Alexandria, VA

The City of Alexandria is working on plans to handle a potential Coronavirus outbreak, but if you’re looking to a free face mask from the city, you’re out of luck.

“Our health department is not there to deliver masks,” said City Councilwoman Amy Jackson at a City Council meeting on Tuesday. “We’ve seen an increase in requests, but you have to find your own if that’s what you want to do.”

Councilman Mohamed “Mo” Seifeldein checked in with the City Manager at the meeting’s end to ensure the city is preparing for a potential coronavirus outbreak.

“With the announcement from the CDC, it seems like unwelcome news may be coming,” Seifeldein said. “In the event that we have to go into a short schedule, work from home, school [closures], I want to make sure plans are set.”

City Manager Mark Jinks confirmed that the city is working on plans to continue operating city services while minimizing the potential spread of disease.

“As the spread of the virus is on two continents, it’s a pandemic,” Jinks said. “We’ve had a staff group working and we’re going to be expanding that. We have a continuation of service plans in place with each department, however, this is a different circumstance than we have ever faced.”

“This is not a snowstorm. This is not a weather event,” he continued. “We’ve got to go back and look at those and see how we would respond differently. We’re in a different gear.”

Jinks said he and others on city staff are reading up on past pandemics.

“Nobody really knows how far it’s going to spread, but we have to plan for it,” Jinks said. “We have to be ready.”

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

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(Updated at 3 p.m.) Micro-mobility company Helbiz is poised to be the first company in Alexandria offering both e-scooters and e-bikes in Alexandria.

“Helbiz… has been awarded a permit to operate both its innovative e-bikes and e-scooters in Alexandria, Virginia, making it the only company to offer both transportation solutions in the market,” the company said in a press release. “This permit follows the launch of the company’s fleet of e-bikes in neighboring Washington, D.C. and highlights Helbiz’s continued commitment to offering eco-friendly micro-mobility solutions in the area.”

Gian Luca Spriano, a spokesperson for the Italian-American company, said it would be partnering with Alexandria’s Department of Transportation to ensure safety is prioritized and the company has met all the regulatory standards.

The press release noted that the company plans to operate 200 e-scooters and 200 e-bikes in Alexandria, deployed at some point “in the coming weeks.”

The e-scooters and e-bikes are accessible through the Helbiz app, in which users can locate, rent, and unlock the devices.

Photo via Helbiz/Twitter

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The intersection of N. Jordan and Duke Street, near the Foxchase shopping center, is closed due to a serious pedestrian crash.

“A pedestrian was struck,” said Alexandria Police spokesman Lt. Courtney Ballantine. “It’s serious enough that they’ve called in the reconstruction team.”

Ballantine said the person struck was an adult male. On social media, police urged drivers to avoid the area.

Via social media, a witness reported that the man was bleeding from the head after being struck.

The incident comes just three days after another pedestrian was struck at Duke Street and Diagonal Road and a month after Alexandria artist Alfredo DaSilva was killed while crossing Duke Street at an intersection not far from today’s scene. Earlier this week a driver was charged with a deadly pedestrian crash on Duke Street in November.

A petition to reduce the speed limit on a portion of Duke Street east of Jordan Street from 35 to 25 mph has garnered just over 100 signatures.

Map via Google Maps

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(Updated 10:35 a.m.) Residents of the Liberty Row condominium community in North Old Town are upset that construction at the nearby Abingdon Place development has been shaking their walls.

“We’ve received several complaints from [other Liberty Row residents],” said Nathan Collins, a resident of Liberty Row and a member of the Liberty Row Condominium Association. “I contacted the city but basically got shuffled from department to department.”

The redevelopment of the Old Colony Inn (1101 N. Washington Street) has faced controversy since it was first proposed as a hotel in 2016. The hotel proposal faced outcry from nearby residents who said it would literally overshadow the Liberty Row development. Two years later, developers returned with the current proposal to redevelop the site as a new townhouse complex called The Towns of Abingdon Place.

The Abingdon Place development includes 19 luxury townhouses built by Madison Homes. The website said prices are anticipated to start at $1.4 million.

Collins said the reports he’s been hearing from his neighbors include vibrating glassware, pictures shaking against the walls, and floors and windows rattling.

Collins also claimed that a wall on his property was damaged by the construction activity.

Barbara Carroll, who sits on board of directors for the Liberty Row Condominium Association, said the fact that the wall wasn’t cracked before construction and is now in the wake of the pile driving next door points to a clear cause. However, what the nearby residents really want, she said, is more communication.

“The issues revolve around the fact that the builder was not really forthcoming with people about what he’s doing,” Carroll said. “This is unlike the development at St. Asaph — the Gables project. [That] was incredible, they communicated every month and told us what to expect. They installed noise and vibration monitors. I don’t know that the group across the street has.”

“There was more transparency and communications with the [Gables] project,” Collins agreed. “It was a huge project and they took the good neighbor approach. I wish I could say the same in regards to Abingdon Place.”

Mark Westmoreland, Vice President of Madison Homes, said the disruption wasn’t from pile driving, per se, but a process called gravel injection to treat tiers of gravel at the site. Westmoreland said most of the gravel injection was finished, but that there would be some more work in March and the company would be in contact with surrounding homeowners associations.

“We have started the foundations for the model building,” Westmoreland said. “We will start vertical construction in the next 30 days. If people drive by, they’ll certainly notice that.”

The model building at the site is scheduled to open in late summer. Westmoreland said the opening of the rest of the project depends on sales, but he anticipates a full build-out in 2021.

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Spring Cleaning Day has become an annual tradition in the Beverley Hills neighborhood, but a change that makes every trash day its own Spring Cleaning Day has left some residents fuming.

“The Spring Clean Up has always occurred one magical Saturday a year, where people can put bulk trash and oversized items at the curb for trash pick up,” local blog Tales from the Beverley Hills Listserv recounted in a post. “BevHills residents gleefully turn into Sanford and Son-esque trash pickers, slowly trawling the neighborhood in their cars to scavenge bulk items like used furniture, gallons of old paint, half-destroyed kid toys, and broken Lime scooters (lol). It’s like Santa, but in reverse.”

After one local resident on the listserv asked about the date of this year’s trash pickup, Mayor Justin Wilson answered that it had been replaced with a weekly bulky item collection.

“This decision was made as part of last year’s budget process,” Wilson explained. “While this did save the ratepayers about $65K, it is intended as a service enhancement. We pick up all of the same things, now year-round instead of once a year.”

Some two dozen emails followed, as residents lamented the loss of the festive community event. Said one:

How incredibly sad this is to hear. Have you never watched the fever of activity that surrounds each area’s spring cleanup? Because of the concentration of items placed at curbside on a specific date, people from miles around scour each neighborhood for the myriad of things that in fact help them make ends meet. Scrap metal, repairable lawn mowers, reusable furniture, salvageable TVs, wheelbarrows, etc. all get picked up and taken away for sale  and reuse. In my experience, someone ends up taking away at least half of what I have put out for spring cleanup. Not only do we save valuable landfill space, we feed a robust local recycling/personal income enhancing activity with our traditional program. Under this new regime it all goes to the dump. Regardless of how well-intentioned this change in procedure may have been, please give it a second look.

“This is a shame,” another resident wrote. “Spring Clean Up is an amazing event! Who made this decision? Certainly not the citizens of Alexandria!”

Some locals looked more favorably on the change, saying the more regular pickup helped cut down on the length of time bulk items piled up in the garbage. There is also now discussion of residents setting one particular day as a new neighborhood clean up day.

File photo by Jay Westcott

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After months of stalled discussions over the cost of adding southern access to the Potomac Yard Metro station, Mayor Justin Wilson said the city could start the process of financing it over again.

The Potomac Yard Metrorail Implementation Work Group “expressed a great amount of frustration at the amount of time we have spent working with WMATA and their contractor to come to an agreement on a potential change order for improved southwest access,” Wilson said at the City Council meeting last night (Tuesday). “The message that was crystal clear from PYMIG was to set a date to have pencils down regardless of where we’re at and pursue going back to market to bid out the improved southwest access.”

Wilson said the group’s attitude was one of “frustrated impatience” with the way the WMATA has handled this.

The original southern entrance to the Metro station was cut from early plans to save money. As something of a consolation prize, a path to a pedestrian bridge, from neighborhoods to the south to the entrance on the north side of the station, was added.

The city has been in discussion with WMATA for months after prices the latter negotiated for the southern access ramp came back higher than the $50 million allocated in a state grant. During PYMIG meetings, city officials repeatedly said they believed the price was substantially higher than what it should be.

Wilson acknowledged at an earlier meeting that while going back to market for bids on the contract could get a better deal, it could also show that WMATA was correct and the numbers will be even higher than the current bids.

At the site itself, construction is progressing. Staff said at the City Council meeting that the walls are being poured in for the AC switchgear building. Contractors are currently working on ground stabilization to support the station and driving piles on the west side for the north pavilion.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Del Ray restaurant Bon Vivant Cafe + Farm Market (2016 Mount Vernon Avenue) announced yesterday that it would close by the end of the day.

The restaurant, which opened six years ago, said on social media and on a sign in the door that the restaurant had faced mounting difficulties over the years:

After a lot of thought, we have decided to close Bon Vivant. Tuesday 25th February was out last day.

We have enjoyed being a part of Del Ray and its community, and we have loved and appreciated all the support we have received. However, due to the increasing difficulties of running a restaurant these days we found it necessary to close.

The sudden loss caught some local residents and longtime customers by surprise.

“This is huge,” said Jeff Shad, a local resident who had been a regular at the restaurant for five years. “I had no idea they were in trouble. Coming here been part of my regular routine. There’s no other place like it. They try to source local food at a good price. I don’t know what I’m going to do now.”

Jay Westcott contributed to this story

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Longtime local furniture restoration and repair shop Spicer’s Upholstery, Inc has gone out of business after 63 years.

The business, which operated a physical location at 3649 Wheeler Avenue near the police headquarters but also made house calls, said on its website and in a voice message that it went out of business on Feb. 15.

“Spicers will be going out of business today,” a representative of the company said in a voice message on the company’s phone line. “We would like to thank everyone in the Alexandria metro area for allowing Spicers’ to provide furniture upholstery and repairs for over 60 years.”

The family-owned business had been open since 1957.

The closing was mourned on Twitter.

Photo via Google Maps

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The Eisenhower Partnership is making a last-minute push to try to salvage a 15-minute bus service plan for Eisenhower Avenue ahead of tomorrow’s City Council meeting.

Currently buses cycle along Eisenhower Avenue every 30 minutes, as they do in much of the rest of the city. A new plan would increase the frequency of service in densely populated corridors, while cutting down or eliminating service to some less-densely populated residential areas.

After backlash from Seminary Hill residents at risk of losing the AT2 line, DASH restored some of the less dense areas but at the cost of scaling back the 15-minute cycles planned for Eisenhower.

Now, the Eisenhower Partnership — a non-profit representing the Eisenhower Valley — has set up a petition hoping to make Eisenhower Avenue one of the 15-minute bus service routes again.

“We ask Alexandria City Council and the DASH Board of Directors to amend the plan to bring more frequent service to Eisenhower by 2022 to support continued economic growth, improved livability for residents, and fewer cars on our streets,” the group said in the petition. “The Eisenhower Valley is booming in new residential and commercial construction. It is an economic engine for Alexandria, increasingly providing improvements to innovation, learning, and living.”

The petition has 118 signatures with a goal of 200.

The Eisenhower Partnership cited upcoming plans to increase density in Eisenhower, with a shift towards greater residential uses.

“DASH ridership on Eisenhower is already strong, averaging 175 riders each weekday,” the petition said. “This number will grow, since several new apartment buildings are planned or under construction along Eisenhower, including partial conversion of the Victory Center to residential. Long-awaited growth is great news, but these new residents will either ride the bus to Metro stations or add to the unmitigated traffic problem.”

The City Council is scheduled to review an update on the transit vision study at the meeting tomorrow (Tuesday).

By 2030, the plan is to have virtually every bus route in the city — including Eisenhower Avenue — at 15-minute frequency. The 2022 planned network, however, would leave the N1 route on Eisenhower avenue at 30-minute frequency.

“To support smart growth and reduce traffic for all Alexandrians, bus service on Eisenhower should be at least every 15 minutes by 2022, increasing as needed,” the petition said. “For certain, another ten years of low-frequency service on Eisenhower will leave all Alexandrians in a jam.”

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A grand jury has indicted Kenneth Whitcomb, a 62-year-old Alexandria resident, on a charge of reckless driving following a deadly pedestrian collision last November.

John Charles Thompson, a 75-year old Fairfax resident and retired Army general, was struck on Nov. 16 on Duke Street near the Alexandria Commons shopping center around 7:30 a.m. Police said that Thompson was in a crosswalk at the time of the crash.

“Mr. Thompson was walking across Duke Street when he was struck by a vehicle operated by Mr. Whitcomb,” Commonwealth Attorney Bryan Porter said in a press release. “Mr. Thompson was hospitalized after the crash and succumbed to his injuries.”

Porter said reckless driving, a class 1 misdemeanor and the most serious charge that could be lodged in the case, is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and/or a $2500 fine, as well as a license suspension of not more than 6 months. Whitcomb is also charged with failure to yield to a pedestrian, punishable by a fine of not more than $500.

“The driver remained at the scene and cooperated with the investigation, his driver’s license was valid, and he was not under the influence of intoxicants,” Porter said. “Therefore, the appropriate charge is reckless driving.”

Maj. Gen. John Charles Thompson (ret.) was a West Point graduate and a 35-year Army veteran, recognized for valor in Vietnam, according to an obituary.

Photo via Google Maps

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The Foundry (2470 Mandeville Lane) isn’t open yet, but the new luxury complex in Hoffman Town Center has started leasing apartments.

According to a press release, apartments include studios as well as one, two and three-bedrooms. Studios start at around $1,900 per month and go up to three-bedroom units at $4,360. Rent specials are currently being offered, the press release said.

The building will include a heated rooftop pool, a sports bar, a pet spa and more. A new food hall is also planned for the building.

Staff at The Foundry said move-ins are scheduled to start March 1. Tours of the building are available, staff said, but visitors will have to wear a hardhat for now.

The Foundry is part of a wave of new residential development planned as part of a push to turn the Eisenhower corridor into more of a residential and commercial district.

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Cameron Cafe never really closed, but the little cafe that mostly serves the Cameron Run community is celebrating a ribbon-cutting for its new wine and beer bar.

The Facebook event for the celebration noted that the cafe owner and staff will be at the cafe (4911 Brenman Park Drive) from 5-8 p.m. this afternoon (Monday) to show off the new beer and wine menu. Complimentary hors d’oeuvres will also be served.

Staff at the restaurant said the new wine and beer menu is part of an expansion of the venue that’s been taking place over the last several months. While the cafe didn’t close, staff said they are still planning to host a “grand reopening” next month.

Photo via Cameron Cafe/Facebook

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