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A Del Ray restaurant is planning on expanding its footprint with a 750-square foot patio addition.

Noe Landini, owner of Junction Bakery & Bistro (1508 Mount Vernon Avenue), wants to build on the northern end of the restaurant on a repurposed area of the parking lot used for outdoor seating the last several years.

Landini is asking the Planning Commission on March 5 to approve his request to increase the restaurant’s floor area ratio.

“Unlike other locations, the sun impacts that particular side of the building, which is the north side, all day,” Landini wrote in his application. “It is extremely uncomfortable and excruciatingly hot for local customers and neighbors in some parts of the spring, summer and fall. A canopy with fans would provide comfort to our guests.”

Landini wrote that the addition will also provide lighting to guests at night.

“(W)e will actually be able to see in the evening, which will enhance our guests’ dinner experience and safety,” Landini wrote.

via City of Alexandria

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First National Bank is coming to 704 King Street in Old Town (staff photo by James Cullum)_

First National Bank is coming to 704 King Street in Old Town.

The 4,200-square-foot retail building has been vacant since Nando’s Peri-Peri moved from the location last July.

The new bank, which underwent a significant interior renovation over the last year, is also a block away from the new Chase Bank that opened at the corner of King and Washington Streets last month.

The move is part of an FNB expansion from seven to 11 banks in the Northern Virginia and D.C. Metro area by this year, according to a 2023 news release. The Pennsylvania-based bank has been acquiring local banks in order to fill in the gap between D.C. and North Carolina, according to the Washington Business Journal.

An opening date for the new branch has not been announced.

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1201 E. Abingdon Drive in Old Town North (via Google Maps)

(Updated 5:25 p.m.) The owner of an aging office building in Old Town North wants it converted into a 136-unit apartment building, and credits the decision to the “ongoing and diminished office market and current high vacancy rate.”

The five-story, 112,000-square-foot office building was built in 1983. It’s owned by Principal Life Insurance Co. of Des Moines, Iowa, and managed by PF III Abingdon LLC, an affiliate of the D.C.-based real estate investment firm the Pinkard Group.

“Due to the on-going, diminished office market and current high vacancy rate, the Applicant seeks residential use to repurpose the building,” PF III Abingdon LLC said in its application.

The group wants approval to build a new 43,352-square-foot building wing at the south of the property, which is currently occupied by a surface parking lot. They want to increase the 50-foot height limit to 65 feet to accommodate a mechanical penthouse on top of the building, as well as make lobby, courtyard and other aesthetic improvements. The plan also includes seven on-site affordable housing apartments.

The plan will go to the Planning Commission on Tuesday, Feb. 6.

Despite having a high vacancy rate, the applicant said that traffic in the area will diminish.

“The surrounding streets will operate at a less congested state with residential use as compared to office use,” the applicant said.No new parking will be constructed as the existing parking is sufficient for the proposed number of residential units.”

The proposal joins a trend of local developers converting outdated offices to residential properties, as roughly a quarter of workers in the D.C. Metro area continue working remotely.

Image via Google Maps

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Rendering of aerial view of Monumental Arena development (image courtesy of JBG SMITH)

A new Change.org petition opposing the new Washington Wizards/Capitals arena at Potomac Yard is slowly gaining steam.

Last week, Ted Leonsis, the CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment and owner of both teams, announced the move alongside Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson. The $2 billion proposal would mean a new entertainment district for the area, which critics say will worsen traffic and decrease property values.

The petition, posted “on behalf of residents in the Alexandria and NoVA region,” launched on Dec. 13 and has garnered more than 300 signatures. It says that Virginia lawmakers are finalizing a deal that “will bring a new, disruptive entertainment and sports arena to Potomac Yard.”

“We call on our state and local officials to listen to their constituents and stop this initiative from ruining our communities,” the petition states. “Bringing this enormous commercial facility to the area will completely undermine what Alexandria is and the value it brings to residents, homeowners, families, and local businesses. Everything that makes this area great will go away.”

The petition says that the development will:

  • Greatly worsen traffic
  • Deteriorate integrity of historic communities
  • Disrupt lives of families & children
  • Decrease property values
  • Increase crime
  • Diminish small neighborhood dynamic
  • Negatively impact natural environment
  • Bring noise pollution
  • Put taxpayer money into billionaire pockets

A recent ALXnow poll on the subject garnered more than 2,500 votes, with 46% voting that the new arena plans are terrible, 31% voting that it’s a great idea and 23% reserving judgement until more plan details are released.

The development has raised serious transportation concerns, recently from Metro General Manager Randy Clark, who said that the nearby Potomac Yard Metro station can’t handle arena-size crowds.

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A new poster in Potomac Yard lampooning development by calling for the Washington Commanders football team to come to the area (courtesy photo)

Updated at 2:45 p.m. New posters are lampooning the recent announcement that the Washington Capitals and Wizards are moving to Potomac Yard by demanding one more thing — for the Washington Commanders to also move to the neighborhood.

“BUILD THE STADIUM COMPLEX,” headlines the five posters, which say, “We must act fast! This mega complex will be suitable for (football, basketball and hockey stick emojis) and T Swift concerts. The streets of Del Ray will become sanctuary for riotous celebrations of multiple championships. We must not lose out to suburban Maryland!! Let’s make our suburb great again!”

This week’s announcement was met with dismay by some Potomac Yard residents who say that moving the Capitals and Wizards will destroy the fabric of the neighborhood.

The poster’s creator, known by the X handle @ArlingtonAF, also created a number of other humorous work in Arlington, most recently with a pro-pickleball posters.

“My official position is, I’m glad Potomac Yard is in Alexandria and not Arlington, and it’s not like Jeff Bezos trying to put a football team in Pentagon City..err.. I mean Nala (National Landing),” @ArlingtonAF told us. “That said, I believe Alexandria is holding a royal flush of trump cards, they should be demanding Leonsis pay for solid gold libraries, and flying school buses, the city has the leverage.”

The Wizards/Capitals move also inspired an AI-generated parody of the proposed $2 billion complex’s transportation infrastructure.

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(Updated at 11:45 a.m.) After more than 200 years in business, Alexandria’s Smoot Lumber yard is shutting down today.

The Alexandria-area supplier of mouldings, doors and windows has been a staple for local builders since it was founded in 1822, and now its owner Builders FirstSource says that customers should visit its lumber yards in Manassas, Manassas Park, Springfield and in Waldorf, Maryland.

Builders FirstSource is at a “juncture of change,” Market Manager James Barbes wrote in a Nov. 29 letter to customers. Barbes did not say what the future holds for the sprawling property at 6295-20 Edsall Road.

“After thorough consideration, we are announcing the integration of our Smoot Lumber location with our other local Builders FirstSource and TW Perry locations. This strategic consolidation allows us to streamline operations while continuing to provide you with the exceptional service and premium Smoot moulding profiles you’ve come to rely on.”

Barbes continued, “Our commitment to Alexandria’s rich heritage remains unwavering, and we are pleased to assure you that a line of historical Smoot moulding profiles will continue to be available.”

Barbes also said, “the experienced and dedicated team members from Smoot Lumber will seamlessly transition to new roles within the market, ensuring that your interactions with us remain as dependable and customer-focused as ever.”

The transition isn’t seamless for all employees. Ed King has worked at the lumber yard for 27 years, 14 as a manager. He was told on Wednesday that his last day would be on Dec. 30, after he helps with the transition.

“I ain’t missed a day in 27 years,” King said. “I know every stick of wood in this joint.”

King said he was offered a severance package and will take the next six months off.

“I’m going to take a vacation and then decide what’s next after that,” King said. “I deserve a little break, but I’m sad to see it go. This has been my home away from home.”

Mike Dameron, owner of Alexandria-based Windmill Hill Home Design Build, said it’s a big loss for local builders.

“In one way or another, Smoot Lumber has been an integral part of the local and regional construction supply community for longer than any of us have been in business,” Dameron said. “It will be a major loss to see them leave the city.”

A brief history of Smoot Lumber is below.

Founded in 1822 in Alexandria, Virginia under the name J.H.D. Smoot, Smoot has been through many changes over the years, including name changes such as W.A. Smoot, Smoot Lumber & Coal, Smoot and Co., Smoot Lumber, and now part of the BMC family as BMC Smoot Lumber. Over the years, Smoot has sold lumber, coal, sand, gravel, salt and plaster, with the mainstay being custom high-end millwork and mouldings.

While Lincoln and Douglas were holding their great debates of 1858, Smoot Lumber had already been supplying millwork to many of the most important buildings in our nation’s capital. After the destruction of the Civil War, Smoot was there to help rebuild Washington and Alexandria. And when the National Park Service needed to find clear fir boards in order to build extra bleachers for President Kennedy’s funeral processions, Smoot was honored to answer the call and play a small part in history.

Over the years, Smoot has also worked on other important historical landmarks to include The White House, the U.S. Capitol, the Smithsonian, and Mount Vernon.

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Dining in Old Town. (Staff photo by James Cullum)

All arguments aside, Alexandria’s equity standards and economic prospects have been declared sound.

Yesterday, the city announced that S&P Global Ratings and Moody’s Investors Service reaffirmed Alexandria’s ‘AAA’ bond rating. The city has maintained the designation since 1992, and it equates to a good credit rating for the city to get low-interest rates from bond investors to provide funding for multiple projects.

“This is the ‘Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval’ for the city’s fiscal management and the state of our municipal balance sheet,” Mayor Justin Wilson told ALXnow. “This allows the City to borrow at the lowest-possible rates and maximize taxpayer dollars as we invest in critical infrastructure projects, including two new schools.”

This city said that before the end of the year it will issue $258 million of tax-exempt general obligation bonds to pay for capital improvement projects, like the Minnie Howard Redevelopment Project at Alexandria City High School, the newly constructed Douglas MacArthur Elementary School, and to the West End project at the former Landmark Mall property.

The Nexus at West Alex rendering (via AHDC)

Alexandria also announced Thursday that it got a perfect score in The Human Rights Campaign’s 2023 Municipal Equality Index. The city, which got its third annual perfect score, is one of more than 500 municipalities across the country evaluated on the inclusiveness of their laws, policies and services toward LGBTQ+ residents.

Last year, city leaders decried Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin’s recommendations restricting transgender bathroom and pronoun use in public schools. In July, Alexandria City Public Schools put out a statement refusing to comply with the recommendations.

“(W)e want to reaffirm our commitment to all students, staff and families, including our LGBTQIA+ community, that ACPS will continue to both implement and develop gender affirming policies for all ACPS students,” School Board Chair Michelle Rief and SUperintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt said in their joint statement. “School Board Policy JB: Nondiscrimination in Education protects students from discrimination due to gender expression, gender identity, sexual harassment and transgender status.”

Wilson said that equity was prioritized by City Council in its 2021 ALL Alexandria resolution, as well as by the city’s LGBTQ+ Task Force.

“I’m thrilled to see that paying off, and our efforts being recognized with another perfect score,” he said. “But this recognition is not the mark of a finished job. We have to keep working to ensure that Alexandria is an inclusive environment for everyone.”

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Alair Northern Virginia & DC Partners (left to right) Matthew Bowe, Partner, Alair Hunt Country; Chad Hackmann, Regional Partner Alair Arlington; Matt Bieschke, Partner, Alair Alexandria (via Darcy Troutman Photography)

(Updated 11/16) An Alexandria homebuilder has joined a Canadian development company, and has become their 100th office in North America.

Matt Bieschke, Owner of Carbon Design Build, opened his business more than a decade ago in Alexandria. Last week, Alair announced that Bieschke agreed to join the Alair franchise as a partner, establishing Alair Alexandria. Alair was founded in 2007, and also owns Alair Arlington and Alair Hunt Country.

“What excites me about joining Alair is the people, the collaboration, the regional presence, and the fact that we can do better for our community and clients as part of Alair,” Bieschke said in a statement. “As an Alair partner, I can now leverage resources proven to better the construction experience for my clients. Alair offers a level of transparency unparalleled in the industry.”

Alair President Rob Cecil said that the 100th franchise is a significant milestone.

“Matt Bieschke and his team bring a wealth of experience and a strong commitment to quality and community that perfectly aligns with Alair’s values,” Cecil said. “This partnership will not only elevate the home building and remodeling experience for homeowners in Alexandria and the surrounding areas but also strengthen our collective impact in supporting local charities and making a positive difference in the communities we serve.”

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Proposed massing for the Ladrey High-Rise (via ARHA)

The Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority is asking the city to approve new height limits for its proposed redevelopment of Ladrey High Rise in Old Town North.

ARHA has plans to demolish the existing 11-story, 170-unit affordable apartment building at 300 Wythe Street, which houses seniors and residents with disabilities, as well as its former headquarters at 600 N. Fairfax Street.

In their place, the developer intends to build an L-shaped, 270-unit complex that will range in height from seven stories along Wythe Street to six stories along N. Fairfax Street to five stories at the corner of Fairfax and Pendleton streets.

While the new building will not exceed the current height of the aging 11-story building, it will occupy streets with lower height limits. ARHA is asking the Planning Commission to approve taller height limits on these streets.

The developer intends to construct buildings up to 85 feet tall by take advantage of the city’s bonus density and height allowance for properties under development that offer affordable housing.

“The proposed building height includes several heights achieved through height transitions and setbacks, ranging between 55’ and 80,’” per the developer’s application to the city. “The Applicant proposes to make use of Section 7-700 bonus density and height for the provision of affordable housing on the Property.”

The bonus density and height provision is separate from a recently scrapped plan that would allow developers to increase height on their properties in areas with height limits that are 45 feet.

ARHA previously said this summer that it and its partners, Winn Companies and IBF Development, intend to submit plans and relocate residents in the second quarter of 2024, with construction starting by the second quarter of 2025.

If all goes as planned, the project would wrap by the first quarter of 2028, according to a June presentation.

The matter will go before the Planning Commission on Jan. 4.

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A packed house in Alexandria Council Chambers for the Planning Commission’s vote on the controversial Zoning for Housing proposal, Nov. 1, 2023 (staff photo by James Cullum)

The Alexandria Planning Commission unanimously endorsed a sweeping overhaul of the city’s zoning ordinances on Wednesday night, giving City Council the green light to vote on it later this month.

There were more than 100 attendees and 51 speakers at the Planning Commission’s five hour public hearing, which ran after midnight. The speakers were a mixed bunch, with about half supporting the legislation and the other half opposing it.

The Zoning for Housing overhaul is intended to expand new affordable housing opportunities and would reshape a host of ordinances, including changes to single-family zoning, expansion of transit-oriented development, reducing parking requirements for single-family homes and analyzing office-to-residential conversions.

“I think we’re going to have to be nimble with this,” said Planning Commission Chair Nathan Macek. “I do think, though, we want to be careful with this particular market, and given the challenges that this distressed office space has already, we just have to be sensitive of the fact that we not douse the potential for the development because we’re trying to put too many constraints on it.”

City staff tabled one initiative — a bonus height amendment that incentivizes developers to add affordable housing to projects in exchange for two additional stories of construction in areas where height limits are 45 feet or more. Del Ray residents protested the move, with many saying that its approval would destroy the neighborhood.

“Staff’s recommendation is to table this proposal as several existing zoning provisions, that are not proposed to change under this package of reforms, would severely curtail this provision’s regulatory and financial viability,” according to a staff report.

Prior to the meeting, Mayor Justin Wilson said on social media that the city’s zoning laws are outdated. Wilson said that the proposed policies will desegregate the city, and that a number of zoning ordinances in the 20th century divided the city by race.

Alexandria’s affordable housing crisis

Alexandria is currently experiencing an affordable housing crisis, and lost 90% of its affordable housing stock between 2000 and 2017. The city has pledged to produce or develop thousands of units to meet 2030 regional housing goal set by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

According to the city:

According to U.S. Census figures, nearly twenty percent of Alexandria’s 80,000 households with incomes up to $75,000 are cost burdened. Approximately 19,000 households are paying more than the federal government indicates they should for housing, leaving little in their households budgets for necessities. The City projects that the number of households in Alexandria will rise to about 100,000 households by 2035. The longstanding imbalance between housing supply and demand, exacerbated by stagnating wage growth particularly in low to moderate-wage sectors, is a key factor underlying the high cost of housing, imperiling our ability to grow an economy that depends on a diversity of skillsets.

Alexandria middle school teacher David Paladin Fernandez said that many of his fellow teachers can’t afford to live in the city.

“I know multiple educators that live outside of Alexandria, some as far away as Fredericksburg,” he said. “They don’t live in these places because it’s convenient. They live in these places because that is where they can afford to live, meaning they will not be able to connect to the community in the same way a resident can. They will not have the benefit of the students and parents seeing them as fellow citizens of Alexandria, despite the fact that they’ve chosen to give their lives to serve the city.”

The city conducted dozens of public meetings for more than a year on the Zoning for Housing proposals, but only released a draft plan in September.

“The sessions have focused on general issues and goals, not specific proposals,” said North Ridge resident Sonny Yoder, who asked for a deferral. “Full disclosure came only 30 days ago.”

Luca Gattoni-Celli, founder of YIMBYs of Northern Virginia, said that the city can solve its affordable housing crisis and shouldn’t fear the solution. Gattoni-Celli lives in the West End, surrounded by thousands of city residents living in apartments, he said.

“Living near thousands of other human beings is nothing but a blessing for me and my family,” he said. “It’s wonderful.”

West End resident Kursten Phelps said that she got lucky eight years ago when she got a $5,000 raise and that she and her family were then able to afford to buy their home.

“We got very, very lucky,” Phelps said. “Many of our kids friends are being squeezed out of Alexandria because their rents are rising and there’s no available homes in their budget.”

Ian Smith, 24, has been living in an Alexandria duplex for the last three years, and said that young residents find it nearly impossible to afford to live in the city.

“Even though we get college degrees and work hard for our competitive jobs in the DMV area, basic aspirations like owning a home and starting our own families seem completely out of reach due to the cost of living,” Smith said. “We desperately need housing. This initiative is a great first step.”

Many city residents pleaded with the Planning Commission to defer the proposals, and said that the public has not had enough time to discuss the draft plans.

Roy Byrd, a 25-year city resident, is chair of The Coalition for a Livable Alexandria, a group founded this year largely in opposition of these rezoning issues. He said that there are several unknown variables that the public needs to understand.

“Will the median cost of a single-family home decline or increase by how much year-over-year over the next 10 years?” Byrd asked. “Will the proposed zoning changes result in an increase in revenue for the city, and if so, by how much during the 10 year period, and will it also result in lower property taxes and reduced fees for residents?”

City Council will conduct a public hearing on the Zoning for Housing package on Tuesday, Nov. 14, followed by a public hearing on Nov. 18 and a vote on Nov. 28.

More details on the draft initiative are below the jump.

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