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With no more mayoral debates, now it all boils down to the Democratic primary on June 8.

Like the main event at a boxing match, Mayor Justin Wilson and former Mayor Allison Silberberg on Thursday night maneuvered through a series of questions in the final of four Seminary Ridge Civic Association candidate forums.

This is the final debate or forum for the two candidates until the June 8 Democratic primary.

Wilson is leading in fundraising and endorsements, while underdog Silberberg has gotten support from groups like the Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria Facebook page for agreeing on a number of its pet issues, including government transparency, reversing the Seminary Road Diet, and curbing developments.

Fifteen City Council candidates participated in the Seminary Ridge conversations, opining on density, affordable housing, government transparency, flooding, and, their opinions on making changes to the controversial Seminary Road Diet.

After a 4-3 Council vote in 2019, the road, which is next to Inova Alexandria Hospital, was reduced from four to two lanes in exchange for a center turn lane, bike lanes and sidewalks on both sides of the street, crosswalks and medians. A majority of Council candidates are now in favor of taking a look at bringing travel lanes back from two to four lanes on the 0.9 mile stretch of roadway between N. Quaker Lane and Howard Street.

Wilson said that he is in favor of tweaking the plan, although has been accused of ignoring the opposition of 13 civic associations.

“It’s unfortunately we couldn’t get everyone in the community on the same page on this issue,” Wilson said. “I believe the improvements that we made were good ones. I’m hopeful that in the future we can continue to tweak as necessary.”

Silberberg said she would restore the four lanes.

“This is a major arterial road that leads to our only hospital,” she said. “I’ve seen it and many residents have seen it and told me about it that they’ve seen ambulances stuck. I think we have a chance to right this wrong, and, of course, keep the pedestrian improvements, but I wouldn’t have voted for it and I will restore the travel lanes if I can get everyone together on that.”

Transparency

Silberberg said she’s been saddened to hear reports of residents not trusting their government, and defended recently pledging herself to an accountability pledge labeled the Alexandria Constituents’ Bill of Rights. Silberberg lost to Wilson in the Democratic primary in 2018, and says that she worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week during her single term.

“I think they [City staff] should sign the pledge as well,” she said.

Silberberg also criticized the performance and six-figure salary of City Manager Mark Jinks.

“It is a lot of money, frankly. I brought this up (when mayor) but nobody agreed with me, but for the City Manager to have a car allowance. It sounds minor, but I don’t think we should have that for him. I think we should revise that.”

Wilson said that Jinks’ salary was in the middle of the pack when compared to the salaries of neighboring jurisdictions, and that he is appropriately paid given the organization that he runs.

Colocation of affordable housing

Wilson said he does not want to colocate affordable housing on the grounds of Alexandria City Public Schools, a position echoed by Silberberg on another controversial issue.

I don’t support putting affordable housing on our existing school properties,” he said. “We need more instructional space.”

Silberberg said that the school system is bursting at the seams as it is.

“I would certainly support an ordinance to say no to putting housing on our limited school properties,” she said.

Stream restoration

Wilson said that the city’s Environmental Policy Commission is full of “good science minds” that can look into the city’s stream restoration projects, including at Taylor Run, Strawberry Run and Lucky Run. Last month, Council opted to send aspects of the projects back to the drawing board in light of widespread public criticism.

Silberberg says that Alexandria has few forests left, and that she has long been opposed to the plans, as well as Wilson’s “unending pursuit of overbuilding”.

Transit lanes on Duke Street

Speaking of road diets, Wilson and Silberberg agreed that the Duke Street Transitway project should not result in fewer traffic lanes between Landmark Mall and the King Street-Old Town Metro station.

I personally don’t think the volumes on Duke street would allow us to remove any traffic lanes on Duke Street,” Wilson said. “We’re gonna have a lot of community engagement to figure out the best alignment, as well as looking at the intersections to try to reduce some of the cut-through traffic that we see in a lot of our neighborhoods.”

The city is embarking on the public engagement part of the project next month.

On $60 million in federal COVID funding

Silberberg said that the nearly $60 million in COVID relief funds coming to the city should be handled carefully, and after all of last year’s flooding that the funds should be spent on stormwater infrastructure.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime investment from the federal government, and we need to be extremely careful and good stewards of this money,” she said. “Think about what is mission critical. First and foremost, I think we clearly have to focus like a laser beam on this flooding, the sewage and stormwater flooding that’s attacking, and stalking, really, our residents every time it rains.”

Wilson said he’s proud to have led the city through the most significant public health crisis in a century, and that the city needs to invest more in the social, emotional and academic losses experienced by Alexandria children.

“We have an opportunity to make generational investments in our community around our infrastructure, around our facilities, around some of the systems around workforce development and things that are going to ultimately benefit our community for generations,” he said. “We got 1,300 suggestions from the community, and we’re going to be working in June and July to apply those suggestions in figuring out how to use that first tranche of money.”

Image via Seminary Ridge Civic Association/Zoom

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The city has opened up a little about plans to reshape a former slave trading headquarters in Alexandria into a museum centered around the Black Americans enslaved in early American history.

The reopening of the Freedom House Museum at 1315 Duke Street is planned for this fall — after it was originally planned for opening this spring.

The location was once the headquarters for the largest slave trading firm in the United States, Franklin and Armfield. The location was purchased by the City of Alexandria and is undergoing an overhaul to be transformed into museum memorializing Alexandria’s dark history as a slave trading hub.

“Between 1828 and 1861, thousands of men, women, and children were sent by ship or forcibly marched to the lucrative slave markets in Natchez and New Orleans,” the city said in a presentation on the new exhibits. “Agents of the slave dealers purchased individuals throughout Maryland and Virginia and brought them to the Alexandria Slave Pen before transport to the Deep South. The names of the enslaved can be seen today on ship manifests and court records.”

A new exhibit, prepared by Howard+Revis Design in D.C., makes the small but crucial change from the old exhibit at the site away from highlighting slavery and more towards telling the story of those who were victimized by it.

“The new exhibit will shift the focus from the enslavers to those they enslaved. While the face of evil always fascinates, the updated story will steer attention away from the perpetrators and towardst hose trafficked at the site. It will emphasize their humanity and their ability to make choices; to steer their own fate, even within the constraints of their enslaved conditions.”

The first floor of the museum will feature four rooms of exhibits, focusing on the domestic slave trade, a hallway with a list of the names of enslaved people, the experience of U.S. colored troops in Alexandria during the Civil War, and a room looking at the preservation of the museum.

Meanwhile, staff at the Historic Alexandria Museums are raising money for preservation and interpretation work at the museum. The museum is collecting donations as part of Spring2ACTion to help complete the exhibit galleries.

Photo via City of Alexandria/YouTube

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A new Montessori school program could be opening just off Duke Street if its special use permit gets approved.

The new Heritage Montessori Day and Preschool would be located at 3649 Wheeler Avenue, near the Spicer’s Upholstery that closed last year and across the street from the Alexandria Police Department.

Montessori education is a method of teaching developed by Maria Montessori that emphasizes independent learning by children and giving students more independence in their learning methods.

According to the permit, the school would serve families with children ranging from 20 months to 12 years old, and will run from 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

The program will be designed to host 150 children at the school, with 70 preschoolers and 80 children in grades K-6.

The school is currently opening enrollment for the 2021/2022 school year. According to the school website, essential workers and military members also receive discounts.

“If you’re an essential worker, Heritage Montessori is pleased to offer you a 20% discount on the registration and activity fees,” The school said on the website. “If you’re a proud member of the military, we’re offering a 10% discount on tuition.”

The school’s special use permit is scheduled for review at the May 4 Planning Commission meeting.

Photo via Google Maps

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M&B Auto Sales has reportedly been a difficult neighbor, and it could cost the used car dealership at 26 S. Dove Street its special use permit.

At an upcoming March 2 meeting, the Planning Commission will consider revoting the dealership’s automobile sales and repair special use permit after what staff called repeated violations.

The dealership has been repeatedly cited for violating its permits by parking in the public right of way, loading and unloading vehicles from delivery trucks, and exceeding the total number of cars permitted on the lot. Complains from neighbors resulted in an in-person meeting with the Department of Planning and Zoning on July 23, where staff said the dealership agreed to abide by conditions and take more action to ensure compliance.

But that didn’t happen. In the report, staff included a catalogue of seven warnings and notices filed against the dealership between June 2020 and this month, along with 37 calls for service to the police department.

An email from a neighboring business owner included in the report detailed some of the day-to-day problems at the site:

Yesterday afternoon, there were at least eight Alexandria Police officers responding to an out-of-control couple who felt cheated on an auto purchase. The street was essentially closed down for half an hour. Today at 4:30, I drove around the bend and almost hit one of the six cars that were illegally parked on both sides of the street. Those were in addition to the six or seven that remain parked for days and weeks on Dove Street south of their lot. Some have temporary tags and some don’t. I called for an parking enforcement officer today but usually by the time they arrive the scenario has totally changed.

Four of those notices resulted in penalties, which have culminated in $700 of unpaid fines as of January and a $500 notice of violation issued this month.

Now, staff is recommending the City Council revoke M&B Auto Sales’ permit.

“Staff recommends revocation of SUP#2020-00041 effective March 27, 2021,” staff said in the report. “Should City Council revoke the SUP, operation of the existing permitted automobile sales and repair business located at 26 Dove Street would no longer be authorized.”

Photo via Google Maps

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The owner of a hookah lounge has filed a special use permit to operate a hookah lounge and restaurant in the West End.

Diko Bar and Lounge would take over at the former home of the all-vegan Chez Hareg Cafe at 5245 Duke Street. The 1,200-square-foot location is next door to Shooter McGee’s, across the street from the Canterbury Square Condominiums and near the Alexandria Fire Station 208.

The location can accommodate 47 people inside, 18 people outside and has a 145-space parking lot. The SUP was requested for a new use at the space, which is the former home to Sangeet Alexandria Halal Meat and Grocery and Chez Hareg Cafe.

Owner Diko Woldehawariate could not be reached for comment, and details are scarce. The business has no website or social media. Woldehawariate wants to run it from noon to 2 a.m. seven days a week, according to the application. The menu includes beef and chicken shwarma, kabobs, Ethiopian dishes and desserts.

Public comments on the application are open until March 4, 2021, after which the application goes before the Planning Commission and then City Council for final approval.

Photo via Google Maps

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A person had their vehicle and phone stolen in a morning carjacking on Sunday outside Giant on Duke Street.

According to Amanda Paga, Public Information Officer for the Alexandria Police Department, the carjacking took place on Sunday around 7 a.m. on the 3000 block of Duke Street, where Giant is located.

Paga said the victim was loading groceries when they were approached by two suspects who brandished handguns. They took the victim’s phone and stole the vehicle.

The carjacking took place just a few blocks away from the Alexandria Police Department headquarters. There have been several carjackings throughout Alexandria over the last few months.

Criminal activity has increased in 2020, with vehicle thefts in particular increasing.

Paga said no description of the suspects is available at this time.

Image via Google Maps

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Police say a man was robbed in Alexandria on Duke Street last night (Tuesday) just east of Ewald Park.

“The victim, male, reported that while walking in the 4300 block of Duke Street, an unknown, male suspect approached them from behind, and took property from their person at gunpoint,” said Lt. Courtney Ballantine, a spokesperson for the police department.

Ballantine said the incident occurred around 11 p.m. and there is no suspect information available.

“We always encourage folks that want to help to call the non-emergency phone number and ask to speak to an officer with any information,” Ballantine said.

The police non-emergency number is (703) 746-4444.

Image via Google Maps

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Construction has started in Fairfax County at the new home of Beyer Automotive Group’s Land Rover Alexandria.

After more than 20 years at 2712 Duke Street, the dealership plans to move into its new home on a 5.9-acre lot at 5636 S. Van Dorn Street in 2022.

Land Rover Alexandria is co-owned by 8th District Congressman Don Beyer, who is a partner in the Falls Church-based group that owns eight dealerships throughout the region.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the plan in April.

John Altman, Beyer Automotive Group’s chief operating officer, told WTOP that the company outgrew its Alexandria location and that it’s new location will be the largest Jaguar Land Rover dealership in the Mid-Atlantic.

The two-story, 50,000-square-foot building will include up to 28 service bays and an expanded vehicle showroom, according to Fairfax County. It will also be able to hold up to 326 parking spaces and be open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. About 60 employees are expected to work at the site at any one time.

Chesapeake Contracting won the contract to build the dealership at the site, which is near the Van Dorn Metro station. It is currently “undeveloped and is wooded with upland forest and open field, and features steep grades rising from South Van Dorn Street,” according to a Fairfax County staff report.

Map via Google Maps

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Updated 2:50 p.m. — Police said the suspects have been apprehended. An earlier version of this article listed an incorrect address.

For those curious about a police helicopter is sweeping over the 2300 block of Duke Street around 1:30 p.m., police say the helicopter is assisting in the search for suspects who fled a vehicle that was flagged as stolen.

Lt. Courtney Ballantine, a spokesperson for the Alexandria Police Department, said the nature of the area meant a helicopter was called in to assist with the search.

Ballantine said that no suspect descriptions are available and there is no reason to believe the suspects are armed and dangerous.

Photo via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Historic Old Town Home Uprooted and Relocated — “If you were driving down Washington Street Wednesday, you may have noticed a historic brick townhouse being moved on beams and dollies.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]

Duke Street’s Transit Focused Redesign Starts — “In early 2021, city staff will begin collecting community input for the future of the Duke Street Corridor from Landmark Mall to the King Street Metro Station.” [Alexandria Times]

Best Places for Christmas Lights Around Alexandria — “An increasing number of cars are driving around with Christmas trees on top and slowly but surely, homeowners are decking their homes with lights and holiday displays. Here are a few places to see the region’s best holiday displays.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]

Local Salvation Army Handles Decreased Giving but Increased Demand — “At the same time, the organization is seeing an increase in demand. Already serving more than 23 million Americans each year, the Salvation Army expects to help an additional 6.5 million people this holiday season.” [Alexandria Gazette]

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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