Newsletter

To those grumbling about the sudden Yellow Line delays because of the lapsed certifications: hold onto your butts, it’s going to get worse this fall.

The City of Alexandria is preparing for a Yellow Line shutdown in Alexandria later this year due to bridge and tunnel rehabilitation and bringing the Potomac Yard Metro station into the system.

The rehabilitation work will cause an 8-month shutdown of the Yellow Line between Pentagon and L’Enfant Plaza, from September 10 to next spring. Between Sept. 10 and Oct. 22, there will be no Metro service south of the National Airport station.

According to plans (Item 6) docketed for review at the Tuesday, May 24, City council meeting: Blue Line trains will be running frequently from the airport with a replacement “Yellow Line” route running to New Carrollton during the September-October.

The city plans do note that if the 7000-series trains remain out of service, the trains will be running less frequently than currently planned.

During that time, a series of free shuttles will replace Metro service south of National Aiport.

According to the city that will entail:

  • Free Yellow Line Replacement Shuttles – Local and Express
  • Free Blue Line Replacement Shuttles – Local and Express
  • Free Downtown Connection Shuttles
  • Free Airport Connector Shuttle
  • Weekday Metrobus Alternatives

For the longer period, from October to spring, the Yellow Line portion in Alexandria will be operating as a branch of the Blue Line. The plans optimistically expect the new route from Huntington to New Carrollton to take around 15 minutes longer than the current route.

Throughout both shutdowns, city plans indicate there will be more shuttles running over the Potomac to get Blue Line riders into D.C.

The presentation for the May 24 meeting indicates that there are some options being presented to the City Council to boost transit accessibility during the shutdown, including restoring bus route 11Y and offering additional bus service.

“Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation will provide 80% of costs for City mitigation efforts,” the city plans said.

The total cost to the city for mitigation efforts is estimated to be around $120,000.

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2121 Eisenhower proposal, image via SK+I Architecture

A last-minute disagreement between city staff and developers of a new development in Carlyle raised concerns about fairness in the city’s development process.

There was little indication before the City Council meeting (item 12) on Saturday, May 15, that the development at 2111 and 2121 Eisenhower Avenue would take up two hours of discussion and argument.

At the public hearing, the project faced both criticism from affordable housing advocates for its lackluster contribution and an 11th hour objection from staff over a technical development detail that amounted to a $1 million fee discrepancy.

The central question was whether or not the above-ground parking space at the site qualified as part of the square footage of a building for purposes of things like the developer contribution to affordable housing.

Vagueries and disagreement in what the city was asking from the developer led City Council member Kirk McPike to describe the whole issue as “Calvinball” — a reference to the game played in Calvin and Hobbes where the rules are inconsistent and change mid-game.

The staff report recommended approval, and there was no discussion of this issue at the Planning Commission.

“In recent days it’s become clear that there’s a difference of opinion between the applicant and staff on how to apply the $5.46 per square foot toward the above-ground parking portion of the residential development,” said Karl Moritz, Director of Planning and Zoning. “First, I do need to apologize to the applicant for the extreme lateness in bringing this issue to our collective attention … but staff’s view is that the Eisenhower East Plan is clear on what the contribution applies to and even more clear on what is exempt.”

Moritz said the condition applies to development built above ground and developments approved under the previous plan are exempt. The plan also exempts commercial development because the market for commercial development is challenging. Finally, the plan exempts bonus density applied to affordable housing.

Moritz said part of the analysis is what value is being created by the upzoning that the plan is providing — the increase in value that each property owner is getting.

Attorney Cathy Puskar represented applicant Mid-Atlantic Realty Partners and not only expressed disagreement with staff’s conclusion that the parking should qualify as square footage to be factored into the developer contributions, but said the process by which the issue was raised was unacceptable.

“We often have issues that come up at the last minute before we come to you at City Council and it’s always unfortunate but we’re able to work through it,” Puskar said. “In this instance it’s not only unfortunate it’s egregious. I received a call 23 hours before this hearing telling me that high-level staff at planning and zoning had a different interpretation of our obligation on the developer contribution than had been discussed during the small area plan, than had been agreed to, and has been documented in the conditions.”

Puskar said the disagreement amounted to a $1 million additional fee to pay the city.

The vagueness of the rules and their implementation in the development sparked some frustration from the dais.

“We’re voting on this language, we all agree on the language, but nobody agrees on what the language means,” McPike said. “There’s kind of a Calvinball aspect to this.”

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(Updated 11:30 a.m.) Three arrests have been made in an attempting carjacking in Potomac Yard on Friday that left one dead and another injured.

Police said that Jordan Poteat, an 18-year-old non-city resident, was shot and killed in the incident. Police initially said they believed the car owner shot the carjackers, though later claimed the investigation was ongoing.

“In connection with this incident, Mikell Morris, an 18-year-old non-city resident, and two juvenile males, both 15 years of age, have been charged with carjacking,” said Alexandria Police spokesman Marcel Bassett. “No further details on the juveniles are available.”

Anyone with information about the case is asked to contact Alexandria Police Department Detective Matthew Kramarik via phone at 703-746-6650, by email at [email protected], or by contacting the non-emergency line at 703 746 4444. Tips can be submitted anonymously.

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Freedom House at 1315 Duke Street (photo via City of Alexandria)

The City of Alexandria has announced that the long-awaited Freedom House Museum (1315 Duke Street) is scheduled to reopen near the end of this month.

The museum is scheduled to fully reopen on Friday, May 27, with a grand opening event scheduled for Monday, June 20, which is Juneteenth. The opening comes a little over a year after the museum was originally scheduled to reopening.

The new museum is an overhaul of an earlier exhibit at the building, which was once part of the Franklin and Armfield complex dedicated to trafficking Black men, women and children between 1828 and 1861, the city said in a release. Part of the museum’s overhaul is a greater focus on the lives of the victims of slavery rather than a focus on the lives and actions of the slavers.

“The museum will be open to the public Fridays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays and Mondays from 1 to 5 p.m.” the city said in a release. “Admission is $5 per adult, $3 per child ages 5-12, and free for City of Alexandria residents. Due to high demand and limited capacity, it is highly recommended that guests reserve tickets in advance online.”

The museum includes stories from Black Americans who were impacted by the slave trade operating in Alexandria.

The museum originally closed in March 2020 due to the pandemic and, at the end of the month, the City of Alexandria purchased the building from the Urban League of Northern Virginia.

“Throughout the pandemic, work continued to protect and interpret the building including the completion of the Historic Structures Report, research, and the creation of three new exhibits,” the release said. “The Freedom House Museum site is integral to the understanding of Black history in Alexandria and the United States, and is part of Alexandria’s large collection of historic sites, tours, markers and more that depict stories of the Colonial era, through the Civil War and Civil Rights eras, to today.”

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National Weather Service outlook for May 16, image via National Weather Service/Twitter

Alexandrians are being told to seek shelter indoors immediately.

“The National Weather Service has issued a Severe Thunderstorm Warning for Alexandria,” the city said in a release. “Seek indoor shelter immediately.”

The severe storm is expected to last for much of the afternoon with potential for damaging winds or hail.

Image via National Weather Service/Twitter

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After a leaked majority opinion showed the Supreme Court potentially overturning Roe v. Wade, Alexandria leaders are taking a second look at how to protect abortion access and women’s healthcare at a local level.

Beyond just the national concerns about the impact of the ruling, last week City Council members reflected on an earlier decision to withdraw a proclamation honoring abortion providers.

“A few weeks ago, a controversy arose when the council considered adopting a resolution recognizing the dangers including threats, violence and even murder faced by doctors who help women end pregnancies,” said City Council member Kirk McPike. “Abortion is a complicated subject about which well-intentioned people can have very different views and not a policy question that generally falls under our purview.”

The City Council’s decision to remove the proclamation from the docket was unanimous, but in hindsight McPike said he regrets that decision.

“For those reasons, I supported our collective decision to set that proposal aside,” McPike said. “Last week as I read with growing horror the draft opinion on the Supreme Court that would completely roll back constitutional protections for abortion rights, I began to regret that we didn’t take the opportunity to speak as a Council on this issue.”

Virginia isn’t one of the states with trigger laws that would ban abortion if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, but the future of access to abortion in Virginia is still in question — especially with a Republican governorship and control of the General Assembly.

The city is severely limited in what it can do by the Dillon Rule, which only authorizes the city to exercise powers expressly granted by the state. But even within those confines, city leaders said at the end of a City Council meeting last week that there’s some wiggle room

“There may be steps we can take within limits of Dillon rule to support women in need of this service,” McPike said. “As elected leaders and progressives who help govern a progressive city, I hope we will use our voices to speak in defense of this essential freedom.”

City Council member Sarah Bagley expressed her agreement with McPike and recommended others watch a speech by student Paxton Smith in Texas about abortion access.

There are currently two abortion providers in Alexandria. The City Council directed City Attorney Joanna Anderson to look further into what the City of Alexandria can and cannot do to benefit abortion access.

“There is certainly an advocacy role at the state, but I think there is work we can and should do at the local level,” said Mayor Justin Wilson. “I think that may necessarily involve financial commitments to the provision of services, it may involve land-use policy to ensure the presence of these services in our city to the extent that we have that authority. Statements are great, but I think policy is even better, and we have that opportunity as we go forward.”

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Rendering of new proposed Samuel Madden development (image courtesy ARHA)

The Alexandria Redevelopment Housing Authority (ARHA) is getting ready to tear down a cluster of affordable garden apartments in Parker-Gray and turn the lots into a larger mixed-use development.

Samuel Madden Homes at 899 & 999 North Henry Street currently comprises 13 two-story garden apartments built in 1945 with 66 affordable housing units. The homes were build to house defense workers during WWII and were transferred to ARHA’s predecessor in 1947. The plan is to demolish and redevelop on the site with two new buildings with 500 residential units

ARHA is headed to the Board of Architectural Review on Wednesday (May 18) for a permit to demolish and a concept review for the new development (items 6 and 7).

The staff report for the BAR described the homes as “contributing structures” to the Uptown/Parker Gray National Register Historic District, describing them as one of several groups of buildings by architect Joseph Henry Saunders, Jr. that helped establish the look of the Parker Gray neighborhood.

“As such, demolition of these structures requires a higher degree of scrutiny than non-contributing structures,” the report said. “Staff is always reluctant to recommend demolition of any building
that has historic or architectural significance, but several factors mitigate against retaining these buildings.”

The staff report said that while the homes are representative of a popular construction style in the area, there are ample enough “colonial revival” style buildings in the area. The report also said that while the scale of the buildings were once generally reflective of much of the neighborhood, there are several high-rise multi-use buildings in the neighborhood.

“Since the construction of this community, the scale and character of the neighborhood has undergone radical change,” the report said. “Samuel Madden now appears out of scale with the surrounding community.”

As for a permit for the new development, the staff report suggests that some further refinement is needed.

“Staff has been working with the applicant on the development of their documents and recommends that as the project progresses, the applicant explore different architectural motifs that relate to either the history of the site or to the surrounding buildings. The Board has often encouraged applicants to take design inspiration from the historical use of the general area of the city.

The staff report says the proposed building needs some touch-ups to bring it more in-line with some of the neighboring development.

“Staff recommends that the BAR request the applicant to return for a second Concept Review after addressing feedback from the Board and Staff. Staff finds that the height and scale of the project as submitted is appropriate for the immediate context,” the staff report said. “The applicant should continue to develop the massing and architectural character, taking into consideration comments from the Board and Staff.”

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Cody Mello-Klein, editor of the Alexandria Times (staff photo by Vernon Miles)

After three years at the Alexandria Times, editor Cody Mello-Klein is saying goodbye to the paper he’s helped steer through a pandemic and more.

Mello-Klein joined as a reporter at the end of 2018 and was a reporter for all of 2019 and 2020, then was promoted to managing editor at the end of 2020.

“It’s been a great experience,” Mello-Klein said. “As a general assignment reporter, you have to learn to be fluent in a little bit of everything. I’m a naturally curious person, so I liked the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of topics I had no clue about from people who are way more qualified than I am.”

Local politics was one of those fields Mello-Klein said he came into the city with little background in.

“There are seemingly jargony code and zoning requirements that really shape policy and shape people’s lives,” Mello-Klein said. “That’s become interesting to me. I remember groaning when I got my first assignment at the City Council, but then you show up and you’re like ‘oh this is actually kind of interesting.'”

The job at the Alexandria Times was ever-changing, Mello-Klein said, from remote work at the start of the pandemic to shifting into an editorial role.

“It was a series of transitions and rapid lessons; some hard-learned lessons,” Mello-Klein said. “The hardest stuff for me during the pandemic was [in-person interviews] are such a tool for us, being able to read someone across the table from you, especially for profiles where ticks and mannerisms become part of the story.”

While his passion is for the writing side of the field, Mello-Klein said parts of the editor job he came to love included working with interns and figuring out the weekly puzzle of putting the stories into the right layout for a print publication.

“Part of the editor job I didn’t expect liking that I did end up liking the most was actually interns,” Mello-Klein said. “We’ve been lucky — we’re getting back into intern season now — we’ve had people great people come through, like grad students from schools in D.C. who have since become editors themselves or students from local high schools. It’s been great to help foster the next group of local journalists. A lot of people are focused on writing for the Washington Post or writing for the New York Times, but we need good local reporters.”

Mello-Klein said the Alexandria Times was also unique in giving him and other reporters resources to pursue in-depth investigative pieces.

“I’ve really enjoyed our ability to go in-depth on stuff: that’s been the greatest gift at the Times,” Mello-Klein said. “Space and time is always a premium, but we do have a little bit more space and a little bit more time than some publications, especially for the investigative work that we do. I think that’s distinguished us locally; I know that’s the work that I really enjoy doing.”

Some of those stories come with pushback, which Mello-Klein says has seemingly gotten more intense over the last couple of years.

“Over the last two years, the city has become pretty divided on a lot of issues,” Mello-Klein said. “This may have been the case before I came here, but I don’t know if it was accelerated by the pandemic or how the Trump administration polarized national politics and that trickled down, but I try not to think about how my stories would be interpreted because I think if I did I would just crawl into a hole and not publish anything.” Read More

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After two decades of Landmark Mall redevelopment being just out of reach, city officials and developers alike let out wild roars of satisfaction as the wrecking ball crashed into the side of the building today (Thursday).

There’s still a long way to go before the first buildings of the new hospital and mixed-use development start coming online — currently slated for 2026. Still, demolition marked the furthest point of progress for redevelopment since meetings to that effect started in 2008.

There were multiple false-starts for redevelopment. The mall faced a slow death in the 2000s and early 2010s, with major anchors pulling out and leaving smaller upstart shops in the mostly-empty husk of the building. The plug was pulled in early 2017.

For many of those gathered, seeing the front of the mall cave-in was a bittersweet experience.

“I’m absolutely ecstatic,” said Vice Mayor Amy Jackson. “I’m emotional. It’s an exciting and sad day. I remember coming here when I was 9 and it was open air. It was a place I always came to with my mom and friends. It was a gathering place, but now it will be so much more. It’s a very nostalgic day.”

The mall was eventually briefly resurrected for a scene in Wonder Woman 1984 but the mall itself looked closer to the one from Dawn of the Dead until city leaders and developers from Foulger-Pratt started communicating in 2020.

“March 2020 was a pretty crappy time,” said Mayor Justin Wilson. “We thought the world was ending. I’m sitting on my computer in one Zoom meeting after another and I get an email on March 19 from [CEO] Cameron Pratt that said ‘you don’t know me, but I’m going to redevelop Landmark Mall.'”

Wilson described the email as the city administration equivalent to the Nigerian Prince scam but then-City Manager Mark Jinks told Wilson he thought the email was serious.

“That kicked off a process that led to today,” Wilson said. “It’s happening because everyone refused to quit… If ever there was a process willed into development by the public, it was this.”

Pratt said his first real job was working as a construction laborer on a Landmark Mall renovation.

“I’m excited to continue our involvement,” Pratt said. “It’s a unique moment in time. We knew we had one shot to pull this off and we promised [the city] we would only ask for exactly what we needed to pull this off.”

Pratt said there were bumps in the road leading up to the demolition and there would be more — a few minutes later this proved true as the button intended to signal the wrecking crew failed to start the demolition — but the city and developer have built a strong relationship over the last few years that will help development moving forward.

Pratt also acknowledged that reaction to the development’s new name, West End, has been mixed.

“There’s been a lot of positive and negative feedback,” Pratt said. “We’re not trying to appropriate the West End, we want to contribute to that community. We hope this becomes the heart of the West End.”

Pratt later told ALXnow the name was meant as an acknowledgment that there’s already a vibrant community in the area and that the mall should serve as a gathering place. That justification didn’t hold much water with some at the demolition, but that didn’t dampen spirits in the crowd.

“I don’t love the name,” admitted City Council member Kirk McPike. “I think people will still call it Landmark. But whether you call it Landmark or just call everything west of Quaker Lane the West End, it’s still a good thing for the area. It’s going to attract innovation and be a new medical hub. [Along with] Potomac Yard, we’ll have these two engines on both sides of the city generation innovation and jobs.” Read More

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102 Quay Street, image via Google Maps

There are homes you can actually afford, and then there are homes that are just fun to look at. Our list of the most expensive recently-sold homes in Alexandria, below, is definitely the latter for all but the most well-heeled.

Image via Google Maps

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