Alexandria, VA

Members of the Alexandria Board of Architectural Review didn’t mince words against the proposed development of the Heritage Old Town.

“Why are you asking for our opinion if what we get back isn’t actually changed?” BAR Chair Christine Roberts said at the September 2 meeting. “It’s just more lipstick on a pig.”

The plan to demolish four 1970s-era buildings on the southeast Old Town property were sent back to the developer in June to give the community more time for feedback. The plan for the property, which is situated in the Old Town Historic District, was then rejected earlier this month by the board after members said that changes made to the proposal were not improved upon.

New York-based architect Asland Capital Partners, was heavily criticized by board members for designing a complex that does not fall in line with the character of Old Town. The project, which borders along South Patrick and North Washington streets,  includes the addition of 777 apartments at structures up to seven stories tall, and includes 195 affordable housing units.

Board Member Lynn Neihardt said that the architect’s buildings don’t belong in Old Town, and that the city is getting poorly designed buildings “under the guise of providing affordable housing.” She also said that there is an underlying feeling that the property doesn’t need to fit within design guidelines because it’s not in an area populated by tourists.

“We need a feeling of smaller buildings in the front with maybe taller heights behind, which has been done over and over again, very successfully in D.C. and other parts of Old Town,” Neihardt said. “The buildings, to me, speak Ballston, Crystal City, but not Old Town. They’re nothing like Robinson Landing and the other excellent examples of buildings that fit into their context.”

BAR Member John Sprinkle objected to the mass, height, scale and general architecture of the proposal.

“I gotta tell you, you got to go back to the drawing board,” Sprinkle said. “It doesn’t fly in this city.”

The project will go to the Planning Commission and City Council in February 2021.

Images via City of Alexandria

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Morning Notes

Today’s the First Day of School for ACPS — “Let’s focus on getting connected this week! Make sure you have access to technology and have completed your back-to-school forms.” [ACPS]

West End Development Could Add Hundreds of Affordable Housing Units — “Wesley Housing is requesting a pre-development loan of $400,000 to start the development process on ParcView II, a new affordable rental project on Holmes Run Parkway in Alexandria’s West End.” [Alexandria Living]

Child Abuse Reports Go Down 40% — “Typically, Alexandria Child Protective Services receives more case reports in the spring than any other time of the year. However, this spring reports were down 40 percent from the average in recent years.” [Alexandria Living]

Gong Meditation Today in Del Ray — “Join us each Tuesday from 6-7pm, September 1 through October 20. Relax and support your body, mind and spirit through sound, yoga and meditation. Take a break from today’s hectic and stressful environment and see how you can benefit from sound therapy.” [Facebook]

Volunteers Needed for Food Distribution This Thursday — “Help serve meals and groceries this Thursday, September 10 at the Charles Houston Recreation Center. A project from the Washington Street UMC, ALIVE!, ARHA, and Charles Houston Recreation Center – this event generally serves more than 150 families!” [Facebook]

Alexandria Drive-In Shows ‘Back To The Future’ —  “Remembering you have one of the sold out spots for Back to the Future this Saturday …  ” [Facebook]

Today’s Weather — “During the day, mainly sunny. High 88F. Winds ESE at 5 to 10 mph. At night, partly to mostly cloudy. Low 69F. Winds E at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Keyholder at FatFace — “Our Alexandria store is looking for a passionate supervisor to lead the team and establish the brand in the local area.” [Indeed]

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Real estate investment company CIM Group recently purchased large apartment community Southern Towers, Costar first reported, but what’s unclear now is what that means for affordable housing in the city’s West End.

Southern Towers is a 2,261-unit apartment complex that is one of the city’s last large bastions of market-rate affordable and committed affordable units — units that are required to remain at a certain affordability. Helen McIlvaine, director of the city’s Office of Housing, said Southern Towers has 105 committed affordable units that were mostly established in the mid-2010s.

“They are ten-year units,” McIlvaine said. “Even at that time, property ownership had shifted to the next generation, and they didn’t feel in a position to make a longer term commitment… They’re pretty far into that life span. They have a number of start and end dates, but the last of them expires early 2028.”

Some of those were rented out in 2015 and 2016 and their committed affordable status could disappear in the next couple years.

McIlvaine said the city is maintaining discussions with the CIM Group, but that nothing has been set into stone yet for the property’s committed affordable units.

The city has had a working relationship with the company, which also owns the Mason at Van Dorn units near Landmark Mall.  McIlvaine said the CIM Group has been a cooperative partner in earlier discussions about establishing rent relief for local residents during the pandemic.

“We said our desire was to work with CIM group and continue to support Southern Towers residents that are experiencing income loss,” McIlvaine said.

Southern Towers was the site of protests during the pandemic with local residents pushing to cancel rent for residents who were among the thousands of locals laid off during the government shutdown.

McIlvaine said the discussion about rent relief is still ongoing. The City of Alexandria is offering rental assistance up to $1,800 for those who lost their income due to COVID-19. Those interested in rent relief can contact the city during business hours at 703-746-3100. Qualifying residents must live in Alexandria, have a documented loss of income, have been current on their rent through March, and fall within income eligibility guidelines. Read More

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Morning Notes

Alexandria Woman Finds Missing $100K Lottery Ticket — “Four months ago she purchased a ticket using some of her favorite numbers, 2-14-15-17-21, and matched all five winning numbers on March 1, but she only just discovered that fact when she cleaned out her purse recently.” [Zebra]

Beyer Says Economic Warning Signs Troublesome — “It’s been a month since Senate Republicans cruelly allowed Americans’ enhanced unemployment benefits to expire amid a pandemic and economic crisis. Don’t be fooled by the stock market: millions of families are experiencing deep hardship. Warning signs for the economy abound.” [Twitter]

Mayor Gets Sneak Peek at ‘The Spire’ Affordable Housing Complex — “Great opportunity to check out AHC Affordable Housing’s latest housing project in the City under construction and arriving early next year. ‘The Spire’ will be 113 units serving 40% – 60% of Area Median Income.” [Facebook]

Ascend Cycle Wins Northern Virginia Magazine Award — “Did you hear?? We won the Best of NOVA: Cycling Studio 2020  ​We are SO excited to win this honor for a 3rd year in a row!” [Facebook]

Firefighters Raising Funds With Virtual Boot — “Ordinarily at this time of year, the men and women of Alexandria Firefighters, Inc. IAFF Local 2141 would be out around our community working to ‘Fill the Boot’ in support of Muscular Dystrophy Association. Join me in helping them Fill the ‘Virtual’ Boot this year!” [Facebook]

Volunteer Alexandria and Senior Services of Alexandria Need Help — “To meet the increased need due to COVID-19, Senior Services of Alexandria urgently needs 10 more volunteers to help deliver meals to local seniors. Volunteers are asked to commit to delivering meals once a week for three months.” [Facebook]

Today’s Weather — During the day, “Mainly sunny. High 88F. Winds WNW at 5 to 10 mph.” At night, “Partly cloudy. Low 73F. Winds SW at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Virginia Quality Mental Health Specialist — “ACPS serves as a Local Coordinator for the City of Alexandria and is a part of the VQ Northern region. The VQ Mental Health Specialist will increase caregivers/teachers/directors use of strategies and practices to promote the social emotional development of infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children.” [TopSchoolJobs.com]

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The city is requesting a $1.73 million in funding from Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to finance a wide series of programs aimed at improving the city’s affordable housing.

A release from the City of Alexandria said the funding would go to improvements under the Rental Accessibility Modification Program (RAMP). RAMP provides accessibility modifications to rental units occupied by low and moderate income tenants at no cost to the tenant or landlord.

“These modifications may include the renovations of bathrooms and the installation of grab bars and comfort height toilets; altering or installing new sinks and vanities; replacing standard showers and baths with walk-in or roll-in showers and the installation of shower seats; altering shower heads and controls, and other necessary modifications to increase accessibility,” the city said. “Other renovations may include kitchen modifications such as lowering sinks, installing stoves with front mounted controls, replacing standard refrigerators with ADA compliant units, replacing drawer pull handles, and other necessary modifications to increase accessibility.”

Improvements could also include structural modifications, like widening doorframes for wheelchairs, lowering shelving, and more. Some improvements could take place outside the home, with ramps or low-rise steps and handrails.

The Alexandria Neighborhood Stabilization Program (ANSP), one of the other programs listed in the funding requests, purchases properties that are in foreclosure or short sale and then renovates them.

“The properties are then sold to qualifying first-time homebuyers,” the city said. “The interior renovations can range from the renovation and replacement of kitchens, bathrooms, and HVAC systems to carpet replacements, plumbing repairs, drywall replacement and painting.”

The last program listed, Home Loan Rehabilitation Program (HRLP), uses funds to rehabilitate condominiums, row houses, townhomes and single-family homes occupied by low and moderate income homeowners.

“The aims of the HLRP are to bring properties up to code, increase accessibility, increase livability and extend the life of the property,” the city said. “To do this, a wide variety of rehabilitation activities may be undertaken on almost any building system or component of the home.”

The city said the funding will be requested on or around Friday, August 31.

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An Arlington nonprofit has partnered with a D.C. food truck to provide free pizza to affordable housing communities in Alexandria this month.

This is the fifth local campaign for Hearts of Empowerment, which has partnered with Timber Pizza Company to provide free wood-fired pizzas from its food truck on August 22 at Charles Houston Recreation Center (901 Wythe Street) in Old Town at 1 p.m. on Saturday, August 22, and at the same time at the Parkview of Alexandria apartments in Arlandria on Saturday, August 29.

The events will continue on those days until supplies last.

Last Saturday, the group also served pizza to nearly 100 families at the Strawberry Square Apartments in the West End.

“All patrons will be required to wear a mask and remain six feet apart while ordering and receiving food,” notes a Hearts of Empowerment press release. “If neighborhood residents arrive without appropriate protective equipment, Hearts of Empowerment will provide them with one.”

Photo via Timber Pizza Company/Facebook

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Morning Notes

Beyer Warns of Trump Election Conspiracy in November — “Trump’s threat to defy the will of the American people by refusing to accept election results in November is particularly alarming given what is happening in Portland. Trump is not a king. All who swore an oath to defend the Consit(u)tion must reject this, regardless of party.” [Twitter]

November Election Less Than 100 Days Away — “Election day is just a little over 100 days away. For the first time in Virginia history, you can request a ballot in the mail with no excuse required!” [Twitter]

More Alexandria Playgrounds Reopen — “The City of Alexandria announced this evening that its playgrounds as well as those on Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) property have reopened to the public. They were shuttered in March as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.” [Zebra]

Seazante` Williams Oliver Named Principal at George Mason Elementary School — Oliver is a familiar face around George Mason. She has served at the school as assistant principal since 2012, and just last month, became interim principal. She assumes the duties of principal on July 20. [Zebra]

Library Hosting Virtual ‘Rocknoceros’ Concert at 11 a.m. Today — “Children will enjoy bopping along to Williebob and Boogie Bennie’s catchy tunes. All ages.” [Alexandria Library]

ARHA Board Meeting This Wednesday — “The meetings will immediately convene in Executive Session to discuss important matters.” [City of Alexandria]

New Job: Dog Walker/Pet Sitter — “We are currently hiring exceptional pet sitters and dog walkers to join our wonderful team. This position is fun and rewarding as you get to enjoy the outdoors, get exercise and be loved by amazing local dogs, cats and other companion animals!” [Indeed]

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Alexandria is providing the community with more funds to apply for emergency rent assistance.

On July 10, the city announced that it is prioritizing $450,000 from the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program for residents primarily living at or below 50% of the area median income up until July 20. After that time, households making 80% of AMI will be included.

“In addition, households with an unlawful detainer action dated before June 8 will be given top consideration,” notes a city release. “Tenants and homeowners are encouraged to know their rights and responsibilities and pay their rent and mortgages on time if they are able.”

According to the city, the new funds are “in addition to the $4 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funds being distributed through the Emergency Rent Relief Assistance Program and $671,500 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds for tenants of affordable housing, both administered by the City’s Office of Housing.”

The governor’s moratorium on rent evictions expired last month, and there have been protests to cancel rents and extend the moratorium throughout the city since the pandemic hit Alexandria. There is another protest scheduled today (Wednesday) at noon at the Alexandria courthouse organized by residents of Southern Towers and the Metro D.C. Democratic Socialists of America.

The city has acknowledged that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted communities of color, which will be prioritized with the rent relief.

Residents should take a self-assessment survey to see if they qualify, and then call 703-746-5700 to apply.

Posted by Metro D.C. Democratic Socialists of America on Saturday, July 11, 2020

Staff photo by James Cullum

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Morning Notes

Beyer Doubles Down on Trump Stance on School Reopenings — “Trump has again overruled the nation’s leading public health officials for political reasons, this time on guidance for reopening schools. He is intentionally endangering American children because he believes it will help him get reelected.” [Twitter]

Planning Commission to Evaluate Increasing School Density — The Planning Commission’s September 2 docket has been posted to the city’s website, and it includes a discussion to allow for an increase in density for public school sites. Since last fall, the city and administrators have been coordinating on a plan to co-locate affordable housing on school grounds. [City of Alexandria]

ACPS Reopening Survey Available Until July 12 — “Today, I am encouraging you to take part in what is surely one of the most important surveys ACPS has ever conducted. Your answers will guide us as we decide how and when to open school buildings, how and when virtual learning becomes necessary and preferable, and how we strike an acceptable balance between the two. As you know, there are no easy answers to the situation we find ourselves in and with the ever-changing landscape we must remain flexible to last-minute pivots. Please complete this survey by July 12 to allow us the time we need to properly prepare our path forward.” [ACPS]

ALIVE! Food Distributions on Saturday — “This Saturday, July 11, ALIVE! will be offering a “Truck-to-Trunk” distribution of food for residents who continue to be impacted financially by the COVID-19 pandemic. Shelf-stable groceries will be handed out at the John Adams Elementary School and Cora Kelly Elementary School parking lots, from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m., or until supplies run out.” [City of Alexandria]

Lyceum Reopening on Friday — “The Alexandria History Museum at the Lyceum will reopen to the public this Friday, July 10, at 11 a.m., with modified hours and new safety protocols. Exhibit galleries will be open Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. To promote physical distancing of at least 6 feet between parties of no more than 10 people per party, visitors will be required to obtain timed-entry tickets through the Historic Alexandria online store.” [City of Alexandria]

New Job: Temporary Unarmed Security Officer — “We specialize in commercial, private, and government security, offering both armed and unarmed contract services. Please take the time to read this advertisement carefully as this posting is for TEMPORARY Unarmed Security Officers in Alexandria, Virginia.” [Indeed]

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It was a busy week in Alexandria, and there is plenty to talk about.

The city is moving forward with phase three of reopening its economy on July 1, and the news comes as the death toll from the coronavirus moved up to 50 and the number of cases steadily rise.

It also looks like the upcoming Alexandria City Public School school year and city services will continue to be impacted until the virus is held at bay, and school and city staff are developing plans to stagger teleworking and in-person schedules for students and staff alike.

Restaurants are reopening like never before, which is to say that customers are cautiously welcomed as Health Department restrictions are slowly lifted and many establishments have expanded their outdoor seating.

Here are the top 11 most-read articles this week in Alexandria.

  1. Del Ray Pizza Restaurant Converts Parking Deck Into Tropical Oasis Themed Bar
  2. COVID-19 Cases Steadily Increase as Alexandria Releases Phase Three Reopening Guidelines
  3. Large Residential Development in Braddock Goes to Planning Commission Tomorrow
  4. Alexandria Now Has 50 COVID-19 Deaths, Cases Climbing by Double Digits Daily
  5. East Eisenhower Avenue Project Returns With A New Senior Living Component
  6. Students Likely to Rotate School Attendance When ACPS Reopens
  7. Alexandria Preps for Phase 3 Reopening on July 1
  8. Lights On: Two Nineteen Restaurant Reopening Today in Old Town
  9. Developers Take Another Crack at Converting North Old Town Office to Housing
  10. Housing Affordability and Cost of Living Get Low Rating in Community Livability Report
  11. Inova Alexandria Hospital Now Treating 20+ Coronavirus Patients

Feel free to discuss these or other topics in the comments. Have a safe weekend!

Staff photo by James Cullum

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The Alexandria Housing Development Corporation is opening the waitlist on affordable rental units at The Bloom apartments at 930 N. Henry Street.

There are 87 units open to the public, and all are reserved for households making the following percentage of area median income:

“All interested applicants must submit their pre-leasing waitlist application between 9:00 AM on July 13th and 11:59 PM on July 19th,” Bloom said on its website. “The waitlist will then be randomly sorted.”

An additional 10 units are reserved for Carpenter’s Shelter’s New Heights redevelopment. The apartment building will be available for tenants this October, according to Bloom.

Alexandria is currently experiencing an affordable housing crisis, and the city has pledged to produce or develop 2,000 affordable housing units by 2025. The city has also agreed to produce an additional 1,950 units by 2030 in order to meet its regional housing goal set by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, which aims for the region to produce 320,000 affordable housing units.

Our partners at the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation have a big announcement: they will be opening the…

Posted by Office of Housing, City of Alexandria, VA on Thursday, June 25, 2020

Image via City of Alexandria

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After some early concerns and criticisms, the Alexandria Redevelopment Housing Authority‘s resident community praised the organization’s leadership and swift action through the pandemic, and vice-versa.

Kevin Harris, the president of the Public Housing Resident Association in Alexandria, praised ARHA’s leadership and CEO Keith Pettigrew in particular. Harris and Jeremy McClayton, an associate organizer with Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement, said it was a stark contrast to earlier experiences with ARHA.

“In ARHA is used to be that [residents] had to organize to make sure people weren’t living in black mold,” McClayton said. “It’s been a big turnaround.”

Harris said those residents organizing under the old ARHA also timed perfectly with new leadership coming into the association.

“It was a perfect storm,” Harris said. “As we were organizing, there was a changeover in ARHA and Keith really started out on the right foot… The pandemic wasn’t good, but as much as you’re able to help people: they did.”

So far, ARHA has no confirmed deaths from COVID-19. Pettigrew said he remains cautious about the path forward and a potential second wave, but said it was an overabundance of caution that left ARHA in a better place than some regional partners with the pandemic started.

“In terms of PPE, when [coronavirus] first hit in March and I told the staff we needed to get PPE like masks, even hazmat suits,” Pettigrew said. “At first, people were like ‘masks and suits?’ Then a month later were calling like ‘do you have any extras?'”

Pettigrew credits some of his caution to the five years he spent working in housing in New Orleans, which he said helped prepare him for the kind of mobilization and flexibility the pandemic required. Hurricanes, Pettigrew said, were also a situation where housing organizations needed to mobilize and rapidly improvise to deal with changing situations.

Harris said one of the most helpful areas ARHA implemented rapidly was pushing back rent due dates and recertification — which meant that anyone who lost their income could file a notice to ARHA and they would not be charging rent. ARHA not only offered rapid and accessible online recertification, but Harris credited the organization with working to make sure residents throughout the various communities understood what was needed and could be guided through the process.

“It was a matter of getting the information,” Harrs said. “They had staff members knocking door to door. They were helpful in making sure that residents got outside services as well.” Read More

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