Alexandria, VA

Aggravated assaults have increased every year for the last three years in Alexandria, and Police Chief Michael L. Brown said that his department is working on methods to reverse the trend.

“Some of these are happening behind the doors of residences in the city, and we’re trying to get a better understanding of that,” Brown told ALXnow. “We’re working with the Department of Community and Human Services to see what we can do to come up with a program that aligns city services with the need of individuals so that they don’t have to call 911 and we can do something else beforehand.”

In 2019, there was a 37% spike — 208 calls for service for aggravated assaults, compared to the 151 incidents in 2018, which itself was a 10.2% increase from 2017. That year saw an 11.4% increase from 2016. So far this year, there have been eight reported incidents, and the department will be releasing its annual report with final tallies in the coming weeks.

Brown, now in his third year leading the department, said that many of the incidents were caused by suspects who have had difficulty coping with stress at home. He also said that there is no specific hotspot for incidents in the city and that the crime is evenly distributed.

“What is troublesome to me and the police department is that so many of these things are domestic in nature,” he said. “These are people who are in or were in relationships, and it gets down to how that person was coping with that relationship which led to a 911 call because it turned into a crisis. We’re going to find a method for the city to  get the word out to folks to get help.”

Starting this month, the department is increasing its focus on community policing by placing officers in designated beats. That, Brown said, will allow officers to forge stronger relationships with communities and may help stem the tide of aggravated assaults.

“The expectation is that officers will stay within their beats and become a visible presence in the area — like the mailman,” Brown said. “So, you may find that there’s a particular set of high rises or area where officers are working with those communities to identify problems and try to deal with them before they become a 911 call.”

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Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson is one of six mayors who are making a difference and “shaping urban America,” at least according to The Hill newspaper.

Wilson made the list, which was published Wednesday, alongside the mayors of Kansas City (M0.), Tampa, Brooklyn Park (Minn.), Minneapolis and Phoenix.

In its write-up, the paper lauded Wilson and the city for helping to bring the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus to Potomac Yard, in conjunction with Amazon’s HQ2 coming to Arlington.

More from The Hill:

…when two local governments just outside of Washington put together their bid for Amazon’s HQ2 project, they decided on a different approach, one that would provide a lasting benefit to the city of Alexandria and Arlington County even if Amazon’s tax revenues didn’t fill the gap. To prove to Amazon that its residents would be qualified for the estimated 25,000 high-tech jobs the company would bring, the cities helped bring a new Virginia Tech campus to their region.

“There was very much a feeling that the benefits of the [Amazon] investment were going to accrue to a very small percentage of the residents,” said Justin Wilson, the Democratic mayor of Alexandria. “We felt like there was an opportunity to chart a different course.”

Working together across their shared border, Alexandria’s government and the Arlington County Board… are planning for new housing growth, workforce development, collaboration with the new Virginia Tech campus and area schools. They plan special outreach to minority- and women-owned businesses, and they hope to protect low-income housing in minority-heavy communities near Amazon’s coming Crystal City hub.

“We looked at every opportunity that we thought would be able to seize the benefits of this investment and make sure it benefitted everyone in the community,” Wilson said. “We’re still fleshing this all out. The good news is there’s real excitement in the community.”

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Morning Notes

New Office to Residential Conversion — “A Mark Center office building in Alexandria is now set to be converted into apartments. D.C. real estate investment firm PRP LLC plans to convert 4900 Seminary Road, a 12-story, 209,000 square foot building, into residential… PRP wants to put 213 market-rate units into the building, which also has room for about 4,100 square feet of ground-floor retail.” [Washington Business Journal]

Mayor Reacts to Retrocession Suggestion — “With Democrats now in control of the Virginia Statehouse, Republican Delegate Dave LaRock says he is concerned that liberal values are taking over so he’s calling for Arlington and Alexandria to be split off and given to D.C… Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson calls LaRock’s statements a ‘comical clown move.'” [Fox 5, Twitter]

Send-off For Historic Fire Apparatus — “The Friendship Fire Company purchased an ornate hose reel carriage in 1858. Now, thanks to the support of the Friendship Veterans Fire Engine Association, community donors, and its win as the No. 1 Virginia Endangered Artifact of 2019, Historic Alexandria is sending the hose carriage off for much-needed conservation.” [Zebra]

Lawmakers Considering Shopping Cart Bill — “Senate Bill 631 would make it so that the cost of removal, including disposal, of an abandoned shopping cart will be charged to the cart’s owner. The ordinance originally applied just to Fairfax County, but Surovell said Arlington and Alexandria asked to be included in the new legislation.” [ARLnow]

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Even while the debate still rages on over the Seminary Road diet, the City of Alexandria is looking at other locations that could be altered to be more bicycle and pedestrian-friendly.

Several streets are scheduled for repaving, which the city uses as an opportunity to look at which ones could benefit the most from being redesigned with safety in mind, to align with the city’s Vision Zero plan — though some have questioned whether the redesigns make the streets safer.

According to a press release:

In 2011, City Council adopted the Complete Streets Policy. This policy required that street improvements be made for all roadway users as part of regular maintenance whenever possible. When streets are repaved, this provides an opportunity to upgrade parts of the street to better serve people of all ages and abilities by improving safety, access, and mobility.

Currently, the City of Alexandria is looking for community input on whether the following streets should be converted to “Complete Streets.”

  • Alfred Street (First Street to Church Street)
  • Cameron Mills Road (Virginia Avenue to Allison Street)
  • Morgan Street (North Chambliss Street to cul-de-sac)
  • Rayburn Avenue (North Beauregard Street to Reading Avenue)
  • Reading Avenue (Rayburn Avenue to North Beauregard Street)
  • West Street (Duke Street to Wythe Street)

The public feedback form for Complete Streets is available online until Friday, Feb. 7.

While individual changes would depend on the street being repaved, the City of Alexandria said changes could include:

  • Add or upgrade curb ramps
  • Add or upgrade pedestrian crosswalks
  • Roadway signage
  • Bicycle facilities, such as bike lanes or shared-lane markings
  • Speed cushions or other traffic calming devices
  • Changes to parking
  • Additional pedestrian crossing treatments
  • Minor signal timing changes
  • Lane striping modifications (i.e. striping a parking lane or narrowing travel lanes)

The city has a list of finished Complete Streets projects, but the list hasn’t been updated since 2017 and does not include, for instance, the completed King Street project that narrowed the street and installed new bicycle lanes.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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The Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney believes that the Virginia General Assembly will pass measures to decriminalize marijuana this session, but that doesn’t mean he will stop prosecuting simple possession charges.

In fact, while Bryan Porter introduced a diversion program in the summer that would allow people to be treated more leniently, that’s not stopping him from prosecuting such cases.

“In other words, the diversion program is my response to the community’s desire to have simple marijuana possession treated more leniently,” Porter told ALXnow. “I support marijuana decriminalization and I suspect that it will pass in some form during this Assembly.”

It seems like a natural conclusion — that the Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Alexandria will follow the letter of the law — but that’s not the case in Arlington and Fairfax County. Steve Descano, the newly elected Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney, as well as Arlington and Falls Church Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa ­Dehghani-Tafti, have stated that they will not prosecute simple marijuana possession charges. Both have moved to dismiss simple possession cases since taking office at the beginning of the month.

Porter said that his diversion program allows people charged with marijuana possession to avoid conviction, fines, and court costs and allows them to have the charge expunged.

“The program is prospective, meaning that someone charged today (or tomorrow) would have the opportunity to have their charge dismissed and expunged,” Porter said. “Furthermore, citizens will be allowed into the diversion program even if they have previously had a charge diverted. My diversion program has been looked to as a model by other prosecutors around the state.”

Sen. Adam Ebbin’s (D-30th) bill to decriminalize marijuana, which is working its way through the state Senate, proposes a maximum $50 civil fine for a simple possession charge. Virginia State Police reported that there were 29,000 marijuana-related arrests in 2018, accounting for 59 percent of total drug arrests.

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Morning Notes

Seminary Road Saga Continues — Despite suggestions “that the Alexandria Fire Department had significant input into the Complete Streets Design Guidelines and whether to narrow Seminary Road, documents obtained by city residents under the Freedom of Information Act reveal this was not the case.” [Alexandria Times]

Sushi Restaurant Coming to ‘West Alex’ — “Sushi Jin Next Door, which opened its first restaurant in Silver Spring in 2006 and now has a second location in Woodbridge, is opening a third location in Alexandria, Virginia. The new location will be part of the West Alex mixed-use development at King Street and North Beauregard Street.” [WTOP]

New Glass Recycling Bin Now Open — “Alexandria residents wanting to recycle glass now have a fifth bin as an option. MOM’s Organic Market at 3831 Mt. Vernon Avenue is the location of the new purple recycling bin. The city ended curbside glass recycling on Jan. 15, citing increasing recycling costs and the lack of glass-sorting facilities in the region.” [Patch]

ACPS To Buy Five Electric School Buses — “Under the terms of the grant, Dominion Energy will pay the additional costs towards each of the five buses that ACPS was already scheduled to buy this summer, allowing ACPS to upgrade them to electric vehicles. The goal is to have the new electric buses on the roads in time for the start of the 2020-21 school year in September.” [ACPS]

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Alexandria’s finest were recognized by the City Council last week. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Alexandria Police Department, and Mayor Justin Wilson honored the department with a city proclamation in council chambers.

“The most important role of local government is to protect public safety, and we are fortunate that the residents of the city are able to rely 24/7 on the best police department on the planet, the Alexandria Police Department,” Wilson said. “Every day you confront danger so our residents do not have to. You keep our residents safe, and you do it with a smile and incredible customer service.”

Police Chief Michael L. Brown thanked the city for the recognition and said there will be a number of events this year honoring the department, including an open house of police headquarters and a gala. The actual anniversary of the department falls on July 15.

“It’s a long and established legacy we have here,” Brown said. “We really do appreciate the fact that you’re taking the time to recognize the contributions of men and women who have come before us, and, of course, the men and women who serve this community right now.”

APD officers are allowed to wear commemorative badges throughout the year in recognition of the anniversary.

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Improvements planned for the east end of Eisenhower Avenue have come back significantly over budget and city staff are working to find a new funding source.

The Eisenhower Avenue Roadway Improvement Project would add a left turn lane onto westbound Eisenhower Avenue at Mill Road — a site of frequent congestion as Mill Road leads up to the Beltway — and Mill Road would be widened. At the other end of the improvements, the traffic circle at the end of Eisenhower Avenue to the east would be replaced with a T intersection.

The project also includes benefits for pedestrians and bicyclists, like various streetscape improvements and new bike facilities on adjacent roads. The plan aims to support new development proposed for the area, which includes updates to the small area plan to create more retail and residential zoning in the area.

The project is paid for primarily through state and federal funding. The project was budgeted for $9.4 million, but that cost has swelled to $11.6 million.

The biggest budget problem came when the city opened up the construction contract for bidding. The lowest bid of $6.6 million still exceeded the budget of $5.1 million. (The total project cost also includes design, land acquisition and other expenses.)

“There was some bid price clustering, which provides comfort that the low bid reflects the current market,” City Manager Mark Jinks said in a memo to the City Council. “For more than just the last year the construction market has been very hard to predict as construction prices for materials and labor have been increasing at a faster pace than in previous years. This is a situation that other public entities as well as the private sector have been experiencing.”

The city has three options now, according to Jinks.

  1. Cancel the project, which would mean the city would need to repay VDOT $2 million in land acquisition cost and $1.6 million in design costs — which is more expensive than closing the budget gap.
  2. Reduce the scope of the project, which Jinks said is not viable as the key project elements are required to meet transportation capacity needs. Also, Jinks noted that redesign would add more time to the project and likely lead to more construction cost inflation.
  3. Provide additional funding from the city to close the project funding gap.

Jinks said only the third option was viable, and staff identified $400,000 in savings from a Van Dorn Metro station project and $900,000 in savings from the reconstruction of Montgomery Street that can be used to help close the gap.

“To completely close this cap, [$900,000] in excess CIP bond interest earnings which would have not yet been programmed for a CIP project can be made available for the Eisenhower Avenue Roadway Improvement Project,” Jinks said.

The additional funding for the project is scheduled for a vote at the Saturday, Jan. 25, City Council meeting.

Top photo via Google Maps, map of improvement project via City of Alexandria

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Morning Notes

Lead in Soil Near Oronoco Bay Park — “Research for the Combined Sewer Overflow remediation project uncovered a mysterious cache of lead along the waterfront… It was during exploration at CSO-001, the outfall near Oronoco Bay Park, that RiverRenew came across the lead… RiverRenew is taking extra precautions to remove the impacted soil.” [Alexandria Times]

T.C. Teacher Goes Extra Mile — T.C. Williams 11th grade English teacher Corrina Reamer, who teaches immigrant and international students with limited English proficiency, has raised money for a library of 1,000 books “so her students would learn to love reading.” [Washington Post]

Mag Lists Alexandria Traffic Concerns — “In the past month, we asked Alexandria residents to answer this question: ‘What is your biggest concern about transportation and/or commuting in the Alexandria area, and what do you think should be done to make it better?’ Here are the responses we received.” [Alexandria Living]

Local Robotics Team Advances to State Tourney — “The St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School Upper School robotics team Thunderstone advances to states! They competed January 11-12 at the Salem Qualifier and finished the day as the top-ranked team and captained the winning alliance.” [Zebra]

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If you’ve followed the recent widespread war over the best chain-restaurant fried chicken sandwich on the market, there’s a new homegrown player in Old Town.

Reston-based Thompson Hospitality, the owner of Hen Quarter at 801 King Street, has converted the first floor of the restaurant into the southern-style restaurant The Rub. While the second floor is still devoted to Hen Quarter, the new establishment, which opened on Thursday (Jan. 17) offers five fried chicken sandwiches with fries ranging in price from $8.50 to $12.50. The sandwiches are all made to order and take about eight minutes to prepare.

“We couldn’t ignore the recent explosion of the fried chicken sandwich,” Craig Carey, Thompson’s vice president of marketing strategy, told ALXnow. “We’re really motivated by bringing awesome creative food that is inclusive of everyone’s budget.”

The sandwiches were created by Chef Graham Duncan, formerly of Alexandria Restaurant Partners.

Carey is also the founder of Big Buns Damn Good Burger Co. in Shirlington, and partnered with Thompson Hospitality a year-and-a-half ago. He said that Thompson, which includes Austin Grill, Matchbox and American Tap Room among its brands, plans to open many more restaurants throughout the region over the next two years. Those new restaurants include a new Big Buns in Reston by this April, and a Big Buns in the Navy Yard in June.

The company plans to open three to five Matchbox and Big Buns locations per year, we’re told.

Carey said that the fried chicken sandwich was the most popular item on the menu when it debuted at Big Buns in 2015.

“The Rub is really about the customer, and I think it’s a really cool space to have fun with,” he said. “The fried chicken sandwich is really something that has exploded for us. Soon we will be coming out with a new fried chicken sandwich every month.”

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Alexandria officials are still working through the details, but there’s an unmistakable air of excitement from city staff and leadership when it comes to turning part of King Street into a pedestrian-only zone.

The proposal would close one block of King Street — between Lee Street and Union Street — to car traffic on weekends and turn it into a pedestrian-only zone.

Staff presented the latest on the plan to the Transportation Commission on Wednesday, Jan. 15, after which the Commission unanimously approved the plan and speculated that the closures could become permanent if all goes well.

Outreach for the project is planned to continue over the next month, with meetings scheduled with the Small Business Development Association, Visit Alexandria, and Old Town businesses next week.

An open house for the project is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 23. The City Council is scheduled to vote on the project on Feb. 25 and, if approved, the closure would start on April 18.

Deputy Director for Transportation Hillary Orr told the Transportation Commission the main concerns they’ve heard voiced are about the safety of the project. Police have suggested the use of solid barriers that have to be screwed in (and unscrewed for removal), a proposal also endorsed by the Fire Department due to concerns about vehicles entering the pedestrian zone — inadvertently or otherwise.

City staff said they are also looking into types of plants and stones that could provide additional barriers.

Orr noted that the intersection of King Street and Union Street has been a transportation challenge for city staff for years, particularly with vehicles turning onto one of the most pedestrian-heavy sections of Old Town.

“Removing turning vehicles from that intersection actually makes it safer,” Orr said.

Orr described the project’s components as “pilots within a pilot,” saying that pieces of the project like changes to loading zones, parking, and vehicular traffic patterns could impact city policy beyond just this closure.

The owner of a few nearby properties raised some concerns at the meeting, noting that the alleyway to the south being proposed for deliveries and loading is very narrow and could pose a safety risk with cars increasingly using it to get around the closed King Street.

In addition to car access, the plan will remove parking spaces not just on that block, but on Lee Street and a block east on King Street.

If approved, the closures would last from April to October, but the Transportation Commission members already expressed enthusiasm for seeing the project extended or made permanent if the closure this summer goes well.

“I’m excited,” said Transportation Commission chair Melissa McMahon. “We’ll see what happens in October.”

Image (top) via City of Alexandria (middle) via Google Maps

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A GoFundMe campaign has been launched to help a 31-year-old Alexandria man in serious condition after being struck by a driver in the 300 block of Yoakum Parkway on the afternoon of Monday, Jan. 6.

Jahid Shahbazov, who suffered spinal fractures and had his right leg amputated after the crash, remains unconscious in Georgetown University Hospital, according to his friend and campaign organizer Heydar Allahverdi. Shahbazov, who lives near the scene of the incident, was stopped along the curb and taking something from the trunk of his car when he was struck around 4:30 p.m. and wedged between the two vehicles.

The driver of the car called police, stayed at the scene and has not been charged. The crash is still under investigation, according to the Alexandria Police Department.

“He’s still unconscious. The doctors say they don’t want to wake him up because of the pain,” Allahverdi told ALXnow. “Right now we are just sitting and waiting for him to come back to life. He’s had four surgeries so far. His left leg is in bad condition, too, and they are worried about there being no circulation in it.”

To date, just over $28,000 of a $100,000 goal has been raised through 571 donations to help Shahbazov, a native of Azerbaijan, who has lived with his wife in Alexandria for four years. He’s a part-time Uber driver and has been taking quality assurance automation courses for the last six months, said Allahverdi.

He also doesn’t have health insurance.

“Jahid is a very kind person. I’ve known him for many years,” said Allahverdi, who is roommates with Shahbazov’s twin brother. “I’ve never seen Jahid hurt anyone. He’s a calm person. He never says bad things about people. He just handles his business. I never thought he would go through something like this. His wife, she is devastated. She’s having a hard time and is staying at the hospital the whole time.”

Most of the donations have been raised by friends and family.

“We are from a different country, and we don’t know many people,” Allahverdi said. “He’s going to face a lot of problems after he gets out of the hospital. He’s going to have psychological trauma, he will be suffering from not having a leg and we don’t know how long it is going to take or what the driver’s insurance is going to cover.”

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