Newsletter
Park + Ford layout, via City of Alexandria

A former office building turned residential complex in the West End is headed back to the City Council on Saturday, Sept. 18, for some new amenities — like replacing a surface parking lot with a dog park.

The Park + Ford apartment buildings at 4401 Ford Avenue opened earlier this year but developer Lowe Enterprises Real Estate Group is already back to the city looking to add to the project. The developer is proposing to replace a pair of parking spaces across the street from the building with a new amenity space and a dog park — both private, unfortunately for West End locals looking for an alternative to the Shirlington Dog Park.

The staff report said the plan is to convert 19 surface parking spaces to a 6,300 square foot dog park and 21 parking spaces into a 6,600 square foot resident amenity space, which could have seating and playground equipment but might also be flexible enough to host food trucks. The report noted that dog parks are becoming an increasingly popular feature of Alexandria development.

“Since dog ownership is common at multi-family buildings, dog parks are an increasingly common amenity,” staff said. “For example, the nearby Array and Nexus at West Alex have a shared dog park. Public dog parks are an alternative to each building setting aside their own space, but the nearest public dog park is an over 38-minute walk away and not close enough to the project site for regular use. As a result, Staff believes that this amenity will benefit residents of this site and will help to reduce impacts on City-owned dog parks.”

In terms of public benefits, the project will add new 50-foot sidewalk on the street and install a new bus shelter outside the building.

Staff are recommending approval of the parking lot conversion.

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Landmark Mall rendering (image via City of Alexandria)

The Landmark area is getting one step closer to the city’s goal of being a mixed-use community at tonight’s (Tuesday) City Council meeting.

At the meeting tonight, the Council is scheduled to review several amendments to the city’s Landmark-area ordinances ahead of the area’s planned mixed-use redevelopment. Among these is the creation of a new Community Development Authority (Item 36), a new five-member board that will be in charge of overseeing several aspects of shaping Landmark Mall. In particular, the CDA will manage the financing, designing, and construction of the area’s public infrastructure and services, financed through a combination of bonds, private contributions, and other sources.

According to the new ordinance:

The CDA is created for the purpose of exercising the powers set forth in the Act, including acquiring, financing, funding, designing, constructing, equipping and providing for the construction, installation, operation, maintenance (unless dedicated to and accepted by the appropriate governmental entity other than the CDA), enhancement, replacement, relocation and alteration of all or portions of the public infrastructure, facilities and services more particularly described in the Petition (the “Infrastructure”) (or otherwise facilitating such undertakings by, and in cooperation with, the City), which description is incorporated herein by reference.

The five-member board will be appointed by the City Council.

The CDA is not quite a Business Improvement District, with the scope of the CDA focused more around the nitty-gritty of infrastructure rather than promoting the area and creating community events, but there is some overlap in that the CDA can handle things like decorative lighting and management of the new public spaces planned through the Landmark area. The petition from local landowners forming the CDA outlined some of the specific areas that will be covered by the CDA, including:

  • Sanitary sewer mains and lines
  • Water mains and lines, pump stations and water storage facilities
  • storm sewer mains and lines
  • landscaping and related site improvements
  • parking facilities
  • sidewalks and walkway paths
  • storm water management and retention systems (including best management practices, water quality devices and erosion and sediment control)
  • lighting (including street and decorative lights in public rights of way)
  • street and directional signage
  • wetlands mitigation
  • roads, curbs and gutters (inclusive of rights of way and easements related thereto)
  • public park, plaza and recreational facilities
  • new or enhanced public access and open space areas
  • any and all facilities and services appurtenant to the above including the acquisition of land (collectively, all such existing and new public roads, utilities, facilities and services hereinafter, the “Infrastructure”).
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News of over a dozen school deaths from COVID in Miami has led ACPS to reconsider it’s earlier position of allowing staff to decide whether to be vaccinated or not.

At a School Board meeting last week, the board voted to make it clear that in the coming weeks a plan will be put together on requiring all staff to be vaccinated — unless that falls into the broad category of claiming a medical or religious exemption.

At the meeting, Alexandria City Public Schools Executive Director of Human Resources Melanie Kay-Wyatt said that 84% of staff report that they’ve been vaccinated, a 62% increase from this past May. But some on the School Board said they’re still concerned at the amount of unvaccinated staff that leaves in the school.

“If it were 98% vaccinated I’d be less apprehensive,” said School Board member Christopher Suarez. “But the reality is there are 422 staff in our building who don’t have the vaccine. That is a lot of people. I do want to make sure good policy is implemented. I don’t want to be rash or unreasonable, but I think at a minimum we need to have some sort of firm resolution today that tells staff there will be mandatory testing. If you don’t have a bonafide medical or religious reason, you will want to get that first dose tomorrow.”

Others on the school board said they had similar concerns and urged their colleagues to pursue mandatory vaccination to the extent allowable under law.

“My feeling is, if for religious or some health reason a teacher can’t be vaccinated, that should be acceptable,” said School Board member Margaret Lorber, “but otherwise we should require all teachers and all staff.”

Some on the board said they were baffled by the decision of some staff not to get vaccinated.

“I am curious for those who are not getting vaccinated,” said School Board member Heather Thornton. “I want to know to the extent that we can know. All of the evidence coming up from above shows that this is the safe route to go.”

The School Board adjusted the agenda to allow the board to vote on a resolution that called for staff to come back to the City Council with a plan to move forward on vaccination requirements. There are still several uncertainties, like whether some vaccines can be required and how the schools would handle staffing shortages if there’s an outbreak. Superintendent Gregory Hutchings said ACPS is in conversation with the health department and is working to determine what kind of disciplinary action is allows to enforce the mandate.

“There’s a lot of grey because no one in Virginia has challenged this,” Hutchings said. “So it’s difficult when we don’t have any legal studies.”

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Electric DASH bus, photo via DASH/Facebook

The city’s DASH bus network recently went fare-free, and the city is looking for more funding from the state to help it stay that way.

An item at the upcoming Tuesday, Sept. 14, City Council meeting includes an application to the Transit Ridership Incentive Program (TRIP) to help finance the city’s free bus ridership program.

The application has already been supported by the DASH Board of Directors. According to the docket item, the city is planning to submit an application of funds up to $8 million over the next four years. In the report, city staff said they expect to be awarded a maximum of $7.2 million through TRIP with the city committing $9.83 million in local funding between FY 2023 and FY 2025 to operate DASH fare-free, in addition to $1.47 committed in FY 2022.

The city isn’t alone in this. The application notes that $12.5 million in TRIP funding goes to subsidized fare or zero fare programs.

Photo via DASH/Facebook

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As Alexandria’s museums and historical localities start to reopen, some are looking for public help to handle new visitors.

The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum (105 S Fairfax Street), part of the Office of Historic Alexandria, is looking for volunteers to help lead guided tours of the historic site, an 19th century pharmacy turned museum of medicinal herbs and apothecary accoutrements.

Training for the job starts on Saturday, Sept. 25, with an in-person workshop followed by virtual evening classes and a second in-person workshop on Nov. 6.

“Volunteers with both weekend and weekday availability are needed, particularly Sundays and Mondays,” the city said in a press release. “A minimum of one shift per month (approximately four hours) is required once training is complete. Current City COVID protocols require volunteers to submit proof of vaccination and wear a mask during on-site shifts.”

Those interested in becoming volunteer tour guides can apply online.

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Shows are back across Alexandria, with venues like The Birchmere and Little Theater of Alexandria opening their doors again.

This weekend, Little Theater is showing August Wilson’s “Fences” and last month, The Birchmere featured Three Dog Night.

Even with a vaccine, it’s still a risk to go to an indoor concert of a theater with the coronavirus spreading in Alexandria. This city saw an uptick in cases in August, though hospitalizations have mostly remained steady.

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(Updated at 3 p.m.) The city had plans — to the tune of a $5 million grant — to extend the Backlick Run Trail and connect Armistead Boothe Park to the Van Dorn Street bridge. But a redevelopment the plan hinged on his been stalled, and with it city staff said they’re shifting some of the funding to another project.

The trail runs behind the Cameron Station neighborhood and connects to the Holmes Run trail in the east, but ends abruptly at Armistead Boothe Park in the west. Cyclists or pedestrians continuing from there have to move up to the shared S. Pickett Street to get to the Van Dorn Bridge.

The staff report says last December the city is rescinded a $5 million Smart Scale grant awarded by the Virginia Department of Transportation, funding that would have comprised the bulk of the $7 million Backlick Run Trail Phase I project. Because the grant was awarded specifically for this project, staff said the funding cannot be reallocated to another project. The remaining $2.1 million was from other grant funding that can be retained and reallocated to other future projects.

The report doesn’t identify which stalled redevelopment caused the delay, but said obtaining the needed right of way without redevelopment would impede business operations adjacent to the trail — presumably the cluster of small businesses and restaurants just off S. Pickett Street.

“However, it has now become clear the City cannot utilize the grant funds to build the Backlick Run Trail at this time because development did not occur at the pace initially projected,” the report said. “The City does not currently own enough right-of-way to construct the trail, and impacted properties have not yet indicated a timetable for redevelopment.”

The city is instead pushing that trail extension back to the drawing board with new concepts and conditions for future developments in the area. The plan notes that one parcel at 600 S. Pickett Street already has committed to adding parts of this trail, including a pedestrian/bicycle bridge — part of the Pickett Place development.

Now, city staff say the plan is to shift the remaining $2.1 million to the Beauregard Trail project, also in the West End. That shift in funding is scheduled to be reviewed at the Tuesday, Sept. 14 City Council meeting.

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Ahead of a public meeting tonight (Wednesday), Mayor Justin Wilson outlined what’s being proposed and next steps.

“The plastic bag tax has long been floated,” Wilson said in a town hall last week, noting that a similar tax is already in place in D.C. “Senator [Adam] Ebbin, who represents the east end of Alexandria, proposed legislation that allows local governments to opt in for the plastic bag tax.”

According to the city, the tax could be used for:

  • Environmental Cleanup;
  • Providing education programs designed to reduce environmental waste;
  • Mitigating pollution and litter; or
  • Providing reusable bags to recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC) benefits

Wilson said the tax will only be applied to grocery stores and convenience stores, not restaurants or other businesses. The tax would also be five cents per bag, which Wilson said isn’t a lot in terms of having spending money for infrastructure projects, but the other goal is in discouraging the use of plastic bags and reducing littering.

An un-scientific poll of ALXnow readers found that 61% opposed the tax.

Following the public information session, a draft ordinance will be presented to City Council. If approved, the tax could go into effect as early as January 2022.

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Cameron and Buchanan Street, photo via Google Maps

(Updated 7:40 p.m.) A pedestrian has been transported to the hospital with life-threatening injuries after a car crash around 7 p.m. on Cameron Street in Old Town, according to Alexandria police.

The street is shut down at the intersection with Buchanan Street, near the popular Metro Linear Park that runs parallel to the Metro.

Police said the driver stayed on the scene and an investigation is ongoing. Police said the victim has been taken to Fairfax Hospital with serious injuries.

There have been multiple crashes involving pedestrians in Alexandria over the last month, including a man killed in the West End last week and a 13-year old struck walking home in Del Ray.

Photo via Google Maps

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(Updated 9/8) Alexandria has many charming, attractive neighborhoods — the Mark Center isn’t one of them. But while it’s unlikely the highway-adjacent office park will be competing with Del Ray or Old Town anytime soon, a new pair of land-use changes could open the door down the road to the start of something of a transformation for the area.

Two parcels in the Mark Center Coordinated Development District (CDD) are headed to the Planning Commission on Thursday, Sept. 9 — the Hilton Hotel site at 5000 Seminary Road and the IDA site at 4880 Mark Center Drive. The applicants are asking for changes to open up some of the allowable uses on the site for future commercial and residential development.

“The owners of the two parcels… have submitted land-use requests to the City, including a CDD amendment and a Master Plan Amendment, in anticipation of the future development of their properties,” the staff report said. “The amendments to CDD#4 would allow for approximately 520,000 square feet of additional density, additional building height, and new uses as measured across both sites.”

The report said there are new special use permits requested for either site just yet, but those are likely coming in October if the changes are approved.

According to the staff report, the three changes being requested are:

1. Add land use recommendations for those properties in the SAP that do not have explicit land-use recommendations today;

2. Add proposed maximum building height recommendations for those properties in the SAP that do not have explicit maximum building height recommendations today; and

3. Clarify that office is not the only existing allowable use, as described in the SAP, at the property at 4880 Mark Center Drive.

The staff report says the first two changes are largely semantic, bringing the zoning language for the sites into line with existing city regulation. But the third takes a site that had originally intended to be office space and opens that up to commercial or residential development.

The change is significant, as it could be the start of the fulfillment of city plans to break the Mark Center out of the office-mold and adding a more diverse range of uses to the area. That change comes alongside improvements for the broader area, like Landmark development and the West End Transitway.

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