It was a big week for getting a glimpse at Alexandria’s future.
At a meeting this week, Deputy Director for Infrastructure and Environmental Quality Bill Skrabak offered an in-depth look at some of city and Hilco Redevelopment Partners’ plans to handle the demolition of the power plant in Old Town North. Skrabak said extensive soil testing beneath the factory will have to wait until after the building is torn down. Meanwhile, plans are being worked on to handle the transportation of the contaminated soil out of Old Town.
Not far from the power plant, some of the artwork for the Potomac Yard Metro station was revealed. The colorful exterior is meant to evoke the iconic cherry blossoms around the region as well as the native bluebells.
The most-read stories this week were:
- Housing Alexandria breaking ground on new Arlandria affordable housing development this summer
- City of Alexandria lays out power plant demolition plans and uncertainties
- Notes: Driver killed in Beltway crash near Alexandria
- Notes: New Queen Street restaurant brings Alexandria, Egypt to Alexandria, Virginia
- Changes in the works for King Street Trolley, including new Eisenhower destination
- Scoop: ‘Call Your Mother’ back on for Alexandria sometime this summer
- VRE trains delayed last night over another crash at troubled King Street bridge
- Walgreens redevelopment in Old Town headed to city review
- Four Alexandria schools participating in speed camera pilot
- No arrests after shots fired near Alexandria Commons Shopping Center Thursday night
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) has unveiled the bluebell and cherry blossom-inspired art that will wrap around the exterior of the new Potomac Yard Metro station.
Artist Rob Ley spoke about the designs at a reception hosted by the City of Alexandria back in January.
The artwork uses a technique called halftone to create the impression of a field of bluebells around the south pavilion and cherry blossoms above the entrance to the north pavilion.
“The imagery is vague in the way it shows up, this is for a reason,” Ley explained. “People ask ‘if you’re going to make imagery, why don’t you make it more visible so I can see the flower directly.’ There’s kind of a reason for this. While I’m well aware it’s more satisfying because you say it’s about flowers so I want to see the bluebells, I think there’s something to be said for the longevity.”
Ley explained that non-literal artwork can evolve with the understanding of the viewer.
“I had a teenager come up to me: he saw a project [I worked on] when he was five and he saw clouds,” Ley said. “When he was about 13, he said he saw it again and could see the river. That touched me. The point is not for it to be so vague you see nothing, but not so literal that you see it once and then it fades into the background.”
While any public art has to contend with the forces of nature, Ley said human interference is the bigger concern. The artwork is elevated to deliberately be kept out of reach to avoid transit riders taking a souvenir of the station home.
“My responsibility is to create something that’s beautiful and looks delicate,” Ley said, “but at the heart of what it is, it’s typical and durable.”
WMATA is hoping for May 2023 as the opening date for the station.
Good Friday morning, Alexandria!
Some of the algorithm stuff that helps to put these “Notes” posts is on the fritz, so it’s back to doing this with human hands for today until that gets sorted.
Today’s weather: Overcast with a high of 69 and a low of 59, with showers likely later in the day.
Tomorrow: looks about the same, likely showers with a high of 77 and a low of 42.
🚨 You need to know
Hot on the heels of the Veterinary Emergency Group (VEG) announcing plans to open in the West End, another veterinary facility says it will open in Old Town North.
Bond Vet, a New York-based chain of animal hospitals, is under construction at 500 Montgomery Street, Alexandria Living Magazine first reported.
The Alexandria location is the fifth in the region.
According to the website:
Our mission is to strengthen the human-animal bond through better pet care: Our clinics are warm and welcoming, our team is friendly and compassionate, and our pricing is upfront and reasonable. We offer a wide range of veterinary services including: urgent care, wellness exams, vaccinations, dental cleanings, spay/neuter, mass removal, and orthopedic surgeries.
Image via Bond Vet/Facebook
Other local coverage
- Bishop Ireton brings ‘The Music Man’ to town
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- Gun violence in Alexandria doubles: Annual APD report reveals need for more officers
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- Unboxing new public art
Alexandria Times (Thursday @ 6:41 pm)
- Coed Alexandria Masters Soccer League Kicks Off Spring Season; New Players Welcome to Join
Zebra (Thursday @ 6:05 pm)
- Charming Old Town Alexandria Townhouse Was Completely Renovated
Patch (Thursday @ 4:58 pm)
- My View with Heather Peeler: The pandemic’s ‘long tail’
Alexandria Times (Thursday @ 4:51 pm)
- At-large elections silence minority voices
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- We need a Times story on Amazon
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- Richmond Highway Standoff Involved Abduction Suspect: Police
Patch (Thursday @ 4:35 pm)
- Our View: Artfully done
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- Three foolproof ways to add value to your home
Alexandria Times (Thursday @ 4:29 pm)
- Seminar on Historic Easements
Alexandria Times (Thursday @ 4:22 pm)
- Alexandria Celebrates Women awards
Alexandria Times (Thursday @ 4:18 pm)
- Senior Services of Alexandria hosts annual gala
Alexandria Times (Thursday @ 4:15 pm)
- Women’s Leadership Forum
Alexandria Times (Thursday @ 4:12 pm)
- Upcoming Potomac River cleanup
Alexandria Times (Thursday @ 4:07 pm)
- Arrival of the Golden Rule
Alexandria Times (Thursday @ 4:01 pm)
- Nepenthe Gallery celebrates anniversary
Alexandria Times (Thursday @ 3:57 pm)
- ACHS students honored with award
Alexandria Times (Thursday @ 3:53 pm)
- Man shot on March 16
Alexandria Times (Thursday @ 3:47 pm)
- Patricia “Ms. Pat” Morgan Celebrated as “Heart of Samuel W. Tucker Elementary” and for 42 Years of Custodial Service in Alexandria Schools
Zebra (Thursday @ 3:46 pm)
- King Street Trolley Extension Envisioned In Future Service Plan
Patch (Thursday @ 10:38 am)
- Alexandria to Launch Curbside Compost Program
Alexandria Living (Thursday @ 8:04 am)
Tweets of note
Train traffic was stopped in both directions this evening at Alexandria due to a vehicle striking the railroad bridge over King Street. The bridge needed to be checked by a CSX bridge inspector before traffic was released. This created a le https://t.co/oBYcwutSRV
— Virginia Railway Express (@VaRailExpress) March 30, 2023
(Updated 3/31) One year after a plan to open at 128 N. Pitt Street seemingly fell through, hyper-popular D.C. bagel shop Call Your Mother Deli says an Alexandria location in Old Town is back on the menu.
Currently, “somewhere” is the best the company can say for the exact location, but a store representative ruled out one location: 128 N. Pitt Street.
“Call Your Mother’s second VA location will be in Alexandria / the historic Old Town district, but it will not be at 128 N. Pitt Street,” said Carly Connor, a public relations manager with a firm representing Call Your Mother Deli, in an email.
Neighbors told ALXnow the new location is likely the new development at 1300 King Street.
Connor said the aim is to open sometime this summer.
“The lease is not yet final,” Connor said, “but it’s looking like mid-summer for the opening!”
The news came alongside an announcement that a new location will also be opening in McLean.
Photo via Call Your Mother/Facebook
(Updated 12:35 p.m.) Virginia Railway Express (VRE) trains were stopped last night after a vehicle struck the bridge over King Street — again.
The delay is the latest in a string of incidents that have led authorities to recommend full replacement of the bridge.
Train service was closed for roughly two hours, from 4:50-7 p.m. with train traffic backed up and delayed as a result.
According to an alert from VRE:
Train traffic was stopped in both directions this evening at Alexandria due to a vehicle striking the railroad bridge over King Street. The bridge needed to be checked by a CSX bridge inspector before traffic was released. This created a lengthy delay for passengers on both VRE lines. Northbound train 338 which turns at Union Station to be the final southbound Manassas Line train was unable to go past Alexandria, so we turned it at Alexandria to head back to Broad Run. The railroad was reopened just before 7 pm with 6 VRE trains and 3 Amtrak trains stacked between Crystal City and Union Station.
We apologize to everyone inconvenienced by this delay.
As a result of both its age and repeated battery by stuck vehicles, the bridge has shown troubling signs of decay in recent years, prompting emergency road closures to make repairs.
Authorities have said the 120-year-old bridge does not meet current height requirements and a full replacement is the only permanent solution. Once a design is chosen, construction is scheduled to start in the second quarter of 2024 and continue until midway through 2026.
VRE Trains 309, 331, 311, & 333 may be delayed due to a vehicle striking bridge near Alexandria. Updates to follow.
Note: Updates are not typically available for delays under 10 minutes as time is often made up en route.
Questions? Contac https://t.co/zxuHsvhPCv
— Virginia Railway Express (@VaRailExpress) March 29, 2023
As plans for what will replace the Potomac River Generating Station in Old Town North gradually take shape, the city is still working through the specifics of how exactly to tear down the building.
Deputy Director for Infrastructure and Environmental Quality Bill Skrabak said in a presentation yesterday to the Alexandria Local Emergency Planning Committee — full disclosure, this reporter is a member of that committee — that rather than one big demolition the building will most likely be taken apart piece by piece.
“They’re going to be cutting up the big metal pieces with cranes and demolishing it, hauling it out on trucks and salvaging as much metal as they can,” Skrabak said. “Once the buildings get down to the ground, that’s when they would shift to remediation and soils.”
Skrabak also said there’s still work to be done to determine just how contaminated the soil at the site is. There are two large underground oil tanks at the property, at least one of which leaked around 2013. A remediation project was ongoing from 2016-2019 for that leak, but that remediation was to the standard of an industrial site, not a residential one like what’s proposed.
Beyond just those two tanks, though, Skrabak said there are other smaller tanks buried around the site that could contain chemicals.
One concern raised in the public comment at the meeting by nearby residents is that it’s still unclear just how contaminated the soil is at the site.
“We don’t have a gosh darn idea what’s underneath that building,” One resident said. “All the soil sampling and water sampling has been done in relatively benign areas but we have no clue what’s underneath that building. But here we are looking at how Hilco is going to approach this with what seems to be a pretty risk-tolerant position.”
But Skrabak said there’s a logic to demolishing the building before doing extensive testing on the soil.
“They will be doing an abatement to remove the contaminants before they demolish the buildings but you can’t do the remediation until the buildings are gone,” Skrabak said. “They’ll have to do additional samples once the building is gone.”
Skrabak said the soil will be sealed or covered when it’s transported away from the site in trucks.
“There are state requirements during construction for that material; they have to do the best job they can to reduce the amount of pollution as best they can,” Skrabak said. “There are certain structures they have to have, like the installation of a silt fence. What we try to do, when they’re excavating contaminated soils… we want them to get it in a container and into a truck and not have a big stockpile of contaminated soil sitting at the site for weeks.”
While Skrabak also said there’s no risk of runoff flowing back into neighborhoods, the same can’t be said for contaminants making their way into the Potomac River during demolition and construction. As locals have discovered in recent years, heavy rainfall can cause overflow to many stormwater management systems.
“Depending upon the level of issues, typically they have a sediment basin where they try to filter as much of that and let it settle before it gets discharged,” Skrabak said. “I do want to forewarn people, it’s not possible to have that level of disturbance and not have some dirt and mud. They’ll have a basin and settling tanks before it gets discharged, but if you have a large event it bypasses the filter.”
That demolition is still at least a year way. Alexandria Living Magazine reported in November that Hilco Redevelopment Partners confirmed the demolition of the power plant won’t start until mid-2024 at the earliest.
The team behind the proposed Old Town Business Improvement District (BID) is giving itself a few more months to get the project the support it needs.
Per new guidelines approved by the City Council last year, the BID proposal will need support from 60% of the properties within the district’s boundaries, which mostly runs along King Street.
Back in February, a city-hired lawyer working with the BID proponents said they would need to have those votes of support in the bag by mid-March to get the proposal on this year’s budget. That March deadline would have allowed the city to include the budget in public hearings in April before budget approval on May 3.
But as of Wednesday, March 29, the proposal doesn’t have quite the amount of support it needs.
“The timeline is now the end of May (May 31),” said Maurisa Potts, founder and CEO of Spotted MP Marketing and Public Relations. “We are 2/3 of the way to getting the 60% of the votes. We are extending our public meetings over the next few weeks.”
While that end-of-May timeline misses the cut-off for the FY 2024 budget, the potential for an Old Town BID has come up multiple times in City Hall meetings, from budget workshops to yesterday’s City Council meeting.
At a budget work session last week, City Council members expressed concerns about empty storefronts in Old Town. Alexandria Economic Development Partnership President and CEO Stephanie Landrum said those concerns are an issue that would be best addressed by a BID.
According to Landrum:
What you see on King Street is not what the stats would tell you. While we see vacancies, many of those vacancies are already leased. There’s a long period of time between when somebody closes and when the new place opens, but it’s technically only vacant for a short period of time. Someone comes in and they have go through the permitting process, they have to do their marketing, hiring etc. Most of the vacancies around City Hall are spoken for, they’re not vacant…
Many years ago we proposed a program where we would put a sign in the window like ‘coming soon’. What we found was that the money spent and the effort spent to get a permit in place to put up a temporary sign didn’t really support that effort. We have talked through this before.
This work is a lot of what a Business Improvement Districts do and they’re better equipped to move at the kind of speed in real time and they would coordinate things like that. When you go to other parts of this region and you likely see this sort of stuff, usually it’s done by a BID.
Landrum was backed up by City Manager Jim Parajon, who said successful BIDs can create a tangible sales tax increase.
“In my experience with BIDs, you’ll see a relatively strong sales tax rate increase and you’ll also see an appreciation in the values of the property,” Parajon said. “Those are two things I’ve seen consistently in a well-put-together BID.”
At a City Council meeting last night, it was noted that the Waterfront Commission had previously endorsed the proposed BID.
Old Town Business, which has been spearheading the BID effort, announced a series of virtual public meetings this week and throughout April.
According to the website, those meetings are scheduled for:
- Thursday, March 30: 6:30-7:30 p.m.
- Thursday, April 6: 6:30-7:30 p.m.
- Thursday, April 13: 6:30-7:30 p.m.
- Thursday, April 20: 6:30-7:30 p.m.
Local nonprofit Housing Alexandria said it will break ground on a new 474-unit affordable housing project in Arlandria this summer at the intersection of Mount Vernon Avenue and Glebe Road.
The project — a pair of buildings the nonprofit announced will be called Sansé and Naja — will create 474 units of affordable housing, 36,000 square feet of commercial space and a two-level underground parking garage. All of the units will be affordable for households making up to 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI) with 105 units set aside as deeply affordable — available to those making 40% AMI.
According to the release:
The names Sansé and Naja come from Nahuatl (na-watl), a language indigenous to Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras with millions of speakers today. Sansé (san-say), the name for the larger building, means “unique” or “only one” and invokes a sense of a unified group. Naja (na-jah or na-ha), the name for the smaller building, means “me” or “myself”… The brand identity was developed by Moya Design Partners in consultation with residents of Arlandria-Chirilagua to create a brand identity that was by and for the residents of the neighborhood. Housing Alexandria expresses our gratitude to the participants in these focus groups, as well as Casa Chirilagua and Tenants and Workers United for giving us the space for these meetings.
Work at the site is scheduled to take around 3-4 years.
“The construction will be done in phases and barring any major interruptions (like the pandemic was at The Bloom) move-ins would begin starting in 2026,” said Kayla Hornbrook, vice president of community relations for Housing Alexandria.
The development made headlines last year when a Catholic diocese sued the City of Alexandria, alleging that it did not properly vacate an alley that divides the new development from the Saint Rita Catholic Church. The site underwent a redesign that did not use the alley, the City of Alexandria withdrew its vacation of the alley, and the lawsuit was eventually dismissed.
The proposed redevelopment of a pair of blue and white buildings, a former Burke & Herbert Bank and a former Walgreens, is heading back to city review next month.
The plan is to combine the two buildings into a single mixed-use development called The Mansley with ground-floor retail and three stories of residential space above.
The applicant, The Silverman Group, said the exterior will mostly resemble the buildings as they exist today, with the additional 24 multi-family units of residential development kept mostly away from the King Street frontage. According to the application:
The project includes the adaptive reuse and rehabilitation of two early 20th-century buildings. 615 and 621 King Street will be combined into a single building with ground-floor retail space and three stories of residential space above, as well as one level below grade to be utilized as commercial support space. The two distinct building typologies will be retained along the King Street frontage, and the building will step back by 12 feet on the upper two levels so that the buildings read as commercial with traditional window proportions.
The Silverman Group is heading to the Board of Architectural Review on Wednesday, April 19, for a concept review and a permit to demolish. The project won City Council approval for rezoning and development at a meeting in September last year.
A proposed extension of the King Street Trolley has reappeared in a new DASH transit plan.
The bus network’s FY 2023-2028 Transit Development Plan includes a look behind the curtain at what’s ahead for the bus network, including a plan to take the King Street Trolley down to the Eisenhower Avenue Metro station.
It’s not the first time the idea has come up. The idea was first raised back in 2020 as a longer-term goal, with hopes of implementation by 2030. Now, the Transit Development Plan says the hope is to get that extension going by FY 2026.
According to the plan:
For FY 2026, DASH proposes to extend the King Street Trolley from the King Street Metro to the Eisenhower Metro. This route extension will require up to three additional Trolley vehicles, which will be 100% electric as part of the larger effort to transition the Trolley fleet to electric buses. DASH will also seek to expand morning service hours for the Trolley and to find ways to integrate it more fully with the Old Town Circulator service. These trolley changes and any further changes to Trolley service will require additional funding, further coordination with city leadership, and approval by City Council.
The plan also includes the proposed replacement of the current hybrid trolleys with five fully electric ones, part of broader fleet electrification the bus network is struggling to find funding for.
The plan also notes that the King Street Trolley remains the most used route in the system.
Despite its post-pandemic ridership decreases, the King Street Trolley remains the most productive route with more than 20 boardings per revenue hour on weekdays and Sundays and more than 30 boardings per revenue hour on Saturdays.