Alexandria, VA

Morning Notes


Senators Kaine and Warner Urge GSA to Begin Transition Process
— “An orderly and peaceful transition process is critical as the country continues to grapple with the loss and far-reaching impacts brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.'” [Twitter]

Beyer Asks Residents to Stay Home — “Being tired of the pandemic won’t make it stop, we need to be as careful as possible right now.” [Twitter]

Virtual Restaurant Touchdown Wings & Burgers Opens — “Touchdown Wings & Burgers runs out of Joe Theismann’s Restaurant. In mid-October, ARP opened Touchdown Wings & Burgers, a new brand for the organization.” [Alexandria Living]

Alexandria Library Gets Grant for Climate Change Programming — “By receiving the grant, Alexandria Library has committed to becoming a Climate Resilience Hub.” [Zebra]

Casa Chirilagua 5K Extended to November 11 — “GREAT NEWS! Christ the King Church has extended the Casa Virtual 5K to November 11! You now have 2.5 more weeks to register and participate. This is one way you can support the Chirilagua families that face so much adversity with strength and courage. Can you help us reach our 1,000 km goal?” [Facebook]

Today’s Weather — “Rain early…then remaining cloudy with showers in the afternoon. Morning high of 65F with temps falling to near 55. Winds N at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 90%. Rainfall near a quarter of an inch. Cloudy skies. Low 48F. Winds N at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Dog Trainer/Instructor — “Olde Towne School for Dogs, the premiere dog training company located in Alexandria, VA serving the D.C. metropolitan area, is looking to hire new full-time trainers to our high energy team in a fast-paced and dog-filled environment!” [Indeed]

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Morning Notes

Beyer says New White House Science Report is Misinformation — “This kind of ridiculous misinformation is something you would expect to see from the government of North Korea.” [Twitter]

Senator Amy Klobuchar Attends GOTV Event in Alexandria — “Glad to join @AlexVADems, @C_Herring, @AmyJacksonVA and Councilwoman Del Pepper at an early voting event in Alexandria, Virginia for Sen. Mark Warner and VA candidates up and down the ballot. Everyone, please make a plan and go vote!” [Twitter]

New Luxury Condos Near Amazon HQ2 and Virginia Tech in Alexandria — “Just minutes from Amazon’s new HQ2 complex in Northern Virginia, The FORTIS Companies of Washington, DC has broken ground on a 138-unit luxury condominium community called Dylan. Its planned 2022 delivery coincides with the highly anticipated opening of the new Potomac Yard Metro Station, a five-minute walk from Dylan’s front door. Dylan’s spacious one- to three-bedroom condos will average 1,200 square feet and will be priced from the $600,000’s to over $1 million.” [Zebra]

Upland Park Development Gets BDAC Approval — “On Monday evening, the Beauregard Design Advisory Committee (BDAC) hosted its the final meeting to discuss Phase 1 of the Upland Park development project, giving approval to the plans to build a new townhome community.” [Alexandria Living]

Fire Department Recommends Battery-Operated Candles this Halloween — “If you have fall/Halloween decorations, use battery-operated candles in jack-o-lanterns & keep all decorations away from open flames to prevent home fires. Read more about celebrating safely & preventing the spread of COVID-19 during your festivities.” [Twitter]

Today’s Weather — “Cloudy (during the day). High 73F. Winds light and variable. Rain showers in the evening will evolve into a more steady rain overnight. Low 59F. Winds light and variable. Chance of rain 100%. Rainfall near a half an inch.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Document Control Specialist — “Use knowledge of the legal process and legal terms to analyze the content of legal documents and determine the status of investigative or court proceedings; recognize documents that are missing; and work with attorneys, paralegals, and legal assistants to obtain and organize documents for filing.” [Indeed]

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Construction of the Potomac Yard Metro station is track as the City Council prepares to approve the final southern entrance site plan for the project this December.

“Right now we are both on time and on budget,” Daphne Kott, a project manager in the Department of Project Implementation, told City Council in a legislative meeting on Tuesday night. “Every day there’s three active construction areas… Working on the foundation of the platform, in the mezzanine and continuing to work on the north pavilion.”

The city has also been reimbursed most of $70 million worth of grants for the project, which is estimated to cost $320 million. Last month, Council approved a proposal adding Virginia Tech’s initials to the station, and the name change has yet to be approved by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

“It’s amazing to see something that we talked about for a quarter of a century finally start to come to reality,” Mayor Justin Wilson said.

The Metro station is planned to open by spring 2022.

Images via City of Alexandria

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Metro will shut down Arlington National Cemetery for platform improvements next spring, and construction will impact Alexandria commuters.

But with ridership at a prolonged and historic low, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority assured City Council on Tuesday night that it will be able accommodate inconvenienced travelers with increased shuttle service between the Pentagon and Rosslyn stations.

The Arlington Cemetery station will be closed from mid-February until mid-May. All blue line trains will be diverted to L’Enfant Plaza across the 14th Street Bridge, and Metro is adding trains to allow for a six minute wait time instead of 12 minutes. Metro anticipates it taking an extra four to 12 minutes for customers traveling to stations between Farragut West and Rosslyn and that there are potential travel time improvements for customers going to Federal Triangle or Metro Center.

“It’s interesting times and it’s anybody’s guess what the future is going to be, but right now we’re looking at system-wide between 10 and 12% of our normal Metrorail ridership, and the Virginia side tends to be on the lower side of that,” Peter Cafiero, Metro’s managing director of inter-modal planning told Council. “What we’re hearing from employers is it’s going to be awhile before anybody’s considering going back.”

Council approved a letter thanking WMATA for making transportation alternatives available.

“If we were in a normal ridership situation I think I would be saying that we need bus alternatives, particularly to get folks from Alexandria to Rosslyn, or potentially west for those folks who are doing those commutes,” Mayor Justin Wilson said. “But given where we’re at… I just don’t know where we’re going to be when this when this goes on next year.”

Alexandria is familiar with the platform improvement project, as all four of its stations were shut down as part of it in the summer of 2019.

In the meantime, Metro faces making hundreds of millions in spending cuts, including altering services, schedule changes and layoffs. The transit system’s board chair says it will be forced to make tough decisions if federal CARES Act funding dries up.

“As tough as these choices are for this fiscal year, much deeper and more painful cuts will be required for the next fiscal year if federal relief doesn’t arrive in time,” said Metro Board Chair Paul Smedberg, who is a former member of the Alexandria City Council. “We hope people who depend on Metro will come forward to share their views about the proposed changes before the Board makes a final decision in November.”

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The city anticipates that there will be more delays with the completion of the King Street-Old Town Metro Access Improvements Project.

City staff are skeptical that the first phase of the project will be completed by this December.

“We have what the contractor has stated, and what we what our observations are,” Terry Suehr, the city’s director of the Department of Project Implementation, told Council on Tuesday night. “They’ve stated December… They have not proven themselves able to keep on the schedule.”

The first phase of construction — eventually resulting in the opening of a brand new bus loop — was initially supposed to be finished last spring. A second phase includes lighting and landscape improvements, a new kiss & ride, and areas for car shares, taxis and shuttles.

The city website states that the full project will be finished by spring 2021.

Suehr said the city will have additional costs because of the delay, and staff are working up estimates. She is also now requiring the contractor to provide bi-weekly updates on their progress against a set schedule.

Rendering via City of Alexandria

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The Alexandria Planning Commission in November will consider a special use permit amendment to increase allowable height for a new continuum of care facility in the West End.

Massachusetts-based Orr-BSL King, LLC filed an application to build Benchmark at West Alex, a 117-unit assisted living facility that would be constructed at 3425 North Beauregard Street.

“At full occupancy, it is anticipated that the continuum of care facility will have approximately 160 full time residents,” according to the SUP application. “The building will be staffed 24/7 with, on-average, approximately 75 full-time equivalent staff members including a variety of full-time and part-time positions.”

The company is requesting that building height restrictions be increased from 100 feet to 125 feet to “allow the construction of an additional floor of assisted living units and to allow for the erection of rooftop amenity structures.”

The building, which is near the Upland Park development, will include seven floors for the general population, with the eighth and ninth floors devoted to residents living with various forms of dementia.

According to the application:

The apartments in the assisted living neighborhood will include a variety of configurations including studio units, companion units, one-bedroom units and two-bedroom units. Common areas will include multiple dining venues (such as a formal dining room, a pub/bistro, family-style kitchen, and a penthouse cafe), living rooms, activity rooms, and a wellness center (salon/spa, fitness center, and a treatment room for resident care such as doctor and dentist visits).

In addition to the use of their private apartment, residents will enjoy restaurant-style dining, daily programming and activities (both personal and group), housekeeping and linen service, scheduled transportation, and personalized care based on the individual needs of each resident.

Images via City of Alexandria

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Big changes are being planned for an 8.2-acre property directly across the street from Landmark Mall.

While only in the conceptual phase, the Landmark Overlook development would transform the corner of South Walker Street and Stephenson Avenue into a mixed use property with hotels or office buildings, two-level stacked condominium units, apartments and retail.

The Eisenhower West-Landmark Van Dorn Implementation Advisory Group was briefed on the plan last week by property owner Hekemian & Co.

“We’re excited about it,” Hekemian’s attorney Ken Wire told the advisory group in a Zoom meeting. “We think the commercial high visibility, the multifamily rental and the stacked condos are a good variety that continues to provide that texture in our community that we all value.”

The property is currently home to the Alley Cat Restaurant and Sports Bar, Dunya Banquet Hall & Restaurant (there since 1989), a four-story office building and a Big Lots store.

The northern edge of the property would be home to two hotels or office buildings depending on demand. The stacked condos in the western portion of the property would have up to 88 two-level units.

“It’s a wonderful site, and we’re obviously looking forward to a redevelopment proposal for it,” Chris Bell, a senior vice president with Hekemian, told the advisory group. “We’re also looking forward to see what happens to the Landmark Mall. We think it’s a real great driver for this site.”

In April, mall owner The Howard Hughes Corporation sent a message to Alexandria Living Magazine that it has no update on its redevelopment.

Images via City of Alexandria 

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The Old Dominion Boat Club (ODBC) will present the Alexandria Planning Commission in November (Nov. 5) with a plan to build a floating wharf and pier outside its clubhouse at 0 Prince Street.

“The floating pier will provide facilities for transient boat mooring for larger boats due to the water depth along its expanse and for rowing crew shells and chase boats either for planned events/regattas or emergency needs,” according to an application for the special use permit.

The application continues, “The ODBC also proposes to add a floating wharf over the shallow water in its riparian rights to allow and support current and new uses that include small boat mooring and launch and retrieval of crew shells and kayaks to support increased recreational use of the Potomac River.”

The total square footage for the project is 2,688 square feet, and the club noted in its application that it will remove the floating structures if the city needs the space for flood mitigation infrastructure improvements.

“The proposed new floating wharf at the site would encourage increased recreation use of the site and support ODBC water dependent uses,” notes the application.

The city issued a certificate of occupancy for the ODBC Clubhouse at 0 Prince Street in 2017. The club was previously located at the foot of King Street. That property was exchanged with the city for a number of nearby lots downriver in order to build a public walkway and make flood mitigation improvements.

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Members of the Alexandria Board of Architectural Review didn’t mince words against the proposed development of the Heritage Old Town.

“Why are you asking for our opinion if what we get back isn’t actually changed?” BAR Chair Christine Roberts said at the September 2 meeting. “It’s just more lipstick on a pig.”

The plan to demolish four 1970s-era buildings on the southeast Old Town property were sent back to the developer in June to give the community more time for feedback. The plan for the property, which is situated in the Old Town Historic District, was then rejected earlier this month by the board after members said that changes made to the proposal were not improved upon.

New York-based architect Asland Capital Partners, was heavily criticized by board members for designing a complex that does not fall in line with the character of Old Town. The project, which borders along South Patrick and North Washington streets,  includes the addition of 777 apartments at structures up to seven stories tall, and includes 195 affordable housing units.

Board Member Lynn Neihardt said that the architect’s buildings don’t belong in Old Town, and that the city is getting poorly designed buildings “under the guise of providing affordable housing.” She also said that there is an underlying feeling that the property doesn’t need to fit within design guidelines because it’s not in an area populated by tourists.

“We need a feeling of smaller buildings in the front with maybe taller heights behind, which has been done over and over again, very successfully in D.C. and other parts of Old Town,” Neihardt said. “The buildings, to me, speak Ballston, Crystal City, but not Old Town. They’re nothing like Robinson Landing and the other excellent examples of buildings that fit into their context.”

BAR Member John Sprinkle objected to the mass, height, scale and general architecture of the proposal.

“I gotta tell you, you got to go back to the drawing board,” Sprinkle said. “It doesn’t fly in this city.”

The project will go to the Planning Commission and City Council in February 2021.

Images via City of Alexandria

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The Alexandria Board of Architectural Review will consider a permit to demolish/capsulate the Regal Potomac Yard movie theater, which closed in March due to the pandemic and never reopened.

The one-story theater first opened in 1998, and “is an example of a typical multi-screen movie theater built during the late 1990’s throughout the region,” according to a city staff report.

In its place will go a pump station that is part of Virginia Tech’s massive Innovation Campus development, and will handle sanitary sewer flows for Virginia Tech’s Sewer to Wastewater Energy Exchange system.

As previously reported, this and next month, the BAR and the Planning Commission will receive half a dozen plans for the 1.9 million square-foot mixed use North Potomac Yard development.

The area was a rail yard from 1906 until 1989, and the staff report stipulates that all eventual construction “will stop on the site if any buried structural remains (wall foundations, wells, privies, cisterns, etc.) or concentrations of artifacts are discovered during development,” and that a city archaeologist will need to record the finds.

The plan will go to City Council this fall for approval.

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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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Alexandria’s civic associations came out in force to speak against a loosening of zoning restrictions at public school properties. While the Planning Commission ultimately pushed forward a modified version of the zoning change, there was widespread agreement that the public outreach could have been handled better.

The change had been proposed in 2019 and was docketed for meetings earlier this year, but had disappeared as the pandemic led to those meetings being cancelled until it quietly resurfaced for the Sept. 1 meeting.

The change originally would have allowed Alexandria City Public Schools to build schools up to 0.6 Floor Area Ratio (FAR) by right, meaning without needing public approval, or higher without a set restriction. The version approved at the Planning Commission still allows proposed schools to exceed the density restrictions, but only with a Special Use Permit (SUP) and by no greater than 0.75 FAR.

The proposal had been criticized by the North Ridge Citizens’ Association in the lead-up to the meeting, but was joined by others who protested that the city was quietly pushing the change through without public input.

“When we first learned about this proposal, we had to ask ourselves why our city would be contemplating such sweeping changes to our code without more public notice,” said Kay Stimson, representing the North Ridge Citizen’s Association. “This truly threatens to create a trust deficit between this commission and our residents.”

Stimson said she recognized that schools need greater capacity, but also said the city was pursuing an “increased density” agenda on residents throughout the city.

“If approved, this amendment would be a glaring example of arbitrary, capricious, and unsupportive administrative action by this city with detrimental impacts particularly on low density residential neighborhoods that don’t have the infrastructure to support the massive new buildings you’re proposing,” Stimson said. “The existing baseline should remain the prevailing density of the neighborhood. If someone wants to build something larger, the point of our zoning process is that they must talk to the public and gain permission. There is no justification whatsoever to allow for unlimited density in a school building. This actually calls into question why we would have a zoning code at all.”

Other residents similarly expressed frustrations that ACPS would be seemingly shielded from density requirements local homeowners face. Pete Benavage, representing the Federation of Civic Associations, said the federation had unanimously voted to oppose the change.

“We fell anything that is reducing the public input; the meaningful and timely public input, is deleterious to the benefit of the citizens of Alexandria,” Benavage said. “This amendment has not been properly vetted by the public and we would urge it either not be adopted or at least be tabled until such time as public vetting can be obtained. ” Read More

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