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The topic of Business Improvement Districts (BID) is back at Alexandria’s City Council and five years after one proposal was crushed, there are signs BIDs could be seen more favorably by a new Council.

BIDs are self-taxing districts established by property owners that aim to boost the economic vitality of the commercial area. There are a handful of BIDs in Arlington in areas like Crystal City, Rosslyn and Ballston. The BIDs organize activities and events in those districts, as well as handle amenities above and beyond what the city (or county, in Arlington’s case) would typically provide. The possibility of a BID in Old Town proved unpopular among many local businesses, however, who were concerned about the additional tax.

After several heated public debates, the City Council ultimately voted against the creation of a BID in Old Town.

“For those who have been up here for a little while, some of us have some scars from this,” said Mayor Justin Wilson, “but it’s good to be back talking about it.”

The new guidelines aim to make the creation of a BID a more structured process.

“The goal for creating these guidelines [is that] during the previous effort it was realized by the community that the lack of guidelines in the city was problematic,” Julian Gonsalves, assistant city manager for public-private partnerships, told the City Council at a meeting last night (Tuesday). “The idea behind adopting these guidelines is to create a framework first before any of these applications come in later on.”

The new guidelines include stipulations like requiring the support of at least 60% of businesses within the commercial district and an outline of ten steps from a letter of intent to final approval.

The goal for the new BIDs would be to turn commercial areas into hotspots of in-person commercial activity.

“Property owners might say: we want to have events for foot traffic here,” Gonsalves said. “Because of that foot traffic, it will be more beneficial for property owners to have restaurants or retails, it will make those more lucrative.

Gonsalves said the focus of a potential BID has shifted away from Old Town to parts of the West End that aren’t currently major attractions but are working through redevelopment plans.

“One of the examples being planned is Landmark or the West End,” Gonsalves said. “Right now there’s nothing there. In order to make sure that’s a hub for the city, they want to have a Business Improvement District so that you have foot traffic coming to a completely new hub that is competing with other districts around the region.”

City Manager James Parajon said BIDs can provide enhanced trash collection, enhanced amenities, and higher quality of lighting compared to what the city typically provides.

Vice Mayor Amy Jackson said she wasn’t on the dais for the earlier BID debates, but said she was generally supportive of the idea.

“I know I don’t have the scars from the dais like a couple other council members do here, but some of us that were running to be up here at that time also heard a lot from community members; both pros and cons,” Jackson said. “I was always in the pro-bid section or a lot of reasons… I hope a lot of businesses around Alexandria will continue to follow this form. I know a lot in the playbook continues to be tweaked and structured.”

Wilson said there’s potential for a BID to do good for the city’s lagging commercial sector.

“I’ve long supported the kind of collectivism that a BID can enable,” Wilson said. “A BID is what members make of it. Ultimately it will be what the collective property owners proposing a BID decide what is beneficial to them… We will see how this plays out and where we get them. They’re in use all over this planet, and there’s a reason they’re in use all over this planet.”

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More than a dozen anti-abortion activists were individually led out of Alexandria’s City Council Chambers on Tuesday night (June 28), as Council unanimously approved a resolution to protect access to abortions in the city.

Members of the California-based group Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust sat in Council Chambers holding signs depicting graphic photos and drawings of aborted fetuses. The group spent the last several days demonstrating outside the U.S. Supreme Court leading up to last week’s overturning of Roe v. Wadebanning abortion in more than a dozen states.

Mayor Justin Wilson told the audience repeatedly to quiet down or he’d clear the chamber, and asked police to remove more than a dozen protestors, including A.J. Hurley, national director of the group.

“Bodily autonomy is a basic human right,” Wilson said. “I’m not really fond of resolutions that, you know, take stands on issues that we don’t have a lot of impact on, and this is not one of those. I think the reason this resolution is before us is because it has specific actions that are very much in our purview.”

Hurley is from Los Angeles, California. He said that the mission of the organization is to seek a federal ban on abortion, and doesn’t believe he will see that happen in his lifetime. Hurley was eventually escorted from Council Chambers by police after an outburst. Members of the group also shouted on megaphones and banged on plastic buckets outside City Hall.

“If this city council is going to produce edicts and statements and resolutions moving towards ordinances, they should know the faces of the children that they affect,” Hurley said.

The resolution states that “it is not possible to ban abortion, but only to ban safe and legal abortions,” and asks that the City Manager consider budgetary proposals for the FY 2024 budget to “ensure accessibility of reproductive health services, safe abortion services, accessible maternal and child health services for low-income Alexandria residents.”

The resolution also calls on the City Attorney to join ongoing or future lawsuits “to protect the availability of abortion services in Alexandria,” as well as land use protections for providers.

When told by a protestor that she doesn’t understand the issue because she hasn’t had an abortion, Vice Mayor Amy Jackson asked, “How do you know I haven’t?”

“When we’re talking about personal freedom and women’s health care, it should be the women’s choice, not men,” Jackson said.

Council Member Kirk McPike drafted the resolution. McPike previously expressed regret about City Council withdrawing an earlier proclamation of support.

“Fortunately right now we are in Virginia, and in Virginia abortion remains legal,” McPike said. “There’s nothing we can do from this dais or as City Council to override state law. If that changes, we will not be able to limit that. What we can do is work within the powers that we have as a city body, to ask our city manager in our city attorney to take on active roles in helping us protect this right to reproductive choice here in our city, whether that’s through revising our planning and zoning rules, whether that’s by joining lawsuits, whether that’s by putting language in our legislative packets. “

Council Member Alyia Gaskins, who noted in the meeting that she is pregnant, said that the Supreme Court ruling is an attack on the rights of women and families.

“We must be relentless in protecting the health and wellbeing of our people and the citizens we serve,” Gaskins said.

Council Member Sarah Bagley directly addressed the anti-abortion activists holding signs.

“I look at these photos, I see you pointing at them,” Bagley said. “What I don’t see is the woman whose life was saved because the ectopic pregnancy would have killed her. What I don’t see with these photos is a woman who desperately wanted a child but was told that (with) these fetal abnormalities would never have survived.”

Many residents also sat in Council Chambers holding signs thanking Alexandria for its pro-abortion efforts, including Sandy Marks, chair of the Alexandria Democratic Committee.

“Our council is entirely unshaken,” Marks said. “There have been a few interruptions, business is moving smoothly. They’re attempting to make noise outside, but our good governance is not going to be disrupted by a small number of out of town visitors that are here to try to obstruct a meeting that is going very smoothly.”

Delegate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker (D-45) also sat in the audience.

“I’m here because I believe everyone should be able to access safe abortions,” Bennett-Parker said. “I’m here today to support City Council and this resolution to protect abortion access in Alexandria and Virginia. I’m here because people should be able to make decisions about their own body, their own future and their own lives.”

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The GenOn Power Plan redevelopment plans are headed to the City Council with the backing of staff and the Planning Commission but lingering concerns from local workers.

Hilco Redevelopment Partners’ plan is to replace the power plant on the 18.8-acre site with six blocks of new, mixed-use buildings of varying densities and heights and coordinated open space. The city is also planning to expand the boundaries of the Old Town North Arts and Cultural District to include the site.

Both city staff and the Planning Commission recommended approval. The staff report noted the plan not only remediates the defunct power plant site along the river, but extends the Old Town street grid and offers arts and affordable housing opportunities.

The development’s hit a few bumps in the road so far. Hilco said the site’s developable land is smaller than initially anticipated, with the developer asking for

A letter sent to the City Council from various tenant and worker groups, however, said the groups take issue with the jobs and housing types provided with the development, along with environmental concerns. The letter was signed by African Communities Together, Baltimore-D.C. Metro Building Trades Council, Build Our Future, CASA, UNITE HERE Local 23 and UNITE HERE Local 25.

“We urge Council to delay voting on Hilco’s Consolidated Development District (CDD) application until the project meets higher standards on the issues of good jobs, affordable housing, and environmental sustainability,” the groups said in the letter. “While each of our organizations is concerned primarily with only one of these areas, we are joining together in recognition of their deep
interconnections, and in our collective interest in creating a just and equitable community and a livable climate for all Alexandrians. Development in Alexandria must begin meeting higher levels of performance if we are to achieve this goal.”

The groups raised concerns similar to those brought up with the Hotel Heron project in January. The letter said without additional guarantees from the developer, the project would likely bring in 180 jobs with wages so low the workers could not live in Alexandria.

“According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s 2021 Annual Report ‘Out of Reach,’ the hourly wage needed to afford a 2-bedroom apartment without paying more than 30% of income on housing in Alexandria is $33.94,” the letter said, “more than twice the median wage for housekeepers in the local hotel industry.”

Benjy Cannon, Director of Communications for UNITE HERE Local 25, said there’s not a specific number the groups have in mind for what the workers should be paid, but said it should be significantly higher than the median wage.

“We don’t have a specific ask in terms of the figure, we just know that it has to be significantly higher than the median wage for housekeepers cited in the letter,” Cannon said. “Unionized hotel workers in DC and National Harbor make between $24-$26 an hour, which some of the workers who’ve testified before the Council and Planning Commission on these issues have cited as a point of comparison.” Read More

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Supreme Court (file photo)

The Alexandria City Council will vote on a resolution Tuesday night to protect access to abortions in the city.

The resolution, which was initially drafted by Councilman Kirk McPike, lays out several steps that the city will take.

“We call upon the General Assembly of Virginia and the United States Congress to take such actions as may be necessary to protect the right to abortion in Virginia,” the resolutions states. “We ask that the City Manager consider budgetary proposals for the FY 2024 budget to ensure accessibility of reproductive health services, safe abortion services, accessible maternal and child health services for low-income Alexandria residents.”

The resolution also calls on the City Attorney to join on-going or future lawsuits “to protect the availability of abortion services in Alexandria,” as well as land use protections for providers.

On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wadebanning abortion in 14 states and setting the stage for future legal challenges countrywide. Here in Virginia, Governor Glenn Youngkin announced that he wants to ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

The Alexandria Democratic Committee praised the resolution.

“The Alexandria Democratic Committee stands in solidarity with City Council as they present their resolution in response to the overturn of Roe v. Wade,” ADC said on Facebook. “Our public support of bold statements like these is crucial.”

Many of Alexandria’s elected officials expressed shock and dismay at the ruling.

Del. Charniele Herring, the Democratic Caucus Chair, tweeted that she was horrified and that she would continue to fight to keep abortion legal in Virginia.

The full resolution is below the jump. Read More

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Supreme Court (file photo)

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade today (Friday) in a landmark decision that will effectively ban abortion in more than a dozen states.

While Virginia is not a state with any “trigger laws” that go into effect as a result of the decision, Alexandria has seen its share of back and forth over abortion. In March, the City Council withdrew a proclamation recognizing abortion providers, a decision some on the City Council said they later regretted. Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) has also expressed support for banning most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Alexandria’s Commission for Women recently called on Mayor Justin Wilson and the City Council to affirm support for abortion access.

Wilson said he was dismayed by the decision and reaffirmed the city’s commitment to providing access to abortion services.

“A dismaying decision by an activist court seeking to undo a century of progress,” Wilson said. “We will do everything we can locally to ensure that we protect access to abortion services in Alexandria.”

Wilson noted that promoting access to abortion has been an annual part of the city’s legislative package and has worked on the issue with state and federal representatives. Responses also came in from some of those representatives expressing frustration with the decision.

Annetta Catchings, acting chair of the Alexandria GOP, shared support for the decision.

https://twitter.com/annetta_of/status/1540344811986771969

Others around Alexandria’s Twittersphere expressed general dismay.

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Intersection of Quaker Lane and Duke Street (image via Google Maps)

Alexandria is hoping to get federal funding for an audit of the city’s high-crash intersections to look for possible solutions.

The project, which includes the audit, public engagement and design, is estimated to cost $1 million. The grant would cover up to $800,000, with the city or the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.

A presentation on the audit includes a map of the city’s most crash-prone intersections, which includes:

  • The intersection of Stevenson Avenue and Yoakum Parkway
  • The intersection of King Street and what looks like N. Hampton Drive
  • The intersection of Duke Street and Quaker Lane
Map of crashes around Alexandria (image via City of Alexandria)

A staff report with the grant request notes that crashes were trending down between 2011 and 2020, though deaths and serious injuries trended upward slightly.

The report said 58% of crashes involving deaths of serious injuries occurred at an intersection

Crashes are also most common in the evenings.

“During the weekday, high crash frequencies are seen during the evening commute,” the report said. “Early spring months had the highest proportion of KSI crashes for bicyclists, while the late summer months were the highest for pedestrians.”

The grant request is scheduled for a vote in the roll-call consent calendar at the Tuesday, June 28 City Council meeting (item 11).

Image via Google Maps

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Five years after the City Council struck down a plan to get a Business Improvement District (BID) up and running in Old Town, a discussion of BID frameworks is coming back to the city.

While the city earlier rejected the idea of a BID in Old Town, BID advocates managed to get the concept approved as part of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funding.

Approval of guidelines for the creation and management of a BID is scheduled for the upcoming Tuesday, June 28 City Council meeting (item 16).

“Earlier this year, City Council adopted their calendar year 2022 priorities, which included COVID-19 pandemic recovery: Identifying policies, practices and resources needed to ensure a resilient and equitable recovery for all residents and businesses,” staff wrote in the city docket. “Aligned with that priority, staff has created guidelines for City Council’s adoption that outlines how interested business communities, or proponent groups, can propose the formation of a Business Improvement District (BID).”

Back in 2017, some local business leaders and the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership (AEDP) spearheaded an effort to get a BID approved for Old Town, but they struggled to gain traction with business owners along King Street who balked at the idea of an additional tax for already struggling businesses.

The upcoming City Council meeting won’t be to approve the creation of any such BID, but will entail looking again at the guidelines for how a businesses in a commercial area can petition to create one.

“Groups of businesses in the City have expressed interest in exploring this tool as part of recovery efforts, and in recent years, the City has encouraged or required the formation of BIDs in new development areas,” the docket said. “The guidelines provide the framework and instructions for these groups to request BID formation — with the ultimate decision on formation determined by City Council on an application-by-application basis.”

The guidelines include a ten-step process, from informing the City that a BID is being considered through to tax ordinances and BID operations.

The item is scheduled just before “2022 City Council Priorities, Housing and COVID-19 Recovery Business Plans” on the docket, which at time of writing consist of blank placeholder pages.

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Paying to park your car in Alexandria by phone could be getting more expensive soon.

Alexandria’s City Council voted unanimously on Saturday to enable staff to up the cost of pay-by-phone parking.

The current rate in those zones is $1.75 per hour, but the new ordinance would allow the Director of Transportation and Environmental Services to set a rate of up to $5 per hour.

The goal of the change is to push drivers parking in Old Town towards the city’s underused garages, though several members of the City Council noted that’s unlikely to happen without more wayfinding toward those garages.

Council member Sarah Bagley said it might be worth looking into adding additional signs, either as standalone A-frame signs or onto the existing parking signs, highlighting where the nearest parking garage is. Another suggestion from City Council member Kirk McPike was allowing local restaurants to validate parking. City staff said both options would be examined.

One possibility raised to alleviate parking woes of residents of Old Town residents unable to park near their homes was to set more zones as residential-only, but city staff said there are several problems with this option.

“The conversation about resident-only parking has been recurring,” said Yon Lambert, director of the city’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Services. “It was considered in previous iterations of the Old Town Parking Study. Something we need to consider: if we’re going to dig our teeth into resident-only parking, we’re looking at reconvening the Old Town Parking Study to make sure we have all stakeholders represented.”

But City Attorney Joanna Anderson said there legal issues with residential-only parking.

“There are some constitutional issues with completely residential only parking,” Anderson said. “We are looking at it, but it is more difficult for fully resident-only parking than it is to allow some outside users like we are now.”

The ordinance was unanimously approved by the City Council.

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The Alexandria School Board approved changes to their operating procedures on Thursday night (June 16), and updated rules on engagement with the media.

The operating procedures are a guide for Members’ behavior in office — and state that comments made to media by Board members will “likely be interpreted by the public as an official statement of the Board,” and that all statements (when Members are designated to speak on behalf of the board) must be sent to the Board Chair and Superintendent. The changes now state that School Board Members must now avoid directly communicating with ACPS staff “about Division business”, and clarified language to say that Board members will now receive all written responses to media made by the Alexandria City Public Schools communications team.

The Board unanimously approved School Board Member Kelly Carmichael Booz’s clarified language on the document. Booz said that the change eliminates confusion — that Board Members do not need to provide their colleagues with any written responses to the media.

“My proposal will be to amend that just so it’s really clear what that whole purpose of that was to just essentially say that written responses from ACPs communications to the media on behalf of the school division will also be distributed to school board members and the superintendent,” Booz said.

On June 7, the School Board conducted a closed door retreat at ACPS Central Office to discuss their operating procedures. The meeting was supposed to be open to the public. ACPS communications has not responded to multiple requests for comment to clarify the operating procedures or explain why the doors were locked.

Per the operating procedures, any questions from media related to personnel, student matters, school programs and exceptional/emergency events should be fielded by Board Chair Meagan Alderton and the ACPS communications team. School Board members are discouraged from discussing division-wide topics, but retain the right to talk to the media as individuals.

The Board also voted 5-4 against a proposal by Member Abdel Elnoubi to table the changes to the operating procedures until this fall, which he said would give the public time to review them.

Elnoubi says that there hasn’t been public discussion on the Board’s operating procedures since the Board retreats are not recorded.

“This is the operating procedures that govern our board, how we’re going to work together, how we interact with the community, everything,” Elnoubi said. “I feel it just serves everyone better if we wait, if we postpone this item… giving the community an opportunity to comment, to react for the sake of transparency, just to make sure that everything is being discussed here in a meeting that’s recorded.”

Board Chair Meagan Alderton, Vice Chair Jacinta Greene and Board Members Willie Bailey, Tammy Ignacio and Christopher Harris voted against Elnoubi’s proposal, and he and Board Members Michelle Rief, Ashley Simpson Baird and Booz voted for it.

Board Member Willie Bailey said that Board Members should have brought up their reservations during the retreats.

“I guess I’m a little mixed up or confused,” Bailey said. “I’m sure if there were some serious issues, we probably should have brought this forward during our last meeting, retreat, we had.”

At multiple Board retreats this year, outgoing Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. urged the newly elected Board to not engage with the media by reminding them of their own operating procedures. Hutchings announced his resignation on the last day of school, June 10, and did not attend the meeting. Hutchings is out of the office until June 21.

In March, Hutchings gave the Board a refresher on the operating procedures after Board Members Michelle Rief, Ashley Simpson-Baird, Elnoubi, Kelly Carmichael Booz and Chris Harris edited his proposal for the School Law Enforcement Partnership Advisory Committee. Hutchings said that such “behind the scenes” operations raised transparency issues by violating the Virginia Freedom Of Information Act. In that meeting, he also advised that Board Members not talk to the media without going through ACPS communications staff first.

After the fatal stabbing of an Alexandria City High School student on May 24, Hutchings advised School Board members in an email to not talk with the media. Hutchings wrote:

Board,

You may receive media inquiries regarding recent events. Please do not speak about the incident. I’ve spoken with our communications team to please refrain from using the term ‘no comment’.

However, please say ‘I will refer this media inquiry to our communications team’ then forward to Julia (Burgos with ACPS communications) and Kathy (Mimberg of ACPS communications). Thanks a million!

Sent from Dr. Hutchings’ iPhone

Alderton does not engage in social media, and her public comments are usually limited to official Board meetings and pre-screened monthly editorials to local newspapers. She recently spoke to The Washington Post and WJLA following Hutchings’ resignation announcement, but when pressed for comment by Fox 5 DC for a story about parents upset over a lack of communication regarding the student’s death, she provided no comment.

Most School Board Members haven’t made a single statement to the press since being sworn into office in January. The only exceptions are Elnoubi, Booz and Rief, who have spoken numerous times on the record with ALXnow.

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Alexandria Vice Mayor Amy Jackson took fire from one of her colleagues Tuesday night (June 14) against the appointment of former School Board Member Christopher Lewis to the Alexandria City Public Schools Law Enforcement Partnership (SLEP) Advisory Committee.

Jackson said that Lewis already serves on the city’s Community Policing Review Board and recommended Mike Mackey, the director of the Alexandria Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Service Unit.

Council ended up voting 6-1 (with Jackson in opposition) to appoint former Lewis as its representative on the 16-person SLEP Advisory Committee, which is tasked with reimagining the Alexandria Police Department’s relationship with the school system — including school resource officers at Alexandria City High School and the city’s two middle schools.

“I just don’t think that he is pro-police,” Jackson said of Lewis. “I don’t, and that’s fine. But when I’m looking for someone to put on this particular task force that helps see all the situations and all the perspectives of everyone in the city, finding someone that doesn’t have that outlook and is already close-minded to certain aspects of it, I would not want to see on this particular committee.”

Lewis, the CEO of Public Knowledge, was a School Board member from 2013 to 2019, and last month was named one of Washingtonian Magazine’s 500 most influential people. Lewis was in meetings today and could not comment on this story.

Councilman Canek Aguirre said Lewis has an unparalleled resume, and that Jackson’s comments were “egregious” and “insulting.”

“It’s rather egregious to say that he’s not pro-police,” Aguirre said. “I’d ask where in the past has he ever said that he’s not pro-police. He doesn’t say that. That’s very insulting.”

Mayor Justin Wilson said that both Mackey and Lewis are great to work with.

“My hope is that they (SLEP) are a solutions-oriented group trying to bridge some difficult issues in the community, and coming up with thoughtful policy designs that ultimately can be accepted by both the City Council and the School Board, ” Wilson said. “I think Chris has a good background can help bridge that.”

City Council adopted a number of resolutions Tuesday night aimed at curbing violence within Alexandria City Public Schools, including Wilson’s and Council Member Alyia Gaskins’ memo on their Youth Safety and Resiliency plan.

Gaskins said that the community is still reeling from the death of Alexandria City High School Senior Luis Mejia Hernandez on May 24.

“We also know that many of our young people right now are dealing with the loss of a friend, a classmate,” Gaskins said. “We have parents who are grieving the loss of their son. And so this is really an opportunity for us to as we say in the memo listen, learn, and act.”

Of the 18 arrests of ACPS students between August and December 2021, a vast majority of students arrested are Black.

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. resigned last week and did not attend the meeting. He is out of the office until June 21.

Per the approved plan, staff will return to Council with a proposed timeline to start engaging kids, parents and ACPS staff on youth trauma and mental health within the school system.

“I think we are dealing with an urgent crisis,” Gaskins continued. “We have a great community that rallies and steps up when there’s a challenge, and this is our opportunity to do that once again, and to really build new relationships with our young people to let them know they’re cared about, and to take some important steps that invests in their mental health and their overall resiliency.”

Council also unanimously approved a gun violence prevention resolution, which encourages the school system to “review school curriculum, safety protocols, and professional development” related to gun safety and suicide prevention.

Wilson said that it’s time to step back, listen and learn from the community on what it wants regarding safety in schools.

“I think out goal should be to, first of all, step back, listen and learn,” Wilson said. “I think part of the message here is a little bit of humility in our policymaking and a recognition that for a community as diverse, and with a set of needs that we have in our city, there’s not going to be a set of policies that would guarantee that our community is going to be immune from this kind of violence.”

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