Alexandria, VA

What a week it’s been in Alexandria.

The pandemic seemed inescapable this week, and much of our coverage was related to dealing with the coronavirus.

Five more fatalities related to the virus were reported by the Virginia Department of Health, and the death toll now stands at 67. There are now or have been 3,671 cases in the city since the first case was reported in March.

The week also began with our coverage of City Council’s passage of a face mask ordinance requiring residents to wear masks in public places. While there is no fine for noncompliance, the new law takes effect on October 1.

There was some heartwarming news. City residents helped a Del Ray business owner raise more than $10,000 after her house burned down on September 12.

We also covered the Little Theatre of Alexandria’s newest COVID-friendly in-person show. Additionally, Alexandria restauranteur Bill Blackburn participated in a COVID-19 vaccine trial this week, and Alexandria resident Ann Samuels safely celebrated her 100th birthday.

The Alexandria City School Board also accepted a name change proposal for Matthew Maury Elementary School. Now with the virtual school year in full swing, we also published a poll on how folks think school is going so far and saw mixed results.

Here are our top stories this week in Alexandria.

  1. ‘Lipstick On A Pig’: BAR Rejects Heritage Old Town Proposal
  2. Just Listed in Alexandria
  3. ThePoopBrothers: ‘Fearless’ Del Ray Kids Created New Business Over Summer Break
  4. UPDATED: Flooding Reported in Parts of City After Heavy Rain
  5. Man Struck by Bullet While Driving in West End
  6. Alexandria Hospital Nurse Wins First-Ever Nightingale Award
  7. Juvenile Arrested After Shots Fired in Arlandria
  8. City Council Passes Mask Ordinance, and There’s No Fine for Noncompliance
  9. New Alexandria Boxing Club Works Out Every Sunday at Jones Point Park
  10. Monte Durham’s New Hair Salon is Opening Saturday in Old Town
  11. Alexandrian Ann Samuels Turns 100 Years Old

Have a safe weekend!

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October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and all next month, the Alexandria Department of Community and Human Services will light up City Hall (301 King Street) purple in honor of domestic violence victims.

“It’s really beautiful to see,” said City Hall engineer Matt Wise. “We lit up City Hall in purple at the end of August through September 1 to raise awareness of substance use disorders, and next month we’re going to honor and raise awareness for domestic violence victims.”

Last year, there was a candlelight vigil at Market Square to honor the 22 people in Alexandria who have lost their lives to acts of domestic violence since the mid-2000s. The annual event is hosted by the city’s Domestic Violence Intervention Project, and is being put off this year because of the pandemic.

“COVID-19 is having a dramatic effect on our daily lives,” states the city’s Domestic Violence Program. “During a crisis like this, the risk for intimate partner and domestic violence increases and may happen at higher rates. Survivors are also at an increased risk for violence and may need additional service.”

The city’s Sexual Assault Center and Domestic Violence Program is open, and hotlines are available 24/7 at 703-684-7273 [Sexual Assault Hotline] or 703-746-4911 [Domestic Violence Hotline]. Online support is also available with The National Sexual Assault Online Hotline.

City Hall was previously lit up at the end of August in recognition of International Opioid Awareness Day.

To raise awareness and understanding of addiction prevention and treatment on International Overdose Awareness Day,…

Posted by Department of Community & Human Services, City of Alexandria, VA on Sunday, August 30, 2020

Photo via DCHS/Facebook

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Twice a year, an engineer checks the clock mechanism at the Alexandria City Hall clock tower to make sure everything is running on time. Above the machine sits is a relic of a bygone age — a cast iron bell that has been silent for decades.

The clock tower is accessible via a small door next to City Council Chambers.

According to a report from the National Park Service, the bell first rang on New Year’s Eve – Jan 1, 1873. An old bell hammer sits in one of the corners of the clock tower.

“I think these days the bell ringing can be done electronically,” said Bill Miner, the city’s division chief for capital improvement projects, who led ALXnow on a tour of the bell tower.

Inside the tower there is 50-year-old graffiti from construction workers who put in steel reinforcement beams in the 1960s.

The inscription on the bell reads, “Steeple, clock and bell presented to the City of his nativity by an esteemed citizen. Alexandria, VA, A.D. 1872.”

The bell was made by the Meneely Bell Foundry in 1871, according to the Office of Historic Alexandria. The New York-based foundry made bells from 1826 until 1952.

Photos via Office of Historic Alexandria and ALXnow

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The second round of the Alexandria Back to Business (ALX B2B) grant program opens at the end of September, and $2.4 million is available for qualifying small businesses and nonprofits to cope with financial losses related to the pandemic.

“The program criteria for Round Two has been expanded so additional types of businesses and nonprofit childcare providers will be eligible to apply for a grant,” according to the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, which is receiving the applications. “Grants will be awarded in amounts ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 depending on the number of employees working for the business.”

City Council approved the funding at its meeting on Tuesday, September 8. The application period will start on Wednesday, September 30, at 8 a.m. and end on October 5 at noon. All submissions must be made online and businesses that received a grant in round one are ineligible.

To qualify for a grant, businesses must meet the following criteria:

  • 25% negative revenue impact attributable to the COVID-19 health emergency
  • Licensed business in the City of Alexandria
  • Physical location within the City of Alexandria
  • In operation as of March 14, 2020
  • For-profit small business
  • Any entity (for-profit or nonprofit) that provides full-day or part-day childcare services to children 0-13 years of age and is licensed or regulated by a local ordinance or state licensing body
  • Business is current on all local business taxes or is on a payment plan with the City
  • Not currently involved in business bankruptcy proceedings
  • Intend to remain operating in Alexandria through December 31, 2020
  • Between 0 – 100 employees
  • Locally owned and operated
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The ongoing exterior renovations at Alexandria’s City Hall should be wrapped up by the end of October, and now staff are thinking about the future of the building’s interior.

For the last several weeks there has been scaffolding at City Hall, which has been all part of a $900,000 exterior renovation, which includes dozens of new double-glazed windows, painting and other small repairs.

“We are targeting Halloween for the conclusion of the exterior work,” Bill Miner, the city’s division chief of capital projects told ALXnow. “You want to finish it before the winter months come, because you can’t really do a lot with brick and stone once the weather gets too cold.”

The renovation of City Hall has been an ongoing project since 2014, and is slated to be completely renovated in 2025. In a staff report that was released to City Council last year, the city manager’s office said that the building needs “major updates and repairs.”

“The building is crowded, and space is inadequate for workplace activities,” according to the report. “Office spaces do not reflect the image of a vibrant, efficient workplace.”

The interior renovation, which will cost $80-$100 million, is currently being planned as the pandemic has left the city with few options but to spread out and use space more efficiently. Approximately 80% of city staff are still teleworking from home, Miner said, and each office has been told to have a minimum of two employees in the building.

“This building needs a total rework, but funding comes in chunks,” Miner said.

City hall was built in 1873 and saw its first major renovations in the 1940s and 1950s. There were additions in the 1960s and then another renovation in the 1980s. The most recent interior work has largely been structural, with repairs made to the building’s tower and smokestack, which were damaged by a small earthquake in 2011. There were also immediate repairs made to the roof of the building and trusses in the attic above Council Chambers.

“There’s been some modifications related to COVID,” Miner said. “The world changed, and with that the interior planning strategies have changed. The whole design industry is rethinking and revising the way office interiors are laid out, short term and long term. So, a lot of what we have planned in terms of interior renovations within the home we are now rethinking in light of COVID protection.”

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The Alexandria City Council on Saturday passed an ordinance requiring everyone in the city to wear a face mask in public.

The measure passed 5-2, and a $100 civil penalty for not wearing a mask was removed from the ordinance before passage after it was universally agreed at the meeting by council and city staff that it will not be enforceable. The city manager must now designate city staff to hand out masks and citations to lawbreakers.

The ordinance will go into effect on October 1 and expire when Alexandria’s local emergency declaration ends.

“I think it’s good in the sense that it signals our intent to the community,” City Councilman Mo Seifeldein said. “I did not think this is actually going to be enforced at all, but there there are many laws or ordinances that have binds that are not enforced because we use our discretion and common sense in doing them.”

City Councilman Canek Aguirre and Councilwoman Del Pepper voted against the mask ordinance. Aguirre said that the matter was never brought forward to council by The Partnership For A Healthier Alexandria, the Public Health Advisory Commission, Neighborhood Health or the Inova hospital system.

“I’m in opposition to this,” Aguirre said. “I strongly feel that an ordinance is not the way to go, especially when there’s absolutely no way to enforce this.”

A number of city residents spoke against the ordinance.

“I come to you as someone who’s already been physically assaulted by two men for requiring them wearing face masks in my business,” said Alan Pounders, who runs a restaurant along the waterfront. “Myself and my staff, we’ve been verbally assaulted over this on almost a daily basis.”

There are exceptions. Children under the age of 10 will not be required to wear a mask, nor will people with disabilities that can’t wear them for health reasons and athletes falling within the governor’s executive order on COVID-19 restrictions.

There are 62 COVID-related fatalities and there are now or have been 3,613 cases of COVID-19 in Alexandria, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

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Alexandria has experienced its fair share of flooding in recent days, and on Saturday City Council will receive an oral presentation by the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services on $750 million in water improvement projects.

On Thursday, September 10, flooding was reported throughout the city in the latest of a string of summer weather events that have shut down swaths of roadways, flooded alleyways and homes. The city sent out an advisory warning residents of “indoor sewer backups, impassable roads, power outages, and other flood-related issues.”

Nine city crews are inspecting and cleaning waterways, according to the city.

“Today’s rainfall was approximately 2.5 to 4 inches at a rate as high as 3 inches in 10 minutes,” the city said. “This was an intense, regional storm that caused widespread flooding throughout Alexandria, particularly in the eastern portion, and included storm sewer line surges and sanitary backups.”

A similar advisory was sent out after a July 23 storm, which dropped between two and three inches of rain in 30 minutes and led to flooding.

Mayor Justin Wilson said that the city is planning infrastructure improvement projects in its 10-year Capital Improvement Program.

“Today, Alexandria spends a significant amount of money on infrastructure designed to manage water,” Wilson wrote in his monthly newsletter. “In April, the City Council approved a $2.1 billion, ten-year Capital Improvement Program. Of that, over $150 million is to address stormwater and sanitary sewer infrastructure. Alexandria Renew Enterprises, the City’s sewer authority, plans another $593 million of capital investments over the next decade, primarily the RiverRenew project to remediate the Combined Sewer (sanitary and stormwater) system that serves Old Town.”

The city can currently handle a 10-year storm, but the July 8, 2019, and the July 23, 2020, storms were “more intense than this design standard, with the July 23 event about 30 times more intense,” according to the city. “Out of the 83 ‘problem areas’ in the City’s eight watersheds, the top two watersheds were Hooff’s Run and Four Mile Run, with 23 ‘problem areas’ each. More detailed planning and analysis will take place to assess the overall implementation feasibility (including construction) prior to full design of these large-scale capital projects.”

The mayor’s full message is below.

Read More

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Morning Notes

After Flooding, Councilman Says City Stormwater Management Needs Work — “Councilmember Chapman tells 7 On Your Side Thursday’s flooding means city leaders need to quickly consider wholesale changes in terms of storm management.” [WJLA]

City Extends Deadline on Personal Property Tax Payments — “To provide relief for our residents and businesses during the ongoing pandemic, the City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday evening to extend the deadline for payment of the Personal Property Tax (Car Tax and Business). Payments are now due on December 15th.” [Twitter]

Casa Chirilagua Gets Grant to Develop Wifi-Friendly Outdoor Space — “AlexandriaVA.gov and Casa Chirilagua are working together to bridge the digital divide by building a safe and comfortable outdoor space with Wi-Fi for local students.” [Facebook]

Beyer Says Trump Watches Too Much TV — “The President says he is watching many hours of television a day as the country continues to reel amid its worst and deadliest crisis in most Americans’ lifetimes.” [Twitter]

City Wins National Technology Award for Remote 911 Call-Taking — “The annual PTI Solutions Awards recognize PTI member cities and counties that have implemented or updated innovative technology solutions within the past 15 months that positively affected local government performance and service to the public.” [CompTIA]

ALIVE! Free Food Distribution on Saturday — “ALIVE! Truck-to-Trunk will distribute food at two drive-through sites on Saturday, September 12 from 8:30 am – 10:30 am at the parking lots of Cora Kelly (3600 Commonwealth Ave) and John Adams (5651 Rayburn Ave) Elementary Schools. This distribution includes bags of shelf stable groceries, fresh produce, and eggs, while supplies last. People are encouraged to drive through. Walks-ups should maintain 6 feet social distance, wear a face mask, and bring carts or reusable bags to carry food home. “[Facebook]

Today’s Weather — “Sunshine and clouds mixed during the day. A stray shower or thunderstorm is possible. High 82F. Winds NNE at 5 to 10 mph. At night, partly cloudy. Low near 65F. Winds ENE at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Spa Coordinator — “This experience includes answering phones, scheduling spa services, greeting all customers, assisting with inquiries, and processing point of sale transactions for all products, always exceeding expectations.” [Indeed]

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Can’t avoid a crowd in Alexandria? On Saturday, the Alexandria City Council will vote on an ordinance that requires people to wear face masks indoors and outdoors in settings where six feet of physical distancing can’t be followed.

A $100 civil fine would be imposed on lawbreakers, but city staff maintain that the ordinance is geared toward education and not enforcement. Police officers will not issue the civil citations, and the city manager’s office has yet to designate a city agency that would administer them. If approved, the ordinance would go into effect on October 1 and expire when Alexandria’s local emergency declaration ends.

“Personally, I don’t go anywhere without a mask,” said Councilman Canek Aguirre, who questioned the effectiveness of the enforcement aspect. “I am in favor of this ordinance and the concept of it, however I do have some hesitation.”

City Councilwoman Amy Jackson said the community has received enough education over COVID-19 over the last six months.

“My concern is that this is window dressing,” Jackson said. “If it’s a $100 fine and we’re down on lower King Street, who is enforcing it?”

There are exceptions. Children under the age of 10 will not be required to wear a mask, nor will people with disabilities that can’t wear them for health reasons and athletes falling within the governor’s executive order on COVID-19 restrictions.

What about waiting for food at a restaurant?

“Face coverings are still required to be worn while waiting to receive food or beverages, or during substantial breaks between periods of eating and drinking,” the ordinance states.

Assistant City Manager Debra Collins said that this is an important step in flattening the curve.

“We’re hoping that by having whatever designated department staff, whether it’s Parks and Rec., maybe some T&ES (Transportation and Environmental Services) and they see the need for some compliance, that we can offer the mask and we’re not necessarily charging one population that probably can not afford it,” Collins said.

City Manager Mark Jinks has not yet designated which department will ensure compliance, but said that staff will hand out face masks in public as a first step.

“I would say it’s about getting compliance through education, through having people who are not law enforcement officers who are on the streets,” Jinks said. “You basically tell somebody, ‘This is what you need to do for the good of the population, here’s a face mask,’ and you move on to the next person.”

Jinks added, “The advantage of having the ordinance is that it’s the law, you need to do this, and that helps underscore to folks that they need to keep the face masks on when they’re in public places described in this ordinance.”

Councilman Mo Seifeldein anticipates city staff will gently enforce the ordinance.

“I think we need to be as safe as we can, but at the end of the day it’s going to be a social responsibility by each of us to try and wear the mask whenever possible, and this is a step that will hopefully get us to that point,” Seifeldein said. “We want this to become a habit over time.”

There are 62 COVID-related fatalities and there are now or have been 3,558 cases of COVID-19 in Alexandria, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

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When Alexandria was hit with a once-in-a-century pandemic, the Health Department turned to a former U.S. Navy Captain to lead its call center.

Residents with questions related to coronavirus are welcomed to call Alexandria’s COVID-19 Hotline at 703.746.4988 during the week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. On the other end of the line will be Debra McGhee or one of the call center’s volunteers to give tips or direct you to city resources.

Now after six months, McGhee is stepping down as the call center supervisor. But don’t worry. She’ll still be volunteering, just not full-time.

“I’ve done six months and the call center is really established now,” McGhee told ALXnow. “We’ve got two shifts a day, five days a week. We’ve got some really good trained people in the call center that can handle the calls.”

McGhee, a 27-year Navy veteran who retired in 2009, became a volunteer years ago with the Fire Department and the Alexandria Medical Reserve Corps. She made one rule for herself after retiring — never to work full-time hours. She ended up breaking that rule to manage the call center.

“One of the most important things about responding to the pandemic is building trust with the community,” said Natalie Talis, a population health manager with the Alexandria Health Department. “Having Deborah lead the call center and making sure that it is a trusted, reliable resource for the community… has just meant so much in building trust and knowledge for the community.”

The call center receives upward of 50 calls on a busy day, and volunteers answer questions on where callers can get tested for the virus, next steps if they are feeling symptomatic and a host of information on city services and resources.

The beginning days in March and April were the hardest, McGhee said.

“I’m glad this opportunity presented itself so I can contribute,” McGhee said. “In the beginning, we didn’t know what the coronavirus was. The community was just a little bit on pins and needles, because it started at the beginning of allergy season and people were very concerned about their symptoms.”

McGhee said she will continue volunteering with the call center, since cold and flu season is around the corner.

Courtesy photo

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The Alexandria City Council on Tuesday night unanimously sent a proposal establishing a community police review board back to the drawing board.

In Tuesday night’s legislative meeting, Councilman Mo Seifeldein said that city staff did not include his desire to give the review board independent investigative authority to look into police misconduct and issue subpoenas. Seifeldein said he was clear with his request to City Manager Mark Jinks when Council unanimously directed the creation of the review board proposal in June.

Jinks said that the police department’s investigative authority works well and that he presented a proposal to fit Council’s request.

“I believe that we bought forth a specific proposal that was within the confines, within the parameters, of what we believe Council was looking for — a police review board in an ordinance form,” Jinks said. “We did not interpret Council’s direction to be that a board itself be an investigative authority, and that authority be removed from the police department.”

Seifeldein asked Jinks if he remembered the June meeting and said he does not want to take investigative authority away from the police.

“I don’t know, to be honest with you, Mr. Jinks, too many reasonable people who would have watched that meeting and come up with that same conclusion that the Council did not want to look at investigative authority,” Seifeldein said.

Mayor Justin Wilson said he believed that Jinks did not intentionally mislead Council with his proposal.

“I believe that the city manager and his staff presented a recommendation that is in alignment with what the council requested him to do,” Wilson said.

Jinks presented Council with a proposal that would create an independent auditor to work with the board to conduct “broad evaluations, offer recommendations for improving policing policies, practices, procedures and training.” The proposal limits the board from investigating complaints that occurred before June 9. That includes any complaints against the department, “any financial management, or procurement decisions made by APD… individual hiring, assignment and promotional decisions made by the APD.”

“We do want an independent investigation of some things,” said Councilwoman Amy Jackson. “That’s what the point of this is.”

Councilman Canek Aguirre said staff needs to go back to the drawing board and asked for more information on other community police review boards around the country. In Virginia, there are such boards in Fairfax County, Virginia Beach and Charlottesville.

“We do need to go back to the drawing board to reassess what are our options and power,” Aguirre said, adding that the proposal was created within a short timeframe. “I think that we need to go back and revisit the whole thing.”

Jinks said he understood Council’s request and that he will present an option for the community police review board with subpoena power with an auditor/independent investigator at Council’s next legislative meeting on October 17.

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The Alexandria City Council has pushed a decision to add Virginia Tech’s initials to the Potomac Yard Metro Station.

Virginia Tech’s $1 billion Innovation Campus is promised to bring a massive redevelopment to the area, although no buildings have yet to be constructed and no students are on site. Consequently, some members of council were concerned that the school’s request to add the name to the Metro station would not meet Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority naming guidelines.

“I am nervous about christening this Virginia Tech station when we have not seen an actual building,” said City Councilman John Chapman.

The Metro station is planned to open by spring 2022 and the Virginia Tech Innovation campus is scheduled to open in the fall of 2024. This and next month, the Alexandria Board of Architectural Review and the Planning Commission will receive half a dozen plans for the 1.9 million square-foot mixed use North Potomac Yard development. The campus will accommodate 750 computer science master’s degree students per year and more than 100 doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows.

Yon Lambert, director of the city’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Services, said that making the name change now would save upward of $350,000 in rebranding should the decision to rename the station be made at a later date. He also said that WMATA would have to grant an exception for the name change, since a campus with 5,000 students is the usual baseline for a name change.

“What Metro has indicated to the city is that, assuming that we bring it forward to Metro before the end of this calendar year, it can be done without any additional costs incurred by the city,” Lambert said. “But if if the station name proposal is brought forward later, either in association with a map change or without a map change the cost can be significant, ranging from $350,000 on the low end to more than $1 million, and those numbers could increase significantly over time.”

Mayor Justin Wilson supported the name change.

“I just want to be crystal clear, in the future if anybody would like to invest a billion dollars next to one of our metro stations, I will lobby to put your name on the station,” Wilson said.

David Baker, a representative from Virginia Tech, said that there will be construction on site when the Potomac Yard station opens in 2022.

“When the station is open, there will be active construction happening,” Baker said. “We are on track as of today, and our obligation to the Commonwealth is to be open for classes and start having the student Innovation Campus in Potomac Yard by the fall of 2024.”

Photo via City of Alexandria

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