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208 Queen Street (image via Google Maps)

In a hole in a mixed-use block in Old Town there lived a hobbit-themed restaurant. Not a nasty, dirty, wet development with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that meant comfort.

But the restaurant, Bilbo Baggins, closed in 2020 and now a new Mediterranean restaurant, Elaine’s, has filed an application to fill the space.

As the spot is maintaining the restaurant use, the special use permit is pretty bare-bones, but the plans drawn up for the restaurant show it will keep the former restaurant’s layout with a bar area separate from the main dining area.

Alexandria Living Magazine first reported the restaurant’s plans back in August, saying the restaurant — which will be called Elaine’s Modern Mediterranean — plans to offer a mix of French and Greek food.

The application said the restaurant will seat 120 patrons.

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Former National Tire and Batter (image via Google Maps)

A former National Tire and Battery (NTB) in the West End could be transformed into a used car dealership if the repair shop next door can get approval.

Koons of Alexandria has filed an application for a special use permit to establish a used car dealership at the former NTB building at 5800 Edsall Road, just off S. Van Dorn Street.

Koons of Alexandria also operates the repair center and car rental agency next door, which will remain there under the new proposal.

The application said the project would come with extensive interior and exterior renovations to the NTB building. The dealership would have around 50-100 cars at any given time, with some light repairs ongoing inside the building.

“With this proposal, the Applicant proposes interior and exterior renovations of the existing building to upgrade the building’s appearance, as shown in the enclosed plans,” the application said. “A total of 359 parking spaces are located on the Property and the neighboring 5800 Edsall Road site and are shared between the two buildings. The provided parking is more than sufficient to meet the needs of both buildings.”

The NTB building was built in 1995 and mostly stayed as a tire sale facility until December 2020, when NTB relocated elsewhere in the West End. In 2017 there were plans to turn it into a Land Rover/Jaguar dealership, but those ultimately fell through.

The project is scheduled for review at the Nov. 1 Planning Commission meeting.

Image via Google Maps

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Hotel Aka with new black color scheme, photo via EAGH Alexandria

The Electra America Hospitality Group (EAHG) has filed an application to open a new cafe with outdoor seating at Hotel AKA — an Old Town North Holiday Inn replacement at 625 First Street with a dark exterior.

The amendment to allow a cafe is bundled in with an official change of ownership special use permit headed through the city review process.

The hotel is currently under construction and is scheduled to open sometime this winter. One of the most notable parts of the application process was the proposal to paint the exterior of the building fully black, though concept renderings on the Hotel AKA website show the exterior as a lighter grey.

“The Applicant is requesting a minor amendment to the existing SUP to add 40 outdoor dining seats,” the application said. “The Applicant is in the process of completing interior and exterior renovations to the existing hotel and plans to re-open as the Hotel AKA Alexandria.”

The new hotel will have 180 guest rooms with various amenities, including the new cafe if the permit is granted.

“The cafe will offer coffee, pastries, and similar beverages and light fare typically offered in coffee shops,” the application said. “The cafe will include a total of 40 outdoor dining seats in an outdoor seating area on First Street.”

The hotel will also include a lounge area and bar on the ground floor near the lobby. There are 148 parking spaces on-site, and the application said that’s expected to remain the same.

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District Dogs (image via District Dogs/Facebook)

Dog care facility District Dogs is seeking a permit to open in Alexandria.

District Dogs is filing for an amendment to the development special use permit to add an animal care facility to 2424 Mill Road in the Carlyle neighborhood.

The new location would include grooming, training and daycare services for local dogs.

“The Animal Care Facility is a neighborhood serving business that will provide indoor only grooming, training and daycare services to its clients,” the application said. “The facility will consist of approximately 4000 square [feet] of ground floor space.”

The new District Dogs location would be part of the Hoffman Town Center project, which includes the Wegmans that opened earlier this year.

The DSUP request is scheduled for review at the Tuesday, Nov. 1, Planning Commission meeting.

Photo via District Dogs/Facebook

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Poster for Underworld event at The Birchmere (image via The Birchmere)

The Birchmere’s (3701 Mt Vernon Avenue) annual Halloween event Raven’s Night is scheduled to return next month, along with a slew of other musical acts.

Raven’s Night is returning for its 10th year. The event features belly dancing, live music, a costume contest and a pre-show carnival.

This year’s theme is Underworld, emphasizing demons, witches and wizards. Tickets are $35 and the event is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 29.

Singer, songwriter, and composer Rufus Wainwright is scheduled to perform at The Birchmere at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 12. In addition to writing two operas and setting Shakespeare sonnets to music, Wainwright was also featured in the Shrek soundtrack.

Apparently, a different version of the song was used in the movie vs the soundtrack, but this is an Alexandria news site and not a Shrek news site so that’s as far into that as we’ll go.

The band 10,000 Maniacs was scheduled to perform late in October. but The Birchmere said family and health challenges have led the band to cancel their tour.

Other shows coming up include:

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A new report, prepared for a City Council meeting tomorrow (Wednesday), looks back at the progress made on several priorities adopted earlier this year, from pandemic recovery to housing.

The mulit-part update tackles a dozen community-welfare topics identified as a priority early in 2022, with each of those broken down into a look at progress on individual initiatives. While some have been fully completed, others are still in their early stages.

Each item in the report has a percentage completed next to it. For pandemic recovery, the two items listed as fully complete involve creating out to more Spanish language and Black communities for tourism and investing more heavily in tourism overall.

For the first of those initiatives, the report said Alexandria plans to continue diversifying it’s tourism efforts over the next few years.

“The supplementary media buy to stimulate recovery was fully implemented,” the report said. “We invested $410,000 in new digital advertising to increase overall awareness, expand to more diverse audiences and sustain new regional market share garnered during the pandemic. We also developed new advertising creative with the ‘Drop In’ campaign to welcome audiences of color. We also expect this new creative to support our expanded marketing efforts in the next several years.”

Another nearly completed area in the pandemic recovery section emphasized working with Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) to expand mental health resources in schools.

The report said mental health professionals have been added to schools and the city worked with ACPS this summer on refining the referral process, mental health trends and more.

Other initiatives, particularly aspects focusing on small business recovery, are still in the nascent stages.

Progress was a little more behind in the housing section, where one of the listed goals was “provide diverse housing options at a variety of price points to support a thriving and inclusive Alexandria.”

The report listed the accessory dwelling unit and bonus height ordinance changes earlier this year as positive steps forward. Other parts of that work are still in progress. One of the big items is a Housing Master Plan update scheduled for FY 2024 that city staff is already starting prep work for. In the shorter term, an update on affordable housing funding is expected to come before the City Council later this fall.

The full report is available on the city website and is docketed for discussion at the meeting tomorrow.

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(Updated 3:45 p.m.) After all the fuss over its creation, the Alexandria Independent Community Policing Review Board has seemingly had a pretty quiet first full year since its creation.

The Board started meeting in January this year, and the first annual public report said it’s mostly been focusing on prep work.

“The Board began meeting in January 2022, and has been diligently working on readiness requirements in the ordinance such as hiring an Independent Policing Auditor/Investigator, drafting bylaws, and completing training,” the report said.

The seven-person Board was created by City Council last year to independently review allegations of police misconduct.

The top item in the report has been the board’s work in helping to select an independent auditor, who will hire staff, conduct investigations and coordinate the Board’s administrative functions.

So far, the Board has reviewed and discussed resumes of several applicants. In May, the Board met with the City Manager to discuss the hiring process and candidate resumes.

“On May 13, Board Chair Todd Pilot and and Vice Chair Emily Flores met with Kenyatta Uzzell, CEO of Polihire, to better understand the selection process and to provide feedback on the Board’s view of the role of the Auditor and the background and characteristics they saw as important for the position,” the report said. “Polihire identified four candidates. The Board interviewed the four candidates and asked the City Council to interview three of the four candidates.”

According to the report: the pending appointment of an auditor has left the Board in quasi-stasis, unable to implement its bylaws without the assistance and oversight of the as-yet unselected auditor.

The report also said that, despite some scheduling hiccups, all members of the Board will complete their training sessions by the end of this month:

Nevertheless, as of the date of this report, the Board members are expected to have completed their training requirements by the end of September 2022. For each member, this training will include:

  • Presentation on the Board’s powers and duties under Title 2, Chapter 4, Article AAA of the City Code (the Independent Community Policing Review Board Article) by Meghan Roberts and Robert Porter of the City Attorney’s Office;
  • Presentation on the Board’s obligations under FOIA, conflict of interest and ethics rules,and Roberts Rules of Order by David Lanier of the City Attorney’s Office;
  • Presentation on use of force by APD Sgt. Ryan Staab;
  • Presentation on the investigative process of the APD Office of External Affairs andProfessional Responsibility by Sgt. Jeff Harrington, with assistance from Sgt. Aloysius Asonglefac;
  • Three ride-alongs with the APD; and
  • Eight hours of National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement training webinars.

Once an auditor is selected, the report said the Board will able to do more in the upcoming year. The report included a list of goals and benchmarks for the Board to accomplish by this time in 2023:

  • Enact bylaws and investigation procedures
  • Get Auditor, Board Chair and Board Vice Chair involved in NACOLE (The National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement) and registered for NACOLE conferences, encourage other Board members to get involved with NACOLE
  • Execute a Memorandum of Understanding with the APD
  • Create an intake process and tracking system
  • Issue the Board Readiness Resolution
  • Begin reviewing investigative cases
  • Make available videos of meetings on website
  • Review of APD policies
  • Meet with community groups, the APD, and police union.
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The City of Alexandria is planning to work with a local non-profit to quantify the demand for after-school activities.

At an upcoming City Council meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 28, the Council is docketed to consider a $60,000 transfer to local non-profit ACT for Alexandria.

According to the docket, the funding is part of an effort to “explore how to expand academic, social, and emotional services and physical supports to all youth during the out-of-school time hours.”

The new study would examine the levels of demand for after-school programming around Alexandria, including a look at where programs are or aren’t available or being utilized.

“The scope of work includes a survey to all Alexandria City Public School (ACPS) parents to determine where children are currently going after the school day ends, the frequency of after school support needed, and the type of support needed,” the memo said. “It also includes follow up focus groups in areas of the city with lower utilization rates of after school programs to better understand barriers, including cost and cultural understanding around childcare.”

The study is itself a follow-up on work the group did to survey after-school providers and needs specifically for middle school students. If the funding for the new report goes through, the memo said staff will return with more data on where the city should direct the rest of the $340,000 set aside to support local youth and families.

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Tentative location for Landmark pedestrian bridge (image via City of Alexandria)

The City of Alexandria is looking into building a pedestrian bridge over I-395 to connect the Landmark Mall site to neighborhoods west of the highway.

Last week, the Transportation Commission reviewed a potential grant application to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to provide funding to study the potential bridge.

The idea is to give West End residents better access to the large new development — including a new hospital and mixed-use district — currently under construction.

“The City is seeking technical assistance funding from the DOT to study the feasibility of a bicycle and pedestrian bridge over I-395 to connect the Landmark Mall site to the neighborhoods west of I-395,” a city memo said. “This will provide safe and direct access to jobs and amenities that will be available once West End Alexandria has been redeveloped.”

At the meeting, staff said without the bridge the only pedestrian access to the Landmark site for residents west of I-395 would be to either go down to Duke Street or cross on the Holmes Run Trail, which is currently still impassable following damage from a storm in 2019.

The bridge is recommended in several planning studies focused around the site, though members of the Transportation Commission said one of the challenges will be finding the right spot for the bridge in an area that’s a patchwork of private development. Transportation Commission member Melissa McMahon noted that the final bridge location could be more dependent on agreements with private land owners than any optimal connection.

The total cost of the study is $300,000, with a $240,000 grant request to the Department of Transportation and $60,000 in local matching funds. The Council is set to review the application at a meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 28. City staff said grant recipients are announced in early 2023 and, if approved, the study would start in 2024 and take about a year.

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We’re just a nebulous amount of time away from the opening of the Potomac Yard Metro station, but the station is already showing up on new Metro maps.

The ongoing shutdown for Alexandria to bring the Potomac Yard Metro station into the system is scheduled to finish on Oct. 22. Metro officials said trains will be passing through but not stopping at the station.

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) has said the station will open this fall, and Fred Robertson, project manager for the Potomac Yard Metro station, said there’s no more definite date available even as the year slides into fall.

The station was supposed to open in the spring but was pushed back to fall because of a contracting error.

The new map shows the Potomac Yard station as just a white dot lacking the black circle of its completed peers — indicating that the Potomac Yard Metro station is a “future station”. If WMATA keeps to its “fall” timeline, the new map should only be up to date for two months at most.

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