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Nathaly Zelaya from Tenants at a City Council meeting on March 7, image via City of Alexandriaand Workers United

Alexandria kicked off a discussion of the FY 2023 budget with a public hearing last night (Monday), where climate and housing advocates pushed for the city’s budget to do more to address these issues.

There was little feedback from the City Council in the 45-minute session as the floor was mostly turned over to public speakers.

Kathie Hoekstra, chair of the Environmental Policy Commission, expressed disappointment that the budget didn’t do more to tackle the climate emergency declared in 2019.

“I’m confused because in 2019 you declared a climate emergency and… called for urgent action,” said Hoekstra. “You then committed to taking the following actions: ending greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible, underscoring the need for full community participation, inclusion and support, and being integral to and in the leadership of the mobilization effort. I’m confused because I don’t see that in the current proposed budget.”

Several other speakers at the meeting echoed Hoekstra’s comments, saying the city’s progress on its climate reforms leave something to be desired.

“So I’m left with a couple of questions: why have we not learned to integrate both climate issues and equity issues into all decisions the city makes?” Hoekstra said. “Let me be clear, there are solutions where you don’t have to choose between addressing the climate crisis or affordable housing or any other high priority item. You have incredible city staff members in planning and zoning and the energy apartment, they know the right thing to do they just need your support.”

Hoekstra called for a requirement that city staff integrates climate and equity considerations into every project, plan or proposal. Hoekstra also requested that all new developments asking for bonus density or height be required to certain energy use intensity standards.

The other topics pushed by several speakers were a higher priority on affordable housing support and a return of the old argument about eliminating school resource officers.

An Alexandria City High School student spoke about school resource officers, saying minority students shouldn’t have to see a police officer when entering the school.

Nathaly Zelaya, a community organizer with Tenants and Workers United, asked that the new City Council reverse the previous Council’s decision to reinstate school resource officers and dedicate that funding to mental health programs instead.

Zelaya and other public speakers also asked the City Council to invest more heavily in affordable housing with increases from property tax revenue and an increase in the city’s meals tax.

“We hope our community will be reflected as a priority,” Zelaya said. “We ask the council to prioritize deeply affordable housing for households earning 30% AMI and below in Arlandria and raise the meals tax from 5% to 6% and increasing property tax revenue dedicate to affordable housing from 0.6 cents to a full penny.”

Zelaya also asked that additional American Rescue Plan Act funding be invested into Alexandria Housing Development Corporation projects in Arlandria and the West End.

Budget adoption is scheduled for May 4, with several more work sessions and hearings planned before then.

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Alexandria environmental planning staff say that the stream restoration at Taylor Run is necessary to combat the effects of climate change and improve flooding conditions.

On Tuesday night, staff from the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services and city consultants held a Zoom meeting to discuss the proposed $4.5 million restoration of the 1,900-foot-long project. The project falls within the city’s Chesapeake Bay TMDL Action Plan to reduce pollution, and staff say the area is experiencing the effects of climate change.

“We’re seeing more frequent storms,” said Jesse Maines, the stormwater management division chief for T&ES. “We actually walked the stream last weekend and you can see trees that were… falling into the stream with green leaves. What we’re talking about with this project is not only water quality we’re talking about water quantity and really stabilizing the stream so we don’t get just this continual degradation of the stream. We’re just seeing that it’s being continually impacted especially with climate change.”

Staff’s plan to clear the waterway near T.C. Williams High School and Chinquapin Park will result in the removal of 269 trees, of which they say 22% are dead.

“The City anticipates re-planting 2,280 trees for this stream restoration including oaks, maples, dogwoods, and sycamores,” according to the City’s stream restoration page. “An additional 7,200 shrubs are expected to be planted which include buttonbush, winterberry, and spicebush.”

Mayor Justin Wilson said that the city was successful in getting $2.255 million in grant funds from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) to “restore a badly-neglected and rare natural stream.”

“This effort will plant over 2,300 new trees, in perhaps the largest single tree planting initiative in recent City history,” Wilson told ALXnow. “This project is designed to increase and improve natural open space, reduce human impact and improve water quality. I look forward to engaging with our residents so that we can improve our stewardship of these natural spaces.”

The meeting did not alleviate the concerns of a local group led by former Vice Mayor Andrew MacDonald.

MacDonald, who chairs the Environmental Council of Alexandria, wants the city to meet with their advisor John Field, a fluvial geomorphologist and stream restoration expert. ECA has also started a GoFundMe campaign to pay Field $5,000.

“(John Field) understands what happens to streams when you manipulate and try to restore them,” MacDonald told ALXnow. “His preliminary view is that the City doesn’t really know what it is doing.”

City staff will soon release a Survey Monkey comment/response table, and the public comment period will end on October 23. Staff said that the next public meeting on the subject will be in November.

Photos via City of Alexandria 

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Morning Notes

Alexandria Declares Climate Emergency — “On October 22, the Alexandria City Council unanimously adopted a resolution declaring a climate emergency, recognizing that climate change poses a grave threat to everyone in Alexandria and around the world.” [City of Alexandria]

City Council Passes Refugee Resolution — “The Alexandria City Council unanimously approved a resolution to notify the federal government of its continued support for resettling refugees in Alexandria. The action was taken in response to Executive Order 13888, issued on September 26, which provides that the federal government ‘should resettle refugees only in those jurisdictions in which both the State and local governments have consented to receive refugees.'” [City of Alexandria]

Next Weekend: Event for Little Historians — “Bring your little learners to the Alexandria Black History Museum for cultural stories and creative craft activities that introduce world history and folklore… All ages are welcome, but most suitable for children 3-5 years old.” [City of Alexandria]

Nearby: Belle View Fire Costs Millions — “Monday morning’s six-alarm fire at the Belle View Shopping Center began in the kitchen of one of the businesses in the center, the Fairfax Fire and Rescue Department said in a Tuesday press release… The fire caused more than $5.8 million in damages.” [Covering the Corridor, Fairfax County Fire]

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Rising water levels are forcing one planned redevelopment of a historic property to move the building up a few feet.

The Mill, a building at the heart of Robinson Landing development along the waterfront, is being renovated and turned into a Southern-inspired restaurant. The city filing by local builder Murray Bonitt noted that the building was at one point used as a mess hall for Union soldiers during the Civil War. But the renovation will involve taking the building apart and putting it back together again a few feet above its current elevation.

“Google global warming, historic building, and waterfront sometime,” Duncan Blair, the attorney for the applicant, told Alexandria’s Waterfront Commission at a meeting this morning (Tuesday). “Buildings are being moved, disassembled, or raised to put them out of the flood plain. We saw this weekend there was high water as a result of the full moon. It’s a phenomenon we’re all going to have to deal with and that is the basis for the change of this building.”

Blair said the building will painstakingly reassembled brick by brick.

“The building is currently below the flood plain, and we can’t just lift it up because of the old structure,” Blair said. “You’ll probably read about it in a preservation magazine.”

As the building is put back together, Blair said the brick will be “flipped,” allowing the brighter interior to show on the exterior of the building.

The project is scheduled to be completed sometime in mid-2021.

Image via City of Alexandria

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