The 2,233-member strong Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria (BIBA) Facebook page has become a prominent forum for criticism against local government but has found itself the object of some backlash and now: parody.
A blog launched this weekend, Make Alexandria Great Again, includes a handful of posts lampooning common topics in the group, like frequent criticism of Mayor Justin Wilson, opposition to added density, and nostalgia for the city’s past.
“What happened to this city,” said one blog post, titled ‘I Used to Be Able to Buy a Hamburger in This City for A Nickel’. “Used to be, a man could walk around with some change in his pocket and live like a king. A nickel! I used to put a nickel down on the counter and the man would give me a hamburger!”
The page features a banner image with various people on the City Council or in city administration that are frequent targets for critique from the group. The parody site features a similar image, but with Mayor Justin Wilson alongside characters from Parks and Recreation, West Wing, the Andy Griffith Show, 24, and the Battlestar Galactica reboot.
The parody site includes categories like:
- Alexandria of the Past
- Council Elections
- Windmill Wilson
The page even includes a cameo parody of ALXnow: “ALXToday”
Image via Make Alexandria Great Again
Construction has begun at a controversial halal slaughterhouse, and the owner says that the business at 3225 Colvin Street will open in mid-November.
“As a company we are doing great,” Abdul Mused, the owner of Saba Live Poultry to ALXnow. “We are extremely busy. With restaurants closed, we have had a 500% increase in our business. Everybody comes to us now.”
Mused, who owns 18 Saba Live Poultry locations around the country, said that he is spending $600,000 on the interior renovation. The business was supposed to open in June but that was pushed back because of the pandemic. Meanwhile, his rent has also increased to $8,500 a month, and he reportedly paid $150,000 in legal fees in a fight with neighboring businesses and residents.
That area of Colvin Street is home to the Wholistic Hound Dog Academy, Frolick Dogs, Dogtopia, Pinnacle Pet Spa & More, as well as the Wild Bird Center of Alexandria. The owners of these businesses and neighbors sent thousands of letters to city council and a petition was signed by 1,373 people asking that the special use permit for the property be rescinded.
The slaughterhouse was a top issue last year, as the city and council received hundreds of letters and emails on the project. A petition was signed by 1,795 people requesting that the special use permit application council approved 5-2 last March be rescinded. Last November, Alexandria Circuit Court Judge Lisa Kemler threw out the second case levied against the city and council by 10 area citizens and business owners.
As previously reported, the chickens will be trucked in from an Amish community in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and Saba Live Poultry will receive up to 500 chickens every other day in closed box trucks, which will make drop-offs between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. in the rear of the building. The business will be open from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. and customers will be able to walk in, select a chicken in a steel cage with a number attached to its leg. The customer receives a ticket with the number as the chicken is taken into another room and slaughtered.
“I think people will be super happy with what I’m doing in the neighborhood,” Mused said.
The owner of a controversial Halal slaughterhouse plans to open up for business at 3225 Colvin Street this June.
Despite being $150,000 in the hole due to paying legal fees and $8,000 a month in rent, Abdul Mused says he is excited to open Saba Live Poultry at 3225 Colvin Street. The anticipated opening comes after nearly a year of legal challenges from neighboring businesses and residents.
Mused and his family are based in New York and now own 18 Saba Live Poultry locations around the country. The company plans on expanding to 50 slaughterhouses in total, and even opened three new locations while the case against the city’s decision to approve their special use permit was held up in the Alexandria Circuit Court.
“I think this location is going to be one of my best locations. I think the neighbors will be very happy when I open,”Mused told ALXnow. “Yes, it was a lot of drama they made out of it. I believe they overreacted to it. It doesn’t make sense. It made me lose money and struggle. They are just afraid of the unknown. It’s like any small business, and it sounds like a big deal because it’s a slaughterhouse.”
Mused was raised in Yemen and runs the company with his nine brothers in Brooklyn.
The slaughterhouse will be located next door to a number of pet-related businesses, and many owners are worried that the constant odor of hundreds of chickens being slaughtered will disturb their four-legged clients. The industrial and commercial block is home to the Wholistic Hound Dog Academy, Frolick Dogs, Dogtopia, Pinnacle Pet Spa & More, as well as the Wild Bird Center of Alexandria.
“This is something people eat. You have to be clean and sanitary and up to code. I’m dealing with the USDA — the U.S. Department of Agriculture — and the local health department. They are on me 24/7,” Mused said. “They will shut me down in a minute if I’m not up to code.”
The slaughterhouse was a top issue in the city in 2019, as the city and council received thousands of letters and emails on the project. A petition was signed by 1,795 people requesting that the special use permit application council approved 5-2 last March be rescinded. Then in November, Alexandria Circuit Court Judge Lisa Kemler threw out the second case levied against the city and council by 10 citizens and business owners who live and work in the area.
Kevin Gilliam, who owns the Frolick Dogs canine daycare, spoke against the slaughterhouse in the city council public hearing before its decision.
“I said my peace when I went last year, and I did what I could do, but I think you have a lot of people in the community who don’t want it, and they took it to court,” Gilliam said. “I’ve got a business to run. I can’t chase chickens all day, know what I mean? There’s not much I can do about it.”
The chickens are raised in an Amish community in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and Saba Live Poultry will receive up to 500 chickens every other day in closed box trucks, which will make drop-offs between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. in the rear of the building. The business will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and customers will be able to walk in, select a chicken in a steel cage with a number attached to its leg. The customer receives a ticket with the number as the chicken is taken into another room and slaughtered.
“The question most usually asked about Halal concerns the method of slaughter,” Mused wrote in the SUP application. “All meat and poultry we process will be slaughtered strictly in accordance with the Islamic rites, where one of the most important prerequisites is the humane treatment of any animal intended for human food. Saba Live Poultry believes that the concept of Halal involves the whole process of meat production, from the wholesome food feel to the animals in their rearing right through until the meat reaches the consumer.”
Map via Google Maps
Fire Officials Deny Seminary Road Political Pressure — “The AFD representatives… pushed back on allegations that the city had strong-armed the fire department into supporting a certain stance. ‘No one is going to force me… to put people in harm’s way – the first responders or the people that we’re charged to protect,’ Smedley said. ‘That’s my number one goal, and that goal can be accomplished with however many lanes are on the roadway, as long as certain measures are in place. If that is being jeopardized, I will dig in hard.'” [Alexandria Times]
Resident: New Seminary Road is an Improvement — “As someone who lives on a small cul-de-sac off of Seminary Road, I am a daily user of Seminary Road. I use the road several times every day as either a driver, walker, cyclist, or simply as a resident. The new Seminary Road is beneficial to me and to my neighborhood. We are able to live with greater safety no matter how we use the road. We are people who live here — not just drive through to some other location.” [Gazette Packet]
Rent in Alexandria Lower Than Neighbors — “The District and Arlington County are virtually tied for average apartment rent, at $2,233 and $2,236 respectively. Rents in D.C. and Arlington County are both up 4.3% in the last year. The average rent in Alexandria is currently $1,746, up 2.8% from a year ago.” [WTOP]
Details About New Restaurant at Bradlee — “Rotisserie chicken, ceviche, lomo saltado and much more are on the menu at El Saltado, a new Peruvian restaurant that recently opened at Bradlee Shopping Center in Alexandria. The star of the menu is likely the charcoal-broiled chicken served with a house salad plus a choice of French fries, fried yuca, rice or Peruvian-style potato salad.” [Alexandria Living]
Old Town Theater Sign May Be Removed — “The Board of Architectural Review is set to consider allowing the removal and relocation of the Old Town Theater sign and other exterior changes as the space is set to become a Patagonia retail store. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Council Chamber at Alexandria City Hall.” [Patch]
APD Investigates Gunshots in Landmark — “The Alexandria Police Department is investigating a ‘shots fired’ call for service in the 200 block of South Whiting Street. Expect police activity in the area.” [Twitter]
‘Normal Weekday’ on Seminary Road — Has the Seminary Road Diet produced a rush hour traffic nightmare, as some insist? Or is it just producing modest peak period delays, as data seems to show? Video posted by a local cycling advocate, shot shortly after 8 a.m. on a recent weekday, shows free-flowing traffic and no delays, though photos posted by road diet critics show backups at intersections. [Twitter, YouTube]
Students Write, Perform Play at Kennedy Center — “Two talented eighth grade students from George Washington Middle School had the experience of a lifetime when they wrote and performed in a play at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts earlier this month. Yahney-Marie Sangare and Sydney Payne were part of a team of young playwrights and actors who produced The Day Nothing Happened, a play about the desegregation of Stratford Middle School in Arlington.” [ACPS]
After months of activism over the much-maligned Seminary Road Diet, the Facebook group dedicated to opposing the lane reduction has rebranded itself and broadened its focus.
On Sunday, the Alexandria Residents Against the Seminary Road Diet Facebook group was renamed “Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria! End Seminary Rd Diet & Other Bad Ideas.”
“I think that trust in the city government has reached a low ebb. It’s the lowest that it’s been in the 30 years that I’ve lived in Alexandria,” said Bill Rossello, one of the administrators of the Facebook group. “When the city makes a decision, they just go through the motions to make it look like they are making efforts toward civic engagement.”
The group of around 1,500 vocal residents was founded in November — not long after the quick implementation of the road diet, a reduction of the 0.9 mile stretch of Seminary from N. Quaker Lane to Howard Street from four lanes to two, plus a center turn lane and bike lanes.
After Freedom of Information Act disclosures and continuous engagements with numerous city officials, City Councilwoman Amy Jackson surprised her colleagues in December by calling for a reversal of the road diet. Jackson ended up withdrawing her motion, although the group considers the attempted action a victory.
“It’s all about Facebook and the power of social media, because all these people came to us. With 1,500 people, word can spread very quickly,” Rossello said, adding that the road diet will be an election issue in the upcoming local Democratic primary in June 2021. “There will be more FOIAs, and judging from what Amy Jackson promised to do, there will be some movement on this… I imagine that most of our members will support candidates who want to reverse it.”
Now the group will focus its attention to issues across the city. Its description on Facebook now reads:
(T)he City’s lack of truthfulness and transparency has become a pattern across a number of policy decisions and proposals, including those related to road diets, Metro entrances, affordable housing, VDOT grants and business permitting without proper data, justification and approval from actual citizens of the City.
Rossello, who served on the city’s Budget and Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee for seven years in the 1990s, said that the private Facebook group is nonpartisan, but it is not intended to be a debate platform for city residents. About 19 members of the group have been kicked out for arguing, he noted, because the group is intended to be an “affinity group.”
A recent post emphasizes that discontentment among residents bridges the party divide.
“I like adding Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria to our name,” a group member wrote last night. “It helps combat the folks saying we’re grouchy right wingers. I, for one, am a liberal Democrat.”
“I think that we on this site want to prevent our pleasant, tree-lined City from turning into sterile, treeless Crystal City,” the post continued. “We favor a transportation department that promotes traffic flow, not traffic jams. We want our government to return to its friendly, honest, responsive ways. We want to end this era of… rigged community ‘input.'”
(Though the group is vocal in its opposition to the Seminary Road Diet, a less vocal group of residents, including many of those who live along the affected stretch of Seminary Road, support the changes. Also, it should be noted, Crystal City is not without trees.)
Despite the prohibition on arguing, Mayor Justin Wilson repeatedly engages on the page by making comments, many of which refute accusations of a conspiracy against city residents.
The mayor’s comments have fueled the determination of the group, Rossello said.
“I think that he [Wilson] has certainly added to the interest in the group and spurred a lot of discussions. People take advantage of that and spar with him,” Rossello said. “We are going to continue to put pressure on city officials.”
Seminary Road has experienced some delays since the city implemented the contentious “road diet” last fall, Alexandria officials acknowledged at a Tuesday night city council meeting.
After months of pressure from an extremely vocal group of city residents on Facebook, council members peppered staff with questions about the road diet — a reduction of a 0.9 mile stretch of Seminary Road between N. Quaker Lane and Howard Street from four to two lanes, plus the addition of bike lanes on both sides, a center turn lane, crosswalks and medians.
The city’s most recent traffic data shows a travel time increase of one minute for vehicles going westbound on Seminary from Quaker Lane to Jordan Street at peak travel times (8:15 a.m. and 5:15 p.m.) and a 30 second increase in the opposite direction. The data was collected with the city’s Bluetooth travel time monitoring system. On the plus side, staff said, the road is now otherwise safer for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.
Alexandria City Councilwoman Amy Jackson called for a reversal of the road diet in December and spent more than an hour questioning city staff on Tuesday night. During her questioning, she had an aide present a slideshow of photos of traffic along Seminary Road.
“Hundreds of people took hundreds of pictures, because that’s what they’re doing because they’re sitting there,” she said. “I’m not convinced that our city government has alleviated the fears (of the public).”
City transportation planners said that the roadway might be minimally slower for drivers during peak hours, but that it is safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
“For the vast majority of the day the road is performing the same, if not better than before,” said Hillary Orr, deputy director of the city’s department of Transportation and Environmental Services. “And for those other 23 hours, it’s designed in a way that is comfortable for people who are walking, biking, using transit and driving their cars. And that’s one of the tradeoffs that we have talked about throughout this process.”
Fire Chief Corey Smedley told council that his staff was in communication with city staff as the road diet was being planned, and that fire and emergency vehicles have been un-hindered in their ability to navigate through traffic and answer service calls — assertions that run counter to the beliefs of road diet opponents, who have cited a FOIAed trove of emails as proof that fire department brass were pressured into supporting the changes.
When Jackson asked him if his department was in consultation and agreement with the plan, he responded by saying, “Absolutely.”
Police Chief Michael Brown reported that there have been three reported car crashes along the roadway since the road diet was implemented last fall, including one that occurred at the conclusion of a high speed chase by the Virginia State Police. Otherwise, he said, the road diet has presented no issues for police.
Council voted 4-3 for the road diet last October, supported by Mayor Justin Wilson, Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, and council members Canek Aguirre and Del Pepper. In opposition were Jackson, and council members John T. Chapman and Mo Seifeldein.
Bill Rossello wasn’t convinced by the staff presentation. The Seminary Hill resident sat in on the meeting for more than two hours before calling it a night and walking out.
“It’s absolute horse hockey,” Rossello told ALXnow. “The city is not very good at presenting data, gathering data and what it’s really not good at is listening to the overwhelming majority of community members who actually use the road, who see it first-hand, live it every day. Not a bit.”
Wilson said he expects community activism regarding the road diet to continue.
“There are going to be differences of opinion, there are going to be things that we don’t always 100% see eye-to-eye on,” Wilson said. “I appreciate the collaboration on this and so many other matters. I want to thank the community for all of their comments on this. I’m sure they will continue, and that’s a great thing and we can continue this discussion as we move forward and evaluate this project as we committed to do from the beginning.”
But Rossello, who is an administrator of the Alexandria Residents Against the Seminary Road Diet Facebook group, said Tuesday night’s meeting didn’t sit well with him.
“What we’re seeing at the leadership levels is that there seems to be a willingness to go along with this narrative that we were all involved talking about this throughout the process, which is absolutely not true,” he said. “They know that there are more cars on the road, and narrowing roads isn’t gonna make it better. That doesn’t make our quality of life better. I don’t think anything that happened tonight increases the trust that the community has in our city government.”
Huge Fire South of Alexandria — “A large fire in Fairfax County destroyed an unfinished development of apartments and retail stores Saturday, shutting down traffic along Route 1 for several hours while firefighters battled the blaze and thick black smoke that could be seen for several miles.” Alexandria firefighters, along with firefighters from other nearby jurisdictions, responded to the scene as mutual aid. [Washington Post, NBC 4, Twitter]
T.C. Williams Lights Trial Delayed — “The trial to determine whether Alexandria City Public Schools can add lights to T.C. Williams High School’s new football stadium has been postponed from Feb. 24 to June 8, Lars Liebeler, the attorney for the plaintiffs, said… Residents from six of the neighboring households filed an original complaint in August 2018.” [Alexandria Times]
History of the Oakland Baptist Church — “Longing for their own church, they organized themselves and built Oak Hill Baptist Church in 1888. The men would leave work on their day jobs, go directly to the building site of the church, and start working. They would continue building the church after work on the weekends week after week until the church was finished.” [Zebra]
Nicole Radshaw is all in favor of the much-maligned Seminary Road diet.
Three years ago on Halloween, the Seminary Valley resident was hit by a driver as she biked to work at a preschool on Seminary Road. Radshaw didn’t break any bones, but her bike was totaled, she spent a year in physical therapy, and saw a counselor to help deal with the trauma and anxiety of being hit by a car.
“It really sucked. I could have been a fatality. Cars were driving past as I was lying on the road,” Radshaw told ALXnow. “It took me three years to want to get back on a bike again.”
Radshaw belongs to a less vocal portion of city residents who favor the road diet, which has created consternation throughout Alexandria. Mayor Justin Wilson and city officials have acknowledged traffic delays at peak travel times since the 0.9 mile stretch of roadway between N. Quaker Lane and Howard Street was reduced from four to two lanes. Bike lanes on both sides were also added, in addition to a center turn lane, crosswalks and medians.
The city council and Department of Transportation and Environmental Services have received thousands of emails and messages against the plan. Arguments from the Alexandria Residents Against the Seminary Road Diet Facebook group even prompted Alexandria City Councilwoman Amy Jackson to call for a complete restart of the process.
Glenn Klaus lives in Rosemont, and his support of the road diet is more philosophical. He’s a cyclist and hasn’t yet biked on the new Seminary Road bike lanes, but wants to see fewer cars on city roadways.
“The city is trying to change driving behaviors and traffic patterns. People just have to deal, because ultimately I think that strategy is to their benefit,” Klaus said. “When people lose, it doesn’t mean they weren’t listened to. It just means their argument didn’t sway the decision-makers.”
Lisa Soronen lives on Fort Williams Parkway — about five blocks away from Seminary Road — and alternates between taking the bus in the morning and driving to work in the District. She walks her dog in the morning and crosses Seminary Road on foot up to six times a day, which used to be a “suicide mission,” she said. Now she says that drivers are paying more attention to the 25 mile per hour speed limit and she is no longer afraid of crossing the street.
“It’s absolutely wonderful, because if I want to cross the road I have a crosswalk,” Soronen said. “Same thing with the bus. Coming home after 5 p.m., I’d have to run across four lanes of traffic and someone might hit me. I’m really surprised that people feel so personal about it, and they have attacked me personally. I have been attacked online.”
Soronen said she has experienced delays along the roadway in the morning, and has seen emergency vehicles speed through the middle turn lane without issues . She got involved in the planning process for the roadway soon after moving into the neighborhood last April, and has corresponded with members of the city council and city staff.
“I might be delayed sometimes driving on Seminary, but it’s worth it for me for it to be safer for everyone,” she said. “The process I participated in seems open and fair. If things had gone the other way, I don’t think I would have considered that the process failed me.”
Soronen is an attorney and volunteers with the Mother of Light Center, which supports homeless Alexandrians. She said that the argument over the road diet is a waste of her time and distracts city council from its other work.
“I don’t understand the vitriol against this,” she said, calling the dispute “small and petty” and not as big of a deal as, say, poverty and homelessness in the city.
Co-locating affordable and workforce housing is off the table at Douglas MacArthur Elementary School, but it will be considered at all future schools slated for renovation.
That’s according to Alexandria City Public Schools officials and city staff who spoke to parents and community advocates at the school on Monday night.
The school board is set to vote on a concept plan for MacArthur on Thursday, Feb. 6, and Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Jr., said that in order for the school to meet its construction timeline of opening in Jan. 2023, all discussions of co-locating housing at the school have been shelved. However, the upcoming staff presentation on MacArthur says that smaller-scale options like installing recreational programming and facilities is still being considered.
“Douglas MacArthur will not have affordable housing at this project due to the timing constraints that we need to really stick to,” Hutchings said, adding that ACPS needs to define what co-locating means on school grounds. “If it’s going to be at a school site, what would that look like? What are the outcomes we’re seeking, and what are the benefits as well as the challenges with that so that we are able to articulate that when times of discussing the projects?”
City Manager Mark Jinks also attended the MacArthur meeting, and said that the city is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis.
Co-locating services on school grounds has been done before, Jinks said, noting that William Ramsay Elementary School (5700 Sanger Ave) includes a recreation center and a nature center. Jinks has backed the idea of housing ACPS employees at schools that develop on-site housing alternatives.
“The whole idea is not new. The intent is to get the best use of our community assets,” Jinks said. “We don’t have a plethora of land to build horizontally that we would wish.”
Christine Coussens, a MacArthur parent, said Jinks’ example was a far cry from co-locating affordable housing on school grounds.
“We’re a school first,” Coussens said. “The examples that you have given are toward recreation. That supports our students. So, putting something forward, talking about co-localization and affordable housing is disingenuous to our community.”
Alexandria City Councilwoman Amy Jackson, who is also a MacArthur parent, said there has been a lack of transparency between the city and the public on the issue. Jackson is also a member of the MacArthur Modernization Design Advisory Committee.
“There hasn’t been the transparency — the communication — needed between the city and ACPS to actually say, ‘This is what we’re doing,'” Jackson told ALXnow. “There is a lack of communication and outreach in the community to get the word out. That’s it. If everybody knows what’s going on no one’s going to be frustrated, no one’s going to be annoyed, no one’s going to be upset and then be raging like the rest of the parents here at MacArthur.”