As Alexandria moves forward with renaming streets Confederate leaders, the City Council is starting to take a look at some of the practical concerns that brings.
Alexandria City Council member John Chapman went on FOX 5’s DMV Zone yesterday to talk about options the city is looking at for street renaming, though solutions could vary by individual streets.
The definitive ends of the spectrum are full renaming — the way Alexandria renamed its portion of Jefferson Davis Highway to Richmond Highway — or leaving the name intact. But Chapman said there are a few options being considered in between those.
One Chapman discussed could be an “honorific name” — where the street addresses stay the same on official documents but the street signs might carry a new name. The 1000 block of Montgomery Street, for instance, is Earl F. Lloyd Way on the signs in honor of the NBA player who grew up there.
Another would be leaving a street name intact but changing the attribution, like changing Jefferson Davis Highway to honor Spider-Man Miles Morales’ bafflingly named father, Jefferson Davis. The cases where this could work are obviously limited, but the Alexandria Times noted there is already some uncertainty over which Lee Alexandria’s Lee Street honors.
“The idea is repositioning some of the names for folks who believe that’s the way to do it,” Chapman said. “For others, that doesn’t cut it, and you need to go away with the first and last name of the street. It depends on the perspective of the community members.”
Chapman said a public hearing is likely for June to review some of the first names.
While the truth is the solution may depend on a case-by-case basis, in general: which direction do you lean when it comes to renaming streets honoring Confederate leaders?
Photo via Google Maps
For some Alexandrians, the question of renaming streets that currently honor Confederate leaders isn’t “should it change” but “what happens to my address?”
As Alexandria moves through a new renaming process, City Council member Sarah Bagley said the City Council Naming Committee heard from residents at a recent meeting who have practical concerns about how renaming will impact everything from paying bills to getting friends to their house. At a City Council meeting last night, Bagley and other members of the Council provided an update on the street renaming discussion.
“There are people in the community concerned about practical impacts rather than objecting to the idea of a street name changing,” Bagley said. “[They’re asking] ‘what will this mean to my life and my paperwork?'”
Bagley said the city needs to answer those questions sooner rather than later to address community concerns. An FAQ for those living on streets being renamed was slated to be released in December — eight months from now — but Bagley said the Naming Committee agreed that needs to be moved up sooner.
“We want to move that FAQ up so we can focus when we move forward on the substance of the conversation to allay fears early about financial or other impacts to documentation or finding your street online,” Bagley said.
City Council member John Chapman said it’s still too early in the process to start hosting workshops to help those on street names being changed to get their new paperwork in order, but that discussion could come up at future Naming Committee meetings.
“The FAQs will give us an opportunity to flesh that out for people who want to know not only the effect but how to make those changes,” Chapman said. “Next meeting we might be able to jump in on some of that.”
In the meantime, City Council member Alyia Gaskins said the Historic Alexandria Resources Commission is looking through new potential honorees.
“This process will start with the Historic Alexandria Resources Committee,” Gaskins said. “They’re going to prepare a list of individuals worthy of honor and recognition… We got emails from the public asking ‘have you considered individuals with similar names but a better legacy,’ we will consider that as well.”
Photo via Google Maps
The tense discussions between Alexandria’s City Council and School Board came to a head over Alexandria City High School’s Chance for Change Academy.
The joint work sessions are a chance for the school and city leaders to close the $7.5 million gap between the School Board’s $58.7 million request and the City Manager’s proposed $51.3 funding to the schools in the fiscal year 2024 Capital Improvement Program (CIP). But while both sides agreed relations between the two bodies are better than they’ve been in the past, the conversation still reopened old wounds between the two leadership teams.
Among the items discussed was $2 million in improvements to Chance for Change, listed on the Alexandria City Public Schools’ (ACPS) website as “a temporary placement for students whose matriculation in the traditional setting had been disrupted by various circumstances and also, based on a case-by-case basis.”
“I am not recommending we fund Ferdinand Day’s 5th and 6th-floor renovation. I’m not recommending the capacity for the [Chance for Change] lease space,” said City Manager Jim Parajon. “Those are two projects that are $7.5 million dollars. By my estimation, while they are important and needed, there are other considerations in the capital budget that we must do.”
Alicia Hart, chief of facilities and operations at ACPS, said the Chance for Change Academy cannot grow in the confines of its current space, citing a lack of Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, parking issues, and a lack of outdoor space.
“There’s been a lot of discussion about whether or not we can expand alternative education programs, we cannot do that in our current space,” said Hart. “Every project we put forward in the CIP, from a school standpoint, is a priority.”
The comment sparked an intense back-and-forth between City and ACPS leadership.
“Every project being a priority doesn’t work in a CIP that has to be sustained,” said Parajon. “The bottom line is we have to make choices. I have 20-something departments and everyone is a priority, but it doesn’t work that way. It’s really important that we start to readjust how we think about what is the highest priority: because that’s the thing that has to get funded.”
Parajon noted that the Chance for Change funding was not included in the previous CIP.
“I’m not debating the need, what I’m saying is when we sit down — this is where it has to be a common thought process — it has to be an urgent need when in 2025 we have the largest potential debt service we have to incur,” Parajon said. “We can’t just add to that because there’s no fiscal ability to manage that.”
Parajon and city leadership faced some rebuke from ACPS leaders who said the city wasn’t putting the needs of students first.
“What we’re talking about with Chance for Change is children’s lives and children’s educational needs,” said Interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt. “Pushing those down the road is going to further impact academic achievement and social-emotional growth, and I think that needs to be seen very differently than maybe another infrastructure like office space. We’re talking about children who are in need of services… Putting that off a year is going to further put them behind.”
School Board chair Meagan Alderton said that while not funding the expansion doesn’t mean the program will go away, it still keeps the program from being what ACPS has in mind.
“Is it going away if we don’t do something?” Alderton said. “I think the answer to that is no, not immediately. Is it meeting the needs for what we want Chance for Change to be? No, it doesn’t. I think it’s a two-sided question.”
But Alexandria City leadership stuck to Parajon and pointed the finger back at ACPS for ignoring the realities of budget crafting. According to Mayor Justin Wilson:
I’m inclined to agree with everything you said. The problem is I just heard it for the first time a couple minutes ago. [Kay-Wyatt] and I meet monthly… this has never been placed on the agenda. I’ve read through the entire operating proposal: there’s a couple glancing mentions of Chance for Change. I can’t even find on your website how many kids are at Chance for Change right now, and trust me I’ve searched and I know your website pretty darn well.
If there is a story to be told about alternative education and a change in policy and a different direction that requires significant capital investment: last time I checked I’m the Mayor of the city and I don’t know anything about it.
This is a conversation we need to have collectively and jointly before something just shows up in a CIP proposal and we’re told tonight horrible things are going to happen to kids if this proposal doesn’t get funded. That should not be the case and that says something is broken in the process.
The argument came at the end of a nearly three-hour meeting where City Council members repeatedly highlighted areas where there had been insufficient progress on long-term planning collaboration.
From ACPS having better access to the permitting facility to ACPS and City of Alexandria staff potentially sharing office space, City leaders said there are opportunities for greater efficiency that have been woefully underexplored. While ACPS staff said progress is being made, City Council members say it’s time to start seeing results.
“I’ve been around too long to say ‘we have the ability to wait,'” said City Council member John Chapman. “I’m very interested in seeing what we can get done in the next three months and the next six months.”
Chapman said that could involve more meetings or more retreats for City and ACPS leadership to hammer out issues together.
“I do think there are still opportunities for us to have bigger retreat-style conversations,” Chapman said. “We’ve tried that in the past and it’s worked. We need to build that in until we’re marching to the same beat. If we think about sports practice or band practice, if they’re not marching to the same beat, the band director is going to make them practice together, and that’s the way we have to look at it.”
At the end of the meeting, Alderton expressed concerns that the discussions between City leadership and the School Board have focused too much on bureaucracy and not enough on improving the quality of education for Alexandria’s student body:
What is being relayed here tonight — should it have been relayed sooner or later — is that that is a facility and only an example of one of many that is not meeting the actual needs of what we would like Chance for Change to be.
If we’re going to be candid, I think a lot of times we talk about a lot of things other than the actual education of the kids. Maybe a solution we need to get to is all of us, every single one of us, talking more about the education of the kids because we get bogged down in so many different things. If we don’t talk about that, I don’t know how that’s going to change. We get bogged down in facilities we get bogged down in philosophies, but we got to understand the educational needs of these kids and I will tear up right here because of it.
You know one thing I always say: what is the number one thing that the slave master wanted to keep away from the slave? A book. The ability to read. We have fought in this community about everything other than that. What I would say is: yes, let’s talk about all the things, but we gotta figure this out.
For Alexandria City Council members, though, the counterpoint is that bureaucracy is what holds the rest of the system together. According to Chapman:
I appreciate your words, I appreciate your passion: the focus has never changed.
The stark reality is: how we’ve been operating is not necessarily tenable into the near future. It’s not sustainable.
After this meeting, I need how to figure out how to fund what ACPS does, but also what DASH does, how to make sure we can have people of different incomes and different age groups in this community. I don’t want you or anyone to think I’m dismissing what you said. It’s powerful and it’s necessary… but I need to make sure that you have the resources… We’re not going to be able to build what we want without good planning and resources.
The FY 2024 budget is scheduled for adoption on May 3.
Chris Issak, John Waters and Judy Collins are just a few of the dozens of famous artists who petitioned the Alexandria Planning Commission and City Council to approve The Birchmere‘s Special Use Permit request to keep up its flashy new 5-foot-by-2.5-foot digital sign along Mount Vernon Avenue in Arlandria.
The Planning Commission approved the request 7-0 on Tuesday, and it now goes to City Council. Planning Commission Chair Nathan Macek said that the letters with all of the supporting signatures would be “an excellent auction item.”
“Performing artists are now expecting the venues to keep up with the times,” wrote Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Judy Collins. “It is a necessary tool to promote the artists as well as the venue.”
Some requests were simple, like filmmaker John Waters, who wrote, “I am writing to support the Birchmere’s request to be allowed to keep their new LED sign.”
Chris Isaak wrote: “I wholeheartedly support the Birchmere Music Hall in their effort to retain their beautiful new sign. Please help them out… thank you!”
Gary Oelze, the owner of the music hall, erected the large electric sign last summer without city approval, prompting a request from the city manager’s office to go through an official process. Oelze, who was recently named a Living Legend of Alexandria, died last month.
“I think you know we do have a process in place for digital signs,” Macek said. “This is probably a case where they should have come in advance of putting the sign in.”
The Commission also approved a request to keep the sign lit until midnight, as well as the installation of a smaller sign at the entrance of the venue.
The following artists wrote letters in support of the new sign:
- Bela Dona Band
- Karla Bonoff
- Chris Botti
- Norman Brown
- Carbon Leaf
- Judy Collins
- Daryl Davis
- Raheem DeVaughn
- Will Downing
- Charles Esten
- Samantha Fish
- Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer
- Chris Isaak
- Glenn Jones
- Samara Joy
- Kenny Lattimore
- Musiq Souchild
- The Seldom Scene
- Ricky Skaggs
- Rick Springfield
- Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes
- Storm Large
- Livingston Taylor
- William “Smooth” Wadlaw
- John Waters
- Alyson Williams
- Dar Williams
- Jason D. Williams
The former home of Landmark Mall is likely to soon get a new tenant. The 1.1 million-square-foot Inova at Landmark Project sailed through the Alexandria Planning Commission last night, with just one hurdle left before getting the green light to start construction.
With the 6-0 (Chair Nathan Macek recused himself) approval further bolstering Inova’s plan to move Alexandria Hospital to the West End site, the matter will now be presented to City Council at its public hearing on Saturday, March 18.
“We should be celebrating a little bit bigger,” Inova’s attorney Cathy Puskar said. “Because this is a huge milestone for the city to get this project approved and moving forward and constructed, hopefully by 2028.”
Inova Alexandria Hospital opened at 4320 Seminary Road in 1962, and will eventually move its operations to the Landmark site. The project was designed by Ballinger and Ennead Architects and is managed by Inova.
The project takes up a fifth of the total land use on the 52-acre West End Alexandria development, and includes a 565,000 square-foot hospital center, a 111,000 square-foot cancer center, an 83,000 square-foot specialty care center and a retrofit of the mall’s old 550-space parking garage. The parking garage is the only remaining vestige of the once-popular shopping destination. The project also includes an underground 1,488-space parking garage below the specialty care center.
Inova’s height request of 250 feet (23 stories) for the main hospital building was also approved without discussion, although the current plans call for the height of the building to be 184 feet tall.
Commissioner Melinda Lyle said she’s excited for the project.
“This hospital is such a needed addition not only for the city of Alexandria, but for the region,” Lyle said. “I think we should all be celebrating.”
Old Town was packed on Saturday morning for Alexandria’s 40th annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Thousands of visitors lined King Street to watch a procession of more than 2,000 participants, including Irish dancers, historic reenactors and the City of Alexandria Pipes and Drums. The festivities also included a car show and a dog show at Market Square outside City Hall.
This year’s Grand Marshal was Charlotte Hall, managing director of Old Town Business. The parade was sponsored by the Ballyshaners, a nonprofit dedicated to Irish heritage. Ballyshaners is Gaelic for “Old Towners.”
Enjoy the photos!
It’s the 40th annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in old town Alexandria. @wtop pic.twitter.com/GALWNTcrJE
— Dick Uliano (@DickUliano) March 4, 2023
Get out of the way!!
Today, the Woodridge Showtime Marching Eagles Performed at the 2023 Ballyshaners St. Patrick's Day Parade held in Old Town Alexandria Virginia. #woodridgeeaglessoar💙💛💙🦅 #FriendshipProud #fpcswoodridge #dccharterproud #marchingband pic.twitter.com/0jpJoQ4U4F
— Friendship PCS (@FriendshipPCS) March 4, 2023
Some St. Patrick’s Day parade shots. #alexandriava #oldtownalexandria pic.twitter.com/l1Cx1kgLG2
— Old Town Dog Walks (@Oldtowndogwalks) March 4, 2023
The 1.1 million-square-foot Inova at Landmark project is headed to the Alexandria Planning Commission on Tuesday, signaling the beginning of an official public approval process. If all goes according to schedule, construction of the four-building medical campus could wrap in the second quarter of 2028, according to site development partner Foulger-Pratt.
The hospital building is designed to face Interstate 395, and is proposed to have a two-story glass atrium at its entrance, above which would be a six-story Z-shaped inpatient tower. Inova anticipates that the building will be 184 feet tall (nearly 17 stories) to hide hospital mechanical equipment, although the hospital system is asking for a maximum height allowance of 250 feet, or 23 stories.
“This layout ensures that the primary hospital building–the tallest building on the site–will be a visible anchor and focal point for the western end,” City staff said in a report.
Following approval by the Planning Commission, the City Council will hold its public hearing on the project on Saturday, March 18.
The project takes up a fifth of the total land use on the 52-acre West End Alexandria development, and includes a 565,000 square-foot hospital center, a 111,000 square-foot cancer center, an 83,000 square-foot specialty care center and a retrofit of the mall’s old 550-space parking garage. The parking garage is the only remaining vestige of the once-popular shopping destination.
“This will not only revitalize a site that many had given up on, but will also provide a catalyst for redevelopment and enhancement throughout the West End of our City,” Mayor Justin Wilson said in his March newsletter. “Despite over two decades of decline, it is not a mystery why we had been unable to spur redevelopment on this site in the past, It is a complicated site, with a complicated ownership structure requiring significant infrastructure investment.”
The fate of the Landmark Mall property lingered for years. The mall opened to the public in 1965, and was the first in the region to feature three anchor department stores (Sears, Woodward & Lothrop, and Hecht’s). By 2010, the mall had nearly no tenants, and in 2021 the city bought the 11-acre parcel of land for $54 million from The Howard Hughes Corporation. That same year, Inova signed a 99-year ground lease for the property.
The project was designed by Ballinger and Ennead Architects and is managed by Inova.
Alexandria City Manager Jim Parajon released his proposed $881.1 million fiscal year 2024 budget at City Hall on Tuesday night, and it includes an option to raise taxes by 1 cent.
The budget also reflects $8.1 million in collective bargaining agreement funds that will go to the Fire and Police Departments.
Parajon, who presented his budget to City Council, said that unexpectedly high real estate assessments and $4.6 million in efficiency reductions wiped away a projected $17 million budget shortfall.
The budget is a 5% increase over last year’s budget, and Parajon is proposing no change in the real estate tax rate, which would remain at $1.11 per $100 of assessed value for the second year in a row. The same goes for other tax rates, including personal property taxes, which would remain at $5.33 per $100 of assessed value for vehicles and $4.75 per $100 of assessed value for tangible personal property.
Stormwater utility fee rates are, however, projected to increase from $294 to $308.70.
The budget funds the Alexandria School Board’s operating budget transfer request of $258.7 million, which is an increase of $9.9 million, or 4%.
“You’re also going to see a fairly significant emphasis on public safety and first responders,” Parajon told Council.
Parajon is also asking for $500,000 for diverse small business funding. That particular funding request comes after the city recently abandoned a grant program aimed at helping minority business owners after a lawsuit claimed the program was discriminatory against white people.
The budget provides:
- A 7% market rate adjustment for sworn fire, medics and fire marshals
- A 6% market rate adjustment for sworn police and Sheriff’s Deputies
- A 2% increase in General Schedule and Sheriff’s Deputy pay scales
- A $4.5% market rate adjustment for non-public safety personnel
- Three new steps in the general pay scale, which is a 7% increase in salary potential
- 25 SAFER grant-funded firefighters
- Funding for Commonwealth’s Attorney staffing for more than $600,000 toward the APD body worn camera program, which launches in April
Parajon asked all departments for 1.5%-to-2% in budget reductions in their proposals, with efficiencies including the outsourcing of city employee leave of absence reviews, benefits consulting, and city vehicle fleet repair.
The manager is also advising Council to consider an “alternative” 1 cent increase in real estate taxes, which would reduce borrowing for the Alexandria City High School Project, increase city employee compensation and provide an additional pay increase of 1% over what’s being proposed for city and Sheriff’s Office employees.
That 1 cent would also fund:
- An emergency services bed-finder for $79,225
- A new bilingual clinical psychologist to help city employees experiencing trauma for $166,380
- A construction project manager for $212,445
- Out of school time staffing for $200,000
- Summer youth employment expansion for $200,000
Parajon, who also presented a $2.39 billion 10-year Capital Improvement Program (CIP), proposes $367.2 million for Schools capital projects, including $39.5 million in cost escalations for projects currently underway like the George Mason Elementary School project.
The FY 2024-2032 CIP includes:
- $282 million for the city’s stormwater management systems
- $185.1 million for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s capital program
- $63.3 for citywide street reconstruction and repaving
- $48.2 for capital infrastructure improvements associated with the Waterfront Implementation Project
- $17.4 million to renovate Four Mile Run Park
“I certainly look forward to working alongside my colleagues as we spend the next next few months engaging with the community to provide a budget,” said Mayor Justin Wilson.
There will be multiple public forums to discuss the budget, the next being a public presentation by Parajon on Thursday, March 2 at 7 p.m. at Charles E. Beatley, Jr. Central Library (5005 Duke Street), followed by a City Council/School Board budget work session on Wednesday, March 8, and budget public hearings on March 13 and March 18.
The budget will be approved on May 3 and go into effect on July 1.
A main roadway into Alexandria will likely soon have a new mini-mart. On Saturday, City Council will vote on an addition to the Liberty service station at 700 S. Patrick Street (Route 1), and the owner says that construction could be wrapped by the beginning of the summer.
Per the plan, the 1,136-square-foot service station would be expanded by the addition of a 24-hour mini-mart. The 438-square-foot structure would include two restrooms, and the two existing service bays would be completely removed and remodeled into a retail shop with food and household supplies.
“We’re so excited to get this project started,” owner Hager Cherif-Benkahla told ALXnow. “We’ve owned the gas station for six years, and we’re ready to go with this.”
There has been a service station on the 20,300-square-foot property at the corner of S. patrick and Franklin Streets since at least 1957, according to the city.
The Planning Commission unanimously approved the proposal earlier this month. City staff also backed the plan, provided that the owners replace the entrance apron at the corner of Franklin Street with a curb, gutter and sidewalk.
“This will encourage safer pedestrian movement along the Franklin Street sidewalk, reducing the number of cars using the curb cut, and providing safer pedestrian access to the ice machine and ATM,” a staff report said.
Staff also said there is a potential during construction that historic artifacts could be found on-site, as the property is located near to where African American settlements were established in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. If artifacts are found, then construction must cease and the City’s Archaeology department must be contacted for further study.
The Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA) is requesting a $1 million loan after unexpected development costs and a new designation that could give it a tax credit boost.
Both the loan and the tax credits would go toward the Samuel Madden Redevelopment Project. The project involves the demolition of the existing 66-unit Samuel Madden Homes and replacing them with two multifamily buildings at 899 and 999 N. Henry Streets.
The new development would include 532 rental units, with more than 60% of those being affordable units for those making 30-80% of the area median income.
The first part of ARHA’s request to the City Council at the Saturday, Feb. 25 meeting is a $1 million loan to support redevelopment. The loan request comes after construction cost inflation and fluctuations in interest rates have pushed up costs for the projects.
“According to ARHA, recent changes in the financial markets including construction cost inflation and upward fluctuations in interest rates necessitate its request for $1 million in City Housing Opportunities Fund (HOF) funds to maintain project feasibility,” a memo from Helen McIlvaine, director of the Office of Housing, said. “City financial support was not initially anticipated beyond a small predevelopment loan.”
The loan funding comes from a $3.1 million reserve built up by contributions from other nearby developments around the Braddock neighborhood.
The second part of ARHA’s request is to have the site classified as a revitalization area.
A memo from McIlvaine said the change in title could help boost ARHA’s efforts to get more state funding.
“The Resolution designating the ARHA Samuel Madden site a revitalization area helps make ARHA’s application for low-income housing tax credit equity more competitive in terms of aligning the project with funding priorities established by Virginia Housing,” McIlvaine wrote.
What’s more, McIlvaine said city staff agrees with the revitalization area designation — noting a site where economically beneficial development will not occur without government assistance.
“Consistent with the City Attorney’s past interpretation of the relevant Virginia Code Section, staff believe that the proposed development of affordable housing at this site provides an economic benefit to the City that would not otherwise occur without government assistance,” McIlvaine wrote, “including local financial support and federal tax credits, as well as other planned public and private resources, which criteria comply with requirements of the designation.”
Separately from this loan and designation request, the Samuel Madden development has raised some eyebrows among City leaders in the past for a proposed tax exemption that could set a notable precedent. ARHA has previously discussed asking the City Council to make the Samuel Madden project tax-exempt, but given that ARHA is working with private developers, that could lead to affordable housing tax exemptions for private entities charging market-rate rents — not affordable housing.
“ARHA properties owned by ARHA are tax exempt, those are off the tax rolls, but when they do a redevelopment that involves a private entity, those projects would go on the tax rolls,” Mayor Justin Wilson said in a recent city coucnil meeting. “All the affordable housing projects that exist in the city that are owned by nonprofits do pay taxes. In this case, ARHA is partnering with a private entity, so the ownership structure is a little bit complicated.”
The loan and designation status are scheduled for review at a City Council meeting this Saturday, Feb. 25.