Despite previous commitments to diversity, including recruitment efforts and leadership from a Black chief of police, the Alexandria Police Department is contending with diversity issues.
Officers tell ALXnow a reorganization that occurred after Chief Don Hayes stepped into his leadership role in 2021 rewarded close connections and disregarded officers of color and civilian staff, which they say is a sign that Hayes does not want to make waves.
Now, most of APD’s leadership remains white and officers of color say they are being passed over.
“The way it’s set up now, the department’s leadership will be completely white for 20 years,” said an APD employee who spoke anonymously. “[The chief’s] actions always seem to have an adverse effect on employees of color.”
The department’s leadership of sergeant through captain is mostly white, with people of color making up a relatively small percentage. APD has no non-white captains or detectives, and only 10 sergeants of color out of 38 sergeant positions, according to a staffing directory provided by APD.
The two highest-ranking Black women in the department are sergeants, per the directory. There are no Asian officers above the rank of sergeant, and there is only one Hispanic lieutenant.
Some officers have tried many avenues for addressing this, including ethics complaints, meetings with Hayes and possibly unionizing, but have not gotten anywhere, fearing retaliation.
“I have thought about leaving,” a APD employee said. “Why should I go for a promotion? I want to get my money and I just want to go home and be left alone when I’m off the clock.”
ALXnow interviewed nine employees who spoke under the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation. Those employees alleged that recent departmental actions aren’t simply an oversight, but instead a concentrated effort against minorities. Hayes declined to be interviewed on diversity and his restructuring over the course of the last two months by ALXnow.
“There are great people, employees, officers and civilian staff that work at APD,” an employee said. “But there are also some very rotten ones. And unfortunately, some of those rotten ones work in the middle management and leadership. And they have an impact on the morale and the culture of the organization.”
“Unfortunately, unless someone ever notices it, it’s just gonna be a slippery slope,” the employee continued. “If they’re all there, the turnover is going to be high.”
Staff also feel like Hayes could have been a mentor, but is alienating them and not often present due to his other duties as a pastor. Since last summer, Hayes has been interim pastor at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Arlington.
The fallout from a lack of diversity in middle management is something that people who specialize in diversity initiatives say is a key hindrance to changing the status quo.
Like many local households, the City of Alexandria has plans to tidy up for the spring.
The City announced in a release today that a number of beautification efforts will be going on around town, along with a few continue improvements like pothole repair and repaving.
The City of Alexandria said some of its “gateways” are going to be getting some much-needed attention to improve the entrances to Alexandria.
According to the release:
Spring gateway cleaning is scheduled to begin Saturday, April 8, and will continue each Saturday until all gateway areas are complete. The primary focus of the clean-up is to “spruce up” the entry points to the City. The gateways included in the spring cleaning program are Telegraph Road, Duke Street/I-395, Van Dorn Street/Eisenhower Avenue, and King Street/I-395. Several areas throughout Alexandria will receive enhanced litter collection as part of the beautification effort.
Alexandria is also offering a limited supply of wood mulch from previously collected Christmas trees, followed by leaf mulch.
“Deliveries will begin on Monday, April 3 and will run through Friday, June 30,” the release said. “Delivery dates and times are limited and appointments are on a first-come, first-served basis. There is a $65 delivery charge for each half-load and $130 for a full load.”
Free mulch is also available at 4215 Eisenhower Avenue, Monday to Friday, from 7 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
The City has also started a street-sweeping project that started last Monday and is estimated to take 12 weeks.
“Crews keep neighborhoods and commercial corridors clean and protect waterways from debris runoff by regularly sweeping 560 lane miles,” the release said. “The street sweeping program includes three major groups: commercial, no parking, and residential.”
The release asked residents to be aware of “No Parking” restrictions on blocks where sweeping is ongoing.
Beyond beautification, there are some tangible infrastructure benefits coming this spring as well. The city’s repaving program is scheduled to start on Monday, April 17. Spring also marks the start of pothole repair season.
“The City’s pothole patrol begins Monday, April 3,” the release said. “Alexandria is divided into 11 zones and crews will work diligently on multiple zones at a time to ensure each zone gets one pass. This is a moving operation and residents should expect periodic lane closures throughout the City. The spring pothole patrol only covers major street networks and does not include public alleys and parking spaces.”
After the spring pothole patrol, which is estimated to be finished around April 28, residents can report potholes online or by calling 703 746 4311.
Alexandria is preparing to launch a massive overhaul of its housing zoning with a kickoff event later this month.
The Zoning for Housing/Housing for All initiative was announced late last year but has been in the works since 2020. The initiative is essentially a top-t0-bottom review of the city code to rewrite the city’s zoning code to emphasize affordability and equity.
According to a release:
The Zoning for Housing/Housing for All initiative began in 2020 and supports the City’s commitment to housing production and affordability and acknowledgement that Alexandria’s zoning policies have perpetuated historic and systemic discrimination, and how those policies can be changed to reflect our tenet that housing is a human right.
Housing for All, the equity component of Zoning for Housing, will explore the extent of past discriminatory housing policies and their continued impact, especially on people of color and/or low income.
According to the release, the initiative’s focus is a gallery of some of the most discussed housing and density issues in Alexandria over the last years, from the trade for bonus height to questions about housing in single-family zones.
According to the release, the initiative will examine:
- Historic Development Patterns
- Coordinated Development Districts and Affordable Housing
- Expanding Housing Opportunities in Single Family Zones
- Industrial Zones Analysis
- Expansion of Transit Oriented Development
- Residential Multi-family Zone Analysis
- Townhouse Zoning Analysis
- Office to Residential Conversions
- Bonus Height Text Amendment
Kickoff events are scheduled for Monday, March 20, from 5-9 p.m. and Tuesday, March 21, from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Alexandria – Carlyle (2460 Eisenhower Avenue). The kickoff events are the start of a community and civic engagement process scheduled to run through the rest of the year.
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
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.
Alexandria has shelved a grant program aimed at helping minority business owners after a lawsuit claiming the program discriminated against white people.
The program’s cancelation was first reported by the Washington Post.
The program was designed to help Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) who owned businesses in Alexandria. Engineering firm Tridentis, LLC filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in January claiming the program was “blatantly illegal” and violated the Equal Protection Clause.
A statement on the program’s website said the program, as currently proposed, would not be launched:
Over the past several months, the City has worked to develop a grant program to meet the needs of our diverse small business community – an important foundation of Alexandria’s continued economic development. A lawsuit challenging the BIPOC small business grant program was filed in federal court in January. Upon review of the lawsuit and the program, we have decided we will not launch the program as currently proposed. Instead, we will review options to use this funding to meet the needs of our diverse small business community in a more comprehensive and sustainable way, and look forward to launching a program that achieves that goal. Our City remains committed to serving all Alexandrians and focused on our responsibility to find equitable solutions to address the challenges they face. More details will become available on the new program over the coming months.
The Washington Post reported that Alexandria officials admitted that the grant criteria as written was a violation of the 14th Amendment, but that the city would work to find other ways to help minority business owners disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
The value of Alexandria’s total residential tax base has outpaced its commercial tax base, according to the city’s Office of Real Estate Assessments.
Over last year, the city’s overall real estate assessments increased 3.82%, or $1.7 billion, to reach a total of $43.88 billion, according to a report that the City Council will receive at its legislative meeting tomorrow (Tuesday) at City Hall (301 King Street).
The city’s residential tax base increased by 5.32%, or $1.24 billion, for a total of $24.6 billion. The average value of a single-family home value increased by nearly 4.6% to $940,375, and the average value of a condo in the city is $407,616, an increase of roughly 3.5% over last year. The city’s multi-family rental apartment market base also increased almost 5.4% this year, for a total of $9.89 billion.
Mayor Justin Wilson touted the assessments in a series of tweets. Some residents challenged this, saying the city’s assessments don’t line up with decreases in single-family home sale prices tracked on real estate websites.
To give you some more color on this year: the volume of single-family sales went way down. The volume of condo sales did not decrease as much.
So condos as a share of overall residential sales increased. Condos have lower values, which dragged down the median.
— Justin Wilson (@justindotnet) February 9, 2023
For every zip code in Alexandria — except 22305 (Arlandria) and 22312 (Lincolnia) — there was either a negative year-over-year change in sale price or no change, according to the website Redfin, which tracks median sale prices.
Wilson said Redfin’s estimates are wrong and the city’s full assessment data will be posted this coming Tuesday (Feb. 14) to examine.
Alexandria’s commercial tax base also increased just under 2%, for a total of $355.5 million.
While most commercial properties saw moderate increases, the value of office buildings in the city fell 10%. Additionally, a number of properties were and are being converted to residential use. The city’s overall equalized commercial office property tax base fell 1.8%, or nearly $66.2 million, from $3.65 billion in 2022 to $3.6 billion this year.
According to a city report:
There were seven sales of office buildings in 2022. Of those sales, one traditional commercial office building indicated intentions of conversion to residential development, [while] another plans to upgrade the current office building
- 1801 Beauregard Street, with 135,087 square feet, reportedly intends to convert its space into 95-to-105 rental units
- 515 King Street, with 82,800 square feet, intends to add additional amenities and develop coworking spaces
- Empty office buildings at 801 N. Fairfax Street, 625 Slaters Lane and 635 Slaters Lane are being converted into condominiums
- 4900 Seminary Road is being converted into 212 multifamily rental units
- Conversions have been proposed for 901 N. Pitt Street, at Transpotomac Plaza and at 1101 King Street
The overall value of Alexandria’s 22 hotels increased by 2.6%, or $12.8 million, from $497.5 million in 2022 to $510.3 million this year.
Assessment notices will be sent to property owners this Wednesday (Feb. 15), and residents have until March 15 to request a review of their assessment with the Office of Real Estate Assessments, followed by a June 1 deadline to file an appeal with the Board of Equalization.
As for trends, last year there was a nearly 27% decrease in the volume of single family home sales, and a 13% decrease in condo sales compared with 2021, according to the city.
The median sale price of residential properties in the City of Alexandria declined for a second year (in 2022) from $588,750 to $544,875. The median rose from $517,250 to $608,000 from 2019 to 2020. The decline is still attributable to a greater number of condominium properties (typically sold for less than single-family properties) in the sales sample than in years prior to 2020.
More 2023 Alexandria Assessment Data:
*26.71% decrease in the volume of SF property sales
*12.56% decrease in condo sales
*median sale price of residential properties declined for 2nd straight year
*$2.44B in new growth last 5 years pic.twitter.com/bZAKmEAt3F
— Justin Wilson (@justindotnet) February 9, 2023
More 2023 Alexandria Assessment Data:
The commercial tax base increased by $355M.
$322M of the increase was from new development, of which $302M was residential multi-family development (rental housing). pic.twitter.com/ShjZo9uI3x
— Justin Wilson (@justindotnet) February 9, 2023
(Updated 4 p.m) Alexandria and several other localities have released an executive summary for a Regional Fair Housing Plan that not only provides some goals for housing but comes with a look at specific zoning changes that can be made to help get the region to those goals.
The plan was put together by a team comprising representatives from eight localities, including Alexandria, along with a few partner groups. A 60-day public comment period is scheduled to run through March 31 to allow locals to submit their thoughts on the plan.
Many of the goals have been frequent talking points in Alexandria City Council meetings in recent years, but others are ideas that go significantly beyond current policy in the city.
The goals laid out in the Regional Fair Housing Plan are:
- Increase the supply of affordable housing for families earning at or below 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI) for the region – especially where there hasn’t been any.
- Change zoning and land use policies to expand access to fair housing. Increase the development, geographic distribution, and supply of affordable housing.
- Implement policies to preserve affordable housing and prevent displacement of residents. Keep the same number of existing affordable rental units in our region.
- Increase the number of homeowners in the region and reduce the unequal treatment and discriminatory practices that keep members of protected classes from buying a home.
- Protect the housing rights of individuals who are part of protected groups. For example, people of color, those with disabilities and seniors.
- Increase community integration and reduce housing barriers for people with disabilities.
- Make public transit easier to access and afford for members of protected classes.
Each of the goals also had substantial strategies listed to help localities achieve them, including a variety of zoning changes. Some of those changes, for example, involved not only reducing zoning limitations on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) but offering incentives to homeowners who want to build them on their properties.
Beyond just increasing the supply of affordable housing, there are several policy suggestions aimed at making housing more accessible to seniors, people with disabilities, and other protected classes.
Another strategy involved creating a loan fund to help tenants, nonprofit groups and local governments buy apartments and manufactured home parks that are for sale.
“Adopt design standards that require accessible units in new multifamily developments that receive public funds,” the document said. “10% of all units must be accessible to people with mobility disabilities and at least 4% for those with hearing and/or vision disabilities.”
There were also fair housing goals in the plan that were aimed at specific localities. For Alexandria, they were:
- Prioritize public land for affordable housing.
- Provide partial tax abatements for homeowners who rent their ADUs to low-and moderate-income tenants.
- In accordance with Virginia Code § 15.2-2304. Affordable dwelling unit ordinances in certain localities, adopt an ordinance to institute mandatory inclusionary zoning city-wide and provide an array of incentives, such as density bonuses, special financing, expedited approval, fee waivers, and tax incentives.
- Reduce the 20,000-square-foot minimum lot size in the R-20 zone or permit duplexes in this zone.
“We need local solutions to our challenges. But the region can benefit from shared visions and approaches,” the executive summary said. “They aren’t limited by city and county boundaries. The Washington region has many examples of effective policies and programs that can be adopted in more places. Inclusionary zoning and housing production trust funds are two of them.”
(Updated 1/31) The City of Alexandria is looking to extend the duration of King Street Outdoor Dining (KSOD) permits after an unusual circumstance in scheduling meant the permits issued by the city would only be valid for a couple of months.
After the Covid emergency status expired in September 2022, the City of Alexandria began issuing permits for businesses along King Street to operate in the sidewalks. The program is a continuation of a more flexible approach to outdoor dining brought on by the pandemic.
The problem is: the city’s annual sidewalk permits were effective from April 1 to March 31 of the following year. The permits Alexandria was issuing last year were based on that system, meaning permits granted after the change in September would only be valid until the end of March — just five months after they were issued.
As the city gets its ducks in a row to streamline the whole process, city staff have suggested that the city push the expiration of those permits back to next fall.
According to a staff report:
In the meantime, the KSOD permits granted after October 1, 2022 will expire on March 31, 2023… Staff proposes a text amendment to Section 6-804(F) to allow time for the development of a new one-application process, which aligns with the existing annual September 30 deadline of the parklet program, and also eliminates the need for restaurant operators to reapply for a new sidewalk dining permit before the existing March 31 deadline, less than six months after their most recent approvals.
The permit extension (item 2) is heading to the Planning Commission on Tuesday, Feb. 7.
Tourism bureau Visit Alexandria has debuted a new logo as part of an advertising campaign for the city.
The logo features the city’s name in lower case, with the “a” in the middle filled in like a sunrise and sun-lit ripples emanating below it. It was unveiled this morning (Thursday) at a Visit Alexandria meeting.
“Our new logo is sophisticated yet inviting and embraces our identity as a waterfront city that is continually evolving,” said Patricia Washington, President and CEO of Visit Alexandria, in a release. “Even as our brand changes, we’re continuing to highlight our city’s historic character both visually and in our storytelling with a bold new destination advertising campaign that will surprise people and offer potential visitors a glimpse at all there is to know and love about Alexandria.”
Washingtonian senior editor Andrew Beaujon first reported the change on Twitter this morning.
New Alexandria logos just dropped pic.twitter.com/zBwuUtf9e4
— Andrew Beaujon (@abeaujon) January 26, 2023
The new logo is part of a paradoxical “Best Kept Shh” marketing campaign aimed at creating a sort of mystique for Alexandria.
“The ‘Best Kept Shh!’ campaign is a nontraditional marketing campaign that seeks to grab attention and spark curiosity as it plays on the idea that Alexandria is so special, it might be too good to share,” a Visit Alexandria release said. “Video executions ‘bleep’ or censor the word ‘Alexandria’ in a humorous way to make viewers stop and wonder what is being said until it is revealed at the end of the ad.”
The previous logo had a more historical styling, with the word “Alexandria” written in a lavish cursive.
Last year, Alexandria City Public Schools mulled changing its logo but after months of work, two logo redesigns were sent back to the drawing board.
Updated 12:15 p.m. — A previous version of the article described the sunny logo as looking like a ‘sunset’. The waterfront does, in fact, face east.