Newsletter
Food at 1799 Prime Steak & Seafood in at 110 S. Pitt Street in Old Town. (Courtesy photo)

It was a busy week in Alexandria, with the City Council back in session and changes on the horizon for local restaurants.

The Polk Avenue sidewalk saga came to its close with the City Council voting unanimously to strike down an appeal, authorizing the city to move forward with plans to build a new sidewalk on the north side of the street.

The School Board also met this week and called into question the validity of a study on safety in the schools — not long after city leaders pushed back against claims from state officials that Alexandria City Public Schools were unsafe.

Top stories

  1. Teller at Alexandria DMV allegedly used stolen gift card to pay for friend’s license renewal
  2. 14-year-old arrested after allegedly pistol-whipping and robbing juvenile in West End
  3. Details emerge after woman shot in foot in Braddock area
  4. Alexandria businesses to start paying rent for on-street dining and shopping
  5. Old Town North affordable housing redevelopment moves forward
  6. 1799 Prime Steak & Seafood in Old Town is fancy without the frills
  7. Samuel Madden redevelopment returning to BAR after earlier misgivings
  8. No injuries after vent shaft catches fire in Fairlington apartment building
  9. System update gives Alexandrians two days of free access to rec centers, pools and more
  10. City Council strikes down Polk Avenue sidewalk appeal
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A new report on student safety should be taken with a grain of salt, according to members of the Alexandria School Board.

The School Board received the report Thursday night (September 22), and it includes details of 194 incidents that occurred between January and June. Not all of the incidents were criminal in nature, which led some School Board members to question the report’s validity.

“It’s really easy to look at these numbers of these data and draw conclusions, some of them often negative,” said School Board Member Ashley Simpson Baird. “It’s also really difficult just because we don’t yet have that longitudinal data yet, this is just a school year. We don’t know if this is better or worse than two years ago, or three years ago or 10 years ago.”

The data shows that 26 Alexandria City Public School students were arrested in the final two quarters of the 2021-2022 school year. There were also 34 students injured, 28 reported fights/assaults and 11 incidents of sexual assault/sexual misconduct. With the four quarters of the year combined, 46 students were arrested and 68 injured.

Board Member Abdel Elnoubi agreed with Simpson Baird.

“Wait and let’s have a goal that hopefully we start seeing numbers come down,” Elnoubi said. “Don’t look at raw numbers. Don’t look at that in a vacuum, because we It doesn’t mean much unless you put it in context. I just encourage community members to keep that in mind.”

John Contreras, the ACPS director of Safety and Security Services, said that not all incidents were criminal in nature, like when a child needed help getting unstuck in their second grade classroom, or when a golf cart battery caught fire at Alexandria City High School.

“It is important to note that APD (Alexandria Police Department) calls for service are not solely in relation to support for incidents that are criminal in nature,” Contreras said. “It includes a wide variety of things, including missing students, that sort of thing, not an actual criminal act, but we do sometimes someone need assistance or police to help us look for a student that may have not come on time.”

Contreras also said that arrests increased because of large groups of students fighting.

“One assault by mob… resulted in six arrests,” Contreras said. “Another was three — three arrests in one incident.”

Contreras recalled another incident of students smoking marijuana in an ACHS bathroom.

“A teacher goes in there (the bathroom), notices that the aroma in there smelled like marijuana, a controlled substance that’s not supposed to be at the school, but interviews with students or a search of their belongings did not reveal anything. It’s still reported to us as a controlled substance violation of some sort. Law enforcement was collaborated with, but it didn’t really resulting with anything other than administrative response at the school level.”

Alicia Hart, the chief of Facilities and Operations, said that the report is the new baseline for the school system.

“This really is the true baseline for incidents, calls for service and arrests and should be used to note changes in school division safety,” Hart said.

Interim Superintendent Melnie Kay-Wyatt said she wants the numbers in the report to go down.

“I really think it’s just allowing probably another full school year this school year for us to get some more data to really start measuring,” Kay-Wyatt said.

Agenda Alexandria will discuss student safety on Monday, September 26, at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial (101 Callahan Drive) at 6:30 p.m.

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Alexandria’s interim superintendent says that Governor Glenn Youngkin’s proposed new policies restricting transgender bathroom and pronoun use won’t be a distraction as the school system plans to continue its “gender-affirming policies.”

“We just want to make sure that we let our community know that we’re continuing our commitment to both implement and develop gender affirming policies for all ACPS students,” interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt told the School Board on Thursday night (September 22).

The Virginia Department of Education’s new policy adjustments go into effect on October 27, after the end of the 30-day public comment period.

While students are not required to wear gender-neutral clothes, the new rules state:

  • School division employees must refer to students with the pronouns “appropriate to the sex appearing in the student’s official record”
  • “The appropriate participation” in school programs separated by sex
  • Overnight travel accommodations, locker rooms, and other intimate spaces used for school-related activities and events shall be based on sex
  • Students shall use bathrooms that correspond to his or her sex, except to the extent that federal law otherwise requires
  • Single-user bathrooms and facilities should be made available in accessible areas and provided with appropriate signage, indicating accessibility for all students

Kay-Wyatt said that the legislation will not be a distraction for the school system.

“This will not be a distraction from our priorities of the work for all of our kids,” Kay-Wyatt said. “And I’m going to say that again, because it seems that some comments were directed that we’re going to make this a priority and make everything else a distraction. We have our core priorities. We will continue to focus on making sure we do what’s best for all children.”

The revised legislation was announced earlier this week, and created a firestorm of criticism throughout Alexandria. Mayor Justin Wilson tweeted that the school system will uphold its existing policies regarding transgender students, and School Board Chair Meagan Alderton and Kay-Wyatt wrote a joint letter reaffirming the school system’s position.

“As a School Board and division, we are concerned with these ‘model policies’ that do not align with our mission, vision and core values to support all students and staff, in particular our core value of ensuring that we provide a welcoming environment for everyone in our school community,” the letter said.

Kay-Wyatt said that parents can reach out to their school administrations with questions, or email [email protected] for updates.

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A fall festival celebrating the broad culinary options around Old Town North makes its return next Thursday.

The annual Taste of Old Town North is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 29, from 4-9 p.m. in Montgomery Park (901 N Royal Street).

“Join us at this Free, Family Friendly, Dog Friendly Celebration of the Charms of Old Town North in Montgomery Park,” the Old Town North Community Partnership wrote in an email.

The festival includes sampling from restaurants around the area like Cafe 44, Lost Dog Cafe and the newly moved Hanks Oyster Bar.

The event will also include live music starting at 4:30 p.m.

Photo via Lost Dog Cafe/Facebook

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Morning Notes

Browne Academy Opens Health and Wellness Center — “Yesterday afternoon (Sept. 20) Browne Academy announced the opening of its Health and Wellness Center. As society emerges from the pandemic and learns how it affected the mental wellbeing of the child, Browne recognized the importance of having resources readily available to meet their students’ needs.” [Zebra]

It’s Friday — Clear throughout the day. High of 65 and low of 51. Sunrise at 6:59 am and sunset at 7:06 pm. [Weather.gov]

NoVA Weekend Events — “This weekend brings the opening of Fields of Fear at Cox Farms, Grilled Cheese, Bacon & Beer Festival, fall festivals, Oktoberfest and more.” [Patch]

Del Ray’s Sweet Relief Celebrates Rebranding With Ribbon Cutting — “After rebranding, Sweet Relief will hold a ribbon cutting with fitness classes, vendors and more on Saturday in Del Ray.” [Patch]

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Hungry? The fine dining experience continues at 1799 Prime Steak & Seafood, which opened last month in the old Restaurant Eve location at 110 S. Pitt Street in Old Town.

Founders Jahmond Quander and Chef Sonny Tena say that their menu is straightforward — fine American steakhouse fare with some French and Asian fusions. Lunch costs about $50 for two, and dinner can cost upward of $100 without drinks.

“Eighty percent of the customers who come in order the steak,” Tena said. “The menu is straightforward and the quality is top-of-the-line.”

Quander bought the building, which is also home to the Alexandria Times newspaper, for $4.4 million in February. A native of the Alexandria portion of Fairfax County, He’s worked his way up in the restaurant industry for more than 30 years, working his way up from his first job as a dishwasher at a restaurant in Springfield Mall.

Quander can trace his family roots back 350 years, and to where his ancestors were once slaves at George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. The year 1799 is the year that Washington died and freed his slaves in his will. Quander was also the former director of food and beverage operations at George Washington’s Mount Vernon from 2013 to 2016.

“The proximity of 1799 to George Washington’s Mount Vernon, the ports of Alexandria, where my ancestors arrived as slaves right here, it was only fitting that the flagship location, the first location that we open up is here in Old Town, and that the name be 1799,” Quander said. “We don’t consider ourselves fine dining. I say we’re polished casual, because we’re not pretentious. We value people, and we value the business that comes in here. This is a incredible community that has embraced us from day one when we opened up. We are incredibly appreciative of that.”

After an interior renovation, the restaurant opened in August, and now features the muted landscape paintings of Del Ray artist Jim Halloran in the Peacock Lounge, the George Washington room, the Charles room (named after Quander’s grandfather) and the Elizabeth room (named after his wife and daughter).

Before buying the building, Quander was the general manager at Blackwall Hitch on the waterfront. That’s where he met Tena, who was the executive chef at the restaurant for five years.

The pair say that their brand can go places, and that their 85 staffers have been trained intensely to perform consistently.

“This brand has legs,” Quander said. “We plan to grow the concept. We want to go into the right market, and want to make sure that the opportunity is right. One of the markets we’re looking at right now is the University of Maryland’s Prince George’s Hospital Center. We’re also considering Richmond, possibly Loudoun County, and at some point possibly Charlotte, North Carolina or even Florida. I told chef we’re gonna be retiring in Florida.”

Tena, a native of the Philippines, has been in the industry for the 25 years. He started work on cruise lines and then moved to the U.S. after the 9/11 attacks and anthrax attacks crushed the cruise industry.

Quander says he wants to get better signage to attract customers on King Street, and to make inroads with nearby hoteliers.

“It’s all about relationship building,” he said. “And making sure you know that when these lovely folks with checking in, the hotels are saying, ‘There’s a great restaurant right on our backyard. Check it out.'”

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615-621 King Street development proposal (image via City of Alexandria)

The Mansly, a redevelopment of the Walgreens and a bank at 615-621 King Street, got its approval from the City Council — but not without some heavy side-eyeing and one “nay” vote after the Council criticized the underwhelming affordable housing contribution.

Technically, affordable housing didn’t and legally couldn’t have anything to do with the Council vote. The city has a trade set up, securing affordable housing units or contributions in exchange for extra density, but the staff report said the development wasn’t requesting density or height above what’s already recommended in the Old Town Small Area Plan and applicant The Silverman Group hit the bare minimum requirements for affordable housing contribution.

According to the staff report:

The applicant is providing a voluntary monetary contribution of $45,178 to the City’s Housing Trust Fund. This contribution is consistent with the City’s Procedures Regarding Affordable Housing Contributions, including the 2020 housing contribution policy update that established a new contribution rate for non-residential to residential conversions. Dedicated affordable units are not part of this project as the applicant is not requesting increased density, FAR or height through City Code Section 7-700 nor an increase in density beyond that recommended in the Old Town Small Area Plan.

The new development will add 24 residential units to the site along with 6,414 square feet of ground-floor commercial space into the property.

The application also included a request to take the parking requirement for the residential units down to zero, which the City Council had no objections to, but city officials did note that the $45,178 contribution was pitifully low.

“This project does do a lot… my only concern goes back to housing in general within our region,” said City Council member Canek Aguirre. “We know that we have an issue, especially around affordability. If we look at ‘well we’re building more units at market rate is that really bringing down the price for everybody else?’ Not really. Especially because the majority of the housing we need to see built is for 50% of the area median income and below.”

Aguirre was the sole City Council member to vote against the project. While Aguirre’s comments on the development focused solely on the affordable housing aspect, Aguirre said he found enough cause in city ordinance 11-504 — involving adverse effects to the neighborhood — to vote against the project.

“I believe we need to be giving options and availability across our entire city,” Aguirre said. “This just doesn’t do that for me. Of course, that’s not a reason to vote against this, but I believe for some other reasons under 11-504 I will be voting against this.”

While other members on the City Council voted in favor of the project, many added similar comments of disapproval at the lackluster affordable housing contribution.

“There are rules to the game,” said City Council member Alyia Gaskins. “They didn’t come in requesting additional [floor area ratio] so that doesn’t trigger the conversation for on site [affordable housing]. At the same time, when I hear us talk about who this project is going to be marketed to: there are low-income residents in our neighborhoods who fit that description, who want to live near where they work and want to make their lifestyle cheaper and more manageable, who want to have greater access to transit.”

Gaskins said the city should try to do more to push affordable housing more in projects like The Mansly.

“Whatever we can do to be thinking about how do we not limit ourselves from having these conversations,” Gaskins said. “There’s a big difference between saying ‘you’re required to do something’ and saying ‘let’s figure out maybe what we can do to help us reach those goals.'”

Council member Sarah Bagley agreed that the applicant abided by current requirements, but echoed the sentiments of others on the dais that it doesn’t advance the city’s goal of creating diversely priced and inclusive housing.

“There’s a lot of room for a lot of improvement here,” City Council member Amy Jackson added. “All contributions are voluntary and we appreciate the contributions being made, but $45,000 wouldn’t even buy you one of those units if we were really looking at it and they’ll make that in a month’s worth of rent.”

Still, the project was approved in a 5-1 vote.

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A 14-year-old Alexandria boy was arrested and charged with robbery after allegedly pistol-whipping a juvenile in the West End.

The incident occurred on Tuesday, July 5, in the 400 block of N. Armistead Street. Police found the juvenile victim with a “large amount of blood” on his hands, as well as abrasions on his head and cheek, according to a search warrant affidavit.

The victim told police that three suspects stole his backpack and Apple Air Pods by force, and that one of them hit him with a plastic gun.

“One of the suspects possessed an apparent plastic gun and pistol whipped (the victim) with the weapon while in the process of stealing their property,” police said in the search warrant affidavit. “Another suspect displayed a knife and threatened to use it against (the victim) during the incident.”

The suspect who allegedly hit the victim was positively identified in a photo line up, and was arrested and charged with robbery from person. He was taken to the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center.

Via Google Maps

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Alexandria Lighting + Design (courtesy photo)

After relocating from the Braddock neighborhood, Alexandria Lighting + Design is hosting a grand opening in the West End today.

The opening is the debut of the shop’s new showroom and coffee shop at 444 S. Picket Street.

The store had been located at 701 N. Henry Street for around 60 years before being displaced by a new development.

The ribbon cutting for the new showroom is scheduled to start at 1 p.m.

“Having served customers and design professionals for over 60 years, Alexandria Lighting + Design is excited to introduce ourselves to the next generation of Virginians and to usher in a new era for our existing clientele,” the shop owners said in a release. “The expanded fixture showroom will have display ceiling fans, chandeliers, wall lights and multi-systems, exterior and landscape lighting, table and floor laps, furniture and home accents.”

The release said the showroom fill feature displays from various styles, from contemporary/modern to nautical and rustic.

The new location will also have its own cafe with macarons and caviar on the menu.

“The new showroom will also be home to Electric Cafe,” the release said. “A cafe inside Alexandria Lighting serves as the perfect meeting place for architects, interior designers, builders, contractors and their clients to meet while having a European-style cafe experience, complete with Compass coffee & espresso, baguette sandwiches, macarons, beer, wine champagne and caviar.”

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Betty doesn’t subscribe to the notion that black cats crossing paths are bad luck.

The nine-year-old female black medium-haired cat is up for adoption with the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria.

“Betty is definitely channeling her zen vibe,” said AWLA spokesperson Gina Hardter. ” She’s not the kind of cat you’ll find climbing the curtains; her preferred perch is on the couch, by your side, maybe taking in a Netflix binge of Midsomer Murders.”

Learn more and schedule time to meet Betty by emailing [email protected] or calling 703-746-4774.

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