Newsletter
Apartment kitchen, via Naomi Hébert/Unsplash

At an upcoming meeting on Thursday, Sept. 9, the Planning Commission is docketed to look at over a new policy that would open up more “co-living” across the city.

Co-living, as defined by the city, is a residential use which allows housing where private bedrooms can be connected to shared spaces, like kitchens, bathrooms and living rooms. Suites can have private bathrooms, but no private cooking facilities are allowed in individual suites or bedrooms under this use.

For anyone thinking “that just sounds like having roommates” — one of the notable differences is co-living spaces typically have individual leases for the tenants rather than a master lease for all residents.

Currently, co-living arrangements are required to go through the city’s special use permit process. The new city policy would:

Allow up to two co-living units in ALL multifamily, high/medium density residential, mixed-use, commercial, and office zones with an administrative Special Use Permit. More than two co-living units or proposals in townhouse zones require a full-hearing Special Use Permit (review by Planning Commission & City Council).

New co-living units are headed to neighboring D.C. and have been a popular option in other cities. A city presentation noted that co-living is not allowed by-right in Arlington County but can be approved in some multi-family development with a full special use permit hearing. Co-living is allowed in Montgomery County with some restrictions.

The city said in a fact-sheet on the new co-living policy that the goals of the policy are to preserve or even enhance the supply of market affordable units — residences considered affordable without being part of the city’s committed affordable housing development. The city’s market affordable housing supply has been in dramatic decline for years.

According to the city, the hope is co-living policy can help:

  • Provide additional flexibility for the creation of market rate affordable units
  • Streamline the approval process for these living arrangements to provide the market with more predictability
  • Expand housing choices by allowing this use where appropriate

The policy is not planned to impact single-family or two-family residential zoning. Currently, four unrelated persons are allowed to live together as a “family”.

Via Naomi Hébert/Unsplash

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Last week Mayor Justin Wilson shared information on building inspection requirements following the disaster in Florida, but now the city is also pushing for state-level reform on building inspections.

The city’s scope of implementing  building code inspection requirements is bound by the Dillon Rule, which states that localities can only exercise powers expressly granted by the state. On July 8, Wilson sent a letter to Governor Ralph Northam urging him to start the legislative process toward overhauling the state’s barebones inspection requirements.

“In the hours and days after the tragic collapse of the Champlain Towers high-rise condominium in Surfside, Florida, I received numerous questions from residents in Alexandria about building safety in our community,” Wilson said. “As both a historic community and a growing community, the issue of building safety related to older buildings as well as new construction is one of particular interest.”

Wilson noted that there are 57 high-rise buildings in Alexandria that are at least 40 years old, and 51 high-rise buildings without sprinklers — the most of any locality in Virginia. Wilson also noted that a 2007 survey by the Virginia Housing Commission found that Alexandria had the most older high-rise residential buildings in Virginia.

“The City issued a press release communicating information about the Commonwealth’s Uniform Statewide Building Code, inspection requirements for new construction, required periodic inspection of certain systems, and the process for identifying and correcting unsafe buildings and structures,” Wilson said. “We did note, however, that there is currently no requirement in Virginia to proactively or regularly inspect building structure and that a building that has received a certificate of occupancy is only inspected again if there is a change in occupancy or alterations to the building that require inspection.”

Senator Scott Surovell noted on Twitter that Virginia condos are independently inspected every 5 years and repairs are recommended, but those are often ignored by Boards who are given immunity from liability.

Wilson noted that those studies are overseen and implemented by volunteers, not municipal building code officials, and the scope of studies outsourced to third parties is defined by those same Boards.

In the letter to Governor Northam, Wilson suggested slipping language into the American Rescue Plan Act funding to create a workgroup to look at potential changes to the building inspection requirements.

“I am asking that you consider including budget language establishing a work group of stakeholders on the issue of building safety in the Commonwealth in the appropriation bill for the Commonwealth’s tranche of ARPA funds that will be considered at the upcoming Special Session of the General Assembly,” Wilson said. “This workgroup would bring together stakeholders — including localities, building code officials, tenant groups, the development community, staff from the Department of Housing and Community Development and others to review building safety in the Commonwealth and identify legislative and budget proposals for the 2022 session.”

Potential changes Wilson suggested included:

  • New reporting requirements and transparency regarding current structural findings by homeowners and condominium associations
  • New authority for local building code officials to require inspections of buildings and structure in their community
  • A building inspection/recertification process
  • Emergency requirements that existing older buildings have structural assessments done within the next year.

“The tragic collapse of the condo building in Florida is highly unusual,” Wilson said. “There are millions of commercial and residential high-rise buildings in the United States and catastrophic structural failures like the recent disaster are, thankfully, quite rare. However, this is an opportunity for us to consider and revisit the issue of building safety in our communities and identify ways to review and potentially enhance building safety across the Commonwealth.

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In the wake of the condominium collapse in Surfside, Florida, Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson says that Virginia needs to update its building safety regulations.

While calling the June 24 collapse of the 40-year-old building a rarity, Wilson tweeted that it has raised safety concerns since Alexandria has “most of the older high-rise residential buildings in Virginia.”

“There are millions of commercial and residential high-rise buildings in the United States and catastrophic structural failures like the recent catastrophe are, thankfully, quite rare,” Wilson said. “However, this is an opportunity for us to consider and revisit the issue of building safety, and identify ways to review and potentially enhance building safety.”

In Virginia, building owners are not required to have inspections on structural integrity after buildings get a certificate of occupancy when construction is complete. They are only inspected if there is a change in occupancy or alterations that require inspection.

“Currently, there are no requirements to proactively or regularly inspect building structure,” City staff said in a release.

Wilson told ALXnow that he will soon send Governor Ralph Northam a letter asking his office to look into the matter.

For now, residents with concerns about the structural integrity of a building can contact the Department of Code Administration.

“The City is committed to the safety of our residents and I look forward to working with City staff, my City Council colleagues, other localities, members of the General Assembly, members of the Administration and other key stakeholders to identify ways to ensure the safety of buildings and structures in our community and in those across the Commonwealth,” Wilson said.

According to the City:

Virginia’s building code requires multiple layers of inspections, reviews and monitoring, particularly related to building structure and integrity, that initially take place during building construction. The inspections are performed by professionally licensed architects, engineers, municipal inspectors, special inspectors, senior engineers, certified technical experts, certified laboratories and certified testing agencies. Once these inspections have been passed, the building will receive a certificate of occupancy.

Building owners are then required to have periodic inspections of certain systems, such as elevators, fire protection and fire alarm systems. Currently, there are no requirements to proactively or regularly inspect building structure. A building that has received a certificate of occupancy is only inspected again if there is a change in occupancy or alterations that require inspection. As part of this inspection process, the statewide building code contains provisions for identifying and correcting unsafe buildings and structures. If a building is identified during an inspection as being structurally unstable or unsafe, there are provisions to handle that situation.

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Morning Notes

Beyer Accuses Trump of Racism — “Just more straight-up racism here from the man who couldn’t disown white supremacy on a national stage 24 hours ago.” [Twitter]

Alexandria GOP Chair Says Residents Fear Being Republican — “He said that the local Republican chapter is in full support of Donald Trump. He believes that Republicans in Alexandria may be silent but significant… He shared that many local Republican supporters fear repercussions if they make their opinions public.” [Alexandria Living]

Apartment-Hotel Company Leases Old Town Building — “Sonder USA Inc. has applied with Alexandria to operate the apartment-hotel coming to 805 King St. The 9,700-square-foot, four-story building, owned by North Carolina’s Asana Partners, has a Warby Parker eyeglasses boutique on the ground floor. Renovations are underway to convert the offices around and above that store to residential units, all with small kitchens, ranging from 225 square feet to 527 square feet.” [Washington Business Journal]

Alexandria Drivers Third Rudest in U.S. — “According to a study by Insurify, Alexandrians aren’t very nice people behind the wheel. In fact, we’re pretty darn rude.” [Alexandria Living]

Police Congratulate Retiring Parking Enforcement Officer — “Congratulations and best wishes to PEO (parking enforcement officer) Charity Roberts. Thank you for your 31.5 years of service–you will be missed!!!” [Twitter]

Living Legend James Henson Honored — “On Sunday, Sept. 27, the newest Living Legend of Alexandria, James Henson, received quite the surprise. Friends presented him with his official Living Legends portrait. They gathered outside the Departmental Progressive Club (DPC) to walk to his home.” [Zebra]

Today’s Weather — “Sunny, along with a few afternoon clouds. High 73F. Winds NW at 5 to 10 mph.A steady rain in the evening. Showers continuing late. Low 53F. Winds light and variable. Chance of rain 70%. Rainfall near a quarter of an inch.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Marketing and Communications Manager — “You will be responsible for supporting APCO’s communications and marketing efforts associated with elevating the organization’s profile within emergency communications. The ideal candidate will create and execute strategies that promote the organization’s programs and services while developing and implementing communications plans and related promotional collateral.” [Indeed]

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The Alexandria Fire Department is investigating a fire that affected the electrical systems in a high rise apartment building in the 200 block of South Whiting Street in the West End.

Fire officials responded to reports of smoke coming from the basement of the 10-story building, and the fire was extinguished within minutes. No one was injured, according to Alexandria Fire Department spokeswoman Raytevia Evans.

“The building is on fire watch until the power is restored,” Evans told ALXnow. “No one has been displaced from their homes.”

The building is located near Stevenson Avenue and South Van Dorn Street and is near a number of other apartment buildings and businesses.

Map via Google Maps

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Sami Bourma doesn’t know what he’s going to do. At 2 p.m. today, the unemployed father of two children and resident at Southern Towers had an eviction hearing at the Alexandria Courthouse.

Two hours prior to that, Bourma and a number of his friends and neighbors stood outside the courthouse in Old Town and, for the second time this month, protested in asking Governor Ralph Northam to cancel evictions.

“I had three jobs before the pandemic, organizing for my local Union 23, as a cook and as an Uber driver,” Bourma told ALXnow. “How can I pay the rent if I don’t have an income? I don’t know what I’m going to do. That’s why I’m protesting today.”

Last week, the city also approved additional funds to help poor residents pay their rent while unemployment in the city remains high.

On Tuesday (July 14), Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring stated that lower courts can grant continuances on evictions, and that there are a number of state and federal protections in place so that people can stay in their home during the pandemic.

“The pandemic has taken a very real toll on Virginia’s economy and tens of thousands of Virginians, many of whom are hourly workers, have found themselves without a source of income during these difficult times,” Herring said. “We are still in the middle of a state of emergency and a public health crisis and it’s so important for Virginians to be able to stay in their homes to keep themselves, their families, and their communities safe.”

Northam’s request to extend the moratorium to later this month was denied by the Supreme Court of Virginia.

Jonathan Krall with Grassroots Alexandria was at the protest, and said that the continuances should be granted.

“You shouldn’t be putting people out on the street,” Krall said. “That doesn’t help the economy and doesn’t help the tenants or the landlords. People are starting to get evicted, and this is a major problem.”

Evelin Urrutia, the executive director of Tenants & Workers United, said that the Latino population in the city is hurting.

“We’ve been suffering with a housing problem, and the pandemic just made it worse and we are seeing it happen,” Urrutia said. “We have many families who are behind two or three months on the rent, and they won’t be able to catch up.”

For Bourma, the issue has become one of survival. After speaking with ALXnow, he walked back over to the two dozen protestors and took the megaphone to lead a chant.

“No money, no rent!” he shouted into the megaphone.

Staff photos by James Cullum

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Morning Notes

Del Ray First Thursday Porch Party Today — “The Del Ray Business Association presents First Thursday Porch Party: Red, White, and Blue from 6 p.m. to dusk on Thursday, July 2. In the spirit of Del Ray’s summer street festivals, the event features a wide range of activities that promote community while maintaining social distancing standards.” [Facebook]

Major Residential Development Breaks Ground — “About 300 residences and a large parking garage are replacing an old office building in Alexandria’s West End.” [Alexandria Living]

DASH Bus Mobile Tracker Launches — “The new mobile-friendly DASH Tracker is finally here with new features and improved information to make finding your next bus a snap! Where will you go with the new DASH Tracker?” [Facebook]

Al’s Steak House Won’t Have Indoor Seating — “As we enter Phase 3 Al’s will continue not to have indoor seating available. Our space is too small to accommodate customers dining in and customers picking up their orders.The social distancing would be non existent. We do offer two tables for outdoor seating. Al’s will continue to accept call in orders and Delivery.” [Facebook]

Rebuilding Together Alexandria Slowly Getting Back on Track — “Our team was looking for a socially-distant project to get us out of the office and back into the community. We mulched the grounds of local nonprofit, Friends of Guest House. Check out the before and after!” [Facebook]

Mason & Greens Grand Opening Moved Online — “When news about the coronavirus began to spread, the Marinos knew they would have to cancel their big grand opening event.” [Alexandria Living]

Lee-Fendall House Museum & Garden Open House Saturday — “Explore the history in your own backyard with free, self-guided tours of the Lee-Fendall House on July 4th! Face masks are required and we will be limiting the number of visitors allowed in the museum at one time to allow for social distancing.” [Facebook]

New Job: Host or Hostess — “Looking for an energetic individual to control the flow of the dining rooms, and be the first happy face guests see when entering Village Brauhaus.” [Facebook]
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The owners of an Old Town apartment complex want to demolish four 1970s-era rental properties and redevelop them into two multifamily apartment buildings with 474 new apartments.

The Board of Architectural Review will discuss the matter on July 15 before moving their recommendation to the City Council.

The building owners are asking for a permit to demolish the properties at 431 S. Columbus Street, 900 Wolfe Street and 450 S. Patrick Street, and for the approval of a concept plan.

According to the city’s real estate records, the property includes three garden style apartments and one mid-rise apartment building built between 1976 and 1977. They are not historic in nature and the applicant is proposing that the property maintain affordable units to help the city meet its affordable housing stock, in addition to having the property rezoned to residential multifamily.

Images via City of Alexandria

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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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Morning Notes

New Residential Building Promises Daycare and Retail in Braddock Area — “Right now, that property is primarily garage and warehouse space for a variety of auto and other businesses.” [Alexandria Living]

Van Dorn, Eisenhower Metro Stations Reopening June 28 — “Several stations and stops were closed in March, in an effort to conserve cleaning supplies during the early stages of the pandemic.” [Zebra]

Residential Proposal Made for Old Town North Building — “The project, at 801 N. Fairfax St., goes before the City of Alexandria Planning Commission this Thursday and may go before the City Council on July 7.” [Alexandria Living]

Nectar Coffee & Wine Bistro Closes For Good — “Susan and I have made the extremely difficult decision to close Nectar permanently. We have loved our business, awesome staff, customers and neighbors and are truly grateful for your business over the past 3 years. See you in the neighborhood!” [Facebook]

The Water Taxi is Back — “On June 22 the Potomac Water Taxi resumed service between Alexandria, National Harbor, and the District. Dining cruises resume on Saturday, June 27. To ensure the safety of all on board, a number of procedures are in place. The safety measures include requiring face coverings for all guests (ages 3 and up), physical distancing, touchless entry boarding and ticketing, and reduced capacity onboard.” [Zebra]

TEDxOronocoBayPark Cancels All 2020 Events — “We are excited to be bringing the TED content to the community virtually through the TED Circles program – save the date July 20 7 p.m.” [Facebook]

Alexandria Symphony Premiers Virtual Concert — “Welcome to Alexandria Symphony’s Garden Sounds! Enjoy music from ASO musicians and appearances from special guests Paula Poundstone, Alan Gilbert and more!” [Youtube]

New Job: Bartender — “Be a part the Silver Diner Family! We are hiring full-time Bartenders for all shifts for our Grand Opening in Alexandria! Full-time Bartenders at our established locations can make $400-$700 in tips per week!” [Indeed]

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