Alexandria, VA

“Alexandria City High School” on Thursday night was unanimously chosen as the new name for T.C. Williams High School. The Alexandria School Board voted for the name change for the city’s only public high school, and the effort took more than a year in the making.

“It’s a big deal and it will mean a lot for our future use,” School Board Chair Meagan Alderton said. “Sometimes it’s good for us to think about the power in reclaiming a name, in changing the name to mean something — other than what we’ve always used it for.”

The new name will be effective at the start of the 2021-22 School Year on July 1, 2021. Additionally, the Board changed the name of Matthew Maury Elementary School to Naomi L. Brooks Elementary School.

School Board Member Ramee Gentry made the motion for “Alexandria City High School”. It was approved unanimously.

I understand both sides of this,” Board member Jacinta Greene said.We have over 50,000 graduates that are very endeared by the name, by the initials T.C. And we have current students that still love being a T.C. Titan…. But not in the name of Thomas Chambliss. It will not mean that anymore.”

T.C. Williams High School is the largest high school in Virginia. It is known around the world for the 2000 movie Remember the Titans, which focused on its 1971 state championship-winning varsity football team that found greatness by working through racial adversity.

T.C. is named after Thomas Chambliss Williams, the superintendent of ACPS for 30 years. He required that all Black students wanting admission to previously all-white schools to go through an application process. Only 75 Black students (about 3%) were allowed to transfer to formerly white schools by the time Williams announced his retirement in 1962, and that was three years after the city officially desegregated schools.

“I had butterflies in my stomach all day just thinking about how long and emotional this journey has been,” said Lorraine Johnson, a student representative on the board. “We can’t forget about our elementary school and middle school students who are coming up before you know it. It’s going to be your time to shine in this high school of endless possibilities, and when it happens, take advantage of every opportunity.”

Gentry did not want the T.C. in another proposal — The City of Alexandria High School.

“You will always be a T.C. Williams High School graduate, and you can wear that with pride,” Gentry said. “But this is the beginning of a new period in history.”

Principal Peter Balas said that “A.C. Titans” is not far from T.C. Titans.

I’m a little concerned about a move to preserve the letters T and C in the name in some way, without having the engagement of our students,” Balas said.

Residents have tried in vain for decades to get the name changed, and many said that the process this time around should have been handled faster.

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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Alexandria is gearing up to move into the next phase of vaccination later this month, and the city’s Health Department is getting ready to launch some new programs and make adjustments to help make getting the shot a little easier.

So far, around 47,434 Alexandrians have been partially vaccinated, and 26,717 have been fully vaccinated. The target goal is 80% of the city vaccinated (106,618 people).

The city moved into Phase 1c earlier this week. Natalie Talis, population health manager for the Alexandria Health Department, said the city will be moving into Phase 2 of vaccination by April 18.

“We will be launching new options for people to schedule appointments directly, and we believe that transition will help reduce any confusion connected to who is eligible when,” Talis said. “Our focus will be how we can continue to prioritize people in Phase 1a, 1b, and 1c even after we move to a more open process. And of course, we are always evaluating new strategies for reaching our historically underserved populations so that they don’t fall through the cracks.”

The city launched a new vaccination clinic in the Victory Center on Eisenhower Avenue, part of a partnership with Inova and Fairfax County. The center added substantial capacity to the city’s vaccination efforts, but progress was capped by the trickle of vaccine supply.

Talis said that’s continued to increase in the weeks since the state began moving through the sub-phases of vaccination. While the city had been receiving around 2,000 or 3,000 doses of the vaccine per week in March, this week the city received 10,010 doses, with potential to 7,000 more.

“Our supply has definitely increased, which is why we have been able to move to 1c and will be able to move to Phase 2,” Talis said. “Previously, supply around the state was determined by population size, but it really needed to consider the demand from each community. Alexandrians have a high demand for vaccination, and now, our supply is starting to catch up with that.”

Talis said AHD has contacted everyone from Phase 1a and 1b, and many from 1c, who pre-registered by April 6.

“We continue to get new pre-registrations everyday but the increased supply has helped tremendously in addressing the waitlist,” Talis said.

A full list of who is eligible under the first phase of the vaccine is available online and residents can pre-register for Phase 2 online.

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(Updated at 11 a.m. on April 12) Alexandria Police Department employees have mixed reviews whether they feel valued.

Roughly half of APD staff (153-155 employees) recently participated in an annual citywide employee engagement survey. APD says that Chief Michael L. Brown and other Department heads were encouraged by the city to release the survey results to employees, and that the findings are being included in the APD High Performance Organization Plan.

“The department is in rapid decline,” one of the respondents wrote. “Many are leaving for higher paying careers. Once proud employees are being beaten down emotionally by the constant lack of support.”

About 43% of APD employees participating in the survey felt engaged with the organization, while 33% remained neutral and 24% were unfavorable. Additionally, 49 out of 155 employees (32%) recommended APD as a great place to work.

“With all the craziness going on today I feel you are being held accountable for the failures of others,” an APD employee wrote of Brown. “I know you (have been) often placed in difficult situations but I want you to stay positive. Keep your people first but always take care of your family.”

One employee criticized APD for not responding to the siege at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, and said the department bungled getting vaccines for officers.

“We are the closest agency and we stood by with our hands in our pockets,” the employee wrote. “We’ve heard all the reasons, we just aren’t buying. The handling of the Covid vaccine distribution is another travesty. The fact that there was no pod of doses set aside for the police is embarrassing. A website where we had to fight with the general public to get appointments that didn’t even work half the time.”

Another APD staffer said that Brown has helped change a long-existing toxic work culture.

“He has opened the window for all members of the department to develop and advance their careers,” the employee wrote. “From the start, he has made every effort to address the systemic racism that some members of the police department are not willing to admit exists.”

Another officer said that there should not be a community police review board.

“This department is different th(a)n the current media likes to portray police and lumping this department in with the media hysteria will just hurt the department and make good officers unhappy and leave,” the employee said.

Below the jump are a few statistics from the survey. Read More

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Mayor Justin Wilson says that money is no object and that he wants the Alexandria City Public Schools system to fully reopen to in-person instruction as soon as possible.

However, ACPS Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. says that in-person instruction won’t be expanded past two days a week at least for the remainder of this school year.

“We need to get our kids back in school full time,” Wilson told ALXnow. “Money will be no object, facilities will be no object. We will make sure that we get our kids back in school, and that that is what I’ve said from the beginning of this effort.”

Hutchings has come under fire for keeping ACPS all-virtual for a week following spring break. Some residents say that the school system is broken and that they are considering moving from the city.

Meanwhile, neighboring jurisdictions are opening up their school systems. Fairfax County Public Schools recently expanded to four days a week for in-person instruction and Falls Church recently returned to five days a week.

ACPS states on its website that it is planning on five-day-a-week in-person instruction this fall. As of the week of March 16, 2021, the school system reported more than 4,000 in-person students two days a week — a quarter of its 16,000-strong student population. Three days later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reduced the recommended distancing in schools from six feet to three feet.

“We are reviewing the revised CDC guidelines to determine how these impact our school division, as our reopening team continues to plan for the 2021-22 school year,” Hutchings wrote parents this week in an email. “We do not plan to adjust the current hybrid learning schedule before the end of the school year, at this time.”

Additionally, Hutchings and School Board Chair Meagan Alderton have been criticized for sending their children to private schools in the city that have three-foot distancing requirements, while the standard at ACPS is six feet. Alderton and Hutchings did not respond to questions on the subject.

ACPS will expand the number of students on April 20, Hutchings said, adding that students are organized via a “instructional prioritization matrix.”

“We expect to begin welcoming more students to in-person learning starting on April 20, and will soon share more information with families of the students who will be able to join the hybrid program later this month,” Hutchings wrote parents.

One parent said he is considering moving from the city.

“The latest email from the Superintendent laid bare the harsh reality that we do not have the will in our community or school leadership to do what is right for our public school kids,” the parent said. “It’s shocking that in a city concerned with equity, we have a different set of standards for those whose children attend public school.”

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Six Alexandria Police officers have been placed on administrative duties as an internal review continues on the in-custody death of a suspect after a chase on Tuesday night.

Multiple buildings and vehicles were hit by bullets in the 800 block of North Patrick Street on Tuesday night, and police chased the suspects all the way to Interstate 295. The driver of the vehicle crashed and then jumped over an overpass barrier and was tased by police, arrested and later died.

The identity of the dead man has not been publicly released.

“While attempting to take the driver into custody, a U.S. Park Police officer deployed an E.C.D. (Electronic Control Device),” APD said. “Several Alexandria Police officers assisted the effort to take the driver into custody. The driver was conscious and breathing when the ambulance arrived. The driver lost consciousness in the DC Fire & EMS ambulance and was pronounced dead by medical staff at the hospital.”

The three other suspects in the car were identified as Joseph Stokes, 41, of Washington, D.C., Sean Pendleton, 37, of Washington, D.C., and Merton Thomas, 37, of the Alexandria area of Fairfax County. The suspects were charged with shooting into an occupied dwelling.

The Metropolitan Police Department is handling the death investigation.

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In what is possibly the ultimate example of making use of the city’s land scarcity, a new application coming up at the Monday (April 12) Board of Zoning Appeals meeting seeks to turn a Parker-Gray alleyway into a new single-family home.

The 2,000 square foot lot at 1117 Queen Street is strip of gravel between two other homes mainly used for street parking.

It isn’t the first time the property has been a home, however. According to the staff report, records show a home existing on the property in 1877, though the original date of construction is unknown. The home was demolished in 1985.

A staff report on the proposal shows that the property meets almost none of the city’s minimum zoning requirements, but the staff report noted that in the broader context of the street those zoning requirements hold little water.

“The request is a reasonable deviation from the provisions of the CL zone of the Zoning Ordinance,” staff said. “The minimum lot area and lot width, front setback and side yard setback requirements do not reflect the existing historic development character of this neighborhood, nor do they reflect the building that was historically on this property for more than a century. The minimum lot area and lot width, and side yard setbacks result in this lot being unbuildable without variances.”

The staff report noted that no other residential lots on the block meet the minimum lot area either, with some of the lots being less than 1,9000 total square feet.

Ultimately, staff recommend approval of the new development.

Photo via Google Maps

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A 58-year-old Fairfax County man was arrested and charged with three counts of burglary and three counts of conspiracy to commit burglary against businesses in Alexandria.

The suspect was booked into the Alexandria jail on Feb. 26 and released on personal recognizance on March 1.

According to police, on Feb. 3, police responded to an alarm call just after midnight at the Exxon gas station at 501 South Washington Street. A windowpane to a service bay garage door and another interior glass door were shattered. Security footage captured two suspects forcing their way into the business and attempting to break into the cash register, although nothing was stolen.

That same morning at around 2:30 a.m., the cash register was stolen from the Bloomers undergarments store in Old Town, according to a search warrant. A window was smashed and the cash register was stolen. Security camera footage showed two suspects committing the crime, and their descriptions matched the suspects from the Exxon station incident.

Also on Feb. 3, the owner of Charlene’s Kitchen reported that there was a burglary at her business just before 2 a.m. The suspects were captured on video entering the business through an open window. A number of items were placed in a truck and the suspects drove away.

Police determined that the suspect is the owner of the truck, and found that he has a number of previous charges for burglary and had made multiple pawn transactions.

The other suspect was not arrested.

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Morning Notes

Private School, The Linder Academy, to Open in Old Town — “The Linder Academy, a private K-8 school, submitted a special use permit application to open a location at 601, 607 and 609 S. Washington St. and 710 Gibbon St. According to the application, the school will serve up to 105 students and 14-16 teachers and staff. There is a proposed outdoor play area in the courtyard between 601 and 607 S. Washington St.” [Alexandria Living]

Homegrown Restaurant Group vaccinates 300+ restaurant workers — “HGR volunteering today at the Alexandria Restaurant Vaccination Drive! 330 workers from 29 different restaurants will be vaccinated by the end of day. Many thanks to all the volunteers and to Alexandria Restaurant Partners for donating space to make this happen.” [Facebook]

City seeking artwork for Old Town North storm drain covers — “The City will commission up to three (3) artists to create up to two (2) original, site specific designs with a budget of $2,000 to design their artworks. The designs will be cast on approximately 24 stormwater covers throughout Old Town North, with a focus on Fairfax Street.  Artists will be required to visit the area and create a design that is representative and inspired by Old Town North.” [Zebra]

Alexandria Wedding Showcase giving away a $15K elopement package — More info on the prizes page at alexandriaweddingshowcase.com. The showcase starts April 17!” [Facebook]

Today’s weather — “Partly cloudy skies (during the day). High around 70F. Winds ESE at 10 to 15 mph… Cloudy with light rain developing after midnight. Low 52F. Winds SE at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 70%.” [Weather.com]

New job: Barca Pier offering $250 bonus for bussers, food runners and hosts — “Are you searching for a SEASONAL POSITION? We would love to have you on our team!! We are offering a $250-dollar WELCOME bonus along with the ability to make serious money, we have full and part time openings for HOSTS, SERVER ASSISTANTS and RUNNERS (PERFECT FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS!) to join a growing Restaurant Company. We would love to meet you this week!! Please come prepared to Interview with a resume A MASK is required for Entrance, we are hiring on the SPOT with Positions starting ASAP!” [Indeed]

Photo via Homegrown Restaurant Group/Facebook

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After a number of its Old Town properties were hit by bullets Tuesday night, the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority announced it is installing security cameras.

“We are installing cameras at our properties to send the signal that if you commit a crime at an ARHA site there’s a good chance a camera will capture it,” ARHA CEO Keith Pettigrew said in a statement. “During our regular virtual townhalls, residents raised their concerns. That’s when we decided to do two things, install more cameras and identify several residents at each property to join a committee to start sharing information with each other to improve their neighborhoods by getting more involved.”

Security cameras have now been installed in the areas of Samuel Madden, Hopkins-Tancel Courts and along Yale Drive. Pendleton Park and Chatham Square will soon follow. Additionally, ARHA said that security cameras were installed at Andrew Adkins and the Ladrey senior high-rise several years ago.

Alexandria Police Department has also agreed to install “resident police officers” in ARHA communities.

“The idea to expand camera coverage came out of a conversation with resident leaders,” Pettigrew said. “That led to a more formal resident safety committee, and they have been fantastic in working with us and Alexandria city leadership.”

There has been an uptick in shootings over the past year, and many occurred at or near ARHA properties, some of which are near the Braddock Road Metro Station. Last fall, Alexandria police asked for the public’s help in identifying suspects.

Lauren Dupina, president of the ARHA’s Princess Square neighborhood group in Old Town West, said that the work will bridge the gap between police and Black and brown communities.

“The cameras will definitely be another tool in helping keep crime down, as long as they work, and these are new camera systems so they should work,” Dupina said. “They will make residents feel safer and cause people with bad intentions to think twice.”

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Landmark Towers has a problem.

The West End residential property at 101 S Whiting Street, originally built in 1964, was more or less falling apart and a planned ten-year rehabilitation project was prohibitively expensive.

The City of Alexandria also has a problem: its bleeding market rate affordable housing faster than committed affordable units — units with rents capped below market price — can be made to keep up with demand.

The two bodies came to an agreement last year for a loan that — like the old Reese’s ad — took each party’s problems and turned them into each other’s solutions. Now, the city is looking to that West End partnership as one potential solution to help stave off impending gentrification of Arlandria when Amazon comes to town.

At a City Council meeting on Tuesday, city staff said the earlier Landmark Towers agreement could act as a template for partnerships in Arlandria, where there are similar market rate residential developments that could be in need of extensive overhauls. Today, city staff said the majority of market rate units in the area are affordable at 60-80 percent of area median income (AMI).

“[We’re] proactively engaging with willing property owners may also create future opportunities to potentially buy down rents,” said Alexandria Housing Planner Tamara Jovovic. “The recent investment in Landmark Towers out at the West End is an interesting example. City provided financing to property owner to address outstanding capital maintenance issues.”

According to the Alexandria Housing Affordability Advisory Committee (AHAAC), the loan would help pay for capital improvements in exchange for adherence to adhering to certain rent guidelines and other stipulations.

Provision of a $2.5 million capital improvement loan to Landmark Towers, LLC, a 154-unit mixed-use rental property in exchange for long term compliance with the City’s voluntary rent guidelines, provision of a right of first refusal in the event of a future sale, and a commitment to jointly explore potential redevelopment opportunities, if mutually beneficial, to add committed affordable and workforce units.

The AHAAC said in its report that market rate affordable units are part of a decreasing supply. The recommendation also said that the loan was the first of its kind: a housing opportunity loan to a privately-owned entity, but that doing so was consistent with the city’s housing and community development powers. It’s a shift that could blur the lines between committed affordable and market rate affordable units moving forward.

“The importance of this residential asset to Alexandria’s housing affordability ecosystem,” the report said, “the property’s many long term tenants, its locational and transit efficiency, as well as its capacity for potential additional development, combined with the owner’s desire to collaborate with the City on a mutually agreeable solution that maintains the property as market rate affordable and workforce housing, has induced the parties to come up with a package that offers short, medium and long term benefits.”

It’s a solution that was raised among others at the City Council meeting to discuss ongoing plans to try to preserve not only affordable housing in Arlandria, but the predominately Hispanic and immigrant communities that have called the area home for several decades.

Jovovic said other aspects of the plan will include making sure that Arlandria residents are the ones who benefit most from new affordable housing, with the city developing a system that would prioritize existing residents of the neighborhood when new units come online in the area. Jovovic said the city is also working on making the housing application process less intimidating, which can be dense and hard to decipher even to native English speakers.

City Council member Canek Aguirre said he was excited about the plan and credited the city’s partnerships with local community organizations in helping with outreach.

“I’m excited about this project and the level of outreach — even in the pandemic — and the Spanish-first approach to ensure the demographic areas are reached out to,” Aguirre said. “It’s a testament to the importance of our relationship to organizations like Casa Chirilagua and Tenants and Workers United.”

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