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Plans for the GenOn plant redevelopment aim to swap out the area’s current Chernobyl-chic with a Dutch design concept to prioritize pedestrians and bicyclists over cars.

In a presentation to the Parks and Recreation Commission last week, representatives from Hilco Redevelopment Partners (HRP) said the two main routes through the planned development will be split between one intended for vehicle traffic and one that prioritizes pedestrian and bicycle traffic. The latter is called a woonerf and has been implemented in the Netherlands since the 1970s.

The pedestrian street doesn’t prohibit car traffic — ala the 100 block of King Street — but aims to woo pedestrians and cyclists with open space and programming while nerfing cars to walking speeds. The street could also be closed for events or during the summer months.

“We think it’s vital that front roadway be prioritized for bicycles and pedestrians, really pedestrians,” said Melissa Schrock, senior vice president of mixed-use development for HRP. “I think it really can function as a bit of a calm street during typical traffic hours during the day and on evenings and weekends. One of the reasons we’re planning it this way is to have tactile differentiation that encourages cars to go ‘maybe this isn’t really where I want to be’ and turn around to go back to the spine street.”

But Schrock said HRP is reticent to shut down the street to vehicle traffic entirely, saying there could be uses like food trucks.

“We don’t think it’s a bad thing that vehicle traffic should ever pass down there, like food trucks,” Schrock said. “It’s certainly our intent that, if cars are there, that they know that they’re secondary or tertiary to the main activity there and there are distinct periods of time where they aren’t there at all: like summer months and activities.”

Overall the development will have nearly six acres of open space. When combined with Norfolk Southern’s rails-to-trails project and the National Park Service’s Mount Vernon Trail, the area as a whole will have over 14 acres of public open space.

Simor Beer, a principal with landscape architecture firm OJB, said there’s also potential for where the development abuts the water, like kayak launch points and a dock for a water taxi service.

“Along the waterfront to the north of the site [is a] unique peninsula of wooded landscape that touches down to the water,” Beer said. “[We] envision birdwatching and other natural activities here as a place to stop along the trail.”

But much of this land, Beer noted, belongs to the National Park Service (NPS). Some on the Parks and Recreation Commission said that the NPS can be uncooperative when it comes to sharing land with private developers. Schrock said HRP has been in discussions with the NPS and she’s hopeful that something can be worked out.

“We made a conceptual submission to them to get their feedback,” Schrock said. “While it’s true that they don’t like people messing with their stuff, I think they’re very open to the vision we’re communicating here. We want this to be an open and inviting space. We have an opportunity to take down the fence around our property, erase that line, and connect to the Mount Vernon Trail. It’s not negating what the Mount Vernon Trail accomplishes, but working with them to improve upon that.”

A work session with the city is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 22, with public hearings in June. Schrock said the plan is to start demolition at the end of 2022 with shovels in the ground for new development in early 2024.

“I commend the team,” said Commissioner Stuart Fox. “As you guys noted, this is a really complex project… one of the parties went into bankruptcy, there are the environmental issues, and it’s probably the biggest eyesore in the city, certainly in Old Town. So transforming an eyesore into a tremendous opportunity for the city is not an easy project.”

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Morning Notes

Rudy’s moves closer to opening in Kingstowne — “The new golf and restaurant venue is hiring.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]

Looking for a few tips on parking in Old Town Alexandria? — “Parking in Old Town Alexandria is a breeze if you know which streets have meters, where the City garages and lots are, and have a few tricks up your sleeve.” [Zebra]

Seeking leaders of tomorrow in Alexandria — “High school juniors in the Alexandria area are invited to apply for scholarships to attend the annual Boys State and Girls State programs to be held later this summer.” [Alexandria Gazette]

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The Electra America Hospitality Group sees Alexandria’s red brick facade and wants it painted black.

The Holiday Inn Express in North Old Town could be rebranded to Hotel AKA as the hotel appears to move into an emo phase. A request for alterations to the Board of Architectural Review (BAR) includes a number of changes for the hotel at 625 First Street and 510 Second Street, perhaps most notably a new coat of black paint on the brick facade.

“The Applicant is proposing to re-brand and renovate the existing hotel,” the application to the BAR said. “the Proposed renovations include the demolition of limited portions of the facades and certain building features, but the building itself will remain. A number of exterior alterations are proposed to enhance the appearance of the building.”

The building is notably not historic, having been constructed in the 1970s, so the application said there’s no design or textural grounds for rejection. There will also be no changes to the height, mass or scale of the building.

“The existing brick facade will be repainted black,” the application said. “The proposed color will integrate the brick facade with other proposed building materials which include a metal standing seam roof, metal window frames, and metal guardrails and trellis features. The proposed brick color is compatible with existing buildings in the immediate vicinity of the Property.”

Other changes include the replacement of the shingled roof with a metal one, cutting down the vehicular drop-off area new entrance canopy and more.

“The exterior alterations represent improvements to the existing facade that will result in a more attractive and aesthetically pleasing appearance,” the application said.

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Steven Orellana, photo courtesy Alexandria Sheriff’s Office

Alexandria resident Steven Orellana was found guilty yesterday (Tuesday) for rape of a coworker in 2019.

The 32-year-old Orellana was dating the victim and they were coworkers, according to a press release from the Commonwealth Attorney’s office.

“The evidence established that, in 2019, the defendant forced a coworker whom he had been dating to engage in a sexual act against her will, inside of his Alexandria apartment,” according to a release. “The defendant is currently being held without bail in the William G.  Truesdale Adult Detention Center, pending a sentencing hearing scheduled for March 17, 2022.”

Orellana was arrested for the offense in 2019, and the trial was delayed by the pandemic. He was initially booked on August 15, 2019, and then released on $10,000 bond on August 27, 2019.

“The trial of the matter was significantly delayed by the public health emergency caused by the coronavirus,” the release said.

Orellana faces a minimum sentence of five years and a maximum sentence of life in prison.

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Douglass Cemetery has been damaged in recent flooding, photo courtesy Michael Johnson

Alexandria has had a few promising starts so far in the 2022 legislative session, with preliminary funding and authority granted on some key issues.

In a legislative update to the City Council last night (Tuesday), Legislative Director Sarah Graham Taylor outlined some of the early successes.

Taylor said Delegate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker has been spearheading legislation that would allow localities to continue with greater virtual representation in public meetings even after the pandemic.

“[A bill to] increase opportunities for electronic participation in public meetings… passed out of the general laws subcommittee today unopposed,” Taylor said. “We’re eally excited to see that bill move forward. It’s something the city has been really focused on both as vice mayor and now as a delegate. [We’re] really pleased to be a part of that and see that move forward. It’s something that will be incredibly valuable to our boards and commissions; to be able to operate in a virtual environment even outside of a declared emergency or pandemic.”

Taylor said the pandemic has been a sort of pilot for virtual engagement.

“It’s really been an opportunity for us to learn how best to not only put our public engagement out into the universe but to create opportunities to create two-way engagement with our public bodies,” Taylor said. “This bill goes a long way to creating more opportunities.”

Another preliminary success has been funding to restore the Douglass Memorial Cemetery, a historic Black cemetery in Alexandria under threat of being washed away by recent flooding. The outgoing governor’s budget includes $500,000 for the restoration of the cemetery, and State Senator Adam Ebbin has put in a request for an additional $500,000.

“[The project cost is] estimated at $2 million, would put state investment at 50%,” Taylor said. “[We’re] discussing it not only as preservation of a historic African-American cemetery but also a flooding issue, which is something very front and center in the discussion this session.”

The outgoing budget also includes $40 million for the city’s combined sewer overhaul (CSO) project, but Taylor said there’s some concern that CSO funding could get more scarce as Richmond is pushed to move up its CSO timeline.

“The city’s name has come up quite a bit this week in relation to Richmond’s CSO project, and while it’s always lovely to hear Alexandria as an example of what a city can do when its feet are held to the fire, it’s been brought up in relation to Richmond’s CSO deadline,” Taylor said. “You might see Alexandria used as an example of why to push Richmond on their CSO deadline.”

But Taylor said the city’s concern is that if Richmond’s CSO timetable is moved up, it could put the two cities in a battle royale for a limited annual pot of funding.

“If Richmond is accelerated, that puts us in competition for resources,” Taylor said. “We want to a timeline [where] everyone can have access to resources, not all competing for a limited pot.”

Crossover, the last day for the legislative houses to act on legislation, is on Tuesday, Feb. 15. The last day for bill approval is March 10 and the Governor is required to take action on bills by April 11.

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Leafblower, photo via Philip Myrtorp/Unsplash

Should Alexandrians have the right to use gas-powered leafblowers to clear away their yards or are they a noisy nuisance that should be blown away?

Well, right now the city can’t ban them even if they wanted to, but the city’s legislative package includes a request for localities to get permission to prohibit the use of gas-powered leafblowers as both an environmental hazard and a nuisance for neighbors.

In a Waterfront Commission meeting last week, William Skrabak, deputy director for infrastructure and environmental quality, said it was probably unlikely that the city would even obtain that permission this year. But Skrabak said the goal is to start a conversation about the issue that could bear fruit down the road.

Photo via Philip Myrtorp/Unsplash

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Morning Notes

Bonchon Chicken opens new Alexandria restaurant — “South Korean chicken chain opens its first restaurant in the City of Alexandria.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]

George Washington Birthday Parade on Feb. 21 highlights month-long celebration in Alexandria — “This afternoon Visit Alexandria announced more than a dozen events that will take place next month to celebrate George Washington’s birthday.” [Zebra]

Construction starts on Kingstowne Chick-fil-A — “Heavy equipment is stationed outside the former Fiona’s Irish Pub as construction starts on a fast food restaurant.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]

Youngkin asks for reports on ‘divisive’ schools via email address — “Gov. Glenn Youngkin has set up an email for residents to report any type of ‘divisive’ teachings or practices in public schools they oppose.” [Patch]

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Alexandria is hoping to cut back on the noise nuisance from leafblowers and street buskers.

At a Waterfront Commission meeting last week, city staff discussed changes made to the noise code in December.

“[For busking] the only change is the same provisions in the business district are now city-wide,” said William Skrabak, deputy director for infrastructure and environmental quality.

Skrabak said the decibel standard actually loosened slightly for commercial properties, from 60 decibels to 65 at the property line until 11 p.m., but the main issue with noise in the city is lack of resources for enforcement.

“Our office is the only one with noise meters,” Skrabak said. “We do occasionally schedule measurements at night, but the one position that’s primary inspector position is currently vacant, so we’ve been struggling to fill that gap. We are hoping additional resources come out of the manager’s [budget]. I think that would have more of an impact than code changes if we have additional resources.”

Skrabak also said there’s been complaints to the city about noise levels from leafblowers.

“There is a lot of interest in our community about controlling leafblowers,” Skrabak said. “Leafblowers are inherently louder and more obnoxious than other equipment. Because of the Dillon Rule, we don’t currently have the legal authority to prohibit leaf blowers, but [the city] did include that in our legislative package — to start the process to get enabling legislation down in Richmond so localities could potentially [either] prohibit entirely or [require] an electric one, which is a little quieter.”

Skrabak said it was unlikely to be approved this year, but it at least gets the conversation started.

“We’re not optimistic we’re going to get it on the first try,” Skrabak said. “Sometimes these things take a couple of years and multiple localities to start pushing.”

Some on the Waterfront Commission said pushing for change on leafblower policy is long overdue.

“Electric leafblowers area no-brainer,” said Waterfront Commission member Patricia Webb. “We have to do that for the environment as well as noise and it should have been done years ago, but we also need to have quiet hours like most cities have, especially on Sundays and holidays. I don’t know how many times I’ve planned to have people out on the deck and we’ve had to go inside or elsewhere because someone is doing their self-help project… People just have no sense of decency anymore and we have to impose quiet hours for the well-being of people’s lives at home.”

Stephen Thayer said consternation around noise levels for street musicians comes in large part from “competing buskers” at the 100 block of King Street who perform until 11 p.m. and later.

But others argued that pushing for more resources to tackle busking and other noise issues was a heavy-handed approach to an overblown issue.

“Noise ordinance doesn’t take into account true noise or nuisance, like the quality of noise,” said Waterfront Commisioner Nate Macek. “It’s a flatfooted way of addressing this need. I would not personally support further resources in this area. I think it’s a fool’s errand and a waste of city resources and it’s the opposite of where we need to be headed as a city.”

The Waterfront Commission approved a recommendation that the city invests more heavily in enforcing noise ordinances, noting Macek’s objection.

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The underlying idea behind last night’s (Monday) Agenda Alexandria discussion about the Torpedo Factory Art Center is that everyone involved wants the best for the facility. However, there are very divergent ideas about whether stagnation or change will kill the beloved Old Town art facility.

The panel discussion followed months of back-and-forth between city officials and artists over a suite of potential changes to the Torpedo Factory.

Diane Ruggiero, director of the Office of the Arts, and Stephanie Landrum, CEO and President of Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, said the city’s goals are to revitalize the Torpedo Factory by adding new uses to the building that can help make it more financially viable. Landrum and Ruggiero also said they’re working at tying it in more closely with an in-development “arts district” planned for much of North Old Town.

“The Torpedo Factory is a catalyst and I don’t think anyone disagrees with that,” Landrum said. “The conversations we’re having are on how to make sure that continues forward and making sure the physical building that the city owns isn’t prohibiting that type of growth… For this building, we want it to be more vivid and vibrant — to build on the strength of Old Town and the experience.”

Landrum said the plans focus on making the building more accessible and orienting it toward more community interests.

“Discussions are about making the building more accessible and orienting it for the larger community, which has changed,” Landrum said. “We want to make sure people aren’t coming and hanging out at waterfront park or the restaurants and not coming to the Torpedo Factory because they don’t know what’s in there. It’s complicated, but I think everyone’s intent is aligned.”

For the artists, though, there’s a concern that trying to “fix” the Torpedo Factory could be what breaks it.

“My main concern is that I don’t want to lose what the focus of the Torpedo Factory is: open studios with working artists,” said Lisa Schumaier, an artist living in Del Ray. “It’s not looking at a fully formed building, it’s enjoying the craziness of a construction site, it’s that kind of a thing. There’s so much going on in the building that you can come in and see something started, a week or two later it’s in the middle, and a couple of months down the road it’s finished. I think that’s way more interesting to people than a gallery.”

Schumaier said proposals, like putting galleries into the first floor that showcase finished art, shows that city leaders driving the conversation sometimes misunderstand the fundamental appeal of the Torpedo Factory.

Torpedo Factory Art Center founder Marian Van Landingham said that some city discussion of financial viability of the project assumed a more expensive overhaul to the building than what she thinks it needs.

“When you’re talking about renovating the building and how much it will cost, to some degree there are things you think need to be done that don’t need to be done,” Landingham said. “This antique building, this very historic building by its age, and is perfect for the kind of use we put for it.”

There are repairs, like fixing up the restrooms, that Landingham said can be done without closing the art center for two years as is currently called for in city plans. Landrum and Ruggiero said that plans currently in development could see artists relocated to nearby artist gallery spaces being created. Landrum said through development the city is looking at tripling the total number of art spaces across North Old Town, all of which could help house artists if the artists are relocated during renovation.

Landingham argued that such a dispersal could kill the Torpedo Factory.

“I think the worst thing that could happen would be to disperse the artists for two years,” Landingham said. “A lot of them would never come back. It would never recover.”

That dispersal already happened in 1983, Landingham said, and while the Torpedo Factory did recover she said one of the main differences there were that half the artists could stay in the building as it was being renovated and the other half went to a former school building on Fort Hunt Road. But many of those that left never came back, Landingham said.

“If all the artists leave and you don’t have a continuum, you will kill the art center,” Landingham said, “and that may be the purpose for people who want it for real estate purposes.”

In December, the City Council voted to approve a series of guidelines for Torpedo Factory planning, and Ruggiero said her office is currently planning an involved public outreach process that will talk to various stakeholder groups throughout the city to discuss what they hope to see from the Torpedo Factory in the future.

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Morning Notes

Landmark Mall is no more. The site is being rebranded, and ‘Landmark’ is not part of it. — “Foulger-Pratt is moving on from Landmark Mall. Not the project, of course, just the name.” [Washington Business Journal]

Alexandria joins 6 other school boards in suit against Youngkin order calling masks ‘ineffective and impractical’ — “This morning the Alexandria School Board and six others in Virginia filed a joint lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Executive Order Number Two, signed by new governor, Glenn Younkin, on Jan. 15.” [Zebra]

Maryland glasses robbery similar to recent Alexandria grab-and-smash — “Police are searching for three males using a black Dodge Charger with Va tags” [Twitter]

Sarah Palin v. New York Times case has roots in Alexandria shooting — “The editorial was published after a shooting in Alexandria, Virginia in which U.S. Representative Steve Scalise, a member of the House of Representatives Republican leadership, was wounded.” [Reuters]

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