on the 7th through 9th floors with 40 independent living units that can be converted back and forth to assisted living units,” Silverstone Health Co. said in the application. “89 assisted living units and 34 memory care units will continue to be provided on the 2nd through 6th floors and will remain assisted living units. The Applicant will be commencing the construction of Building 1 in the near future. The Applicant is now requesting an increase in the number of independent living units within the project to maintain the units originally contemplated and approved for Building 2 and allow the final site plan and building permits to proceed for that building.”

After the initial approval of the project. Alexandria changed a zoning definition from “home for the elderly” to “continuum of care facility” and the new application reflects a similar revision in the project.

Concept rendering via Silverstone Senior Living

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With Visit Alexandria pivoting from external tourism to keeping locals engaged, the city-sponsored organization has written up a guide for celebrating Memorial Day (Monday, May 25) in Alexandria.

Northern Virginia, including Alexandria, is not scheduled to start lifting coronavirus restrictions until May 29. There are still more restaurants and retail locations starting to reopen as they adjust to social distancing rules. The Visit Alexandria site has a list of local eateries with Memorial Day specials. Jast as with Cinco De Mayo, some local restaurants are offering interesting or unusual items.

Fresh off their margarita donut, Elizabeth’s Counter (né Sugar Sheck) will have a bourbon donut available over Memorial Day weekend, from May 22-May 25.

Hummingbird Bar and Kitchen in the Hotel Indigo (220 S. Union Street) is offering a grill and chill bag serving four, including a shrimp cocktail, grilled artichokes, a fully loaded baked potato, four steaks with garlic butter, brownies and a bottle of wine for $200. The bags have to be reserved by Thursday, May 21, by calling 703-566-1355. The bags can be picked up on Saturday, May 23.

Meanwhile, other local retail spots are offering special items for Memorial Day, including:

As the local hotel industry struggles to recover from the sluggish business during the pandemic, some hotels in Alexandria are also offering special discounted rates.

Photo via Elizabeth’s Counter

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Kate Garvey, Director of the Alexandria Department of Community and Human Services, says COVID-19 has helped lay bare existing islands of food insecurity in the city.

As her department has worked extensively with community partners like ALIVE! for food distribution, Garvey said the pandemic emphasizes a growing need.

“We have a sense of urgency and have to look at the immediate need,” Garvey said, “[but] the disproportionate impact shows us the severity of the problem and how we have to look at this going forward.”

Garvey said programs like support for housing and food assistance aren’t isolated, but inter-dependent.

“You never expect something of this nature, but there are things we can learn from it and how vulnerable so many people are,” Garvey said. “The same individuals are so negatively impacted. It’s not separate projects… food, rent, etc. It’s all together to support families across Alexandria.”

Garvey was one of three department heads who put forward plans earlier this week to address dire community needs like rent assistance and helping local businesses stay afloat.

The Food Security Plan proposed by the Department of Community and Human Services includes allocating $532,325 in CARES act funding — which must be used directly on coronavirus response programs — on ensuring those in areas hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic have access to food and essential supplies.

Programs include:

  • Large scale food distributions (2 per month): 8,000 people served, the program costs $56,000 monthly
  • Pop-up distributions in impacted neighborhoods/apartment complexes: 1000 people served monthly, the program costs $7,000
  • World Central Kitchen service weekly: 1000 served monthly, 250 per week, with a program cost of $7,000 monthly
  • Support to 13 food pantries: supports 1,500 households monthly and the program costs $14,000
  • Home delivery of 14 frozen meals for self-isolating older adults: 100 people served weekly with a program cost of $26,000 monthly
  • Home delivery to individuals and families in ARHA, AHDC housing and non-profit programs: 1,125 people served monthly, the program costs $12,625
  • Serving households under quarantine: 25 households served and 20 in reserve with a program cost of $3,700 monthly
  • Grocery gift card distribution: 1,000 families with $400 per family for a cost of $400,000 monthly

Garvey said the gift card distribution, by far the largest cost in the plan, is essential as one that allows families in need to give them the independence to prioritize and assess their own needs.

World Central Kitchen’s new program runs every Thursday, alternating between the parking lot at Casa Chirilagua (4109 Mount Vernon Avenue) and William Ramsay Elementary School (5700 Sanger Avenue). There, the Department of Community and Human Services and community partners like ALIVE! to distribute hot meals and groceries for future meals.

“With these large scale food distributions, we’re able to reach a lot of people, but we want to make sure we’re not making people come out(side) too much,” Garvey said. “ALIVE! has really created an atmosphere where there is a lot of focus on health practices. We’re minimizing the health risk.”

In general, Garvey was effusive in praise for non-profits around Alexandria and other community partners who have stepped up to help during the pandemic.

“It’s amazing how generous residents have been and in donating things,” she said. “It’s really taking all of us to respond and we’re lucky how generous and thoughtful people have been.”

Photo via ALIVE!/Facebook

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