Alexandria, VA

The City of Alexandria is working on plans to handle a potential Coronavirus outbreak, but if you’re looking to a free face mask from the city, you’re out of luck.

“Our health department is not there to deliver masks,” said City Councilwoman Amy Jackson at a City Council meeting on Tuesday. “We’ve seen an increase in requests, but you have to find your own if that’s what you want to do.”

Councilman Mohamed “Mo” Seifeldein checked in with the City Manager at the meeting’s end to ensure the city is preparing for a potential coronavirus outbreak.

“With the announcement from the CDC, it seems like unwelcome news may be coming,” Seifeldein said. “In the event that we have to go into a short schedule, work from home, school [closures], I want to make sure plans are set.”

City Manager Mark Jinks confirmed that the city is working on plans to continue operating city services while minimizing the potential spread of disease.

“As the spread of the virus is on two continents, it’s a pandemic,” Jinks said. “We’ve had a staff group working and we’re going to be expanding that. We have a continuation of service plans in place with each department, however, this is a different circumstance than we have ever faced.”

“This is not a snowstorm. This is not a weather event,” he continued. “We’ve got to go back and look at those and see how we would respond differently. We’re in a different gear.”

Jinks said he and others on city staff are reading up on past pandemics.

“Nobody really knows how far it’s going to spread, but we have to plan for it,” Jinks said. “We have to be ready.”

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

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An Arlington man is in custody after police say he robbed a 7-Eleven store in Arlington and attempted to rob a 7-Eleven in Alexandria’s Landmark area.

Michael Sheffey, 59, was arrested on Monday by Arlington County Police for a robbery of the 7-Eleven at 2815 S. Wakefield Street in Arlington on Saturday, Feb. 15. He has also been charged with attempting to rob the 7-Eleven at 30 S. Reynolds Street on Sunday, Feb. 16.

“Sheffey was arrested and is being held in Arlington,” Alexandria Police spokesman Lt. Courtney Ballantine told ALXnow. “He has been charged in Alexandria for attempted robbery.”

Both alleged incidents are similar. They occurred early in the morning and the suspect, who wore a red jacket for both offenses, did not have a weapon, but punched the employees behind the counters at the registers of each store and made grabs for cash, according to police.

The Arlington incident on Feb. 15 occurred at around 5:48 a.m. The suspect, who was caught on surveillance footage, walked up to the register with merchandise and gave the employee cash. When the registered opened, the suspect allegedly punched the employee, “jumped over the counter and stole cash before fleeing the scene prior to police arrival,” according to Arlington County Police.

The Feb. 16 event occurred at around 6:15 a.m. The suspect walked up to the counter to buy a small cup of coffee, was told that it was $1.79 and, according to police, reportedly told the cashier, “that’s a lot,” and gave the cashier money.

According to a search warrant affidavit, during the transaction the suspect asked about when buses started to operate in the area, and as the employee turned to ask one of his co-workers, the register opened and the suspect allegedly punched the employee and lunged for the cash. The employee resisted and the suspect threw the cup of coffee in his face and was chased out of the store by another employee. Nothing was stolen.

The 7-Eleven at S. Reynolds Street is next to the Reynolds Street Bar and Grill, which has a security camera. Alexandria Police found footage of the suspect running from the 7-Eleven and driving away with his headlights off in a silver-colored Chevrolet Equinox in the direction of Edsall Road.

Based on surveillance footage, Alexandria and Arlington police determined that the same suspect committed both crimes. Police found that the vehicle Sheffey allegedly drove was still registered in the name of his wife, who died last year, according to the affidavit.

Sheffey lives in the Fairlington neighborhood, near Route 7 and the Alexandria border.

Anyone with information related to the investigation can contact Detective R. Ortiz of the Arlington County Police Department’s Homicide/Robbery Unit at 703-228-7402 or [email protected]. Information can also be given anonymously to the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).

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(Updated 10:35 a.m.) Residents of the Liberty Row condominium community in North Old Town are upset that construction at the nearby Abingdon Place development has been shaking their walls.

“We’ve received several complaints from [other Liberty Row residents],” said Nathan Collins, a resident of Liberty Row and a member of the Liberty Row Condominium Association. “I contacted the city but basically got shuffled from department to department.”

The redevelopment of the Old Colony Inn (1101 N. Washington Street) has faced controversy since it was first proposed as a hotel in 2016. The hotel proposal faced outcry from nearby residents who said it would literally overshadow the Liberty Row development. Two years later, developers returned with the current proposal to redevelop the site as a new townhouse complex called The Towns of Abingdon Place.

The Abingdon Place development includes 19 luxury townhouses built by Madison Homes. The website said prices are anticipated to start at $1.4 million.

Collins said the reports he’s been hearing from his neighbors include vibrating glassware, pictures shaking against the walls, and floors and windows rattling.

Collins also claimed that a wall on his property was damaged by the construction activity.

Barbara Carroll, who sits on board of directors for the Liberty Row Condominium Association, said the fact that the wall wasn’t cracked before construction and is now in the wake of the pile driving next door points to a clear cause. However, what the nearby residents really want, she said, is more communication.

“The issues revolve around the fact that the builder was not really forthcoming with people about what he’s doing,” Carroll said. “This is unlike the development at St. Asaph — the Gables project. [That] was incredible, they communicated every month and told us what to expect. They installed noise and vibration monitors. I don’t know that the group across the street has.”

“There was more transparency and communications with the [Gables] project,” Collins agreed. “It was a huge project and they took the good neighbor approach. I wish I could say the same in regards to Abingdon Place.”

Mark Westmoreland, Vice President of Madison Homes, said the disruption wasn’t from pile driving, per se, but a process called gravel injection to treat tiers of gravel at the site. Westmoreland said most of the gravel injection was finished, but that there would be some more work in March and the company would be in contact with surrounding homeowners associations.

“We have started the foundations for the model building,” Westmoreland said. “We will start vertical construction in the next 30 days. If people drive by, they’ll certainly notice that.”

The model building at the site is scheduled to open in late summer. Westmoreland said the opening of the rest of the project depends on sales, but he anticipates a full build-out in 2021.

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After months of stalled discussions over the cost of adding southern access to the Potomac Yard Metro station, Mayor Justin Wilson said the city could start the process of financing it over again.

The Potomac Yard Metrorail Implementation Work Group “expressed a great amount of frustration at the amount of time we have spent working with WMATA and their contractor to come to an agreement on a potential change order for improved southwest access,” Wilson said at the City Council meeting last night (Tuesday). “The message that was crystal clear from PYMIG was to set a date to have pencils down regardless of where we’re at and pursue going back to market to bid out the improved southwest access.”

Wilson said the group’s attitude was one of “frustrated impatience” with the way the WMATA has handled this.

The original southern entrance to the Metro station was cut from early plans to save money. As something of a consolation prize, a path to a pedestrian bridge, from neighborhoods to the south to the entrance on the north side of the station, was added.

The city has been in discussion with WMATA for months after prices the latter negotiated for the southern access ramp came back higher than the $50 million allocated in a state grant. During PYMIG meetings, city officials repeatedly said they believed the price was substantially higher than what it should be.

Wilson acknowledged at an earlier meeting that while going back to market for bids on the contract could get a better deal, it could also show that WMATA was correct and the numbers will be even higher than the current bids.

At the site itself, construction is progressing. Staff said at the City Council meeting that the walls are being poured in for the AC switchgear building. Contractors are currently working on ground stabilization to support the station and driving piles on the west side for the north pavilion.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Alexandria may allocate $6 million to reopen closed portions of the Holmes Run Trail.

The trail, which was damaged in last July’s flash flooding after the Barcroft Dam overflowed, in addition to previous flood damage from 2018, is currently closed in four sections. City Manager Mark Jinks has proposed new capital funding to reopen all four sections.

If approved by the City Council as part of this year’s budget and Capital Improvement Program process, trail users will still have to wait a couple of years for it to fully reopen. Repairs will be designed and planned in Fiscal Year 2021 and construction will take place in Fiscal Year 2022.

“The City recognizes the impact these trail closures have on the many residents and visitors who use Holmes Run Trail and appreciates the community’s patience as City staff works to fund, plan, design and construct the necessary improvements to make the trail fully functional once again,” said a press release.

The full city press release is below.

Alexandria City Manager Mark Jinks has proposed $6 million in capital funds to restore public access to the portions of the Holmes Run Trail closed following damage sustained during heavy rainfall.

In July 2019, Alexandria received a month’s worth of rain in approximately one hour, which led to flooding that damaged portions of the trail and left it unsafe for public access. Holmes Run is subject to water surges from stormwater that enters the run from various points, and these surges can be heavy when combined with automatic, controlled releases from the upstream Barcroft Dam.

While some problems have been repaired by City maintenance crews already, four locations (including two bridges) remain closed due to the devastating level of damage. These four sections of the trail suffered severe erosion and are structurally compromised. A map of the current closures and detour routes are available at the Holmes Run Trail Closures page.

The cost to address the current issues and rebuild the trail exceeds existing City resources and available state aid. The City Manager’s February 18 budget proposal funds design and engineering in Fiscal Year 2021, and construction starting in Fiscal Year 2022. City Council will adopt the Capital Improvement Program on April 29.

The City recognizes the impact these trail closures have on the many residents and visitors who use Holmes Run Trail and appreciates the community’s patience as City staff works to fund, plan, design and construct the necessary improvements to make the trail fully functional once again.

While temporary warning signage and barriers have been installed at all trail closures, City staff is actively working to develop more robust detour route signage to help trail users navigate the closures.

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Morning Notes

T.C. Boys Advance in Tourney — “TC Varsity Vs Robinson regional quarterfinal take the win 49-47. Next round, Friday, 2/28 5:45 @ Fairfax HS.” [Twitter]

Donation to Support School Sensory Room — “Daniel MacDonald was just six-years old when he passed away in 2018, but thanks to a $10,000 donation from his family, he has left a legacy at Jefferson-Houston PreK-8 IB School that will benefit other children.” [ACPS]

Award Winning Teacher Highlighted on TV — “See @TCWTitans teacher Kimberly Wilson on @ABC7News! This year she was named National Teacher of the Year by the Association for Career and Technical Education.” [WJLA, Twitter]

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Alexandria is a little ahead of schedule increasing the number of affordable housing units in the city, and two new deals are getting it closer to meeting its regional housing goals.

On Saturday, Council unanimously adopted proposals to increase the number of affordable housing units in Eisenhower East by the hundreds, and to add nine affordable units in a new mixed-use Aspire Alexandria development in Braddock.

Mayor Justin Wilson called an amendment to the Eisenhower East Small Area Plan “the most aggressive inclusionary zoning, affordable housing policy we have ever adopted in the city.”

Under the proposal, 10% of additional residential rental development in Eisenhower East will be devoted to affordable rental units. At full buildout, up to 400-450 affordable units are anticipated for the area, which currently only has 66 affordable units.

“We will have to see how this all works out and comes to reality, but I think an important step about our values as a community,” Wilson said.

The mixed-use Aspire Alexandria project is the latest project taking advantage of the city’s 2019 affordable housing guidelines by increasing density in exchange for affordable housing. Its nine affordable units are but a fraction of the 133 units that will be used for senior citizens, however.

Alexandria’s low cost, market-affordable (non-subsidized) rental housing fell 88 percent between 2000-2018, and the city needs to produce 2,000 affordable housing units by 2025 and an additional 1,950 units by 2030 to meet the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ regional goal of 320,000 new affordable housing units.

At just over 15 square miles, Alexandria is looking everywhere for land, and the city manager’s office has even tapped the public school system to include co-locating affordable housing options in plans for all schools slated for development.

Helen McIlvane, the city’s housing director, said that the city is on track to meet its 2025 goal, and a little behind with the total number that it needs to raise by 2030.

“It’s a puzzle, its expensive. We have to be focused all the time at looking at opportunities and making most of them,” McIlvane said, adding that the city is trying to incentivize building owners to keep properties affordable. “There are places on the west end, where buildings are market affordable and we’d like them to remain that way. We want to secure what’s on the ground today, we want to preserve it.”

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Morning Notes

School Board Approves New Budget — “The Alexandria City School Board has approved an Operating Budget for the 2020-21 school year focused on supporting students socially, emotionally and academically while also increasing graduation rates. The Operating Budget of $299.1 million is an increase of 4.4% on last year’s budget, in line with ACPS’ anticipated continued enrollment growth and needs.” [ACPS]

City Unveils New 311 System — “The City of Alexandria has launched a new customer service initiative called Alex311, to connect customers to more than 175 City services in a variety of convenient ways. The service includes new web, mobile app, social media and phone options to submit requests for service or information… Alex311 replaces the City’s previous Call.Click.Connect. service.” [City of Alexandria]

Top Five Most Checked-Out Books at T.C. — “These particular five works of young adult literature have grabbed the imagination and proved the most popular during the last five years among both students from T.C. Williams and those who use the Minnie Howard campus library. According to their joint records, these are the books requested over and over again…The Hate U Give… Written in the Stars… The Poet X… Long Way Down… All American Boys.” [ACPS]

Absentee Applications Due Today — “The City of Alexandria reminds voters of absentee voting options for the Democratic Party presidential primary election on Tuesday, March 3. Voters in Virginia do not register by party, so any person registered to vote in Alexandria may vote in the March 3 primary… applications must be received by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, February 25 in the Alexandria Voter Registration & Elections Office.” [City of Alexandria]

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A grand jury has indicted Kenneth Whitcomb, a 62-year-old Alexandria resident, on a charge of reckless driving following a deadly pedestrian collision last November.

John Charles Thompson, a 75-year old Fairfax resident and retired Army general, was struck on Nov. 16 on Duke Street near the Alexandria Commons shopping center around 7:30 a.m. Police said that Thompson was in a crosswalk at the time of the crash.

“Mr. Thompson was walking across Duke Street when he was struck by a vehicle operated by Mr. Whitcomb,” Commonwealth Attorney Bryan Porter said in a press release. “Mr. Thompson was hospitalized after the crash and succumbed to his injuries.”

Porter said reckless driving, a class 1 misdemeanor and the most serious charge that could be lodged in the case, is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and/or a $2500 fine, as well as a license suspension of not more than 6 months. Whitcomb is also charged with failure to yield to a pedestrian, punishable by a fine of not more than $500.

“The driver remained at the scene and cooperated with the investigation, his driver’s license was valid, and he was not under the influence of intoxicants,” Porter said. “Therefore, the appropriate charge is reckless driving.”

Maj. Gen. John Charles Thompson (ret.) was a West Point graduate and a 35-year Army veteran, recognized for valor in Vietnam, according to an obituary.

Photo via Google Maps

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The Foundry (2470 Mandeville Lane) isn’t open yet, but the new luxury complex in Hoffman Town Center has started leasing apartments.

According to a press release, apartments include studios as well as one, two and three-bedrooms. Studios start at around $1,900 per month and go up to three-bedroom units at $4,360. Rent specials are currently being offered, the press release said.

The building will include a heated rooftop pool, a sports bar, a pet spa and more. A new food hall is also planned for the building.

Staff at The Foundry said move-ins are scheduled to start March 1. Tours of the building are available, staff said, but visitors will have to wear a hardhat for now.

The Foundry is part of a wave of new residential development planned as part of a push to turn the Eisenhower corridor into more of a residential and commercial district.

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Morning Notes

Fire Officials Deny Seminary Road Political Pressure — “The AFD representatives… pushed back on allegations that the city had strong-armed the fire department into supporting a certain stance. ‘No one is going to force me… to put people in harm’s way – the first responders or the people that we’re charged to protect,’ Smedley said. ‘That’s my number one goal, and that goal can be accomplished with however many lanes are on the roadway, as long as certain measures are in place. If that is being jeopardized, I will dig in hard.'” [Alexandria Times]

Resident: New Seminary Road is an Improvement — “As someone who lives on a small cul-de-sac off of Seminary Road, I am a daily user of Seminary Road. I use the road several times every day as either a driver, walker, cyclist, or simply as a resident. The new Seminary Road is beneficial to me and to my neighborhood. We are able to live with greater safety no matter how we use the road. We are people who live here — not just drive through to some other location.” [Gazette Packet]

Rent in Alexandria Lower Than Neighbors — “The District and Arlington County are virtually tied for average apartment rent, at $2,233 and $2,236 respectively. Rents in D.C. and Arlington County are both up 4.3% in the last year. The average rent in Alexandria is currently $1,746, up 2.8% from a year ago.” [WTOP]

Details About New Restaurant at Bradlee — “Rotisserie chicken, ceviche, lomo saltado and much more are on the menu at El Saltado, a new Peruvian restaurant that recently opened at Bradlee Shopping Center in Alexandria. The star of the menu is likely the charcoal-broiled chicken served with a house salad plus a choice of French fries, fried yuca, rice or Peruvian-style potato salad.” [Alexandria Living]

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St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub has been a Del Ray staple for decades, and it’s expanding to Old Town North.

Owners Christine and Larry Ponzi recently requested an administrative special use permit request for a change of ownership to operate the coffee shop and restaurant at 529 Montgomery Street in the mixed-use Edens property. Construction plans are set and permit applications will be submitted to the city in the coming weeks.

The Ponzis estimate that the 2,210 square-foot location could open as early as August.

“We like this area of Old Town because it doesn’t have a tourist feel. It’s more of a neighborhood,” Larry Ponzi told ALXnow. “We really like being in neighborhoods. We love to get visitors from out of town, and we do, but we really want the base of customers to be from the neighborhood.”

Edens broke ground in North Old Town in 2017. The development is also home to the Hinata sushi bar, Oak Steakhouse, West Elm and 232 residential units.

The Ponzis are also the owners of Pizzaiolo Cafe on Fern in Alexandria, Cafe Pizzaiolo in Shirlington and the Market to Market sub shop next door to St. Elmo’s in Del Ray.

The family is aiming for that familiar living room vibe of St. Elmo’s in Del Ray, with open mic nights and poetry readings, and custom-made table tops and local art on the walls. The new location will have a full service kitchen, and accommodate up to 65 people inside and 22 people with outside seating. Plans include plenty of space for couches, comfy chairs, long tables and a bar area to serve beer and wine. There will even be a kid-friendly area with toys.

“At St. Elmo’s in Del Ray, we really took two concepts and and merged them together — our Market to Market sub shop and our coffee shop,” Larry said. “So here out of one kitchen we’ll be doing an extended breakfast, breakfast sandwiches, avocado toast and smoked salmon and breakfast burritos and waffles. We have a banana oat pancake. So, actually a little more cooking than what we’re doing in Del Ray and, and then from-scratch soups and we’ll make our own homemade meatballs.”

The Ponzis bought St. Elmo’s five years ago, and the company currently employs 80 full- and part-time employees. They plan on hiring about 20 more for the new location.

The couple, who met as students at the Rochester Institute of Technology, have learned a lot since opening their first Cafe Pizzaiolo in 2007 on Mount Vernon Ave. Before their lives as entrepreneurs, Larry managed cafes and catering at the Smithsonian locations in Washington, D.C., and Christine spent a number of years as an accountant.

The Ponzis have two daughters in college, and have learned to delegate. A lot of responsibility is given to their general managers, and the company is currently interviewing candidates for the general manager position in Old Town.

“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” Larry said. “We like what we do, we’ve learned what people like. And so we’re really shooting for something very similar, but we feel it’s a nice fresh start to be able to build the kitchen the way we want to, and there will be a much more efficient way we do it.”

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