Alexandria, VA

The July 4 holiday weekend is here, and it’s hard to believe that 2020 is more than halfway over. Not only has the year flown by, but so has the last week.

Alexandria joined the rest of Virginia in entering into the third phase of its reopening, the oldest resident in the city turned 109, a police officer was charged with assault and battery for a January arrest

Here are some of the top stories in Alexandria this week:

  1. Margaret Chisley Celebrates 109 Years in Alexandria
  2. Alexandria Police Officer Charged With Assault and Battery for Unjustified Use of Force
  3. New State Laws Pushed by Alexandria Take Effect Tomorrow
  4. Old Dominion Boat Club’s Waterfront Revival Plans Resurface
  5. Alexandria Renters Ask Governor to Extend Moratorium on Evictions
  6. Businesses Face Tough Recovery as Alexandria Lags Behind Neighbors in Consumer Spending
  7. New Catholic University Location Coming to Carlyle
  8. Old Town Garden-Style Apartments to Be Replaced by Multifamily Apartment Complex
  9. City Recommends Riding E-Scooters for Errands and Social Distancing
  10. Reminder: Next Phase of Reopening Starts Tomorrow but Indoor Mask Requirement Still In Effect

Be safe this weekend, and feel free to add to the discussion in the comments.

Staff photo by James Cullum

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Free food distributions will be disrupted by the July 4 weekend in Alexandria, but food is still available.

Most notably there will not be any Alexandria City Public Schools distributions from Friday, July 3, until operations resume on Monday, July 6.

“Meal distribution locations and pop up sites will not operate on Friday, July 3, ahead of the Independence Day holiday,” advised ACPS.

Here are the available free food distribution points in the city this weekend, according to Hunger Free Alexandria.

  • A bag lunch and food pantry distribution is available on Friday at Meade Memorial Episcopal Church (322 N. Alfred Street) from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Meals and food will be served in the courtyard to go.
  • Washington Street United Methodist Church (109 S. Washington Street) has a free breakfast Friday from 6-8 a.m.
  • Christ House (131 S. West Street) has evening meals available every night of the week from 4:30 – 6 p.m.
  • The ALIVE! food delivery program for COVID-19 patients, seniors, the disabled and single parents with young children is available for eligible residents by calling 703-746-5999
  • Rising Hope United Methodist Church (8220 Russell Road) will provide grab-and-go meals from 1 to 2 p.m. on Friday while supplies last

Staff photo by James Cullum

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Smokey isn’t half as grumpy or serious as he looks.

The Animal Welfare League of Alexandria is hoping to find a home for a staff-favorite pup: Smokey the three-year-old pitbull terrier mix.

“[Smokey’s] a supersweet little guy just looking for a family who can show him the ropes!” said Gina Hardter, the spokesperson for the AWLA. “Don’t be fooled by his serious and formal look; Smokey is a big goofball at heart.”

Though Smokey is three years old, he’s still a big puppy at heart. Hardter said Smokey has the same manners and energy of a young dog. Hardter said Smokey’s favorite thing to do is curl up in the lap of a best friend.

“No one can convince him that he might be just a bit on the big side for a lapdog,” Hardter said. “He’s looking for a family who can help him take advantage of all of his energy and maybe teach him some tricks and skills along the way.  He’s clever and treat-motivated and would love to give additional training a try.

Due to lingering COVID-19 concerns, interested parties should schedule an appointment to meet virtually or in-person.

Photo courtesy Animal Welfare League of Alexandria

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Alexandria might not be celebrating the city and the country’s birthday with fireworks this year, but there are sill a number of ways to have fun on the fourth of July.

“Even with physical distancing, there are plenty of ways to enjoy a festive Fourth of July in Alexandria,” notes Visit Alexandria, the city’s tourism bureau. “Order special holiday meals like tri-colored tacos and ice cream delivery boxes from Alexandria’s restaurants. Celebrate with deals and happenings, from scavenger hunts to Fourth of July attire for pups, via independent boutiques and attractions.”

Here are some events around Alexandria on Saturday:

As previously reported, the city’s July 11 birthday celebration has been moved online to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus.

https://www.facebook.com/PorkBarrelBBQDelRay/photos/a.655496147823639/3263319887041239/?type=3&theater

Staff photo by James Cullum

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The Old Dominion Boat Club’s (ODBC) plans to reform the waterfront portion of its Old Town headquarters last fall, but after being lost at sea amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the plans are finally headed back to harbor at the Planning Commission in September.

The ODBC has used its various waterfront headquarters since 1880 as launching points for aquatic activities. The pier outside the current location — which the ODBC was more-or-less forced into in 2014 under threat of eminent domain — is a ramshackle bundle of pillars that only vaguely resembles the L-shaped pier that local commercial vessel The Dandy was docked at for a number of years.

The ODBC plan is to replace this pier with a combination fixed pier jutting eastward and a floating pier extending south. Smaller transient boats will be moored at the floating pier while the larger ships will be docked on the opposite side of the new pier.

The new dock would also keep less debris trapped along the shoreline — a frequent problem along Alexandria’s waterfront.

“The proposed new floating wharf at the site would encourage increased recreation use of the site and support ODBC water-dependent uses,” the ODBC said in its application. “The Prince Street site will be configured to support transient boat mooring and other daily marine uses.”

While the new pier would be private, the ODBC offers the use of its facilities for activities like programs for children with special needs and Christmas events that would benefit from the new pier.

Staff photo by Vernon Miles

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Alexandria’s poorest neighborhoods have been hardest hit by COVID-19, and renters from Arlandria and the West End rallied in front of the city’s courthouse today (July 1) to ask Governor Ralph Northam to extend the moratorium on evictions, which expired on June 28.

Sami Bourma lives in the Southern Towers apartment complex in the West End, and has not paid rent since March. He has two children, his wife is four months pregnant, and he has been unable to work as an Uber driver. He’s also an organizer with UNITE HERE Local 23, which represents some residents in the buildings.

“There are hundreds of people who live at Southern Towers and a lot of them are like me,” Bourma told ALXnow. “I am getting $750 a month for unemployment. That pays for almost nothing and we need to survive.”

The areas of the city with the leading number of cases are the 22304 and 22305 ZIP codes, which include the West End and Arlandria, Potomac Yard and Potomac West neighborhoods, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

Northam has requested that the moratorium be extended to July 20 — a move that Mayor Justin Wilson supports.

‪The extraordinary financial pressure facing residents of Alexandria who are experiencing unemployment or loss of income…

Posted by Justin Wilson on Friday, June 26, 2020

New Virginia Majority organizer Thomas Assefa said that his organization is also calling on Northam to approve $1 billion to fully fund an eviction protection program.

“Housing is a human right,” Assefa said. “We know that sheltering in place and staying in our home is one of the only ways we can combat this disease, and we are anticipating hundreds of thousands of tenants in the streets in the middle of a pandemic. There’s about 3 million renters in Virginia, and we anticipate 11% of that population could face massive evictions.That’s what’s at stake.”

Jonathan Krall, the co-founder of Grassroots Alexandria, said that it’s an issue of fairness and race.

“Racism results in economic inequality,” Krall said. “If you want to be anti-racist, then you need to cancel the rent.”

Frank Fannon, a former Republican city councilman, is a landlord and said that the governor should not extend the deadline and that there have been no waivers for commercial or residential property owners in their property tax bills, which the city mailed out last week.

“If you feel it is appropriate for tenants not to pay rent to your constituents, then be equitable and at least waive the late fees if property owners cannot pay their tax bill on time,” Fannon wrote to the City Council on July 1.

Wilson thanked Fannon for the email and responded that the property taxes are too important a revenue stream and that extending the deadline could endanger the city’s credit rating.

“It’s not something that we can play with unfortunately,” Wilson said. “That being said, our Finance folks are exercising maximum flexibility with tax payers right now. A taxpayer that contacts Finance will be extended payment terms, etc, upon request.”

Our community is the hardest hit by COVID-19 and the economic crisis, but Governor Northam doesn't seem to care about…

Posted by Tenants and Workers United – Inquilinos y Trabajadores Unidos on Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Staff photos by James Cullum

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The owners of an Old Town apartment complex want to demolish four 1970s-era rental properties and redevelop them into two multifamily apartment buildings with 474 new apartments.

The Board of Architectural Review will discuss the matter on July 15 before moving their recommendation to the City Council.

The building owners are asking for a permit to demolish the properties at 431 S. Columbus Street, 900 Wolfe Street and 450 S. Patrick Street, and for the approval of a concept plan.

According to the city’s real estate records, the property includes three garden style apartments and one mid-rise apartment building built between 1976 and 1977. They are not historic in nature and the applicant is proposing that the property maintain affordable units to help the city meet its affordable housing stock, in addition to having the property rezoned to residential multifamily.

Images via City of Alexandria

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Alexandria’s annual program providing fans or air conditioning for low-income seniors is coming back. This year, the city said the focus is ensuring seniors are comfortable staying home to avoid exposure to coronavirus.

“The City’s Division of Aging and Adult Services’ Senior Cool Care Program provides assistance for seniors ages 60 years or older who need cooling in their homes,” the city said in a press release, “especially while seniors are encouraged to stay home as much as possible to avoid potential severe illness from COVID-19.”

The seniors must be at least 60 years old, meet income eligibility requirements and must be residents of the City of Alexandria to apply for the program — though they could be a homeowner or a renter.

The program provides seniors with electric fans and, in some cases, room air conditioning units, according to Senior Services of Alexandria.

Seniors interested in applying for the program can email [email protected] or call 703 746 5999 for more information.

Staff photo by Vernon Miles

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Electric scooter companies have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and the city says the transportation option “can be an alternate mode of travel while distancing.”

The city said it is also working with e-scooter companies on their disinfecting practices.

“Spin, Bird, and Razor devices are available to the community to access essentials (grocery stores, medicine, etc.), and Lime has paused its service in the City,” according to the city’s dockless mobility program page. “Shared mobility can be an alternative mode of travel while social distancing. To reduce risk to users and the community, the City is coordinating with each company on their disinfecting practices.”

The city also recommends that riders wash their hands before and after trips, or wear gloves, in addition to disinfecting the handlebars and other points of contact.

For months, Spin scooters were barely in Alexandria and their competition was even more scarce to be found. Permits in the city were issued to LimeBirdRazorSpin, and Helbiz. Lime reportedly laid off 13% of its employees around the world, Bird laid off a third of its workforce and Uber and Lyft have laid off hundreds of employees, according to the Washington Post.

Matt Harris, the president of the Colecroft Community Homeowners Association, which is made up of 135 homes near the Braddock Road Metro Station, has been against the scooters in the city since day one, but now thinks they can actually be useful.

“I actually see a place for scooters in our COVID environment, as people remain reluctant to take mass transit,” Harris told ALXnow. “Maybe it will be seem more widely as a true transportation option and less as a form of recreation.”

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Disposable capes, face masks and meeting by appointment-only — The Ultimate Barber is back in business. The four-year-old shop at 2712 Richmond Highway is booked three weeks in advance, and shop owner John Hall says that’s to be expected during hard times.

“Hair is always going to grow,” Hall told ALXnow. “During the Great Recession, our business actually went up. Folks needed something nice to make me feel good. Something about that haircut experience makes you feel like a brand new person, a different person. It takes some of the weight off just for a while, anyway.”

Hall, an Alexandria native, has been cutting hair in the city for 35 years. The pandemic forced him to close both his barbershops (the other location is in Arlington) on March 23, and temporarily laid off his 14 employees until the shop was allowed to reopen on May 29. He was approved for a Paycheck Protection Program loan, and has new procedures in place, including a policy to not touch up beards so that faces remain covered.

While the social aspect of the barbershop might be gone for now, Hall said that his services are essential for his clients.

“We’re essential workers, and barbershops help people with their mental health,” Hall said. “One customer of mine always told me, ‘This is my therapy session.’ I never really understood what that meant at the time until the coronavirus. We make people feel better about themselves so when they look in the mirror they like what they see.”

Staff photos by James Cullum

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Alexandria African American activists and leaders virtually came out in force on Sunday to demand that T.C. Williams High School be renamed.

“When I first learned that the high school that I graduated from was named after a segregationist and a racist, I was appalled,” said Lindsey Woodson Vick, a T.C. grad, who organized and led Zoom chat with advocates for changing the school name. “We owe better to the people who came before us and the people who will come after us.”

Vick’s father, Howard Woodson, led an effort to change the school name in the early 2000s.

Woodson, the former president of the Alexandria NAACP, wanted to get the school renamed when the school board approved a massive renovation in 2004.

“When I came to Alexandria in ’75, I was appalled to find out that a couple years before that the teachers lounges have been segregated,” Woodson said. “Black teachers were not allowed to go into the same lounge with white teachers. The school board heard our statement and did nothing, decided to keep the name and here we are today.”

The city, over the last month, has seen Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s death, prompting the Alexandria City Public School system to condemn systemic racism, in addition to increased focus that has been put on the police and quality of life issues throughout the city.

Thomas Chambliss Williams, who was the superintendent of the city school system from the 1930s to the 1960s, was a segregationist who advocated against integration. A petition to rename the school was submitted to the school earlier this month, and more than 170 people signed it, including Del. Charniele Herring, Del. Mark Levine, City Councilman Canek Aguirre, Councilman John Taylor Chapman and Councilman Mo Seifeldein.

“I do not want my daughter having to see that name every day when she goes to school,” said one parent. “That’s just shameful.”

Vick said that the school board has agreed to put the issue up for discussion in September, but that she wants the board to address it next month.

“We need to remain vigilant and make sure that the school board right this is something that needs to be done today,” Vick said. “Not tomorrow, not next week, not in September, but now.”

Board Chair Cindy Anderson said that wouldn’t be possible, except to open the topic for discussion. The upcoming July 10 meeting will cover the reopening plan for this fall, and she said that the school system has so far been focused on contending with the pandemic.

“We actually have to let people know before we vote,” Anderson said. “We have to have public engagement before we vote to even change the name.”

Anderson added, “I understand the urgency… I’m in communication with, with the superintendent and the policy person about this and the kinds of things that we need to do to follow the steps that have been in our policy.”

Glenn Hopkins led an effort to try to get the name changed in the 1990s, and hopes for different results this time around.

“We absolutely must change the name of T.C. Williams High School,” he said. “We don’t have a choice because the time is now, and I expect my friends on the school board to get behind this and make up what for they should have done years and years and years ago.”

Christopher Harris, the current Alexandria NAACP president, is a T.C. graduate, and said he was always proud to be a Titan, until he began to understand who T.C. Williams was.

“Every time someone goes in that school, they have to walk underneath the name and a banner of an individual that does not want us there,” Harris said. “Not only will it be a political issue, it’s gonna be an ethical issue, an issue that a lot of people are gonna have to look themselves in the mirror and say, ‘Okay, it is time to make this change.'”

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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Margaret Chisley has seen it all. The 109-year-old lifelong Alexandria resident celebrated in style on June 26 on her front porch behind a plastic screen as well-wishers drove by, waved signs and honked their horns.

“I’m so excited,” Chisley said behind the protective screen. “Thank you all so much.”

Chisley was born on June 26, 1911, when William Howard Taft was president and the sinking of the Titanic was still a year away. She graduated from Parker-Gray High School, attended the Cordoza Business School, and was later a notary public, legal secretary and the first African American Secretary for the Alexandria School Board. She is a lifelong member of Meade Memorial Episcopal Church, The Hopkins House Association and the NAACP, and has lived in her Old Town home for more than 80 years.

The City Council recently passed a resolution declaring June 26 “Margaret Amanda Chisley Day.”

“Whereas Margaret Amanda Chisley is a devoted aunt, cousin, godmother, and friend, she is known for her helping hand, and her kind and encouraging words, but most importantly her love, wit and charm, and of course her fashion and style,” the proclamation reads.

Chisley’s niece, Katie Claybourne, said her aunt has a great sense of humor.

“If you could hear her talk, you would never think that she was her age,” Claybourne said.

Nia Spencer, another of Chisley’s nieces, said that her nickname is “The General.”

“She has always been on top of everything and making sure that we all were on top of things,” Spencer said. “She’d say, ‘Don’t forget you need to do this,’ or ‘You don’t forget you need to do that.’ She’s always just been kind of the matriarch and the person who kept us all in line and doing what we’re supposed to do.”

Staff photos by James Cullum

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