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The City of Alexandria Pipes and Drums marches in the 50th annual Scottish Christmas Walk Parade in Old Town, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. (staff photo by James Cullum)

There are big changes afoot around Alexandria in the week ahead of the city’s big Scottish Christmas Walk.

Alexandria Restaurant Partners is expanding into a new King Street location. Meanwhile, a local favorite bike shop in Old Town North is closing tomorrow.

Behind the scenes, there are also some improvements on the way to city infrastructure. A new zoning change could help make better use of transit funding set aside by new development, and some flood improvements are underway in Del Ray.

  1. Here’s your guide to Alexandria’s Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend
  2. 100 King Street sold for $8.6 million to Alexandria Restaurant Partners
  3. Full replacement recommended for 120-year-old King Street rail bridge
  4. After 35 years of administrative chaos, Alexandria zoning change could make developers pay for transit
  5. Undercover Alexandria Police detective assists in nabbing Baltimore pimp
  6. Maryland man arrested after allegedly robbing and assaulting woman in Landmark area
  7. Director of T&ES: There’s ‘no intent’ to use eminent domain for Duke Street changes
  8. Alexandria first in region to start testing new electric trash trucks
  9. Alexandria City Public Schools is prepping a collective bargaining proposal
  10. Owners hope to convert office buildings in the heart of Old Town to new residential units
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Wheel Nuts in Old Town North (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

With redevelopment on the horizon, Wheel Nuts Bike Shop (302 Montgomery Street) owner Ron Taylor said it’s time to close up shop and ride into the sunset — specifically to West Virginia.

The store’s final day is set for tomorrow (Saturday) from 9 a.m.-2 p.m.

The store is in the middle of the Montgomery Center, which developer Carr Companies is in the process of redeveloping. Taylor said the writing had been on the wall for a while.

“We were given significant advance notice that the building was being sold,” Taylor said. “My lease happens to run out in December. Demolition of the building is slated for maybe the end of the second quarter of next year, [around] June to October. At that point, all tenants will need to vacate.”

Taylor said he knew the development was coming sooner or later.

“There’s never any question that the Montgomery center will not be developed, we all knew that they had plans for the building,” Taylor said.

Wheel Nuts has been a fixture for local cyclists for over twenty years, with a location easily accessible from the Alexandria portion of the Mount Vernon trail. The business’ website said the shop opened in 1999, but by Taylor’s count it’s been around 25 years.

“We’ve been in business 25 years,” Taylor said. “It’s bittersweet. I’m the owner of the shop — my wife and I own the shop, and my wife just retired from the Fairfax County Park Authority, so it’s nice that we were able to tie it in with when she retired.”

Taylor said since announcing the store’s closure, he’s gotten a flurry of emails and texts and phone calls both from past customers and neighbors sharing just how important the shop was to them.

“I’m going to miss the work, I’m going to miss my staff, going to miss the community, going to miss cyclists that came off the trail,” Taylor said. “I’m saddened by it, but I’m excited for what the future holds.”

Taylor said he’s looking forward to new adventures when the pair move to a new home in West Virginia.

“We’re both into the outdoors and looking forward to mountain biking and skiing,” Taylor said. “We plan to do a lot of traveling and we’re excited to visit national parks, and do biking: we want to practice what we’ve been preaching for many years.”

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Engineers from Jacobs Engineering on a site visit for a stormwater capacity project in Del Ray (courtesy City of Alexandria)

If you saw workers in bright vests around Del Ray last month, they were engineers contracted with the city, and their presence marked the start of design work for a major stormwater capacity project.

The project has the unwieldy name “Commonwealth Avenue and East Glebe Road and Ashby Street and East Glebe Road” after several smaller projects were smushed together.

The goal is to boost the size of the stormwater sewer pipes in Del Ray, meaning that the pipes can hold more water and it will take longer for them to flood.

According to the city’s website:

In the Four Mile Run watershed, the two top priority projects Commonwealth Avenue & E. Glebe Road project and E. Glebe Road and Ashby project are being combined under one large capacity project because they are located next to one another. This project is expected to increase the capacity, or size, of the stormwater sewer pipes; create opportunities for stormwater to be stored and released slowly over time; and incorporate ‘green infrastructure’ practices, such as permeable pavement, that allow the stormwater to soak into the ground, reducing runoff.

A contract was awarded for the project design in October. A city newsletter called Flood Action Alexandria said the project made headway last month as engineers conducted a site visit as part of the initial design work.

“The site visit will be followed by other preliminary work, including land surveys, geotechnical boring investigations and detailed sewer shed modeling,” the newsletter said. “This supports the development of construction plans for the proposed solution.”

When completed, the project should improve stormwater conveyance and reduce some of the flooding that has plagued Del Ray in recent years.

“The combined projects are the City’s top two large capacity projects and will increase the capacity of the storm sewer system to improve stormwater conveyance,” the newsletter said. “The project will also incorporate green infrastructure elements, which will capture runoff carrying surface pollutants, providing a water quality benefit to the watershed.”

The estimated cost for the design and construction of the project is $50 million, paid for in part by a grant from the Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund.

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Money on a table (staff photo via Vernon Miles)

Alexandria’s revenue tax is growing, but too sluggishly to keep pace with the expenditures — leading to a $17 million shortfall as the city heads into budget season.

That estimate, from Mayor Justin Wilson’s monthly newsletter, is slightly lower than the estimate from a City Council meeting in November, but still presents a substantial challenge for city leadership attempting hold off on a tax rate increase.

Wilson said Alexandria’s budget is built around real estate taxes, which are growing but with some worrying signs.

“In Virginia, the structure of municipal finance is heavily reliant on real estate taxes,” Wilson wrote. “Consequentially, in Alexandria the real estate market, both residential and commercial, dictates our budgetary fate. Last year, we saw the healthiest growth in our real estate tax base in over 15 years. Yet, in the past year, mortgage rates have more than doubled. It’s hard to imagine that such an increase will not eventually impact our real estate market.”

Real estate tax revenue is projected to increase by 1.2% — which Wilson called a “return to the anemic growth that characterized much of the last decade and a half.”

Wilson said residential taxpayers are already paying more due to appreciation in the residential tax base, and adding a tax rate increase on top of that would add an even greater burden to local residents.

“I believe we should again work to avoid a rate increase while protecting the core services our residents depend on,” Wilson wrote. “Last year was the 6th budget in a row without a tax rate increase and I am hopeful we can continue that pattern.”

And yet, the city will have to find a way to close the $16.1 million shortfall. That shortfall is mostly attributed to an increase in city operations, the annual transfer to Alexandria City Public Schools and city debt service.

The approved 2023 budget and proposed 2024 budget (via City of Alexandria)

“With these revenue estimates and expenditure estimates, this brings us to a projected revenue shortfall of $16.1 million,” Wilson wrote. “Given that our local budget must be balanced, that shortfall must be resolved with either spending reductions, tax increases or some combination of the two.”

City Manager Jim Parajon, who warned City Council last month that “the budget is going to be tight,” is scheduled to present a budget to Council on Feb. 28.

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Negative Covid tests (photo courtesy Aimee Miller)

With the holiday season approaching, a prerequisite for some family gatherings could be a negative Covid test. With Curative shutting down its testing kiosks throughout the region that might get slightly harder, but there are other resources.

The kiosks have provided around 195,000 Covid tests, the City of Alexandria said in a release, but demand for kiosk testing has dropped off dramatically since 2021.

“As of December 26, 2022, the private company Curative has chosen to close its Alexandria COVID-19 testing kiosks city-wide,” the City of Alexandria said. “Curative is closing all testing sites throughout the region before the end of the year.”

The postal service had previously offered free rapid home antigen tests, but those were suspended in September.

Several medical facilities offer testing, but require seeing a doctor for testing and can cost between $50 up to $300.

The most affordable way to get testing kits in Alexandria is from the library. Alexandria libraries carry rapid COVID-19 test kits available on a first-come, first-served basis. There is a limit of seven kits per person, and the city advised locals to call the library branch to check availability.

Those phone numbers and addresses are:

  • Beatley Central Library (5005 Duke Street): 703-746-1702
    Barrett Branch Library (717 Queen Street): 703-746-1703
    Burke Branch Library (4701 Seminary Road): 703-746-1704
    Duncan Branch Library (2501 Commonwealth Avenue): 703-746-1705

Scheduled Covid tests are also available for public school students and staff through Alexandria City Public Schools.

A full list of testing options is available on the city’s website.

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Electric refuse truck (via Alexandria Transportation & Environmental Services/Twitter)

(Updated 4:25 p.m.) When trash pick-up comes around, it might be a little quieter than usual.

Alexandria’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Services (T&ES) said the city is testing out new electric trash trucks.

“This week, our crews are test-driving electric refuse trucks,” the department said on Twitter. “They’re quieter and deliver pollution reduction benefits”

Right now, city staff is test-driving one electric refuse truck for a week to better understand how it could be used in the city, Director of T&ES Yon Lambert tells ALXnow.

“The electric refuse truck is ideal for urban areas like ours because we take garbage collection to a local waste-to-energy facility, versus a landfill that would require a longer trip,” Lambert said. “Staff in the City’s Fleet Management Division of Transportation & Environmental Services is responsible for the maintenance of the truck, including charging it overnight, while a team from Resource Recovery is responsible for using it on routes to collect household garbage.”

The plan, according to Lambert, is to spend the week test driving the truck to gauge how it could be used to help reduce emissions and fuel consumption.

Lambert said the switch is part of a broader effort to the city’s roughly 800-vehicle fleet more sustainable. These vehicles are used in everything from household garbage collection to construction site inspections.

T&ES isn’t the first city service to venture into electric vehicles. City bus service DASH has been working toward adding 20 electric buses to its fleet — in addition to the 14 already in service — by 2025. The program has hit some stumbling blocks, though, like challenges with hilly terrain and cold weather.

“Our team will monitor how the refuse truck performs while it’s on collection routes this week,” Lambert said. “I believe that over time, we will do our due diligence and record data for this. These manufacturers have solid records of having reliable trucks available.”

Lambert said the truck is being tested as part of a week-long demo by truck company Mack at no cost to the city.

“We are exploring ways to build sustainability and resiliency to protect our City and environment now and for the next generation,” Lambert said. “This test drive will help the City gauge if this is a way we can continue working toward our sustainability goals. If the electric refuse truck is a viable option for us, it could be considered in a future year budget process.”

Lambert says he believes Alexandria is the first municipality in Northern Virginia to test drive an electric refuse truck.

“We hope this inspires other municipalities to also consider sustainability options,” he said.

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The Daughters of the British Empire Pimm’s and Poppies Chapter marches at the 50th annual Scottish Christmas Walk Parade in Old Town, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. (staff photo by James Cullum)

The Alexandria Scottish Christmas Walk, one of the biggest events of the year in Old Town, is marching through the city this weekend.

It will be the 51st year for the event, which features Scottish clans, dancers and bagpipes working along a route through the city. The one-mile-long parade starts at 11 a.m. at the intersection of Wolfe and St. Asaph Streets and ends up outside City Hall (301 King Street).

The event, hosted by the Campagna Center and Visit Alexandria, celebrates the city’s founding by Scottish merchants in 1749.

The parade is the centerpiece for a full weekend of holiday activities, including a parade of boats decorated with holiday lights starting at 5:30 p.m. along the city’s waterfront.

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A VRE train crosses a bridge over King Street (Staff photo by Jay Westcott)

A new authority responsible for promoting railways in Virginia said the only real solution to a degraded bridge over King Street is full replacement.

The Virginia Passenger Rail Authority (VPRA) made its recommendation to the Transportation Commission earlier this month. The CSX bridge over King Street is nearly 120 years old and is notorious for causing closures and shutdowns.

The bridge has repeatedly closed after issues ranging from rail debris falling onto the street to repeated strikes by trucks and other vehicles.

At the Transportation Commission, Todd Hopkins — part of a group from the VPRA — said the bridge is also subject to occasional crashes with trucks and that the bridge does not meet current height requirements.

“Bridge strikes do occur by high trucks that try to pass through there,” Hopkins said. “When a bridge strike takes place, a safety inspection has to occur. All traffic gets shut down for at least a couple of hours. That leads to operational delays.”

Hopkins said a study weighed four options, ranging from various types of repairs and lifts to the bridge to full replacement.

King Street bridge repair or replacement options (image via Transportation Commission)

The presentation noted that there are five criteria for screening bridge repair or replacement options, which include: adding 50 years of functional life to the bridge, minimizing rail operations, and meeting current railroad requirements and roadway clearance requirements. A full replacement was the only option that hit all five criteria.

VPRA Planning Manager Naomi Klein said bridge replacement met all criteria and is the recommended design option.

A report from the VPRA said the replacement would include increasing the bridge height and possible width under the bridge. Replacement would also reduce maintenance requirements and minimize rail service interruptions.

Klein said a feasibility study is scheduled to be completed sometime in the next month to be published early next year. After that, the VPRA will review public feedback and complete the environmental clearance process before progressing with a preferred design option.

Once a design is chosen, construction is scheduled to start in the second quarter of 2024 and continue until midway through 2026.

The Transportation Commission also voted to include a note along with the report saying the city should add more signage to the bridge in the meantime with more visible warnings to truck drivers about the bridge height.

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A bus outside the King Street-Old Town Metro station (staff photo by James Cullum)

An upcoming zoning change could both cut through some development red tape and make funding for transportation projects more accessible after years of noncompliance from developers.

The city is looking at reshaping Transportation Management Plans (TMP), one of the core pieces of any new development that’s remained basically unchanged since 1987. The goal of a TMP is to ensure new development promotes public transportation, walking, biking or rideshares rather than driving to work alone.

“TMPs often outline specific transportation requirements a development must carry out, such as offering an incentive program or shuttle bus to Metrorail,” a report on the proposed change said. “Developments fund their individual TMPs through an annual contribution into an account they manage and oversee.”

Most times, these plans involve dedicating funding transportation projects aimed at boosting public transit and other types of transportation. It’s a deal not unlike the way the city trades bonus density for affordable housing. There are currently 106 active TMPs around the city.

In the past, that funding has been divided up by individual projects and managed by individual developers with mixed results. The report noted that compliance is low because penalties are nominal. Development from before 2014 — which accounts for about 63 of the 106 total TMPs — only receive a $50 fine for not following their TMP.

“Administration of TMPs typically falls on property management, who often lack tools, expertise, and time to implement and oversee an effective TMP,” the report said. “Too many TMPs are doing different things with varying degrees of success, and many are not compliant with the requirements spending and reporting.”

To make matters worse, the report said the success of each TMP is difficult to measure and funding often sits unused in accounts.

“It is difficult to measure the success of TMPs since the surveys used to evaluate travel behaviors are administered by each TMP, and the data is unreliable due to low response rates,” the report said. “TMPs often accrue funds faster than they can be spent. It is administratively time-consuming for staff to coordinate with over 100 different TMP Coordinators that are frequently changing and have different levels of expertise.”

The new change would bring nearly all of the funding from TMPs into a single pot for coordinated use on city transportation projects.

“[The policy change requires] all but the largest developments to pay into a GO Alex Fund, which is managed by the City, rather than managing individual funds themselves,” the report said. “Developments over a certain size can still manage their own program with City oversight, but without paying into a City fund. The GO Alex Fund will be used to make transportation investments Citywide.”

The report said the city-managed fund would advance strategies in the Alexandria Multimodal Plan and other city transportation goals.

“The benefit of this change is that the single fund achieves economies of scale that individual TMP funds cannot,” the report said. “There are currently 106 separate funds, each of which have different programs to administer with different levels of available funding. By combining funding into one City-managed fund, the funding can be used more effectively.”

The new policy would also provide incentives for paying the obligation upfront, building transportation improvements on site, and locating development in an enhanced transit area — a place accessible to Metro or one of the city’s new high-intensity bus routes.

The change is scheduled for review at Planning Commission meeting the Tuesday, Dec. 6.

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Duke Street near Landmark and Cameron Run (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Alexandria is planning for a transit-oriented overhaul of Duke Street, and city staff connected to the project told an advisory group earlier this month that rumors about eminent domain being used for the project are inaccurate.

Yon Lambert, the director of the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services (T&ES), told the Duke Street in Motion Advisory Group that public concerns about eminent domain being invoked to acquire right of way for the Duke Street changes is at least premature if not unfounded.

Concerns about the city using eminent domain to acquire land along Duke Street became so prevalent members of the City Council asked staff about it at meetings this month. Lambert said right-of-way acquisition does not always involve eminent domain.

“There’s been some discussion and disinformation about what right of way is and use of it,” Lambert said. “The city regularly acquires the right of way when it is building capital projects like sewers or fire facilities… The right-of-way process is a normal component of all of our capital projects. There’s nothing unusual in us having a right-of-way element on a project.

Lambert said with the plans still in the early stages, it’s not clear that the city will have make any right-of-way acquisition.

“What I specifically want to address, with this project in particular: any right-of-way that we think we will have to acquire, and it’s not clear that we will have to acquire right-of-way… if we think we have to acquire any right-of-way, we see that as being a voluntary negotiation with adjacent property owners,” Lambert said. “We do not see any intent in this stage of the project to use eminent domain.”

Lambert said eminent domain is still a tool in the city’s toolbox for making improvements that are necessary to the public interest, but with this project, the city “wants to make sure right of way set aside for this project is voluntary.”

In the same vein of corrections about misconceptions surrounding the Duke Street projects, Lambert said the Transitway proposal won’t necessarily have a one-size-fits-all application along the corridor. There are multiple options, from transit separated from traffic to buses mixed in with traffic, with multiple segments along the corridor.

“I think it’s natural and reasonable to think about it as doing something from end to end,” Lambert said. “Multiple [City] Councils have told us and the staff… that Council wants to see ensuring transit on Duke Street. But part of the reason it’s broken out into segments… [we] want to make sure it’s clear that there may be different solutions for different segments.”

Lambert said while some segments may see substantial improvements, others may only see more incremental improvements.

The advisory group is scheduled to meet again on Thursday, Dec. 15.

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