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What two additional stories looks like on a 45-foot-tall structure. (Via City of Alexandria)

After public outcry over a rushed plan, the Alexandria Planning Commission deferred a city staff proposal to allow developers to build affordable housing into new apartment buildings up to 70 feet in height in areas where height limits are 45 feet or more.

There were more than 30 speakers at the meeting on Thursday, June 23, mostly residents of Del Ray.

Gayle Reuter has lived in Del Ray for 40 years, and said that the proposal would ruin her neighborhood’s small town feel.

“I understand the city is in need of and has promised increased affordable housing and endorsed the Washington COG Regional Housing Initiative,” Reuter told the Planning Commission. “If this is approved, developers will come to come in and the Avenue with its small town feel of mom-and-pop businesses where Main Street still exists will be gone forever.”

The proposal would allow developers bonus height of 25 feet in any zone or height district where the maximum allowable height is 45 feet.

Planning Commission Chair Nathan Macek asked city staff to present a refined proposal to the community before reintroducing it to the Commission for review again.

“I think it’s an important tool, and I think I think the actual impact would be very modest in terms of when it would choose to be enacted,” Macek said. “I don’t think you’re gonna end up seeing 70-foot buildings and this and that. That is sort of the extreme if every site were to redevelop, but I don’t think that that’s the reality of what would happen. But rather than speculate about that, I think we have a chance to step back and study it or provide some projections, some best guesses about what we’ll see so that we can inform the decision and possibly take it in steps with a pilot for a phased amount of density and we can revisit.”

Under the proposal, numerous areas of the city would be open for developers to move in and increase the height of 45-foot-tall buildings to a maximum of 70 feet in height — specifically along Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray, in Arlandria, Alexandria West, the Beauregard area, the Landmark area, Eisenhower West, Old Town North and Carlyle.

The proposal does not apply, however, to single family, two story and town home dwellings.

Areas of the city that would be impacted by the proposed change to height restrictions. (Via City of Alexandria)

Alexandria is currently experiencing an affordable housing crisis, and lost 14,300 (or 78%) affordable housing units between 2000 and 2022. Consequently, the city has pledged to produce or develop thousands of units to meet 2030 regional housing goal set by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

“While approximately 800 market-rate and affordable units of housing are currently generated per year in Alexandria, meeting the RHI (Regional Housing Initiative) goal involves the production of an estimated additional 300 units per year, of which 75 percent are recommended to be affordable,” staff wrote. “This represents an estimated additional 2,250 affordable units over the 10-year period…”

Save Del Ray founder Nate Hurto said that the community needs time to understand the potential impact of such a move.

“I think we really need to look at the impact that it could have communities have to the existing housing stock, and to the very nature and character of our neighborhood,” Hurton said. “How will it affect the existing stock of apartments, rentals, condos that are affordable? How will it affect businesses, especially along Mount Vernon Avenue and governed by the small area plan?”

Commissioner Stephen Koenig said that he was swayed by the input of residents.

“I’m certainly persuaded by the sort of breadth and depth of the input that we’ve had tonight,” he said.

Commissioner David Brown said that the City needs to reevaluate its approach.

“We we have a process where we figure out what works in particular places,” Brown said. “It’s called planning. We haven’t done any planning here. We need to look at each one of these zones, figure out what the likely impact is going to be in that zone and figure out whether or not that zone should be considered a candidate for affordable housing.”

According to the City:

At the core of the Bonus Density and Height Program of Section 7-700 is the idea that the affordable housing gained through incremental increases in density and height is a positive exchange.

Additionally, by its nature and in alignment with the City’s All Alexandria Resolution, the initiative provides affordable housing opportunities in locations that might otherwise not receive them, and this specific proposal could increase the likelihood of affordable housing in projects that are more mid-scale. Moreover, each project approved through this proposal would be reviewed rigorously and through a public process to ensure that additional density and/or height is designed in a way that respects the neighborhood.

The requirement that a project using this provision obtain a Special Use Permit means that all impacts of the project are thoroughly reviewed and mitigated as a condition of approval.

As for outreach, City staff noted:

The City undertook the following outreach: established a Bonus Height Webpage; developed and posted Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) in English, Spanish and Amharic; conducted two virtual community meetings–on April 12 (130 attendees) and May 19 (90 attendees); addressed questions during the meetings and posted Questions/Comments/Responses subsequent to the meetings; and advertised engagement opportunities through eNews and directly to Civic Associations and to those who contacted the City by email or other communication.

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Nando’s Peri-Peri is reopening in the Hoffman Town Center this summer.

The  South African multinational fast food chain opened at 702 King Street in 2010, and closed in March after its lease expired. At the time, staff told ALXnow that it’s challenging to do business in a building that is 186 years old.

The new store at 2462 Mandeville Lane will be able to accommodate up to 10 staffers at a time and about 130 patrons, according to a special use permit that was filed with the City. The restaurant will have 78 indoor seats

This August, Nando’s will be open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Via Google Maps

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2121 Eisenhower proposal, image via SK+I Architecture

A last-minute disagreement between city staff and developers of a new development in Carlyle raised concerns about fairness in the city’s development process.

There was little indication before the City Council meeting (item 12) on Saturday, May 15, that the development at 2111 and 2121 Eisenhower Avenue would take up two hours of discussion and argument.

At the public hearing, the project faced both criticism from affordable housing advocates for its lackluster contribution and an 11th hour objection from staff over a technical development detail that amounted to a $1 million fee discrepancy.

The central question was whether or not the above-ground parking space at the site qualified as part of the square footage of a building for purposes of things like the developer contribution to affordable housing.

Vagueries and disagreement in what the city was asking from the developer led City Council member Kirk McPike to describe the whole issue as “Calvinball” — a reference to the game played in Calvin and Hobbes where the rules are inconsistent and change mid-game.

The staff report recommended approval, and there was no discussion of this issue at the Planning Commission.

“In recent days it’s become clear that there’s a difference of opinion between the applicant and staff on how to apply the $5.46 per square foot toward the above-ground parking portion of the residential development,” said Karl Moritz, Director of Planning and Zoning. “First, I do need to apologize to the applicant for the extreme lateness in bringing this issue to our collective attention … but staff’s view is that the Eisenhower East Plan is clear on what the contribution applies to and even more clear on what is exempt.”

Moritz said the condition applies to development built above ground and developments approved under the previous plan are exempt. The plan also exempts commercial development because the market for commercial development is challenging. Finally, the plan exempts bonus density applied to affordable housing.

Moritz said part of the analysis is what value is being created by the upzoning that the plan is providing — the increase in value that each property owner is getting.

Attorney Cathy Puskar represented applicant Mid-Atlantic Realty Partners and not only expressed disagreement with staff’s conclusion that the parking should qualify as square footage to be factored into the developer contributions, but said the process by which the issue was raised was unacceptable.

“We often have issues that come up at the last minute before we come to you at City Council and it’s always unfortunate but we’re able to work through it,” Puskar said. “In this instance it’s not only unfortunate it’s egregious. I received a call 23 hours before this hearing telling me that high-level staff at planning and zoning had a different interpretation of our obligation on the developer contribution than had been discussed during the small area plan, than had been agreed to, and has been documented in the conditions.”

Puskar said the disagreement amounted to a $1 million additional fee to pay the city.

The vagueness of the rules and their implementation in the development sparked some frustration from the dais.

“We’re voting on this language, we all agree on the language, but nobody agrees on what the language means,” McPike said. “There’s kind of a Calvinball aspect to this.”

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It wasn’t a washout, but the Alexandria Old Town Springtime Art Festival was a little less busy than expected due to the rain.

On Saturday and Sunday (May 14 and 15) the festival featured dozens of artists at the John Carlyle Square outside of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (600 Dulany Street).

The next art festivals are the 20th Annual Alexandria Old Town Art Festival on September 17 and 18, followed by Art On The Avenue on October 1 in Del Ray.

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The relatively diminutive five-story brick buildings at 2111 and 2121 Eisenhower Avenue are eclipsed by the taller buildings to either side, but that could change with redevelopment plans headed to the City Council this week.

At their meeting on Saturday, May 14, the City Council is set to review plans (Item 12) to replace the building with two towers connected by a six-level garage. Plans indicate that there will be 802 units of multi-family housing in the building, with 44 set aside as affordable housing.

The new development will also build a new roadway connection Mill Road and Elizabeth Lane.

Much of the ground floor is reserved for amenity space, though one space is noted as being set aside for a dog wash.

The staff report also includes a note that the development will come with contributions to Capital Bikeshare ($60,000), the City’s Housing Trust Fund ($1,499,186) and the Eisenhower East Implementation Fund (Approx. $5.46 per square foot). The project was endorsed by the Planning Commission in a 6-0 vote.

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The Alexandria Old Town Springtime Art Festival is, despite the name, headed for the heart of the Carlyle neighborhood this weekend.

The art festival is scheduled for Saturday (May 14) and Sunday (May 15) from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. The art festival will be held at the John Carlyle Square outside of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (600 Dulany Street).

“Alexandria is recognized as one of the country’s premier artistic hubs,” the website said. “All artwork is juried, which provides a higher level of quality, diversity and creativity of art on display, exemplifying the gifted artists in regions from all over the country.”

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The countdown to Cinco de Mayo has begun, and a number of Alexandria’s watering holes are offering special deals for residents and guests to fiesta in style.

All week, Tequila & Taco (540 John Carlyle Street) is gearing up for the big day on Thursday (May 5). Customers can get free queso with every order on Monday, $4 bottled beer today (Tuesday) and $8 nachos on Wednesday. On Thursday, the party begins at 9 a.m. with margaritas on sale for 5 cents until 10 a.m., followed by an outdoor party until 8 p.m.

There are a number of other ways to commemorate the Mexican victory over the French in 1862.

The American Legion Post 24 (400 Cameron Street in Old Town) is also hosting its annual Cinco de Mayo bash on Thursday. The event is open to the public, and tickets cost $10.

“Enjoy a refreshing glass of cerveza or freshly made sangria, and bring your festive spirit,” notes the Legion’s event listing. “Live music, patio party, corn hole games, and grilled food… Beer, wine, sangria, and soda available for purchase at bar.”

For dog owners, Barkhaus (529 E. Howell Avenue) is hosting a bingo night, along with District Dogs and Chippin’. Tickets cost $10 for members and $15 for the public, and ticketholders will get Cinco de Mayo swag, bingo cards and photo ops with a themed backdrop.

Residents can also order cocktails to go from dozens of Alexandria restaurants and bars.

Via Facebook

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A Bad Ass Coffee Of Hawaii franchise will be opening in later summer in Carlyle, but an exact date has not yet been set.

The company website lists the location at 2466 Mandeville Lane as being in development.

“We are still in the early stages of construction for this location, but are hoping to open late summer 2022,” Badass Coffee told ALXnow in an email.

It costs between $304,500 and $620,000 to open a Badass Coffee franchise, according to the company website.

The company was founded in 1989 in Hawaii “with a goal of sharing American-grown, premium Hawaiian coffee from Kauai, Waialua (Oahu), Maui, and 100% Kona coffee with coffee lovers everywhere.” It was sold in 1995 and there are now two dozen franchises around the world, the nearest to Alexandria being in Virginia Beach.

Via Facebook and Google Maps

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Morning Notes

The ‘I Love You’ art installation at Waterfront Park opens on March 25, 2022. (staff photo by James Cullum)

Leasing Starts for Apartments Over Wegmans —  “Developer Stonebridge and its leasing partner Bozzuto, announced Wednesday the start of leasing for Easton, a boutique-style apartment building offering sophisticated design and amenities located in the Carlyle Crossing neighborhood. The 11-story building is slated to begin move-ins in mid-April just ahead of the anticipated May 11 opening of Wegmans Carlyle Crossing.” [Alexandria Living]

Ukraine Donation Drive Launched — Leaders launched an effort Wednesday to provide donations, such as gently used coats, new blankets, new pairs of sweat socks or heavy socks, and new pairs of gloves at locations around Northern Virginia. “No matter the scale – global to local – humanity is a community unto itself and we must always come to the assist of those in need,” Alexandria Vice Mayor Amy Jackson said at the event. [Facebook, Patch]

Kingstowne Woman’s Family Raises Funds to Find Suspect — “The family of a missing Alexandria woman, who is presumed dead, is raising money to help catch her alleged killer.”[WJLA]

It’s Thursday — Light rain throughout the day. High of 67 and low of 58. Sunrise at 7:06 a.m. and sunset at 7:25 p.m. [Weather.gov]

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Need to get your Irish on? While Alexandria’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade has been pushed off until September, there are two Irish-themed bar crawls coming to the city in the days ahead.

The Shamrock Stampede will descend on Alexandria’s Carlyle neighborhood on Saturday, March 12. Participating restaurants include Whiskey & Oyster, Sweet Fire Donna’s, Tequila & Taco, Lost Boy Cider and Joe Theismann’s Restaurant.

The event includes outfit contests, giveaways and raffles. It runs from 2 to 6 p.m. and costs $10. All registration proceeds will be donated to ALIVE!.

On the actual St. Patrick’s Day — Thursday, March 17 — Daniel O’Connell’s Irish Restaurant & Bar (112 King Street) will start things off with musician Mike Richards from 1 to 4 p.m., followed by four-piece rock band By All Means from 7 to 11 p.m.

But that’s not all.

On Saturday, March 19, six King Street restaurants will host the fifth annual Lucky’s St. Patrick’s Day Crawl. The event runs from 4 to 10 p.m., and tickets cost $20-25 per person.

“We will shuttle our leprechauns, four-clover wearers, Irish lovers and everyone else on the King Street Trolly between all restaurants,” event organizers wrote on Facebook.

Participating restaurants:

Photo via Murphy’s Grand Irish Pub/Facebook

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