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It was crisp, clear on Sunday in Del Ray — perfect for the annual Del Ray Halloween Parade.

Thousands of kids and adults marched in costumes for the event, including members of the Alexandria City Council and the Alexandria City High School ‘Zombie Band’.

It’s Visit Del Ray’s 26th year hosting the fun event, which it started at Mount Vernon Avenue and E. Bellefonte Avenue and ended with live music and prizes at the Mount Vernon Recreation Center athletic fields.

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District Biscuit Company (image via District Biscuit Company/Instagram)

(Updated at 5:35 p.m.) District Biscuit Company, a local farmers market favorite, could be opening a brick-and-mortar location in a former restaurant space on the Arlandria/Del Ray border.

The biscuit company has filed an application to open at 3401 Mount Vernon Avenue, formerly Silpancho’s House. The prior restaurant, which focused on Bolivian cuisine, has been closed since January, according to the application.

The permit application is for a change in ownership, meaning the food offerings will change but many of the other details about the restaurant’s operation will remain the same.

“Prior to this date the business was operating as a fast-casual restaurant serving customers food and beverages,” the application said. “It is my understanding that the previous business was operating with 3-5 employees and 5 parking spaces available.”

The application said the new menu will consist of American/Southern breakfast items like biscuits, biscuit sandwiches, biscuits and gravy, coffee, and sweet biscuits. It is, as aforementioned, a biscuit company.

Image via District Biscuit Company/Instagram

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The most contentious part of last Monday’s Agenda Alexandria discussion on building heights was when City Manager Jim Parajon told the audience that the City Council’s priorities on affordable housing have the best interests of residents in mind.

Many members of the audience voiced disapproval by groaning, “No,” that they don’t.

Parajon, who started work in January, said that the city needs a multi-faceted approach to go through the Planning Commission and be approved by City Council by the end of this year.

“I don’t believe we can build enough supply of affordable housing to meet the needs,” Parajon said. “That means that a comprehensive approach to how to deal with affordable housing is critical. It’s everything from building supply, to addressing things such as stable funding source to wealth creation, and how do we do that and making it more affordable to live in our city, not just have a home or housing in our city?”

The conversation on the City’s proposed bonus density and height program was packed at The Lyceum, where Parajon said that the city would employ a cautious approach in regard to the program, which would allow developers to increase heights of buildings to 70 feet in areas of the city that are capped at 45 feet in height — in exchange for an agreement to build affordable housing within the development.

The Planning Commission deferred the proposal in June after outcry from Del Ray residents, including Nate Hurto, who spoke as a panelist with Parajon.

“The historic nature of our city is being undermined,” Hurto said.

Areas of the city that would be impacted by the proposed change to height restrictions. (Via City of Alexandria)

Parajon said that the proposal would not likely impact historic districts in the city.

“I can’t envision a situation where that would be something that would be supported by the community or the council, or the staff,” he said. “The historic districts are embedded as part of what Alexandria is about. Does it mean that in theory you could potentially do something like this? Yes. But through the public process, and you’ve seen it, a lot of projects are not going to make it.”

In Alexandria, developers of new apartment complexes must either contribute to the City’s Housing Trust Fund or include dedicated affordable housing within their plans to help meet the city’s affordable housing crisis. Alexandria lost 14,300 (or 78%) affordable housing units between 2000 and 2022. Consequently, 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.

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The spookiness is returning to Mount Vernon Avenue with the annual Del Ray Halloween Parade on Sunday, October 30.

It’s Visit Del Ray’s 26th year hosting the fun event, which it starts at 2 p.m. at Mount Vernon Avenue and E. Bellefonte Avenue and ends with live music and prizes at the Mount Vernon Recreation Center athletic fields.

The grand marshall of this year’s parade is a student from Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology.

Thousands are expected to attend the event.

Star Trek fans marching in the Del Ray Halloween parade on Sunday, October 24, 2021. (staff photo by James Cullum)

The Del Ray Halloween Parade includes:

  • Stroller and pet costume contests — Participants must register at 1:30 p.m. at the corner of Mt. Vernon and E. Howell Avenues
  • Best Decorated House and Business contests — The nomination deadline is Sunday, October 23, at noon.
  • Scavenger Hunt — Four winners will receive a $50 gift card to their favorite Del Ray business.

Visit Del Ray is also collecting Halloween costumes for kids at the Dunbar Alexandria-Olympic Boys & Girls Club, Community Lodgings, and the Alexandria Domestic Violence program.

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Alexandria Hyundai‘s special use permit has been extended to 2045 — with conditions.

After nearly three hours of deliberation on Saturday (October 15), City Council approved three special use permit requests to allow the dealership to continue operating until 2045, with the caveat that Council will take another look in 2040 at the permit for a service and storage parking lot.

Kevin Reilly has run Alexandria Hyundai on two acres of land between the 1600 and 1800 blocks of Mount Vernon Avenue for more than 20 years. With Hyundai converting to electric vehicles, Reilly is forced to upgrade his dealership and get an extension to his SUPs, which previously expired in 2025.

Council voted 4-2 (with Council Members Sarah Bagley and Canek Aguirre voting no) approving the SUP for the 22,000-square-foot lot.

Last week, the Planning Commission approved the plan for Alexandria Hyundai to keep operating, but denied the SUP to extend the life of the lot, which Reilly says he needs to keep operating. The parking lot is prime real estate on Mount Vernon Avenue, and the Commission agreed with City staff in finding that it does not comply with the city’s master plan, which outlines more active and pedestrian uses for that stretch of the Mount Vernon Avenue.

Reilly said that he needs the parking lot to stay in business.

“You can’t run a dealership unless you are facility compliant,” Reilly said. “It’s really economically unviable, and if you don’t meet the manufacturer’s customer satisfaction scores. Part of that is if your vehicle is in there (in the dealership), we need to have your vehicle to you immediately. If there’s no there’s no customer satisfaction, I just can’t operate.”

Reilly, a former president of the Del Ray Business Association, was praised for being a good neighbor by Council, and his proposal had the backing of the DRBA, the Del Ray Citizens Association and the Del Ray Land Use Committee.

“When I first moved to Del Ray there were literally just a handful of businesses on the Avenue,” said DRBA’s Gayle Reuter. “We are so thankful that over 20 years ago Kevin Reilly made the decision to move to Del Ray… Many of the events the community loves so much — the Del Ray Halloween Parade, the farmer’s market, Art On The Avenue — wouldn’t have happened without his early support in getting them going.”

Vice Mayor Amy Jackson praised Reilly and thanked him for running his business in Alexandria.

“We do appreciate what you do for the community and in Del Ray,” Jackson said.

The project includes a new service drive-thru lane, service reception areas and the installation of four electric vehicle chargers for community use. The chargers will be installed by this time next year, Reilly said.

The plan also includes a 770-square-foot canopy for a new 1,730-square-foot service reception addition, as well as a 1,500 square foot service reception area.

Praveen Kathpal told Council that the property should be converted to housing or open space, and that keeping the dealership until 2045 on Mount Vernon Avenue is a long time.

“Our current mayor will turn 66 years old in the year 2045,” Kathpal said. “This year’s high school seniors will be unavailable for any 40-under-40 lists. Taylor Swift will be older than Kurt Cobain would be if he were alive today. We’ll be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Coolio’s hit, ‘Gangsta’s Paradise.’ So, do we really want to be storing cars along Mount Vernon Avenue when all of that happens? I don’t think so.”

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Halloween pop-up bar ‘Nightmare On The Avenue’ is back in Del Ray.

The pop-up bar at 2312 Mount Vernon Avenue is decorated for the occasion, and offers spooky cocktails and snacks in the space previously home to the Tiki Bar Del Ray pop-up.

Customers can snack on light fare, like nightmare nachos, while drinking Harry Potter-themed butter beer, a Vampire’s Kiss (Tito’s vodka, pumpkin pie syrup, pumpkin puree, heavy cream and sugar) and the Insane Clown Painkiller (Pusser’s Rum, Coco Lopez, pineapple juice, orange juice and nutmeg).

Owner Bill Blackburn of the Homegrown Restaurant Group told ALXnow that customers are in for a spirited time.

“It’s a great spot to get into the Halloween spirit,” Blackburn said. “We wanted to create a fun place with a Halloween theme, and I think we succeeded with that.”

The pop-up is located between HRG’s other Del Ray restaurants Pork Barrel BBQ and Holy Cow Del Ray on Mount Vernon Avenue.

After Halloween, the bar will be transformed into the Christmas-themed “Joy On The Avenue.”

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The Alexandria Planning Commission partially approved plans that will allow for a car dealership to keep operating on Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray.

Alexandria Hyundai has operated on two acres of land between the 1600 and 1800 blocks of Mount Vernon Avenue for more than 20 years. Owner Kevin Reilly says that his dealership needs to conform to industry changes by converting to electric vehicles in order to stay in business, and filed three special use permit (SUP) requests with the city.

The Planning Commission denied Reilly’s request to allow for the continued use of the parking and storage lots at 1605 and 1611 Mount Vernon Avenue, but approved two other SUP’s — with conditions — for the properties at 1707-1711 and 1801 Mount Vernon Avenue.

Reilly wants a 20 year extension on his special use permits, which currently allow his business to operate until 2025. His proposal includes a new service drive-thru lane, service reception areas and the installation of four electric vehicle chargers for community use — in exchange for allowing the dealership to continue operating until 2045.

“Hyundai has a global design initiative program, and as a dealer if I do not comply, the financial penalties basically make it not viable for me to continue,” Reilly told the Planning Commission on October 6.

Reilly’s plan includes a 770-square-foot canopy for a new 1,730-square-foot service reception addition, as well as a 1,500 square foot service reception area.

City staff, however, say that the dealership does not fall in line with the city’s master plan, which calls for more active and pedestrian-serving uses for the neighborhood. Staff presented rendering of other potential uses for the site, such as townhouses or a mixed-use building with a car dealership on the ground floor.

The efforts were ridiculed by Cathy Puskar, Reilly’s land use attorney. Puskar said that heigh restrictions in Del Ray prohibit such development, and that the building used by city staff as an example of residential units above an auto dealership is 60 feet tall — 15 more than what is allowed. She also said that a conceptual drawing with town homes lacked details.

The conditions approved by the commission stipulate that:

  • Alexandria Hyundai would need to build a four-foot-tall decorative fence or wall along the 1600 block of  Mount Vernon Avenue
  • The dealership will need to add trees in front of the properties in the 1600 block, as well as remove 21 parking spaces for community use
  • If approved by City Council, the SUPs for the properties in the 1700 and 1800 block will need to be reviewed in 2032, and expire in 2045

Gayle Reuter of the Del Ray Business Association said that Reilly should be allowed to stay on Mount Vernon Avenue.

“Why wouldn’t we want to keep such an outstanding business in our neighborhood?” Reuter said. “For those who think that the ownership distracts from new development and improvements to the community, tell that to the brand new townhouses directly behind the dealership that are now on the market for $1.5 million.”

Neighbor Maria Wasowski disagrees.

“Auto sales and parking lots really divide the two commercial ends of (Mount Vernon Avenue),” she said, adding that her position was not personal against Reilly. “We all like him and don’t wish him ill.”

All three special use permit requests now go to City Council for review.

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Thousands of art lovers will have to set aside their plans this weekend, as Del Ray’s annual Art On The Avenue has been postponed due to Tropical Storm Ian.

Ian battered Florida with intensity that is now petering out and working its way up the East Coast. For Alexandria, there is 70% likelihood of rain this Saturday, and event organizers have decided not to chance a washout.

The festival will now be held on Saturday, November 12.

This is the third year in a row that Art On The Avenue has taken a hit. The 2020 festival was virtual due to the pandemic, and last year’s event was attended by thousands of people, but an unforced power outage prompted businesses along Mount Vernon Avenue to be shut down.

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218 East Monroe Avenue (image via Google Maps)

A new Montessori school has filed for permits to open in Del Ray and is currently enrolling new students.

The Monarch Montessori School is a new program coming to 218 East Monroe Avenue, also the location of St Paul Pentecostal Church, though the school’s website says the program is a private, non-sectarian school.

“We believe that each child has different gifts, challenges and styles of learning,” the school’s website said. “At Monarch Montessori, each child’s individual path is recognized and celebrated.”

The special use permit says the school will be open from 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m. The school is expected to have around 98 students with 12 employees.

Montessori is a teaching method that emphasizes encouraging student choice and hands-on activities. New Montessori programs have popped up across the city in recent years.

“Every school that you encounter will have its own education philosophy,” the website said. “Monarch Montessori’s philosophy centers around the principle of individualism. Students perceive themselves as capable of making their own choices, while in constant relationship with other students and guides in the classroom.”

The Monarch Montessori School’s website also said the school will pay all employees a living wage, subsidize public transportation costs for all employees, offer paid training for teachers and set aside 20% of all slots to families eligible for subsidized child care/voucher programs.

The school’s website said tour dates will be available late in the fall.

Image via Google Maps

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Like the waning days of summer, time is almost up for Tiki Bar Del Ray on Mount Vernon Avenue.

After a nearly nine-month run, which was longer than expected, the pop-up at 2312 Mount Vernon Avenue will officially close its doors on Saturday, September 24, and reemerge as the Halloween-themed “Nightmare On The Avenue” in the first week of October.

“Come on in now to get all your festive Tiki lays and drinks and to get your fill of the Polynesian fantasy culture that we created,” Tiki Bar Del Ray co-owner Bill Blackburn told ALXnow. “Who doesn’t love a Tiki bar? It’s sad to close it, but the whole idea was that this is a flexible space and we’re gonna keep making it fresh.”

Last year, Blackburn and his partner “Mango” Mike Anderson of the Homegrown Restaurant Group, closed the The Sushi Bar and converted it into the Christmas-themed pop-up bar Joy On The Avenue.

The pop-up is situated between their other restaurants on Mount Vernon Avenue – Pork Barrel BBQ and Holy Cow Del Ray.

Anderson said that his team is working on redecorating the space and creating a “unique and tasty” menu of spirits, cocktails and food.

“The pop-ups have been a lot of fun,” Anderson said. “They’ve been well received, but we need something that’s got a little more staying power and a little more desire for the neighborhood.”

The Christmas theme will return after Halloween, Anderson said, adding that he and Blackburn hope to iron out a final concept for the space by next spring.

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