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The city is looking to make its scooter pilot program permanent, but hopefully with some changes that make them less intrusive for local pedestrians and residents.

Victoria Caudullo, shared mobility planner for the City of Alexandria, spoke to the Waterfront Commission this week to discuss some of the ambitions and limitations of the scooter program moving forward.

Caudullo said that many of the elements of the existing program, like the requirement for 30% of the scooters deployed to be in designated “equity zones”, will remain intact going forward. Restrictions on riding on the waterfront and city parks will also remain in place.

One of the biggest goals of the plan moving forward, Caudullo said, is adding more parking corrals for the scooters. So far, corrals have not edged into on-street parking, but Caudullo said that’s a possibility being considered.

“We want to increase the number of scooter corrals, but there might be a time where the only option is to install them in on-street parking,” Caudullo said.

If the city wants to replace some on-street parking with scooter corrals, Caudullo said that would go through the Traffic and Parking Board.

The city is also hoping to increase “education and public engagement” in the future — polite city-speak for getting people to stop dumping their scooters on the sidewalk or private property.

“We’re encouraging companies to require users and deployment teams to take a photo after use,” Caudullo said, “specifically to reach people who are parking incorrectly every time.”

For local residents, some on the Waterfront Commission said the big frustration is not knowing what to do about scooters that are obstacles in the public right of way and park spaces. Some on the Waterfront Commission suggested potentially dropping the speed on scooters to zero in prohibited zones, but Caudullo explained that there’s concern this could further incentivize abandoning vehicles.

“That could lead to a potential build up, even more so than we see now, at the edge of the waterfront,” Caudullo said.

For others, making it easier for residents to report scooters parked errantly could fix the feeling of helplessness from some residents.

“When I walk outside and open my door on Saturday morning and there’s two Uber-line scooters laying across the sidewalk: literally, what do I do next?” said Waterfront commissioner Beth Gross. “There’s no phone number on there to call. Is the proper thing to do Alex311? I think there’s a missing piece that’s the actual step people are supposed to do… I think you’d get more support from people who don’t use them who find them a nuisance if there was a simpler way to address that concern.”

Caudullo said scooters should have contact information visible, but the city would be pushing to make that more visible.

“People are welcome to try and fix it themselves,” Caudullo said. “I know that’s not an ideal request. Barring that it would go to the company. I’m concerned to hear there was no phone number on the devices. There should be on the devices. That’s concerning to hear and I’ll look into that, but the idea is to reach out to the company using their phone number or their app. It’s not a perfect system. We’re trying to find a better way of doing this.”

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Shared living room, photo via Nathan Van Egmond/Unsplash

The city is going through a process of opening up some limitations on co-living — units with up to six individual suites that all share communal amenities.

Co-living is a little different from most apartments; typically having more residents than apartments and at a lower cost. Co-living is currently allowed in Alexandria, but requirements to go through a development special use permitting process and public hearings, among other restrictions, have been hurdles city staff are hoping get rid of. The new policy would certain development in residential zones to build up to two co-living units — with up to six-total suites — by-right, meaning without the need for public hearings and the city’s extensive permitting process.

The goal of encouraging more co-living development in Alexandria is increasing the supply of market-rate affordable housing, which has been in a downward spiral for years. But while most of the public comment at meetings has been supportive of the changes, Alexandria Living Magazine also noted that there are some public concerns that the co-living housing could become “flop houses,” a term typically denoting squalor in crowded living spaces.

Photo via Nathan Van Egmond/Unsplash

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Douglas MacArthur Elementary School, photo via Google Maps

(Updated 12:10 p.m.) Douglas MacArthur Elementary School has been closed for today at least as crews work to clean water damage in the building.

The school, currently located in the former Patrick Henry facility on 4633 Taney Avenue, has been closed today from water damage and it’s currently unclear when the school will reopen.

“Douglas MacArthur Elementary School must be closed today to allow our facilities and maintenance team to clean up from water damage in the building,” Alexandria City Public Schools said on the school’s webpage. “Teachers will post resources and activities for students on Clever and Canvas by noon. More information will be communicated to families as it becomes available.”

A notification was posted on the Douglas MacArthur Elementary School Twitter page but has since been taken down.

“At this time, we have a contractor that has come in to assess damage and clean the building,” an ACPS official said. “That is all the information we have right now, and we will update families once more details become available.”

Photo via Google Maps

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Acclaimed D.C. Indian restaurant Karma Modern’s Alexandria spin-off could be opening sometime next month.

Karma Modern staff told ALXnow that the plan is to open Kismet (111 N. Pitt Street) in mid-late October.

Staff said the menu won’t be exactly the same as Karma Modern, but will be similar. Co-founder Sachin Mahajan told Northern Virginia Magazine the restaurant will be a little less fancy compared to the D.C. sister restaurant, but still won’t be casual.

Kismet will be filling the space in Old Town that was formerly BurgerFi.

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Police car lights (file photo)

On the 5500 block of Seminary Road yesterday morning (Tuesday), right along the line between Alexandria and Fairfax, the discovery of a woman unconscious on the sidewalk led to the rescue of six adults unconscious after overdosing on what is suspected to be fentanyl-laced cocaine.

Police said officers responded at 3 a.m. to an apartment on Seminary Road, which a Fairfax County Police Department spokesperson said occurred just inside the Fairfax border.

“When officers arrived, they discovered one woman unconscious on the sidewalk and immediately rendered aid,” the Fairfax Police Department said. “As additional officers arrived, four men and a woman were found unconscious inside the apartment. Officers and Fire and Rescue personnel administered Narcan to all six individuals. All six adults, ranging from 23 to 35 years of age, were taken to local hospitals for further treatment and four remain hospitalized.”

Police said the victims were ingested an unknown narcotic in the apartment, with detectives discovering a white, powdery substance at the scene. The narcotics will be sent to the Virginia Department of Forensic Science for further analysis, police said. An email from the City of Alexandria after the overdoses said the substance was believed to be fentanyl-laced cocaine.

“Please take steps to protect yourself and others who may be in possession of cocaine purchased in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area,” the city said. “The nasal spray Narcan (also known as Naloxone) can save the life of someone who is overdosing from substances containing opioids, if given in time, and test strips can detect dangerous fentanyl-laced drugs before they are used. Obtain free Narcan and fentanyl test strips by emailing your name and address to [email protected] to have one or both mailed to you. Anyone who assists a person in need by administering Narcan is protected by the Good Samaritan Law from liability while rendering aid.”

The Fairfax County Police Department noted that symptoms of an overdose include:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Snore-like gurgling sounds
  • Breathing is low, shallow or erratic
  • Bluish purple, or ashen skin color
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fingernails turn blue or close to black

Last year in Alexandria there were an estimated 12 fatal overdoses and 92 non-fatal overdoses.

“If you or someone you know needs help to overcome drug dependence, please call the Community Services Board at Merrifield Center at 703-573-5679 to help find appropriate treatment and recovery services,” the Fairfax Police Department said. “Walk-ins are also welcome Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.”

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Apartment kitchen, via Naomi Hébert/Unsplash

Alexandria is moving forward with a proposal to make it easier to build housing that allows several unrelated adults to share amenities. While that sounds an awful lot like “having roommates” — which is allowed, in case you’re renting an apartment in Alexandria and started to panic — city staff outlined some of the distinctions in the new policy at a Planning Commission meeting earlier this month.

According to a city report, a co-living unit is defined as:

A portion of a building containing six or fewer housing suites. The total occupancy within each unit is not to exceed a total of eight people. If a proposal includes more than two co-living units on the property it will require a full-hearing Special Use Permit (SUP).

Within the co-living units are individual suites rented out to tenants — one or more bedrooms that may or may not have bathrooms. An important distinction, though, is that these units cannot have kitchens and each bedroom is limited to a maximum of two people. Alexa Powell, an urban planner with the Department of Planning and Zoning, said “kitchen” is generally interpreted to mean including oven, stove or range. The various suites share a kitchen and living spaces.

Co-living units aren’t prohibited currently, but building a co-living development requires a special use permit (SUP). Powell said the new ordinance would allow developments with two co-living units — a total of six individual suites with two shared kitchens — to be built without the need for a full hearing. City documents on the change emphasized it would not touch single or two-family residential zoning.

The aim of making co-living development more viable is to increase the stock of market-rate affordable housing in the city. These are units privately owned or leased that are considered affordable without the guarantee of the government or a non-profit. Currently, city figures show that over 10,000 households in the city with incomes of $50,000 or less spend over 30% of their gross income on housing. In some parts of the city, like Arlandria, there are concerns that gentrifying forces like Amazon could snuff out the already insufficient supply of market-rate affordable housing.

There was concern, though, that the change is not ambitious enough to actually incentivize the building of co-living units.

“What is the likelihood that in a commercial, high-medium density, mixed-use multi-family zone there would be a project that has only two co-living units?” Planning Commission member Melissa McMahon asked. “[Those zones] tend to have large buildings.”

McMahon said the city would be more likely to see co-living units if those units can be mixed in with regular apartment buildings without needing a full hearing SUP.

“There might be a disconnect between what is actually a feasible project and what’s an attractive project in a commercial zone,” McMahon said. “The picture of what could be a co-living unit looks a heck of a lot like a regular apartment. It’s really just a couple apartments sharing a kitchen area… I think that we should be open to having a mixture of those in a residential context that could be higher density without having them require a full hearing SUP for it. I’m not seeing the obvious increase in any kind of community impact that would be shifting us from one to the other.”

Planning Commission chair Nathan Macek said he had additional concerns about a requirement that the co-living units be either owner-occupied or have a designated manager on-site.

“I tend to think that’s probably a little over-restrictive on this,” Macek said. “I think that’s the poison pill. If we put that in, we’re never going to see any of these built. I’d be very careful about putting that in. We do this all the time in Alexandria, where we get these proposals and we get these very permissive things, but we put one requirement in that makes it so impossible for anybody to carry it out. I think that’s really what something like this would do. I would caution us about including a requirement like this.”

The proposed co-living changes are scheduled to come back to the Planning Commission on Tuesday, Oct. 5, and to the City Council on Saturday, Oct. 16.

Via Naomi Hébert/Unsplash

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(Updated 5:15 p.m.) Police are currently investigating a shooting that occurred around 3:45 p.m. today (Tuesday) just a few blocks from Alexandria City High School.

According to an alert put out by the Alexandria Police Department, the incident started with a fight involving juveniles at the Bradlee Shopping Center (3600 King Street).

“Officers discovered a juvenile with a gunshot wound to the upper body,” police said. “Victim taken to hospital with injuries not considered life-threatening.”

Witnesses said the shooting started at the McDonalds in the shopping center and went into the Duck Donuts after being shot.

The incident comes after police have been dispatched three times for violent incidents involving juveniles at Alexandria City High School campuses in the area.

James Cullum contributed to this story. Photo via Google Maps

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There is lots of new development coming to North Old Town, and for locals interested in getting to know the area more, the North Old Town Independent Citizens Association (NOTICe) is planning a tour of what’s coming up.

The tour is scheduled to run from 5:30-7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 23, followed by a social hour at the North Old Town location for St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub (529 Montgomery Street) from 7-8 p.m. The tour is self-guided but representatives will be on-hand at each of the locations to provide information on what’s planned.

“[NOTICe] is sponsoring a development tour of the neighborhood, featuring seven stations giving participants the opportunity to speak directly with the developers and marketing organizations for seven projects,” the civic association said in an email.

Tours will be offered at:

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AHDC’s proposed Arlandria housing development (image via AHDC)

Update 9/21 p.m. — A previous version of the article had a typo in Division Chief Carrie Beach’s quote

Housing preservation is a central pillar of the plan to save Arlandria-Chirilagua from the anticipated gentrification stemming from Amazon’s HQ2. Last week, city staff told the Planning Commission that effort will likely require at least $100 million from public and private sources to preserve or expand affordable options in the area.

“Diversity and culture is a thread that weaves its way through the entire plan,” said Carrie Beach, the division chief for neighborhood planning and community development. “The proposed housing policy at its core strives to preserve the ability of existing residents to stay in their neighborhoods.”

Beach said that the economic analysis of the housing situation in Arlandria gives the city an idea of what they can reasonably expect in terms of community benefits stemming from additional density and private development. Beach said private sources of support, like developer contributions in exchange for added density, will have to be supplemented by non-profits and federal grants.

“In this case, housing affordability is the highest priority, biggest price tag, and largest portion of community benefits,” Beach said. “The maximum we can expect from private sources… will have to be supplemented by many other sources.”

One of the biggest projects currently planned to that end is the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation’s proposed 500-unit affordable housing structure in Arlandria. Beach said the proposed AHDC project represents a significant investment in affordable housing in the area, but it’s still just a start.

Currently, Beach said the city is estimating $100 million dollars in “community benefit dollars” from both public and private sources to help invest in expanding Arlandria’s affordability.

“The housing challenges in the Arlandria community are immense and require nothing less than an all hands on deck approach,” said Tamara Jovovic, a planner with the Office of Housing. “We set an ambitious affordable housing target with the 2020 housing contributions policy update: an expectation of 8% of net new development to be affordable at 60% [of area median income]. Here, it’s 10% of new development at 40-50% area median income (AMI).”

Jovovic said that the realities of trying to finance units make producing anything at 30% AMI nearly impossible.

“We heard loudly importance of 30% AMI units, but to be candid, challenge of producing 30% AMI units is immense,” Jovovic said. “To boil it down to the economics of the building, 30% AMI rents can’t cover costs of operating building, much less cost of building [financing].”

Jovovic said that the city is working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development for permission to prioritize existing Arlandria residents — something typically not allowed under fair housing law, but Jovovic said the city is applying for an exception.

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The Fort Ward Museum is planning to reopen next weekend with a live cannon fire demonstration to kick things off.

While many of Alexandria’s museums and historic have reopened over the last few months, Fort Ward remained closed for renovations to the museum.

An email from the Office of Historic Alexandria noted that the museum will officially reopen on Friday, Oct. 1.

“Fort Ward Museum will resume open hours to visitors in October,” the city said. “The Museum will be open weekly beginning Oct. 1.”

The museum will be open Fridays from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. and on Saturdays from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are welcome.

“Visitors are required to wear masks indoors to comply with City of Alexandria public safety regulations and the number of visitors at one time will be limited to ensure social distancing protocols,” the city said. “The preserved and partially restored Union fort and the Fort Ward Park grounds are open to the public daily and can be visited when the Museum is not open to the public.”

The following day, Fort Ward is scheduled to host a Civil War Artillery Day. Masks and social distancing are encouraged.

“Learn about the role and equipment of Civil War artillerymen in the Defenses of Washington on Saturday, October 2, when Fort Ward Museum presents Civil War Artillery Day,” the city said in an email. “This free living history program is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and will appeal to Civil War enthusiasts of all ages… The program features reenactors from the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery, a Union regiment that was stationed at Fort Ward during the Civil War. The unit will interpret the duties and soldier life of typical artillerymen assigned to forts in the Washington area. Activities will include cannon firing demonstrations in the restored Northwest bastion of the fort at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., artillery equipment displays, interpretive talks, and camp life scenarios.”

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