Alexandria, VA

It was a busy week in Alexandria, and there is plenty to talk about.

The city is moving forward with phase three of reopening its economy on July 1, and the news comes as the death toll from the coronavirus moved up to 50 and the number of cases steadily rise.

It also looks like the upcoming Alexandria City Public School school year and city services will continue to be impacted until the virus is held at bay, and school and city staff are developing plans to stagger teleworking and in-person schedules for students and staff alike.

Restaurants are reopening like never before, which is to say that customers are cautiously welcomed as Health Department restrictions are slowly lifted and many establishments have expanded their outdoor seating.

Here are the top 11 most-read articles this week in Alexandria.

  1. Del Ray Pizza Restaurant Converts Parking Deck Into Tropical Oasis Themed Bar
  2. COVID-19 Cases Steadily Increase as Alexandria Releases Phase Three Reopening Guidelines
  3. Large Residential Development in Braddock Goes to Planning Commission Tomorrow
  4. Alexandria Now Has 50 COVID-19 Deaths, Cases Climbing by Double Digits Daily
  5. East Eisenhower Avenue Project Returns With A New Senior Living Component
  6. Students Likely to Rotate School Attendance When ACPS Reopens
  7. Alexandria Preps for Phase 3 Reopening on July 1
  8. Lights On: Two Nineteen Restaurant Reopening Today in Old Town
  9. Developers Take Another Crack at Converting North Old Town Office to Housing
  10. Housing Affordability and Cost of Living Get Low Rating in Community Livability Report
  11. Inova Alexandria Hospital Now Treating 20+ Coronavirus Patients

Feel free to discuss these or other topics in the comments. Have a safe weekend!

Staff photo by James Cullum

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Over 13 years since it was originally proposed, a plan to turn the quiet southeastern corner of the Eisenhower corridor into a pair of mixed-use towers is coming back with some new proposed uses.

A project called 765 John Carlyle proposes turning the empty grass lot near what is still Eisenhower Circle — for now — into “two mixed-use towers conjoined by the common podium” according to an application by Carlyle Plaza, LLC.

While the original plan was for both towers to be office buildings, the new application says the southern tower will have 15 levels of senior living. The number of units, and price range, aren’t listed in the application. The northern tower will remain an office building in the new plans.

“The project will also include ground-floor retail to activate the adjacent streets,” the developer said. “The towers are conjoined at the base by an above-grade parking structure that ascends approximately four stories above the ground floor retail and lobby space.”

The new building is part of a broader plan to turn Eisenhower Avenue into a hub of commercial and residential activity, with a particular focus on the eastern end of that corridor to take full advantage of the nearby Patent and Trademark Office and relatively new National Science Foundation building.

The project is scheduled for review at the Carlyle/Eisenhower East Design Review Board on Monday, June 22.

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Morning Notes

Hard Times Café Founder Passes Away — “Sad news. @HardTimesFun founder Fred Parker passed away last night. He was a very special friend and an icon in #AlexandriaVA. Thank you Fred for so many memories. You will never be forgotten #RIP” [Twitter]

Birchmere Joins Group to Lobby Congress for Coronavirus Relief — “With large gatherings forbidden throughout the country, the live music industry has ground to a halt, closing revenue streams and putting things like rent and payroll payments in jeopardy. More than 450 venues across the U.S. are banding together under the new group called the National Independent Venue Association to present one voice to lawmakers.”  [Washington Business Journal]

Potomac Coffee Donates to Carpenter’s Shelter — “Thank you, Potomac Coffee, for your incredibly generous donation of 200lbs of VERY aromatic coffee! As one of the many local businesses hard hit by the pandemic, we appreciate your giving spirit during these tough times!” [Facebook]

Presbyterian Cemetery Closes — “Thank you all for your comments. The cemetery tried to keep open after the city closed all parks and dog parks, but we were completely overwhelmed. Over the past four weeks we had people driving in from DC, MD and other parts of Virginia to exercise their dogs. Not only were we overrun, but people were not following the rules, were belligerent and at times threatening to staff. That and numerous other issues gave us no choice except to lock the gates and keep everyone out. Since this is the first time in years we are closed, the cemetery will tackle some much needed maintenance issues and needed enhancements and hope to open again once the COVID-19 crisis passes. We hope everyone understands and know that we appreciate your support.” [Facebook]

‘The Old Town Shop’ is Selling Disposable Face Masks — “The Old Town Shop carries DISPOSABLE FACE MASKS: 2 masks to a pack, and $5 per pack. The BFE 95 triple layer protective masks have a waterproof outer layer and a breathable inner layer. The 3D tensile design fully fits an adult face. Material is non-woven fabric with a flexible plastic nose bridge and elastic ear covers.” [squaremktg.com]

Video: Alexandria Firefighter Recruits Train in Smokehouse — “A pandemic doesn’t stop other emergencies from happening. The AFD Training Division continues to prepare our new members to respond to the call.” [Facebook]

Sheriff’s Office Talks With ACPS Third Graders — “With Alexandria City Public Schools closed, we’re finding new ways to stay connected with students. Today [April 24] Lieutenant Sean Casey and Deputy Morgan Garner joined Mr. Holland’s third graders for their lunch bunch via Zoom. They discussed online safety and did a fun demonstration showing the importance of proper hand washing.” [Facebook]

Riverside Gardens Families Play Dress-up — “It became something to look forward to. We’d all wonder, what will the Ferrys do tonight? For five nights we had ‘must-see Facebook!'” [Zebra]

Alexandrians Pitch ‘Burro’ Gardening Tools on Shark Tank — “Mollie Thorsen and her father, Bob, have come a long way with their innovative gardening tool, the original Little Burro.” [Alexandria Living]

City Sets Up Yard Waste Collection Site on Eisenhower Avenue — “The new facility will be open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays. You must show an ID with a City of Alexandria address.” [Alexandria Living]

Today is a Teacher Work Day for ACPS — “REMINDER: Monday, April 27 is a Teacher Work Day. Enjoy your weekend!” [Facebook]

Carol and Ryan Bailey Named Alexandria Living Legends — “Carol says she has spent her life paving the way for Ryan. She and her family still live in the house her grandfather bought in Del Ray in 1900. It has a historical marker on the front column and a sign in the front yard that says, ‘Spread Kindness, Build Community.'” [Gazette]

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Morning Notes

Victory Center Property Sold to Townhouse Developer — “Winchester Homes plans to build 138 townhouses ranging from 1,700 SF to 2,600 SF on the site. Winchester has built over 20,000 residential units across the Mid-Atlantic, including six communities that have opened in the last year. The deal comes after the Alexandria City Council in May approved a rezoning of the site’s 7-acre eastern parking lot that allows for a mix of uses. Two weeks later, Stonebridge acquired the property from PGIM Real Estate for $43M.” [Bisnow]

Alexandria Woman Arrested for Breaking Quarantine in Hawaii — “Kauai police arrested 31-year-old Desiree Marvin of Alexandria and 36-year-old Hawaii resident Adam Schwarze after they ignored orders to immediately self-quarantine.” [Alex Times]

Burke & Herbert Bank Responds to Limit on PPP Loans — “The Bank also has many applications in various stages of completion that had not yet been entered into the SBA system. While the SBA no longer is allowing us to submit applications to them at this time, we believe that it is in our customers’ best interest to continue finalizing these applications, collecting all required information and documentation, and readying them for immediate entry should new funding become available. Please continue to work with your banker to ensure that we have a complete application package ready for your business.” [Burke & Herbert]

Polk Elementary School Student Pens Inspiring Message — “This virus spreads. So can kindness. We’re in this together!” [Facebook]

Cheesetique Thanks Delivery Driver — “This is why it’s no exaggeration when I say that Malcom’s arrival is heralded with shouts, cheers, and sighs of relief from my team. And he’s out there EVERY DAY. He’s doing the heavy lifting to ensure that folks like us can take things the last 10 feet. Thank you to all of those ‘behind-the-scenes’ heroes who keep our businesses running. Thank you, Malcolm, for being there… with our cucumbers.” [Facebook]

Amtrak PD Officer Provides Pizza for Alexandria Police — “Ofc. Cameron Dux (AmtrakPD) is on a crusade to thank police officers during the pandemic. He delivered Valentino’s Pizza to our agency.” [Twitter]

RunningBrooke Launches Move2Learn-At-Home — “In an effort to make these as widely-accessible as possible, RunningBrooke videos can be viewed on ACPS-TV, RunningBrooke’s YouTube channel, multi-“classroom” Zoom fitness sessions, the RunningBrooke website and on social media platforms.” [Alexandria Living]

Junction Bakery & Bistro Delivering Soon — “Check it out, folks — our new Junction Delivery is almost ready to launch! We bring it to you: groceries, breads & pastries, family meals, and beer & wine — and pssst … cocktails coming too . Cheaper than Uber Eats!” [Facebook]

Carpenter’s Shelter Needs Food — “With the opening of the Safety Shelter at the Charles Houston Recreation Center, our food needs have expanded. We would like to thank our amazing community for jumping right in and helping to fulfill our needs within an incredibly short window. As of right now all of our meals are covered for the Safety Shelter through April 24th!” [Facebook]

Center For Alexandria’s Children Gets Face Mask Donation — “We received these cloth masks from Brooksie & Cas! Thank you so much for making and sending these to us. We are very grateful to you for helping to keep our team members safe. #StaySafe #StayHome #MasksForAll” [Facebook]

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The King Street Trolley runs from the King Street Metro down to the waterfront, but a section of the new Transit Vision Plan could extend that path down to the Eisenhower Metro station.

“The 2030 and 2022 Vision Plan Networks include the King Street Trolley with a potential extension from the King Street Metro to the Eisenhower Metro Station via the Carlyle and Eisenhower East districts,” the plan said. “This could provide a frequent connection directly between the large and dense activity center around Eisenhower Avenue Metro and Old Town.”

Proposed changes also include longer hours for the trolley. Currently, the trolley starts running at 10:30 or 11 a.m. on a 10-15 minute loop. The plan noted that this service means the trolley is not available for morning commuters, early shift workers, or others coming into Old Town before 10:30 a.m.

“The revised King Street Trolley also would operate with more traditional operating hours, including morning service,” the study said. “It should be noted, however, that due to the funding arrangement for the operation of the King Street Trolley, any potential changes to the trolley would require additional coordination and approval by City Council.”

The extension of the King Street Trolley is included in the longer-term goals for the project, with implementation planned by 2030.

The trolley is funded by hotel tax revenues from across the city, though the transit survey noted the current benefits are mostly confined to Old Town. The revised route would run through a neighborhood slated for extensive residential and commercial redevelopment.

“This raises an issue about the fairness of funding a free route in one part of the city that is paid for from hotel taxes across the entire city,” the study said. “[One option] would require fares on all routes, including the King Street Trolley. To offset the impact of this change on tourists and visitors, DASH could provide free passes to Visit Alexandria for all Alexandria hotels and other tourism entities.”

The plan does not make any recommendations for a fare policy.

The plan was adopted by the Alexandria Transit Company — which operates DASH and the King Street Trolley — in December. The Transit Vision Plan was presented to the City Council on Feb. 25 as an update. Implementation of the plan’s suggestions is scheduled to be considered next year as part of the Fiscal Year 2022 budget.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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The Eisenhower Partnership is making a last-minute push to try to salvage a 15-minute bus service plan for Eisenhower Avenue ahead of tomorrow’s City Council meeting.

Currently buses cycle along Eisenhower Avenue every 30 minutes, as they do in much of the rest of the city. A new plan would increase the frequency of service in densely populated corridors, while cutting down or eliminating service to some less-densely populated residential areas.

After backlash from Seminary Hill residents at risk of losing the AT2 line, DASH restored some of the less dense areas but at the cost of scaling back the 15-minute cycles planned for Eisenhower.

Now, the Eisenhower Partnership — a non-profit representing the Eisenhower Valley — has set up a petition hoping to make Eisenhower Avenue one of the 15-minute bus service routes again.

“We ask Alexandria City Council and the DASH Board of Directors to amend the plan to bring more frequent service to Eisenhower by 2022 to support continued economic growth, improved livability for residents, and fewer cars on our streets,” the group said in the petition. “The Eisenhower Valley is booming in new residential and commercial construction. It is an economic engine for Alexandria, increasingly providing improvements to innovation, learning, and living.”

The petition has 118 signatures with a goal of 200.

The Eisenhower Partnership cited upcoming plans to increase density in Eisenhower, with a shift towards greater residential uses.

“DASH ridership on Eisenhower is already strong, averaging 175 riders each weekday,” the petition said. “This number will grow, since several new apartment buildings are planned or under construction along Eisenhower, including partial conversion of the Victory Center to residential. Long-awaited growth is great news, but these new residents will either ride the bus to Metro stations or add to the unmitigated traffic problem.”

The City Council is scheduled to review an update on the transit vision study at the meeting tomorrow (Tuesday).

By 2030, the plan is to have virtually every bus route in the city — including Eisenhower Avenue — at 15-minute frequency. The 2022 planned network, however, would leave the N1 route on Eisenhower avenue at 30-minute frequency.

“To support smart growth and reduce traffic for all Alexandrians, bus service on Eisenhower should be at least every 15 minutes by 2022, increasing as needed,” the petition said. “For certain, another ten years of low-frequency service on Eisenhower will leave all Alexandrians in a jam.”

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The Foundry (2470 Mandeville Lane) isn’t open yet, but the new luxury complex in Hoffman Town Center has started leasing apartments.

According to a press release, apartments include studios as well as one, two and three-bedrooms. Studios start at around $1,900 per month and go up to three-bedroom units at $4,360. Rent specials are currently being offered, the press release said.

The building will include a heated rooftop pool, a sports bar, a pet spa and more. A new food hall is also planned for the building.

Staff at The Foundry said move-ins are scheduled to start March 1. Tours of the building are available, staff said, but visitors will have to wear a hardhat for now.

The Foundry is part of a wave of new residential development planned as part of a push to turn the Eisenhower corridor into more of a residential and commercial district.

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Holmes Run Trail through Eisenhower’s West End was fragmented by last year’s flooding, and city staff said it could remain that way for years to come.

Under normal circumstances, the Holmes Run Trail runs continuously northwest from Eisenhower Avenue to Columbia Pike with few, if any, interruptions. Flash floods from last year’s July 8 storms changed that.

Jack Browand, division chief of Parks and Cultural Activities, said when the Barcroft Dam overflowed the stormwater caused significant damage to four areas along Holmes Run. Two bridges were damaged, one streambank got washed out and took the trail with it, and one crossing at Ripley Street was closed.

“We had to shut them down,” Browand said. “They’re not $50 fixes, they’re substantial engineering. We had them inspected and we have to keep them closed. So we’ll have to seek funding for design, engineering, and construction [of replacements].”

Browand said the city is still working through the documentation to receive reimbursement as a result of the state declaring an emergency.

“The timetable for seeking funding through budget process means it is likely going to be closed for one to three years in areas,” Browand said. “We established a website and we’re going to put out signs so people know why they’re closed. Some we might be able to open partially on extreme west end — where the bridge was washed out — west of I-395 but east of Beauregard. We can probably open a portion of the trail but the bridge cannot be used.”

As a result, Browand said the trail will not function as a continuous path from Eisenhower Avenue to Fairfax County. Visitors to the trail will have to take several detours, which Browand said will be obvious and clearly defined paths.

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Bunny yoga and meditation is returning to Alexandria this weekend, this time at Lost Boy Cider (317 Hooffs Run Drive), just off Eisenhower Ave.

The event is scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 9 from 10:30-11:30 a.m.

“Join me at Lost Boy Cider in Alexandria, along with a fluffle of lionheaded bunnies visiting from Tripple Springs Farm in Brandywine, MD, for Hoppy Hour,” organizer Beth Wolfe Yoga said in a Facebook post.

Tickets to the meditation are $30.

The event is a 45-minute guided meditation, which will include some bunny snuggling. Included in the ticket price is a post-meditation beverage of hard cider or non-alcoholic, house-made apple juice, according to the Facebook page.

Space for the event is limited and attendees are encouraged to bring their own yoga mats. If the event fills up, another is scheduled for April 5.

Photo via Curtis.Kennington/Flickr

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Nobody on the City Council seemed particularly happy about transportation changes planned for Eisenhower Avenue, but at this point too much money has been invested to turn back, city staff argued.

The plan, which has been in the works since 2003, involves turning the traffic circle at the east end of Eisenhower Avenue into a T-intersection, adding turn lanes to the intersection with Mill Road, and widening Mill Road.

The plan had been funded through state and federal funding, but higher-than-expected construction bids left the project over budget and in need of $2 million from the City of Alexandria. The Council voted to approve the funding, though with some reluctance and pushback from some local residents in the public comment.

Rebecca Tiffany, a resident of one of the nearby buildings, said her children frequently cross the five lanes of Mill Road and she can watch the traffic from her window.

“The traffic circle is basically never congested,” said Tiffany. “There are no issues with the traffic circle. There’s a plan to turn it into a T-intersection, and I firmly believe that’s a solution in search of a problem.”

Tiffany said many in her community enjoy the circle, with its central grassy area and statue of Dwight D. Eisenhower, for whom the circle is named.

Each of the public speakers noted that they were unconvinced adding more turn lanes would fix the traffic backup on Mill Road, given that most of the backup is caused by cars trying to get to Maryland on I-495.

“I personally think we have the worst traffic in Alexandria, and we don’t complain about it as much as others because it’s a different kind of community than communities with lots of time on their hands,” Tiffany said. “Everyone works a lot, but you actually see the full backup. One or two cars can come through the intersection at any time.”

Daniel Beason, who’s Vice President of the Eisenhower Partnership but was speaking as a resident of the street, said he was concerned the only thing that would change with adding more lanes is it would signal to navigation apps like Google and Waze that they can direct more cars on that route.

Beason also lamented that plans to add rapid bus service to Eisenhower Avenue were scaled back as part of the compromise to restore routes set for cuts.

Even some on the dais explored the idea of voting no on the funding but were told in no uncertain terms by City Manager Mark Jinks and Yon Lambert, director of Transportation and Environmental Services, that this would be a bad idea.

“The city has already expended state and federal funds to acquire right of way,” said Lambert. “The city gone through construction bidding process, we received four bids. Where we are right now, the council has three options: cancel the project, reduce the project scope, or provide additional money to close the funding gap. Staff strongly recommends alternative three because that is the only option that is viable. If canceled, the city will have to repay VDOT $3.6 million for the acquisition of right of way and for design costs.”

“To underscore: we’re asking for $2 million to build the project and would have to come back and ask you how to fund $4 million not to do the project,” Jinks added.

Lambert also pushed back against the characterization of the T-intersection as worse than the existing traffic circle. The T-intersection would allow better use of open space than a green area inaccessible at the center of a roundabout, Lambert argued.

The T-intersection would also support the increased levels of development planned for the east end of Eisenhower. Councilman John Chapman said the value of changing the street design hinges on those properties actually being developed.

“With what we’re looking to do at east Eisenhower with [underdeveloped] lots there, judging by how many units coming to that area, a T-intersection will probably work a lot better than an overflowing circle,” Chapman said. “My concern is… we haven’t seen some of those proposed developments come in. Some of the things we’ve reviewed haven’t fleshed out. So I’ve started to disagree that we need to actually move on this.”

“We need to figure out if some of these developments are going to develop,” he added, otherwise “”we’ve done a project that wasn’t totally necessary and that’s a big concern.”

Mayor Justin Wilson reiterated at the meeting that he wasn’t enthralled with the project, and said as much on the ALXnow Facebook page in response to a reader’s comment.

“I don’t love this project and I was not a fan when we originally approved it back seven years ago,” Wilson said. “I did push most recently to see if there were other options given where we are. Unfortunately, there are not great options.”

At the City Council meeting, Wilson said the situation raised questions about how the city keeps up with its larger capital projects. Despite their misgivings, the council voted unanimously to approve the funding request.

Photo via Google Maps

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Improvements planned for the east end of Eisenhower Avenue have come back significantly over budget and city staff are working to find a new funding source.

The Eisenhower Avenue Roadway Improvement Project would add a left turn lane onto westbound Eisenhower Avenue at Mill Road — a site of frequent congestion as Mill Road leads up to the Beltway — and Mill Road would be widened. At the other end of the improvements, the traffic circle at the end of Eisenhower Avenue to the east would be replaced with a T intersection.

The project also includes benefits for pedestrians and bicyclists, like various streetscape improvements and new bike facilities on adjacent roads. The plan aims to support new development proposed for the area, which includes updates to the small area plan to create more retail and residential zoning in the area.

The project is paid for primarily through state and federal funding. The project was budgeted for $9.4 million, but that cost has swelled to $11.6 million.

The biggest budget problem came when the city opened up the construction contract for bidding. The lowest bid of $6.6 million still exceeded the budget of $5.1 million. (The total project cost also includes design, land acquisition and other expenses.)

“There was some bid price clustering, which provides comfort that the low bid reflects the current market,” City Manager Mark Jinks said in a memo to the City Council. “For more than just the last year the construction market has been very hard to predict as construction prices for materials and labor have been increasing at a faster pace than in previous years. This is a situation that other public entities as well as the private sector have been experiencing.”

The city has three options now, according to Jinks.

  1. Cancel the project, which would mean the city would need to repay VDOT $2 million in land acquisition cost and $1.6 million in design costs — which is more expensive than closing the budget gap.
  2. Reduce the scope of the project, which Jinks said is not viable as the key project elements are required to meet transportation capacity needs. Also, Jinks noted that redesign would add more time to the project and likely lead to more construction cost inflation.
  3. Provide additional funding from the city to close the project funding gap.

Jinks said only the third option was viable, and staff identified $400,000 in savings from a Van Dorn Metro station project and $900,000 in savings from the reconstruction of Montgomery Street that can be used to help close the gap.

“To completely close this cap, [$900,000] in excess CIP bond interest earnings which would have not yet been programmed for a CIP project can be made available for the Eisenhower Avenue Roadway Improvement Project,” Jinks said.

The additional funding for the project is scheduled for a vote at the Saturday, Jan. 25, City Council meeting.

Top photo via Google Maps, map of improvement project via City of Alexandria

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A new apartment community in the Eisenhower neighborhood is offering a “limited-number” of affordable units to income-eligible households, according to a press release.

The city’s housing site says only five affordable units are available at The Foundry (2470 Mandeville Lane), a new apartment building adjacent to the Hoffman Town Center slated to open next year.

Affordable rents for an efficiency — aka a studio apartment — are $1,601 not including utilities. The maximum income to be eligible for the apartment is $68,000 for a one-person household or $77,680 for a two-person household.

One-bedroom rents are $1,241 and two-bedroom rents are $1,605 plus utilities. According to the press release, income limits for households are:

  • One Person: $51,000
  • Two People: $58,260
  • Three People: $65,520
  • Four People: $72,780

The apartment community also includes amenities like a rooftop pool and spa.

To apply for the housing or for further information, the press release says to contact The Foundry at 571-207-9167.

Image via The Foundry

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