Alexandria, VA

A planned screening of a film covering the history of the Torpedo Factory is being turned into an online viewing party tonight.

“A Brush with History” is a film by local director Nora Kubach about the Torpedo Factory’s 100-year history.

“The Art Center is an early example of placemaking in the country,” the Torpedo Factory Art Center said in a Facebook post, “a structure that went from making weapons of war, to now producing meaningful works of art by inspirational artists, and serving its community in a different way.”

The online premiere is tonight (Thursday) at 7 p.m. and will be followed by a live Q&A session with the filmmakers and participants in the movie. The event listing said viewers will be able to write in questions and have them answered during the video chat.

A link to the video page is not available yet but will be posted on the Facebook page.

The Art Center itself, meanwhile, remains closed until at least May 18.

Photo via Torpedo Factory Art Center/Facebook

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With restaurants in Virginia now relying on take-out and delivery for their survival through the pandemic, Alexandria is joining other localities in urging the state government to allow restaurants to make cocktails to-go.

“I am writing to express support to authorize the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) to allow the selling of mixed beverages for delivery and pickup by restaurants in the City of Alexandria and across the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Mayor Justin Wilson said in a letter to Gov. Ralph Northam.

Two weeks ago, the state did loosen up on its restrictions regarding selling beer and wine to-go.

Wilson said in the letter that alcohol sales in take-out and delivery options could help offset other revenue losses — at least a little. Alexandria’s bar and restaurant scene has already seen closures as a result of the statewide restrictions.

“Alexandria restaurant owners have indicated that the sale of mixed beverages provides healthy margins that keep them afloat during this time,” Wilson said. “They believe that the ability to offer these beverages for delivery and pickup as part of the new limitations on restaurants is vital to their ability to remain in business in the current environment.”

The letter is in support of a request by Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney to the Virginia ABC. The letter was shared by other members of the City Council who echoed the mayor’s sentiment.

California, Kentucky, Colorado, Vermont and Nebraska have similarly loosened restrictions on mixed beverages.

“In states that have loosened restrictions on mixed beverages, these new provisions have promoted a sense of normalcy to their clientele, have increased sales and allowed some staff to continue working,” Wilson said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has required all of us in the Commonwealth and the nation to think innovatively in order to assist those who need the most. Small businesses and their personnel are no exception.”

Photo via Dave B/Flickr

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A new deli is in the works for a building on S. Washington Street that was once Union officers’ quarters during the Civil War.

The site is planned to be turned into Delicious Deli Inc., a full-service, 1,600 square foot restaurant. The restaurant will be a neighbor to Ally & Indy Pet Boutique, which shares the ground floor of the double-house.

While the official title in the documents is Delicious Deli, it is also listed as Manna Chicken and Burger in the application. The owner could not be reached for comment.1

In an application for a Special Use Permit, the restaurant was described as a small, eight-seat restaurant. Menu options will include burgers, chicken and sandwiches.

Somewhat less appealing cuisine was likely served in the 1860s, when the then-recently built double-house was used as Union officer’s quarters, then contraband lodging, and later a medical dispensary, according to its listing on LoopNet.

The restaurant is also planning to apply for permits to serve beer and wine on the premises.

Top photo via Google Maps, plans via KMIN Design Consulting

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While Alexandria’s library network is closed for the foreseeable future, the library has a new selection of electronic options to help Alexandrians through the quarantine.

“The City of Alexandria has given the Library $50,000 to purchase additional eBooks and eAudiobooks,” the city said in a press release. “With Governor Northam’s announcement that Virginians are to stay at home, residents need virtual options to Library services even more than ever.”

The library offers several routes to check out audiobooks and ebooks, though the largest so far is an app called Overdrive which allows users to browse an extensive library and check out up to ten books.

Other services, like RBdigital, gets library users access to magazines.

If you weren’t signed up at the library before the quarantine, don’t worry, the library is also offering library card registrations online during the quarantine.

“We’ll continue to process library card registrations received online,” the library said on its website. “Getting a free card only takes a few minutes. We are extending the expiration of these temporary cards to six weeks to allow customers to utilize online resources without coming to the library to collect their physical card.”

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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There’s nothing more frustrating than knowing you could be helping and being unable to. It’s a plight doctors like Del Ray’s Matthew Haden are experiencing with the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s been extremely frustrating,” Haden said. “We feel sidelined. We’re trained to help for something like this, but we can’t. It’s extremely frustrating to know we can only help virtually, which often means not being able to help those in need.”

Haden said his office has always done telemedicine, but with the pandemic he’s had to direct nearly all patients except those with injuries to telemedicine.

“We’ve seen an uptick in new patients who need telemedicine to screen for coronavirus,” Haden said, “and we’ve had more interest from the public in one-off visits. That’s the primary change. We’ve had more panicked and scared messages from our patients.”

Haden isn’t alone in that. Other primary care providers in Alexandria have been switching primarily to telemedicine, including the Inova hospital system.

Haden says he does what he can to help concerned patients through the coronavirus testing online, which is mainly walking them through the CDC screening guidelines and giving them his up-to-date understanding of the symptoms. The challenge comes with getting them access to the actual tests.

“Actual testing has been more of a problem, like the nasal swap,” Haden said. “We have not been able to get the necessary medical supplies to conduct tests safely. We couldn’t get swabs at all, then we were able to get ten from one lab and three from another, but it’s been difficult to get personal safety equipment.”

Haden says he’s been collecting donated masks from around the Del Ray community and was able to snag the last six coveralls from Home Depot for his team. Haden says it’s important to get testing up and running because many people who don’t have active symptoms could still be spreading the virus without knowing it.

At Inova, tests are available but only for those exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus.

The best thing that Haden said the public can do is to follow the governor’s order to stay at home.

“Stay home,” Haden said. “It takes everyone being aggressive and vigilant now to shut this down. I know people are very impacted by economic consequence — but it will get much worse if we don’t shut it down now. It really takes isolation to keep this from spreading because people can be spreading it and not have symptoms, or think they have a virus or a cold. The public needs to take it seriously so we don’t have a sudden surge.”

File photo

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As the coronavirus pandemic brings tourism to a standstill, Visit Alexandria has scheduled a series of virtual sessions with local businesses and attractions called ALX at Home LIVE.

The video series is scheduled to start today (Tuesday) at 2 p.m. with an interview with town crier Ben Fiore-Walker, featuring an original town cry.

“Tune in to Visit Alexandria’s Facebook page for virtual sessions with local businesses and attractions ranging from how-to videos to guided deskside exercises,” the organization said in a press release.

The video series is part of a broader effort called ALX at Home, which aims to become a hub for keeping Alexandrians connected to information about local restaurants and independent boutiques.

“Included on the hub are more than 100 ways to support Alexandria businesses as well as virtual experiences ranging from ghost tours to a black history scavenger hunt,” Visit Alexandria said. 

According to the press release, the full schedule is:

  • March 31: Meet Alexandria’s Town Crier
  • April 7: AR Workshop’s Craft Tutorial
  • April 14: Carlyle House’s Virtual Tour
  • April 21: Old Town Books’ Virtual Storytime
  • April 28: Mind the Mat’s Wellness Exercises

Staff photo by James Cullum

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The developers behind the Oakville Triangle redevelopment say the project has been dramatically reshaped by the decline of brick-and-mortar retail.

Early designs for the project were of a predominately retail district set up across several blocks near Mount Jefferson Park, but Doug Firstenberg, a principal with development investment firm Stonebridge, said in a video that the 13-acre project near Potomac Yard is being reshaped.

“The original design for the Oakville Project was going to include exclusive retail near Mount Jefferson Park,” Fistenberg said. “So what’s changed? The retail world changed a few years ago and it’s, unfortunately, changing again.”

Firstenberg said the idea of a predominately retail district isn’t economically feasible. Now, neighborhood-serving retail will be focused on the new buildings facing Richmond Highway. A hotel that was also planned for the site has also been scrapped.

Instead, a large section of the development at the western end of the site will be replaced with townhouses and the area will be the site of a new Inova HealthPlex.

“The HealthPlex is a standalone emergency room with other complementary standalone services,” said Dr. Rina Bansal, President and CEO of Inova Alexandria.

Bansal said the HealthPlex will feature a full-service emergency room, surgery center, and medical office space. The site is designed for outpatient care only, meaning patients cannot stay for more than 23 hours.

One of the local benefits of the change is a 34,000 square-foot expansion of Mount Jefferson Park. Firstenberg said early community feedback indicated that the park was viewed as a crucial community resource and expansion of that was prioritized.

Firstenberg said the developer is targeting Planning Commission and City Council review in November for the small area plan and the first quarter of next year for a special use permit. Firstenberg said that timeline is important to keep the project on track for summer 2021 construction and opening in the third and fourth quarters of 2023.

A press release noted that feedback can be submitted through the project website.

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Gov. Ralph Northam issued a stay at home order for all Virginians that will be in effect until June 10 unless otherwise rescinded or extended.

Northam made the announcement in a press conference today, and said that those congregating in groups of ten or more could be charged with a class 1 misdemeanor. The order requires that Virginians stay at home unless they are getting food, medical attention, going to work or getting a little fresh air.

“To date, this has been a suggestion,” Northam said. “Today, it’s an order.”

The escalation comes as Virginia faces 1020 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 25 deaths. In Alexandria, there are 32 confirmed cases and no deaths so far.

“We are not looking to put people in jail, but at this time when I expect all Virginians to comply,” Northam said. “If we see people gathered in any place throughout Virginia, like beaches or parks, then that will be enforced.”

Mayor Justin Wilson told ALXnow he supported the governor’s order.

“We’ve been encouraging residents to stay at home for a few weeks now to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Wilson said. “The Governor’s order helps provide further support for that messaging. We hope that residents will respect this order so that we can support our health workers working day and night to keep us safe.”

Del. Charniele Herring and City Councilman John Chapman also took to social media to encourage Alexandrians to follow the order.

It is time to stay at home, Virginia folks. Governor of Virginia has issued an Executive Order, mandating Virginia to stay at home due to COVID.

Posted by John T. Chapman on Monday, March 30, 2020

Orders from the state have already forced Alexandria restaurants to reduce service to only takeout and deliveries, which Northam said has not changed.

I'm making an important announcement about our efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Virginia and save lives.

Posted by Governor of Virginia on Monday, March 30, 2020

Photo via Governor of Virginia/Facebook

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Alexandria is cutting down its parking enforcement even further as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The city said on its website that the changes in parking enforcement were aimed at helping the disrupted routines caused by working from home and other effects of social distancing.

“To assist vehicle owners who are now working from home, caring for others, or trying to ensure the flow of goods and services, the City has suspended enforcement of the following parking restrictions until further notice,” the city said.

The biggest change is the elimination of time restrictions for general public parking in residential zones and time restrictions and meter fees for blocks with pay stations.

The suspension of enforcement is an expansion of the policies from two weeks ago, which suspended enforcement of parking restrictions for residential street sweeping and for the prohibition on vehicles parking on the street for more than 72 hours.

The full list of waived parking restrictions:

  • Time restrictions for the general public in residential parking permit zones. (Signs in these zones include the language “residential permit exempt.”)
  • Weekend time restrictions and meter fees on blocks with pay stations. (Time restrictions and meter fees on blocks with pay stations will continue to be enforced on weekdays.)
  • Time restrictions for street sweeping. (Signs pertaining to these restrictions prohibit parking during a one-hour window on a particular day of the week.)
  • The prohibition against parking on the street for more than 72 hours.
  • The requirement to display a valid state inspection sticker.

The city noted that parking restrictions are still being enforced in areas that are prohibited “no parking” zones.

“All other time restrictions not listed above, such as 15-minute spaces or time limits in commercial corridors, will continue to be enforced,” the city said. “Parking enforcement officers will have the discretion to enforce suspended restrictions in exceptional circumstances where a significant traffic safety or community concern exists, or as necessary to ensure the safe and orderly movement of vehicles.”

File photo

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Several local religious institutions are changing the way they host their services to try to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Coronavirus’ spread in the D.C. region has been closely associated with religious gatherings, from Georgetown church where a pastor was infected to the Virginia Theological Seminary where Alexandria had its first identified case. As large social gathering places, churches nationwide are emptying as quarantine orders are ramping up.

Worshipping from home has become a new weekly reality for some Alexandrians. Many of Alexandria’s religious organizations are moving worship services to their websites or to social media apps like Facebook or Zoom:

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Looking ahead to a time after the coronavirus pandemic is over, Alexandria is working on overhauling its electric vehicle infrastructure.

The aim of the new effort, called the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Readiness Strategy project, is to examine current electric vehicle charging needs and try to predict where and how those needs will spread.

“The Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Readiness Strategy project develops an electric vehicle charging infrastructure strategy as a roadmap to anticipate the needs of City residents, workforce members and visitors as transportation options transition from reliance upon conventionally fueled vehicles to electric vehicles,” Bill Eger, the city’s energy manager, said in an email.

The project was funded in the fiscal year 2020 budget as part of a broader “Green City” effort that included switching the city government’s vehicles to electric. Efforts have already included replacing diesel school buses with electric ones and adding new electric buses to DASH.

Eger said the aims of the project are to evaluate the future need for electric vehicle charging, identify optimal locations and recommend certain infrastructure options, like hardware and operational models.

Part of the strategy will also involve reviewing the city’s zoning, codes, permitting and other bureaucracy to change them in ways that will promote and anticipate vehicle charging needs.

“[The strategy will] recommend policies, approaches and synergies for locating electric vehicle charging infrastructure at businesses, multi-unit dwellings, single-family homes, right-of-way, and other locations,” Eger said. “Synergies with the City’s vehicle fleet electrification, public transit bus electrification and other forms of mobility will also be evaluated.”

This program is identified as a key program to advance smart mobility and Environmental Action Plan 2040 goals. This initiative includes community engagement to evaluate priorities and opportunities.

The timeline for the plan remains unknown. It was planned to be brought forward at the Transportation Commission meeting earlier this month before that meeting was canceled, so future plans might have to take a back seat to the city planning for the coronavirus pandemic.

File photo

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For many women at Friends of Guest House, self-quarantining bears an uncomfortable familiarity to the jails and prisons they just left.

The Alexandria shelter helps women emerging from incarceration reenter their communities. But coronavirus has put a new wrench into those plans and spokesperson Marisa Tordella says there’s some extra frustrations and tensions for women who once again feel like they are in lockdown.

“There are peaks and valleys,” Tordella said. “I think one of the things that is really hard for our clients — even though their movement is restricted and locked in their home — it’s familiar to incarceration so there’s a lot of anxiety with that. We’re trying to bring as much to them as they can to make them feel better, to encourage them that it’s not just them. Everyone is feeling this.”

There are two homes for clients at Friends of Guest House, both of which are still open. While other non-profits have had to curtail their operations or close entirely, Tordella said their organization’s clients have become even more reliant on the services their nonprofit provides.

“We’re taking it one day at a time,” Tordella said. “It’s obviously stressful. It’s very difficult and challenging. It feels like our world is upside down but I don’t think we’re alone in that.”

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