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(Updated 1/31) The City of Alexandria is looking to extend the duration of King Street Outdoor Dining (KSOD) permits after an unusual circumstance in scheduling meant the permits issued by the city would only be valid for a couple of months.

After the Covid emergency status expired in September 2022, the City of Alexandria began issuing permits for businesses along King Street to operate in the sidewalks. The program is a continuation of a more flexible approach to outdoor dining brought on by the pandemic.

The problem is: the city’s annual sidewalk permits were effective from April 1 to March 31 of the following year. The permits Alexandria was issuing last year were based on that system, meaning permits granted after the change in September would only be valid until the end of March — just five months after they were issued.

As the city gets its ducks in a row to streamline the whole process, city staff have suggested that the city push the expiration of those permits back to next fall.

According to a staff report:

In the meantime, the KSOD permits granted after October 1, 2022 will expire on March 31, 2023… Staff proposes a text amendment to Section 6-804(F) to allow time for the development of a new one-application process, which aligns with the existing annual September 30 deadline of the parklet program, and also eliminates the need for restaurant operators to reapply for a new sidewalk dining permit before the existing March 31 deadline, less than six months after their most recent approvals.

The permit extension (item 2) is heading to the Planning Commission on Tuesday, Feb. 7.

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ACHS students in a walk out protesting the cancelation of Lunch and Learn (staff photo by Vernon Miles)

It’s been a busy week in Alexandria.

As teachers fought for a pay raise, Alexandria City High School (ACHS) students walked out of the classrooms in protest against Alexandria City Public Schools leadership stonewalling a lunchtime program.

Titan Lunch was a proposed replacement for an earlier Lunch and Learn program that allowed students to meet with clubs or teachers during their lunch period. A student committee met with school administration and worked on crafting a compromise that would keep the core of “Lunch and Learn” intact while adding security measures.

In an email to the ACHS community, Principal Peter Balas said during meetings with the school district’s senior leadership team it became apparent that “safety and security concerns, in addition to the logistical and operational challenges” would keep the program from moving forward during the current school year.

While organizers said Interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt has yet to meet with the student committee that put together the activity proposal, the ACHS PTSA wrote a letter to the school system supporting the Titan Lunch proposal.

The most-read stories this week were:

  1. Alexandria City High School students organize walk out protesting cancelation of lunchtime activities
  2. With Alexandria seeing more residential development conversions, city leaders discuss pushing for greater ‘voluntary’ contributions
  3. No arrest after woman robbed at gunpoint in Old Town Saturday night
  4. UPDATED: Alexandria BIPOC-focused grant program delayed by lawsuit from local engineering firm
  5. JUST IN: Visit Alexandria unveils new city branding
  6. JUST IN: Suspect on run in shooting ‘mistakenly’ released from jail after arrest
  7. Alexandria teachers want smaller classes and bigger raises
  8. Notes: Neighboring Arlington embroiled in single-family zoning fight Alexandria has avoided… so far
  9. Woodbridge man arrested after stabbing incident in West End
  10. APD investigates shots fired in the West End
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(Updated 2:30 p.m.) The recently formed Alexandria Minority Business Association (AMBA) shared frustrations about a lawsuit putting a planned grant program on hold.

The City of Alexandria approved a grant program aimed at benefiting Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) business owners. Applications were set to be released in the coming weeks, but a lawsuit has put those plans on hold.

The grant would have allocated $500,000 worth of funds ot businesses with at least 51% BIPOC ownership, with a maximum amount of $7,000 per recipient.

Earlier this week, engineering firm Tridentis, LLC filed a lawsuit against the City of Alexandria claiming the city is discriminating based on race. Tridentis is a military contractor based in Alexandria.

“This program is blatantly illegal,” the lawsuit claimed. “The Equal Protection Clause prohibits Alexandria from discriminating based on race, and this express racial exclusion cannot possibly satisfy strict scrutiny. Plaintiff, a business in Alexandria who wants to apply for the program but is excluded because its owner is the wrong race, is entitled to relief.”

Tridentis has received over $1 million in forgiven loans since early 2020.

Kevin Harris, founder of AMBA, called the lawsuit political theater, noting that the contractor donates thousands of dollars to right-wing politicians or groups every year.

“Tellingly, Tridentis has hired Consovoy McCarthy PLLC as their legal counsel for this suit.” said Harris. “I think that shows pretty clearly what their end-goal is.”

Pastor Lou Whiting, leader of the Social Responsibility Group (SRG), called the pause in the grant program disappointing.

“SRG is deeply disappointed that our City now faces this legal challenge in its efforts to address the compelling governmental interests of diversity, equity, and inclusion for members of their constituency that have been systematically denied a full opportunity to participate in aspects of economic, social, and civic life.” said Pastor Whiting. “Diversity, equity, and inclusion are essential priorities for Alexandria and our entire nation. This lawsuit demonstrates our need for sustained action.”

https://twitter.com/AKSSInAlex/status/1618298038216445952

ALXnow reached out to a Tridentis phone number but recieved no response.

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New Alexandria logo by Visit Alexandria (courtesy photo)

Yesterday, the tourism bureau Visit Alexandria presented a new logo to be used in marketing for the city. Reception online was mixed.

The logo features the city’s name in lowercase with the most notable feature being a representation of a sunrise in the middle “a”.

Visit Alexandria presented the new logo at a meeting yesterday morning.

“Our new logo is sophisticated yet inviting and embraces our identity as a waterfront city that is continually evolving,” said Patricia Washington, President and CEO of Visit Alexandria, in a release. “Even as our brand changes, we’re continuing to highlight our city’s historic character both visually and in our storytelling with a bold new destination advertising campaign that will surprise people and offer potential visitors a glimpse at all there is to know and love about Alexandria.”

What do you think of the new Alexandria logo? Is there any aspect of it you would change?

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Diagram showing planned rooftop extension at Village Brauhaus (image via Mark R. Yoo Architect PLLC/City of Alexandria)

When it comes to city permitting: it pays to play it safe.

Old Town restaurant Village Brauhaus (710 King Street) is going back through the city review process to double-check that it’s still alright to open a rooftop dining area after the restaurant changed ownership.

The rooftop expansion was previously approved in November 2021, but the restaurant changed ownership last November. Now, the rooftop expansion is heading back to the Board of Architectural Review (BAR) for reapproval of the rooftop plans on Wednesday, Feb. 15.

An employee at Village Brauhaus said the restaurant is hoping to get the rooftop extension up and running before this summer.

“The rooftop dining area will include a covered bar serving area and retractable canopy,” the application said. “The serving area and canopy will be set back from the front facade at a distance far enough as not to be highly visible from the sidewalk across the street.”

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City Council and firefighters gather for collective bargaining agreement (image via AlexandriaVAGov/Twitter)

After years of discussion and debate, Alexandria’s City Council unanimously voted to approve a resolution funding a collective bargaining agreement between the City of Alexandria and the local firefighters union.

The agreement includes funding for many of the problems raised by Alexandria firefighters over recent years, from long hours to improved infrastructure.

The agreement with International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 2141 (IAFF Local 2141) comes on the heels of a collective bargaining agreement approved in 2021. The agreement is the first collective bargaining agreement in Virginia between a locality and a firefighter union since 1970.

The agreements include investments in employee pay, salaries at or above market, and a framework for an annual adjustment to pay scales.

According to a release from the City of Alexandria:

  • Competitive, market-rate salary increases.
  • Pathway to reduced hours in the work week.
  • Assurance of ongoing investments in City facilities and safety initiatives.
  • Continued access to the City’s benefits package.

The total cost for the wages and other costs under the agreement is $3.5 million in fiscal year 2024 with an additional $13.9 million over the next three years. The agreement also includes a commitment to hiring more firefighters and medics; totaling a $2.4 million cost for FY 2024 and $13.5 million over the next three years.

It’s been a long road to city approval with several very vocal conflicts between IAFF Local 2141 and the city.

That conflict sometimes drove a wedge between firefighters and Fire Chief Corey Smedley, but at the City Council meeting last night city leaders and IAFF Local 2141 leadership were quick to adopt a unified posture.

“To Local 2141: I admire your tenacity as you negotiated for our department,” said Smedley. “Your hard work and determination is reflected in this agreement. We are one team, which should resonate throughout the city that we share common goals in pursuit of continuous improvement.”

City Manager James Parajon lauded the work of IAFF Local 2141, despite past disagreements between the union and the city.

“I want to recognize [IAFF Local 2141 President] Josh Turner and the rest of his bargaining unit,” said Parajon. “We talk a lot about staffing; on our partner’s side it was our firefighters doing the hard legwork it takes to do an agreement like this. That’s hard to do, especially in circumstances where many of them are working through the night and show up at bargaining sessions in the morning.”

City Council members expressed their support for the new agreement.

“One of the first groups of folks I sat down with were our firefighters and medics,” said City Council member Alyia Gaskins. “I got to hear a lot of their stories… I heard about their passion, their commitment. At the same time, probably the most painful part of the conversation is when I heard them talk about how they felt they were working for a city that didn’t want to help or serve them as much as they wanted to help.”

City Council member John Chapman got emotional in discussing the work of Alexandria firefighters and sharing appreciation for the work they put into the agreement:

My son is two years old, turning three next month, and has no less than 30 or 40 types of items related to firefighters… and it’s because you guys, to this community, are magical. Any boy or girl that sees the truck and hears the sirens going off, they turn and look with such a display of awe… Sometimes we’ve put you in a place where it’s more sacrifice than others in your industry… We don’t say this a lot to our employees, but we love you. As a young father, seeing one of you come up and talk about the time away from your family you give willingly, sometimes begrudgingly, but you do it as dedication to your craft knowing you are impacting lives. It’s so meaningful.

Turner, a captain in the Alexandria Fire Department, was one of those who had been leading the charge toward collective bargaining for years.

“It’s a very historic day,” Turner said. “The most important thing is: this contract is about our community. It speaks to the values of our community, that this is a priority, that this is a progressive community, and sets us up for success not only in the labor market but also for our department moving forward.”

Photo via AlexandriaVAGov/Twitter

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Weekly lineup of cookies at Crumbl Cookies (via Crumbl Cookies/Facebook)

(Updated at 11:10 a.m.) Crumbl Cookies, a Utah-based chain of cookie stores, is planning to open its new Bradlee Shopping Center location this summer.

Crumbl Cookies offers a rotating selection of cookies from the classic milk chocolate chip to a “French Silk Pie” cookie. Plans for the new Bradlee Shopping Center location were first announced last year but there was no information at the time on when the store would be opening.

A company spokesperson said the new location will open at 3690-A King Street in Suite 31 sometime this summer, with a specific timeline contingent on construction and permitting.

“The owners look forward to sharing sweet treats and opportunities with the community,” said Cassidy Salisbury, a spokesperson for the company.

The Alexandria location will arrive amid a minor boom in Northern Virginia locations for the chain. Over the last year, new locations opened in Reston, Vienna, Chantilly and Ashburn.

Image via Crumbl Cookies/Facebook

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ACHS students in a walk out protesting the cancelation of Lunch and Learn (staff photo by Vernon Miles)

(Updated 3:55 p.m.) At 10 a.m. today, Alexandria City High School students filed out of their classrooms and took to the field behind the school in protest against the elimination of a popular lunchtime program at the school.

For a time, students could use their lunch block to meet with clubs or teachers in a program called Lunch and Learn. This was later given a more formal structure in a program called Titan Lunch, a re-do with more security, but that program was never instated.

Earlier this week, ACHS Principal Peter Balas told that — after meeting with Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) senior leadership team — Titan Lunch would not be implemented for the current school year.

In an email to the community, Balas said logistics and safety concerns were at the core of why the program was canceled for the duration of the current school year.

“You may recall that, last fall, I promised to share an update after Winter Break and provide the next steps in the process,” Balas wrote. “In my previous message, I emphasized the need to address all of the safety and security concerns, in addition to the logistical and operational challenges, in our final plan, while also providing an opportunity for student choice during the lunch period. This is a significant challenge to overcome, given our large student population.”

Balas said the program “as we have known it” will not be reinstated for the 2022-2023 school year.

“Despite our best efforts, we are still working through the numerous factors and considerations to successfully reinstate the Titan Lunch period for this school year,” Balas wrote. “At this time,we will not be able to reinstate Titan Lunch for the 2022-23 school year as we have known it. Over the next semester, we will find ways to provide support to students focused on academics, well-being and student life.”

Students at ACHS told ALXnow that Lunch and Learn allowed students to participate in clubs and receive support from teachers, as well as allowing them time to visit counselors. The program allowed students to use the lunch break for these activities when things like sports or jobs might have left them unable to use those resources after school hours.

According to James Libresco, the 2025 class president at ACHS:

Lunch and Learn was such an important issue for students because it allowed students to participate in clubs, receive academic support from teachers, utilize the College & Career center, receive emotional support from counselors, and so much more. And the best part was that it allowed equal and equitable access for all students to participate in these school activities and enrichments, even those who had responsibilities after school like going to sports practice, working a job, or taking care of family members. This was something that had never been possible previously.

Titan Lunch took those aspects and added more safety-focused oversight, restricting some of the openness from Lunch and Learn like access to Chinquapin Field. Titan Lunch also required students to report directly to their location and check in via an internal system to let administrators keep track of students.

Libresco said strategic security plans for Titan Lunch included placing security officers and administrators in key locations to prevent students from roaming the halls or entering “no-go” areas.

Student newspaper Theogony has been covering the topic and reported that the Titan Lunch plans hit a wall when they were not approved by Interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt.

A committee of 25 students, called the Student Lunch Committee, had been working on the Titan Lunch program as a compromise. The Student Lunch Committee issued a statement expressing frustration at being seemingly stonewalled by the central office. Libresco said Balas was supportive of the students and engaged in conversations, but that the school had difficulty discussing the plan with the central office and Kay-Wyatt in particular, who has not met with the committee.

A Change.org petition calling specifically on Kay-Wyatt to reinstate Lunch and Learn has gotten 1,346 signatures at time of writing.

“This is no longer just about Titan Lunch,” the committee said in a statement posted on social media. “this is about students, teachers, staff and administration being flagrantly ignored by Central Office with the vague reasoning of ‘safety.’ This is about Central Office leaving nothing up to the principals and administrators who know our school so well.”

In the email to the community, Balas said the discussion around lunchtime activities is likely to continue:

In our continued conversations with students and staff about the reinstatement of this period, we have heard many perspectives and advocacy to accommodate this period in the schedule for the remainder of this year. I want you to know that your voice has not gone unheard. In our role as leaders, it is always challenging to balance safety for all within the building with student and staff choice. This is one of those times when a tough call must be made to ensure that we can be fully prepared to provide the safest environment for our school community while also keeping student life top of mind.

I understand that you may still have questions about this decision and may be disappointed with this outcome at this time. Please be assured that we will continue to identify ways to incorporate student and staff voice in our next steps as we continue our planning, if all measures are in place.

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1225 and 1229 King Street (image via Google Maps)

A redevelopment vote (item 6) that was meant to be part of the consent calendar — items generally approved without controversy — ended up taking up a large swath of a City Council meeting this Saturday and became the center of a discussion about how hard the city should push for “voluntary” affordable housing contributions.

The topic at hand was the conversion of the non-residential upper floors of 1225 King Street into 12 residential units. There was little contentious in the presented redevelopment plans, but it sparked a discussion of how the city should be handling affordable housing in the increasingly popular residential conversions.

The city has initiated an ambitious new zoning project that aims to bake more affordability into the city’s land use code from the ground up. But the conversion of 1225 King Street to a residential space is part of an increasing trend of office or retail space being turned into more valuable residential space.

A housing policy update from 2020/2021 set a “voluntary monetary contribution policy” for that sort of conversion at $1.61 per square foot, totaling $9,236 for the development.

Council member Alyia Gaskins used the topic of the conversion to highlight that the new Comprehensive Zoning for Housing and Housing for All Package, at least in its current state, will do little to adjust or change how affordable housing is factored into these types of conversions.

“One of the things I raised in my briefing with staff is we’re seeing an increasing number of these conversions,” Gaskins said. “As part of zoning for housing, we’re looking at the planning and economic and fiscal goals, but we’re not looking at affordable housing contributions. For me, I think this is a huge missed opportunity. I think the conversion process and the contribution policy are so interconnected.”

Gaskins said the discussion about contribution requirements and who received on-site units should be part of the discussion around conversions.

“I just really want to emphasize that we should be looking at these issues comprehensively,” Gaskins said.

But with its “voluntary contributions” that are requirements in all but name, Alexandria already flirts with the edges of what’s granted under the Dillon Rule. City Council member Amy Jackson said discussion of additional requirements can make some city leaders nervous about running afoul of state authority.

“It is voluntary, and I’m sure the city attorney is getting a little twitch going, because [what we’re saying is ‘how much can we ask for without asking for it,'” Jackson said. “We need those affordable housing units and we need the money if we’re not going to get the units. We want to be a welcome mat, but we don’t want to be tromped on every time.”

Jackson said Alexandria shouldn’t be afraid to use it’s authority to turn down conversions.

“Alexandria is always asked to the dance; Alexandria doesn’t have to say yes to every person who asks us to dance,” Jackson said. “We have to find a happy medium because I’m not happy.”

On the other hand, Mayor Justin Wilson said the city should make it easier to create seemingly market-rate affordable units like those being converted in the project — though actual prices for the units were not included in the reports.

“We’re talking about 17,400 square feet converting to 12 units,” Wilson wrote. “These are going to be market-rate affordable units because there’s no way they can charge luxury premium prices without considerable renovation of this building. We have a very small affordable housing contribution because of our policy… [but] let’s be careful about what we’re demanding out of projects like this.”

As the city wades through this process, City Council member John Chapman said the city should expect more out of the Alexandria Housing Affordability Advisory Committee.

“The other group I’d love to pull into the conversation as we get started is the Alexandria Housing Affordability Advisory Committee,” Chapman said. “I’ll be honest, they’ve been far too silent on some of these things. They’re supposed to be advising us of policy and we’re not seeing that. I’m honestly to the point where if they’re not able to give advice to the Council and the staff, we need to find some new people for that commission. Affordable housing is too important of an issue to be quiet.”

The City Council ultimately voted in favor of the building’s conversion.

Image via Google Maps

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Inova at Landmark construction, January 2023 (staff photo by James Cullum)

This week saw several longtime topics of discussion around Alexandria get new updates.

Designs emerged for the planned Inova hospital at the former Landmark Mall development. Demolition on the mall started last May and the project is expected to wrap up in 2028. Plans show development coming into place around the former Landmark site over a few phases.

The week also started with — what else — more trouble with the Metro. WMATA had initially announced that Metro trains would be running every 25 minutes, but walked that back later after the safety advisory group Washington Metrorail Safety Commission granted Metro a stay until Jan. 24 to address issues in a safety directive.

The most-read stories this week were:

  1. JUST IN: Duke Street shooting suspect was released from jail last year
  2. New renderings of massive Landmark redevelopment show Inova’s vision for glassy new hospital
  3. Police investigating ‘person of interest’ after man shot near Holmes Run on Sunday night
  4. Alexandria leaders watching marijuana retail legislation ‘grow’ with interest
  5. Alexandria’s COVID-19 Community Level goes back to ‘high’
  6. Tatte Bakery & Cafe files permit for new King Street location
  7. Thicker Cloudz smoke shop opens on King Street in Old Town
  8. Most and least expensive townhouses sold in Alexandria
  9. Alexandria seeking funding to preserve the oral history of historic black cemetery in Old Town
  10. New trail highlights Black history across southern Old Town
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