City Manager Mark Jinks has proposed a budget this year that includes a real estate tax rate decrease of 2 cents.
The announcement came as welcome news to local property owners, from residents to business owners who faced a particularly difficult year as a result of COVID-19. The announcement was conjoined with a budget that belt tightening that trims down some of the city’s larger ambitions and won’t fill some currently vacant positions.
The budget also faced some detractors who argue that the city should take more steps to ease the burden on local residents and commercial property owners. In a recent Agenda Alexandria meeting, City Council candidate Bill Rossello said the narrative of a lightened burden on local residents doesn’t match the reality of an overall tax increase.
“I look at the budget the way it’s been presented and something that always seems to concern me is when we lead with a narrative around the tax rate,” Rossello said. “The tax rate is only one part of the equation for the actual taxes that people pay… While we’re looking at a proposed 2 cent tax rate decrease, when you do the math, for the average household it comes out to be almost a 6% tax increase in real dollars and that’s what really matters to residents: how much more or how much less am I going to pay?”
On the other side, some of the city’s transit and infrastructure ambitions are being scaled back as a result of the tax rate decrease. For instance, City Manager Mark Jinks said in the meeting that DASH will be forced to choose between density and coverage in a budget that will not allow it to keep all current lines operational and move forward with its planned higher-frequency service in areas of greater density.
operating dollars for DASH. Now if you increased DASH funding you could keep the existing route AND add more service to the higher demand routes. If you want more thoughts on the budget, DM me.
— YimbyAlexandria (@YimbyA) February 20, 2021
Last week the Alexandria City Council voted unanimously to uphold a decision by the Planning Commission to allow a church on W. Braddock Road to expand.
The Alexandria Presbyterian Church’s expansion has faced increasingly pitched opposition from around two dozen neighboring households who worried about increased traffic and the size of the building (~23,000 square feet).
The biggest problem for opponents: the expansion plan was “by-right” under city zoning, meaning the councilmembers, even if inclined to agree with the opponents, had little legal standing to vote against the project.
The exact legal details aside, do you think neighbor complaints like those in this case should be addressed regardless of what zoning allows on a given site?
ALXnow reported last week that city officials were mulling over the idea of making a planned pedestrian-only zone on King Street permanent.
Starting April 18, a block of King Street near the Old Town waterfront — between Lee and Union streets — will be cordoned off from vehicular traffic. In place of cars, pedestrians will be able to walk down the middle of the newly-painted road as diners at the restaurants lining the block enjoy a more relaxing meal on sidewalk cafes.
The city’s Transportation Commission was so enthusiastic about the plan at a recent meeting that there was speculation that the seasonal closure could be made year-round.
What do you think about that idea?
Three months after a portion of Seminary Road was re-paved and re-striped to reduce it from two vehicular lanes in each direction to one lane, a turn lane and bike lanes, the debate over the “road diet” still rages on.
On the now-private Alexandria Residents Against the Seminary Road Diet Facebook group, numerous posts per day bemoan the state of rush hour traffic along Seminary Road, report on cut-through traffic on nearby roads, and rip Mayor Justin Wilson for his support of the project. (Wilson, a member of the group, often politely replies to the invective.)
No one is denying that the road diet is causing some level of increased traffic during certain times. Earlier this month Wilson wrote in his Council Connection newsletter that there were still increased delays for drivers on Seminary Road, but they were largely confined to narrow peak rush hour periods and were improving over time:
During the evening rush, the peak travel period has been 5:15 PM to 5:30 PM. Prior to the change, the average travel time from the intersection of Quaker Lane and Seminary Road to Jordan Street and Seminary Road was 3.5 minutes. In November, after the changes were implemented, we saw a 40% increase in this travel time, with an average of 4.9 minutes. In December (excluding holidays and days when school is not in session), the average travel time was down to 3.9 minutes, an increase of 24 seconds from before the changes.
During the morning rush, the peak travel period has been 8:15 AM to 8:30 AM. Prior to the change, the average travel time from the intersection of Quaker Lane and Seminary Road to Jordan Street and Seminary Road was 3.6 minutes. In November, after the changes were implemented, we saw a 98% increase in this travel time, with an average of 7.1 minutes. In December (excluding holidays and days when school is not in session), the average travel time was down to 4.7 minutes, an increase of a bit over a minute from before the changes.
This morning, a review of traffic conditions via Google Maps showed mostly clear sailing as of 8:45 a.m. The city’s traffic monitoring service similarly showed a 25 mph average speed on Seminary and Janneys Lane, between N. Beauregard Street and King Street, from 8-9 a.m. this morning.
Google Maps reports higher levels of “typical traffic” and delays around 8 a.m. on most weekdays.
Ultimately, the Seminary Road question is one of priorities. Should the city’s priority be to reduce rush hour delays for drivers? (And, potentially, emergency vehicles — though no issues have been reported so far.)
Or should the city stick to its guns and sacrifice some commute times in the name of pedestrian safety and encouraging other forms of transportation, like bikes and scooters?
Let us know what you think in the poll and the comments.
Map via Google Maps
People in Alexandria have been setting their goals for the new year, so why shouldn’t they have goals for their city?
There are dozens of issues affecting Alexandrians. These issues are not mutually exclusive, but if you had to pick one priority for the powers that be in Alexandria to focus on, what would it be? What upcoming local topics are you most interested in?
Maintain Real Estate Tax Rate
In May 2019, the City of Alexandria voted to pass the Fiscal Year 2020 budget without any tax rate hike for the second year in a row. The maximum real estate tax rate was set at $1.135 per $100 of assessed value, though property tax revenue increased as property values rose, according to the Alexandria Times. Should the city’s top priority be keeping that real estate tax rate steady?
Support Small Businesses
New businesses face numerous hurdles, but the City of Alexandria is hoping that bureaucratic paperwork won’t be one of them. The city is getting ready to consider a series of changes to the approval process for things like restaurants, daycare centers and other facilities. It isn’t the first time the city has streamlined the business approval process, having passed other measures in 2016. Do you think the new streamlining will help local small businesses?
Update Neighborhood Plans
The City of Alexandria is currently deep into a process to update the Eisenhower East Small Area Plan and is starting an update to the Arlandria and Del Ray plans. Plans for Eisenhower include efforts to ease zoning restrictions to allow more retail and restaurant uses closer to the Metro station. Are you hopeful to see how the new neighborhood plans will guide future development?
Reduce Congestion and Add Parking
For a few years, the City Council has been working to reduce parking in Alexandria with parking maximums applied to new developments. Over the last year, Planning Commission members and City Council members have also expressed an interest in seeing requirements in Alexandria change to make greater use of existing parking spaces. Likewise, while traffic safety measures like the road diet on Seminary Road have been implemented over the last year, the changes have been met with some pushback from local residents and some on the City Council. Whether the road diets have slowed traffic along Seminary Road or not is still being debated by the public and studied by staff. Do you think the city should reverse course and stop reducing travel lanes while pushing for more, not less, parking?
Add More Bicycle/Pedestrian Facilities
The Seminary Road “diet” is part of a wider effort in Alexandria called Complete Streets, which aims to make city streets more accessible to bicycle and pedestrian traffic by adding new sidewalks, bike lanes, bus lanes and more. Streets like King Street and Prince Street have also been slimmed down to add bike lanes in recent years. Are you hopeful to see more Complete Streets projects move forward in 2019?
Advance Plans to Reduce School Overcrowding
Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) may have settled on one combined high school to combat overcrowding at T.C. Williams High School, but there are still a lot of questions over what shape that will take. This year, ACPS is scheduled to work through the design phase of the project and figure out how a “campus-style” high school that makes more use of new facilities at Minnie Howard (2801 W. Braddock Road) works. ACPS has also kicked off its plans to modernize Douglas MacArthur Elementary School, which is scheduled to start construction in September. Do you think the top priority in the city should be doing more to combat school overcrowding?
Add More Affordable Housing
Alexandria is working to add more affordable housing in the city, with projects like the redevelopment of Ramsey Homes and The Bloom scheduled to be completed later this year. In December, the City Council approved an $8 million loan to buy an apartment complex in the West End and maintain it as affordable housing. As the city’s market-affordable housing continues to decline, do you think the city needs to do more this year to meet the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ goal of 320,000 affordable housing units by 2030?
Prepare for Amazon Arrival
Alexandria’s City Council has been meeting with the Arlington County Board to fend off some of the ill-effects likely to come to the area with the arrival of Amazon’s massive HQ2 — namely increased home prices pushing out lower-income residents from surrounding neighborhoods, like Arlandria. Do you think the city’s top priority should be getting a plan together to handle the impact of the new Amazon headquarters?
Add New Public Amenities
The last year saw several new public amenities open in Alexandria, like Waterfront Park and the completion of a trail along Four Mile Run. Are you hopeful to see what new parks and public amenities will be coming to Alexandria in 2020?
Support Local Journalism
There have been some changes in the local journalism scene, like the arrival of a cool new local news source serving Alexandria, which just expanded its news team. At the same time, some existing local news publications are facing challenges, much like peers elsewhere in the country. Should city residents and officials work in 2020 to make sure that Alexandria’s local news scene remains vibrant and that local publications are supported?
Think something else should be the city’s top New Year’s resolution? Let us know in the comments.
Staff photo by Jay Westcott
Glass will still be recycled and reused, but only if you drop it off at a designated collection bin. Otherwise, starting Jan. 15 glass will go into the trash and wind up where it had been going anyhow, since China closed its doors to the world’s refuse and the market for glass recycling evaporated: a landfill.
On Twitter, Mayor Justin Wilson pushed back on the suggestion that there is much the city could do to keep recycling curbside-collected glass, given the realities of the recycling market in the U.S., but left open the possibility of restoring curbside glass recycling in the future.
Part of the problem with collecting glass in curbside bins with other recyclables is that sorting it is difficult, compounded by the fact that glass shatters, contaminating the other recyclable materials. That raises the costs of recycling overall. Plus, recycling glass into new bottles and glass products is one of the least efficient and environmentally-positive forms of recycling, limiting the upside.
There are, however, options for reusing and recycling glass. Glass bottles could be collected, washed and reused, though that also has tradeoffs. Glass can be crushed and turned into construction material — as the city is doing with the drop-off bins. And glass that’s collected by itself in glass-only curbside bins is more viable for recycling — though that comes with increased collection costs and is less convenient for residents.
Do you agree or disagree with the city’s glass recycling decision and, if given the option, would you pay more to have glass recycled in the future?
ALXnow has been reporting on Alexandria for just over two months, but it’s never too early to think about ways we could better serve our readers.
While we can see in our analytics how many people read any given story, it is hard to discern patterns with only a couple of months of data. So today we are asking you: what types of stories would you like to read more of on the site?
ALXnow has been publishing for just over a month now, but there’s something missing from our site — you.
Whether you have an opinion on something happening at City Hall or on your street, we want to hear it. You can send Letters to the Editor for consideration to [email protected]. Please keep the length to under 500 words and be sure to include your name and where in Alexandria you live.
Want to offer a quick comment about one of our stories? You can do that by registering for Disqus and posting the comment at the bottom of the article. It’s a chance to engage in a thoughtful discussion about local issues with your Alexandria neighborhoods, outside of the Nextdoor or Facebook din.
We’re looking forward to hearing from you!