What an eventful week in Alexandria.

Thursday, March 11, marked the one-year anniversary of the coronavirus pandemic in Alexandria. As the vaccine rollout slowly improves, the most recent news is the allowance of restaurant workers to get the vaccine. Just over 38,000 doses have been administered in the city, and of that 14,661 residents have been fully vaccinated. The city also wants 80% of residents vaccinated by July 31.

Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne also announced that he will not seek reelection this fall, bringing an end to his 43-year law enforcement career. Lawhorne’s protege Sean Casey is now running for the seat in the June 8 Democratic primary.

Criticism against the proposed renovation of the Taylor Run Stream continued this week, and even City Councilwoman Amy Jackson has decided to join residents in opposition.

More than 220 people participated in our poll this week on school resource officers. More than half of respondents said that ACPS should hire more SROs, 30% said the program should be eliminated and 11% believe SROs should only work part time.

In case you missed them, here are some other important stories:

Our top stories this week:

  1. Inova to Launch New Vaccine Clinic Inside Revamped Victory Center
  2. Battle Royale: Princess Street Development Duel Returns to City This Month
  3. Just In: Captain Sean Casey is Running for Alexandria Sheriff
  4. Alexandria Police Arrest Seven People and Seize Drugs, Guns and Cash
  5. Development Questions Remain for New Braddock West Project Headed to City Council
  6. City Could Help Turn Hotels Emptied by Coronavirus Into Affordable Housing
  7. Just Listed in Alexandria
  8. Do You Like the Suggested Names for T.C. Williams and Matthew Maury?
  9. A Year Late, Contractor Eyes Spring Completion for King Street Metro Access Improvement Project
  10. Superintendent Proposes New Names for T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary
  11. Councilwoman Amy Jackson Argues With School Board Over MacArthur Elementary Construction Schedule

Have a safe weekend!

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(Updated 3/2 at 1 p.m.) Local tech co-building space Building Momentum (5380 Eisenhower Avenue) is launching a series of after-school tech camps for Alexandria students.

The news comes as Alexandria City Public Schools readies to send students back into schools. Building Momentum, based out of small collection of businesses on the west end of Eisenhower avenue, will start with welding and electricity clubs tomorrow.

Classes will be available for all rising 6th through 12th graders.

“The program launches next month with spring sessions for middle school and high school-age students slated to begin March 2 and go through June 16,” the company said in a press release.

The release noted that the classes will be limited to nine students to comply with state restrictions, with masks and social distancing required.

“The classes were born with the intention to provide area students with hands-on learning experiences not always touched on in a traditional school setting,” Cecily Wynne, education associate with Building Momentum, said in the press release. “Innovation Academy sessions are geared specifically for kids and teach a variety of science and tech-based skills such as welding, coding, circuit making and many other engineering methods all within a safe, socially-distant environment.”

According to the release:

  • Spring Session: After-school Welding Club, March 2-April 27: Welding Club features MIG welding, multiple team challenges, and personal projects over the course of 9 weeks. Cost: $330 including $25 non-refundable registration fee.
  • Spring Session: After-school Electronics Club, May 5 – June 16: Electronics Club features creating circuits, learning how to use Arduino, soldering, and a personal project over the course of 7 weeks. Cost: $260 including $25 non-refundable registration fee.
  • Summer Session: Welding Week: Build Your Own Gravity Go Kart, July 5 – August 27: Welding Week features MIG welding, the engineering design loop, teamwork, constructive criticism, and building in a 5-day week. The week wraps up with a design presentation and race between the gravity kart teams. Cost: $475/person, including $50 non-refundable registration fee.

The program will also have 10% discounts for military families.

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The Alexandria Drive-In Theatre is returning with 10 movies in March, including cult classics like Jurassic Park, The Princess Bride and Remember the Titans.

All proceeds go to Athena Rapid Response Innovation Lab and the Scholarship Fund of Alexandria.

“Since the launch last August, the Alexandria Drive-In has quickly become a community staple, providing families and households with a safe activity during such a difficult time,” said Allen Brooks, Alexandria Drive-In co-founder. “The nostalgia of drive-ins mixed with the desire to be around others safely is something special, and we’re happy to be able to bring the community back together while fundraising for the Athena Rapid Response Innovation Lab as well as the Scholarship Fund of Alexandria.”

Athena Rapid Response has taken the helm of the event from Kelly Grant, a partner at ALX Community. Under Grant, the effort raised more than $100,000 for Alexandria nonprofits.

“I have never been more inspired with this community coming together as we did with the Alexandria Drive-In,” said Grant. “With ALX Community opening its third location, we are excited that Athena Rapid Response is going to carry the torch and continue the Alexandria Drive In. Stay tuned for many new community based initiatives that ALX will pioneer in 2021.”

Each screening can hold 215 cars, and tickets cost $40 per car. The movies are screened in the Victory Center parking lot at 5001 Eisenhower Avenue.

The March Movie Lineup is below:

  • Friday, March 5, 7:00 p.m. — Jurassic Park
  • Saturday, March 6, 6:30 p.m. — The Princess Bride
  • Saturday, March 6, 9:30 p.m. — Black Panther
  • Friday, March 12, 7:00 p.m. — Back to the Future
  • Saturday, March 13, 6:30 p.m. — Despicable Me
  • Saturday, March 13, 9:30 p.m. — Karate Kid
  • Friday, March 19, 7:30 p.m. — Goonies
  • Saturday, March 20, 7:30 p.m. — Into the Spider Verse
  • Friday, March 26, 7:30 p.m. — Get Out
  • Saturday, March 27, 7:30 p.m. — Remember the Titans
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Alexandria’s Recreation, Parks, and Cultural Activities (RPCA) is planning an overhaul of recreational park on Eisenhower Avenue to add new sports fields and other amenities.

Joseph Hensley Park at 4194 Eisenhower Avenue — just west of the Animal Welfare League — is currently an open field mostly occupied by a central baseball diamond. The new design will feature two baseball diamonds and a soccer field with synthetic turf.

According to the project website:

The proposed design plan has a number of amendments to the endorsed 2014 Joseph Hensley Park Improvement Plan. The proposed design plan will maintain diamond and rectangular athletic uses on site and upgrade the facilities. The proposed design plan will address stormwater and site drainage issues, increase parking capacity, upgrade the sports lighting, upgrade the two natural turf diamond fields, convert the rectangular field to synthetic turf, and improve site circulation and ADA access. The project will replace the current restrooms, add a play space, add a second park shelter, and add a multi-use court/performance space.

The project will have a phased implementation, with the first phase including the lower baseball diamond and new parking, along with other stormwater and accessibility improvements, as well as replacement of the existing restrooms.

The project is scheduled to go to the Planning Commission for review on Tuesday, March 2.

Image via City of Alexandria

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(Updated 1/28) The Victory Center on Eisenhower has long stood over a vast, mostly empty parking lot at 4901 Eisenhower Avenue, but a proposal headed to city review in March could replace the eastern portion of that lot with 139 new townhouse condominiums.

The condominium project by Winchester Homes will pack the townhome units, some of them back-to-back, into a section of the Victory Center lot. The developer purchased the property last April and the property was subdivided by the city last year. Retail is anticipated for the southwestern portion of the lot.

The project is slated to have 214 parking spaces and 64 tandem spaces, requiring it to seek special city approval given the city’s requirement of 252 spaces.

The project is scheduled for review at the Planning Commission’s March 2 meeting.

Images via City of Alexandria

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Right at the heart of the Hoffman Center, near the National Science Foundation and the AMC theater, is a street that bears the unglamorous name Swamp Fox Road. Now, the real estate company is in the final stages of having the name changed to honor the Hoffman Company founder Hubert N. Hoffman, Jr.

The proposal to rename Swamp Fox Road to Hoffman Street is scheduled to go to the Planning Commission on Jan. 5, then to the City Council on Jan. 23.

The Hoffman Company claimed in the application that the new street would honor a man who spent his life working to develop and improve Eisenhower East.

Mr. Hubert N. Hoffman, Jr. (“Hoffman Jr.”), a life-long- Alexandria supporter, dedicated to his family business and put his resources into transforming Eisenhower East into the vibrant mixed-use area that now surrounds the Eisenhower Metro Station and Eisenhower Valley. In 1958, Hoffman Jr. purchased nearly 80 acres of land in the Eisenhower Valley (See Figure 3). At that time, this area of the City was largely unimproved and overlooked by the rest of Alexandria. This would soon change as Alexandria continued to grow in the latter half of the 20th century.

The federal government acquired a portion of Hoffman’s land in the early 1960’s for the new Capital Beltway. In 1966, the Hoffman Company was founded by Hoffman Jr. to implement his vision for the Eisenhower Valley. Soon after in 1966, the Holiday Inn was constructed and opened for guests. In 1968, the Hoffman Company built Hoffman Building 1 and, in 1971, the company built Hoffman Building 2. The construction of these two commercial buildings and subsequent lease to the federal government was a major [economic] development success for the City of Alexandria. The Department of Defense was the original tenant of both buildings.

There is little remaining evidence to what “Swamp Fox” originally commemorated. Pre-development, the area was largely marshlands flowing down to nearby Hunting Creek — one theory of the street’s name. Another is that it celebrates Francis Marion, a leader in the Revolutionary War nicknamed Swamp Fox (and largely fictionalized for the 2000 film The Patriot).

According to the staff report:

Aside from this explanation, the origin is unknown although the Office of Historic Alexandria finds that it could be a reference to Francis Marion, a South Carolinian Revolutionary War officer nicknamed the “Swamp Fox”. As noted in an article from the Smithsonian Magazine, “Francis Marion was a man of his times: he owned slaves, and he fought in a brutal campaign against the Cherokee Indians.”

The report noted that the Naming Commission was unanimously in favor of changing the name.

Map via Google Maps

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Say your farewells to the traffic circle at the end of Eisenhower Avenue, because later this month work is scheduled to start on a widening and roadway improvement project that will replace it with a T-intersection.

A construction open house is scheduled for Tuesday, December 15, at 7 p.m. via Zoom.

“Join us to learn about the improvements planned for East Eisenhower Avenue and plans for mitigating impacts during construction,” the city said. “Staff will also be on hand to answer your questions.”

The project was approved earlier this year, though with some frustration from the City Council that the project was primarily moving forward because it was too expensive to cancel.

During construction, city said access to nearby businesses will be unimpeded, but traffic along Eisenhower Avenue and Holland Lane could experience slightly longer travel times.

According to the city website, planned improvements include:

  • Adding an additional left turn lane at the Eisenhower/Mill Road intersection on westbound Eisenhower Ave.
  • Upgrading the receiving lanes on Mill Road to accept the dual left turns from Eisenhower Ave.
  • Convert the traffic circle at Eisenhower and Holland to a “T” intersection from John Carlyle Street to Holland Lane.
  • Upgrading the street lighting and sidewalks on the north side between Mill Road and Elizabeth Lane, and both sides between John Carlyle Street and Holland Lane.
  • Full width resurfacing of Eisenhower Avenue between Holland Lane and Mill Road.

Photo via Google Maps, map via City of Alexandria

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A fall in late November at indoor climbing gym Sportrock (5308 Eisenhower Avenue) led to a hospitalization for one climber.

On Nov. 29, a climber lost control during a climb and fell, at which point the belayer lost control of the rope and was unable to stop the fall, according to Sportrock. Fire Department spokesperson Raytevia Evans confirmed the department responded to a medical call at the facility for a fall.

The climber suffered a non-life threatening injury, is in stable condition and recovering.

While injuries aren’t particularly common, there are still risks associated with the sport and climbers have to sign a waiver at the Alexandria location before ascending any walls. Sportrock has been located at its current Eisenhower Avenue since 1996 and is partially an anchor for a small community of startup businesses in the surrounding area — though the gym has struggled through a slow pandemic recovery.

Below is a statement from Sean Taft-Morales, director of the Alexandria location:

The incident involved a pair of climbers, who have both passed the Sportrock Toprope Belay Test, which allows them to use our climbing walls on their own, and who had belayed without incident on numerous prior visits to Sportrock.  They were not participating in a Sportrock program or working with a Sportrock instructor, but rather climbing on their own and entirely at their own risk. The climber lost control and fell, at which point the belayer lost control of the brake strand of the rope, which resulted in the belayer being unable to arrest the fall of the climber. The climber subsequently fell to the ground, resulting in injury. He is currently stable, and recovering from his injuries.

Sportrock staff witnessed the fall, immediately responded to the scene, followed first aid and emergency response protocols, and called 911. We have taken statements from all parties involved in the incident, as well as from staff and bystanders who witnessed the incident, all of which were in agreement on the facts of the matter, as conveyed in the paragraph above.  Subsequent inspection of all ropes, harnesses, carabiners, belay devices, and other equipment involved in the incident shows that all equipment functioned properly, and there were no breakages or equipment failures. Unfortunately, we must conclude that the incident was the result of belayer error, something that can happen even with the most experienced and highly trained climbers. Our sympathies go out to the injured climber, and we wish him a speedy recovery.

We have thoroughly reviewed the incident, both to ensure that all Sportrock policies and industry standards were followed, and so that we may all learn from it to better prevent further incidents. We have also undertaken a review of our policies and practices to ensure that they continue to exceed industry standards and best practices. Climbing is inherently dangerous, and we encourage anyone interested in the sport to seek qualified instruction.

Sportrock considers safety and education to be absolutely central to our mission. We are a member of the Climbing Wall Association (CWA), and exceed standards set by the industry and the organization. We were one of the first-round gyms to participate in the Universal Belay Standard (UBS) program developed by the American Alpine Club, the first national program designed to standardize and elevate the standard for belaying in the US. Our curriculum and testing criteria are stricter than, and exceed the standards of, the UBS program, and all belay instructors at Sportrock Alexandria are trained in the UBS standard, as well as our own internal standards and requirements.  We consistently fail belayers from other gyms who are unable to pass our belay tests. On the educational side of things, I am a American Mountain Guides Association certified Rock Instructor and Single Pitch Program Provider, among most highly-qualified Climbing Instructors in the region, and I personally train every instructor before they can teach belaying at Sportrock Alexandria.

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A new restaurant could be coming to the west end of Carlyle

Developers are looking for  anew restaurant to fill between 1,708-9,600 rentable square feet of space in the new Shops at Carlyle Tower development along Eisenhower.

A flyer put out by the developer noted that the site could also feature outdoor seating near the busy intersection.

The corner is a prime location, located at the corner of Eisenhower Avenue and Stovall Street off the exit to I-495. The location is also directly across from the Eisenhower Metro Station — a claim that could be less prestigious if Metro plans to move forward with closing the station. The corner is also close to the National Science Foundation and the Patent and Trademark Office a little further down Eisenhower Avenue.

The corner is planned as a new Shops at Carlyle Tower rebranding of what locals know as the Hoffman Town Center. The planned restaurant is neighbored by Starbucks and a recently sold Cold Stone Creamery.

Rendering via Carlyle Tower.

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Big changes are coming to the Eisenhower corridor, with two new developments approved at the City Council meeting last Saturday that put some of the final puzzle pieces together.

One of the more visible changes will be the approved development of Block P in Carlyle — referred to by staff as the last block in Carlyle. The project was originally approved in 2007 as a pair of office towers, but the project was recently redesigned with the northern tower becoming a hotel while the southern tower would be residential.

Changes included a slight increase in height to the project and an increase to the total square footage permitted for Block P.

The proposal was unanimously approved and praised as locationally appropriate for the growing Carlyle neighborhood.

“This is a really tall building, which is what we always envisioned for Eisenhower Avenue,” said Councilwoman Del Pepper. “We do not want buildings of this size in historic Alexandria or some other places, but here in Eisenhower Valley it’s most important. I always like to think about people who are driving east or west on the highway there that they are looking over that will see that Alexandria is on the move… that we’re happening.”

The City Council also approved a new addition to the Victory Center lot — the first of several changes ahead for the large lot. The new building will be a one-story retail development in the southwest corner of the lot. The location would include outdoor seating and a drive-thru window.

The proposal was unanimously approved with little discussion.

Images via City of Alexandria

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