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Santa Claus will ride into Old Town on the King Street Trolley this Saturday night (Nov. 19) for the annual holiday tree lighting ceremony in front of City Hall.

The party starts at 6 p.m. at Market Square (301 King Street), where Santa and Mayor Justin Wilson will do their part to reduce seasonal darkness by lighting the 40,000 lights on the city’s 40-foot-tall holiday tree.

Town Crier Ben Fiore-Walker will cap off the event, which will include a program of holiday carols.

Admission is free, and the event will occur rain or shine.

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Organizers outside Southern Towers lead residents in a protest against CIM Group (staff photo by Vernon Miles)

At a rally outside Southern Towers (4901 Seminary Road), residents and community activists shared stories of rent increases and poor living conditions, shouting slogans against property owner CIM Group.

CIM Group purchased the buildings in 2020. Relations between tenants and owners were already fraught after the pandemic left many residents in Southern Towers — one of the last bastions of market-rate affordable housing in Alexandria — without work. Since then, community activists have raced to try and support residents facing eviction after pandemic-related protections expired.

A dozen residents of Southern Towers were in attendance, along with several community organizers from the organization African Communities Together (ACT). Bert Bayou, chapter director for ACT’s DC office, said ACT has been working to support local residents who feel they’re being pushed out by continual rent increases at the property.

“We are here supporting the tenants,” said Bayou. “For a few months we’ve been trying to engage with CIM about conditions in the building and rent increases.”

Rent

Bayou said CIM Group has told residents that rent went up 3-4%. Bayou said ACT surveyed residents and found some 9% increases, though CIM group cited figures on real estate website CoStar that show lower average rent renewals.

“CIM says they want to keep the building as workforce housing, but everything they do is making it unaffordable,” Bayou said. “All we see is CIM trying to get rid of African immigrants.”

Added into the mix is that utilities are no longer included with rent, meaning residents face additional costs on top of increasing rent.

Sosseh Prom, state policy manager for African Communities Together, rent shouldn’t increase any more than 2% annually.

“If you, a multi-billion dollar company, are having these issues: how do you think blue-collar workers feel?” Prom said.

Sami Bourma, a resident at Southern Towers, said beyond just issues with having utilities separated from rent, there are no clear answers on where the figures on the bills are coming from given that there aren’t individual meters in the units.

“We see a $200 electric bill for a one-bedroom unit or $600 for a three-bedroom, but it doesn’t make any sense,” Bourma said. “CIM says ‘oh, that’s what the market is.'”

CIM Group was not available for interviews, but said in a document sent to ALXnow that because Southern Towers aren’t affiliated with any social service support network, the property owners are keeping rent increases in line with the financial obligations of building ownership:

The vast majority, 91.5 percent, of Southern Towers residents are current in meeting their rent obligations. Our empathy for residents must be balanced by our fiduciary responsibility. We empathize with those residents that face personal struggles. However, Southern Towers is a standard workforce housing community and is not affiliated with any social service support networks. As property owners we must meet our financial obligations and fiduciary responsibilities in order to keep the lights on and the doors open, providing homes for thousands of residents at Southern Towers.

The real estate company said rents are 20% below average rental rates in Alexandria and rent increases have been below the average rate as well, noting that the average rates cited on real estate website CoStar showed a 2.7% increase for residents renewing their leases and a 5.1% increase for new leases.

Currently, rents at Southern Towers are approximately 20 percent below the average rental rates for all apartment properties in the Alexandria area according to CoStar. This equates to, on average, approximately $600 a month.

Overall, rents in the Alexandria market increased 12.8 percent in the past year. Rental rates for new leases at Southern Towers increased 5.1 percent over the same period, while existing residents executing renewals saw increases of 2.7 percent during this time, according to CoStar.

Effective October 1, 2022, Southern Towers will hold rent increases to $200 per month for residents in good standing who execute a lease renewal through the end of 2022. There were instances where residents agreed to renewal terms before the commitment to a $200 cap was implemented. There is no obligation to renew, residents may select from the many residential options in the area.

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Alexandria could be on the verge of some of its biggest steps yet in the fight to make housing affordable in a city where housing prices continue to outpace wages.

At a meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 22, the City Council could jump-start a process set to run through next year that could dramatically reshape pieces of the city’s zoning code in an effort to make land use more equitable and inclusive. The “Comprehensive Zoning for Housing and Housing for All Package” involves a full sweep of large swaths of city zoning to look for ways to rewrite them from the ground up with a new emphasis on affordable housing and equity.

“The purpose of the Zoning for Housing Program is to examine potential new regulatory initiatives designed to help the City in its effort to expand housing production and affordability,” a staff memo said, “in addition, it is also intended to examine and address existing zoning provisions which may be regulatory barriers to housing options, affordability and fair housing or which, through remnants of terminology stemming from past discriminatory policy, may add to impediments to fair housing.”

The city has been tackling zoning issues piecemeal for years to make them more affordable, from the codification of more affordable zoning uses to trades of density for affordable housing units. The new package, however, is one of the ambitious “big picture” zoning plans from the city.

A memo to the City Council from Karl Moritz, director of the Department of Planning and Zoning, said the goals the zoning overhaul are:

  1. removing from City policies and regulations those provisions that were intended to support exclusion and segregation, and intended to deny opportunities for property ownership and wealth creation to persons of color,
  2. create new, more equitable land use policies that improve demographic and economic indicators that show that there are lasting vestiges of exclusionary practices even today, and
  3. materially increase the supply of committed affordable and market rate housing in the City.

In Alexandria, around 20% of households are paying over 30% of their income in housing, and around 10% are spending more than 50% on housing.

“Alexandria’s 2022 population is approximately 163,400 with approximately 71,500 households,” a report on the new package said. “City and federal U.S. Census data documents 15,000 Alexandria households are paying more than the federal standard of 30 percent of income on housing. Additionally, nearly half of those households with incomes up to $50,000 are paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing.”

Along with equity, the new comprehensive package of zoning reforms aims to find ways to boost both committed and market-rate affordable housing in the city.

A staff report identified goals as “to identify the impact of past discriminatory housing practices on quality-of-life factors today for populations of color and/or low income.” The overhaul will also look at the residual effects of past exclusionary zoning and look for ways to counter them with new policy goals and metrics.

An extensive list of zoning sections, from industrial zones to single-family housing, will come under review

The ambitious overhaul is currently in the pre-planning process, with a public launch scheduled for early next year leading into community engagement and analysis review over the spring and summer before heading into public hearings next fall.

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Alexandria Police are investigating two early evening robberies in residential areas near Holmes Run last Thursday (Nov. 10) and Saturday (Nov. 12).

On Thursday at around 5 p.m., a 24-year-old man told police that he was hit by a male suspect and robbed of cash in the 5300 block of Holmes Run Parkway. The victim told police that he was taking a walk when he was attacked. He did not go to the hospital.

Two days later, on Saturday, at around 6 p.m., a 26-year-old man was robbed by two men in the 5300 block of Taney Avenue — less than a mile away.

The victim was walking home when he was hit with an unknown object by a male suspect, and robbed of cash and personal objects. He also did not go to the hospital.

Police said that the incidents are not related. No other information on the suspects was provided by police, and the incidents are under investigation.

Anyone with information on either of these incidents can contact the Alexandria Police Department’s non-emergency number at 703-746-4444. Callers can remain anonymous.

Via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Duke Street Changes: Survey Results Mixed — “Several important groups were underrepresented in feedback on proposed changes to Duke Street.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]

Family of Bijan Ghaisar Marks Five Years Since Fatal Shooting with Vigil — “Ghaisar died in a hospital on Nov. 27, 2017 — 10 days after two Park Police officers shot him nine times, concluding an extended chase from George Washington Parkway to the Fort Hunt Road and Alexandria Avenue intersection.” [FFXnow]

Jewish Community Of Northern Virginia Takes Spotlight In New Book — “After finding not much had been published about the Jewish community in Northern Virginia, one couple turned that history into a book.” [Patch]

It’s Friday — Clear throughout the day. High of 48 and low of 30. Sunrise at 6:56 am and sunset at 4:54 pm. [Weather.gov]

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(Updated 4:20 p.m.) Del Ray will soon have its own underground record shop, as Crooked Beat Records expects to reopen in a basement on Mount Vernon Avenue in February.

Owner Bill Daly has been looking for a new location for his new and used record store for more than a year, and found it in the basement of the same building that houses Cheesetique at 2411 Mount Vernon Avenue. The building is also home to to the Del Ray School Of Music and Piece Out Del Ray.

“It’s a perfect location,” Daly told ALXnow. “To afford something, this was our only option. It’s getting too expensive to operate on the street level. Everywhere we looked the rents were triple what we’re paying now.”

Residential redevelopment is forcing the record shop to close by net summer, but Daly hopes to have the final touches on the lease and the interior renovation finalized by early 2023.

“It’s about 400 square feet bigger, and I think it’s going to be better,” Daly said.

Daly said that the new shop will be fully up and running for Record Store Day on April 15.

“That means that we’ve got to have the store set up by late February to early March,” he said.

Daly founded the store in 1997 in Raleigh, North Carolina, and moved it to Adams Morgan in Washington, D.C. in 2004. He moved the store to Alexandria in 2016.

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A local nonprofit will leave a locked white “ghost scooter” at the corner of Sanger Avenue and North Beauregard Street this Sunday in memory of a 16-year-old killed at the intersection in August.

Miguel Ángel Rivera was riding an electric scooter when he was struck on August 27. He died four days later.

On Sunday (Nov. 20), the Alexandria chapter of Northern Virginia Families For Safe Streets will plant the white scooter and release its transportation improvement recommendations for the city and neighboring jurisdictions.

“The recommendations encourage drivers to slow down and go the posted speed limit,” said Mike Doyle, a founding member of the Northern Virginia Families For Safe Streets. “Doing simple things can save lives. There’s engineering changes, like traffic light changes, to slow drivers down.”

Doyle said that an electric scooter company deactivated the ghost scooter, and allowed for it to be used for this purpose providing that the company brand be removed. The scooter will be locked near the intersection and will stay up for an undetermined period of time.

Mayor Justin Wilson and representatives from the Alexandria Police Department and Alexandria City Public Schools will speak at the event, which will be held in the William Ramsay Elementary School (5700 Sanger Avenue) at 11:30 a.m. The event is part of series recognizing the annual World Day Of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. NoVAFSS will also conduct similar events in Arlington and Fairfax Counties.

Doyle came up with the idea for the nonprofit after recovering from being hit by a car in Old Town in 2016. He was walking home from work and a turning driver didn’t see him crossing.

“He turned left sharply and crashed into me, and he hit me with such force that my forehead put a dent in the hood of his car, which caused a fracture in my forehead and all sorts of issues,” Doyle said. “We have members of our group who are permanently crippled, but what gets me emotional is when I think about how it impacted my wife and the rest of my family and friends.”

In September, Old Town was deemed the most dangerous area for pedestrians in Virginia. There were 68 crashes and 75 injuries, throughout Old Town between 2015 and mid-2022, according to a a study.

There were also two pedestrian crashes last month in the West End.

“Speed kills and speed maims,” Doyle said. “So, if drivers slow down at a turn, there’s a greater chance that they can avoid crashing into somebody.”

Alexandria has a Vision Zero Action Plan to eliminate pedestrian fatalities by 2028. Part of the action plan went into effect last month with numerous speed limit reductions in the West End.

Those reductions include:

  • North Beauregard Street (Entire Length) — Reducing the posted speed limit from 35 to 25 miles per hour (MPH), and the school zone speed limits from 25 to 15 MPH
  • West Braddock Road (North Beauregard Street to Quaker Lane) — Reducing the posted speed limit from 35 to 25 MPH, and the school zone speed limits from 25 to 15 MPH
  • North Howard Street (Lynn House Driveway to Braddock Road) — Reducing the school zone speed limit on North Howard Street from 25 to 15 MPH
  • Seminary Road (Kenmore Avenue to North Pickett Street) — Reducing the school zone speed limit from 25 to 15 MPH
  • King Street (Radford Street to Quincy Street) — Installing a new 15 MPH school zone speed limit

The City also recently approved the installation of speed cameras at five school zones. The cameras were approved after a child was struck and seriously injured at an intersection just outside of Jefferson Houston Elementary School (200 block of North West Street).

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Adam has puppy dog eyes that are out of sight.

The five-year-old Lab mix is up for adoption with the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria.

“At 65 pounds, Adam may seem large, but he promises that he’s the perfect size lapdog,” said AWLA spokesperson Gina Hardter. “Adam is the prize winner for Best Puppy Dog Eyes here at the AWLA, with his big brown pools that win over all his visitors.”

Schedule time to meet Adam by emailing [email protected] or calling 703-746-4774 (opt. 2).

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Dylan Condominiums in Potomac Yard (Rendering via Dylan Condominiums/Facebook)

The City of Alexandria will select nine locals via lottery for a chance to buy one of the handful of affordable condos built near the new Potomac Yard Metro station.

The units are committed affordable units — part of a trade for extra density from new development — in the Dylan Condominiums development at 701 and 737 Swann Avenue.

The new development is just a few blocks from the new Metro station, scheduled to open sometime next year after being derailed by delays.

“Dylan is a new residential condominium development in Potomac Yard proximate to the new Potomac Yard Metro Station and Metroway bus rapid transit, retail, parks, and other neighborhood amenities,” the city said in a release. “In total, nine condominium units will be available to income-eligible, first-time homebuyers at this new community, which is located at 701 and 737 Swann Avenue, Alexandria, Virginia.”

To qualify, buyers must live or work in Alexandria. In a telling indicator of local home prices, the city’s website said the qualifying income is “a gross annual household income up to 100% of the area median income.” In Alexandria, that’s $99,700 for one person.

According to the city’s website, the sale pries and monthly condo fees for the affordable units are:

  • One bedroom and one bath at $175,000, with a monthly condo fee of $406
  • Two bedroom and one bath at $225,000, with a monthly condo fee of $510
  • Two bedroom and two baths at $225,000, with a monthly condo fee of $630
  • Two bedroom plus den and two baths at $275,000, with a monthly condo fee of $630

“The City will accept applications for the units starting November 15 through December 15, 2022 at 11:59 p.m.,” the release said.

Image via Dylan Condominiums/Facebook

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Redella “Del” Pepper finished a historic 36-year term on Alexandria’s City Council earlier this year, but the former City Council member is back and will be at helm of this year’s Alexandria Scottish Christmas Walk Parade.

The parade is set to make its return the first weekend in December.

“Campagna Center and Visit Alexandria announce the selection of Redella “Del” Pepper as the Grand Marshal for the 51st Annual Alexandria Scottish Christmas Walk Parade taking place on Saturday, December 3, 2022,” the Campagna Center, organizers of the parade, said in a release. “Pepper’s selection as Grand Marshal recognizes her status as the longest-serving member of Alexandria City Council with more than 36 years of service to the community.”

Pepper was elected to the Council in 1985 and officially finished her term on Jan. 1 this year. Pepper served as Vice Mayor three times during her time on the Council.

The Campagna Center said Pepper will be at the head of the procession she walked and rode in many times over the years.

“As Grand Marshal, Pepper will kick off the parade festivities and lead the delegations from the step-off point at the corner of S. St. Asaph and Wolfe Street, progressing through Old Town Alexandria and concluding in front of Market Square on King Street,” the Campagna Center said. “More than 100 community groups will join the celebrations.”

The release also noted that this year also marks the state of a new partnership between the Campagna Center and Visit Alexandria.

“Visit Alexandria is assuming logistical responsibilities for the event,” the release said. “Preserving the biggest holiday weekend experience ensures the continuation of a key economic driver for the city’s small business and hospitality communities and preserves a historic signature event that is a source of civic pride.”

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