Alexandria, VA

Morning Notes

Virginia Rolls Back Some Restrictions on Dining, Outdoor Gatherings — Effective Mar. 1, Virginians will be able to buy and drink alcohol at restaurants, food courts, breweries, distilleries, and wineries until they are required to close at midnight. The changes to the current executive order come amid declining rates of hospitalizations and infections and rising vaccination rates in the Commonwealth, Northam said during a press conference this morning (Wednesday).” [Reston Now]

Alexandria Black History Museum Launches Online Exhibition — “Following George Floyd’s murder on May 25, 2020, the Alexandria Black History Museum (ABHM) requested that Alexandria residents share their thoughts, artwork, and more. ABHM wanted to document the Alexandria community’s response of this tragic event and preserve it for future generations. An online exhibition featuring the items received so far launched recently on the Historic Alexandria Online portal. The items collectively are called the Black Lives Remembered Collection.” [Zebra]

Leaders Predict What Alexandria Will Look Like in the Year 2050 — “You pop into the Torpedo Factory and delve into the immersive beauty of art and technology combined, then get your caffeine fix with ease as a retinal scan captures your regular favorite brew — fair trade of course, because all coffee is these days. With a coffee in hand, you board one of the free electric trolleys that departs every 10 minutes from King Street to any of the city’s neighborhoods — Potomac Yard, Inova West, Carlyle, Arlandria, Del Ray and more.[Alexandria Living]

Council Approves Newport Village Development — “UDR Newport Village LLC, has received approval for a development special use permit to tear down two garden-style apartments and build a multifamily residential building with 383 units near Northern Virginia Community College. According to the plans, 24 units would be studios, 255 would be one-bedroom units, and 104 would be two-bedroom units. At least a dozen of the units would be affordable, and the developer is making a contribution to the affordable housing fund.” [Alexandria Living]

City Environmental Award Nominations Open — “Know someone who is committed to protecting the environment and sustaining Alexandria’s natural resources? Nominate them for the Ellen Pickering Environmental Excellence Award by March 25.” [Twitter]

George Washington Reenactor Conducting Community Conversations — “Join George Washington every Friday in February as he discusses his life during various periods of his life and engages the audience. The first week will be about his youth, the second week will delve into the American War for Independence, the third week will cover his post-war retirement at Mount Vernon and his time presiding over the Constitutional Convention, and the last installment will cover his Presidency and final retirement years.” [Visit Alexandria]

Today’s Weather — “Mainly sunny (during the day). High 52F. Winds NW at 10 to 15 mph… Partly cloudy (in the evening). Low 31F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Pastry Chef/Baker — “Seeking a full time pastry and/or bread baker for high quality artisan bread and pastry company. We are looking for a creative self starter who has attention to detail and a variety of skills from cookies and brownies to cakes, ice cream, mousses, desserts and pies- laminating skills a plus but not necessary. Creativity, drive and a strong work ethic are critical. This position comes with a lot of freedom to develop new items and grow the business. You will be producing a menu of set items according to our recipes but we are looking for someone who can creatively and efficiently develop and add more items- this is a growth position.” [Indeed]

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The city’s plans to overhaul Taylor Run to combat the erosion of the stream has generated some controversy as both local civic groups and some environmental activists have expressed concerns about the restoration’s impacts.

Criticisms of the city’s plan range from the simple — many of the trees and foliage in the forest will be torn down, though the city has committed to planting new growth and says the damage will be worse if erosion is left unchecked — to the more in-the-weeds concerns — like phosphorous levels in the water might not match the city’s models, meaning the levels of estimated pollution justifying the restoration could be lower than what’s currently speculated.

Local citizens and city staff, along with hired consultants, have gone back and forth with the community in meetings and documents. The matter is not scheduled to return to the City Council for review, though Mayor Justin Wilson said the project could be reviewed in the city’s upcoming budget discussions.

Some noted, however, that the funding mechanism of the stream restoration project could make cancelling or postponing the project tricky even if the city did reverse course — which would not be the first time the city has found itself in that situation.

According to the Q&A, the stream is partially funded by a state grant that would evaporate if the project is delayed:

This project is receiving funding from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF) matching grant. If postponed, the project will lose $2.255M in funding. The City’s portion of the funding is prior year funding from the Stormwater Utility Fee revenues that must be used for stormwater management projects per the Virginia Code.

Image via City of Alexandria

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A project meant to restore Taylor Run, a stream near T.C. Williams High School, has attracted considerable controversy as local environmental activists say the city’s plans will provide minimal benefit and could end up harming the local forest.

The city’s plan is to replace the existing stream with a “natural channel design” that would make it shallower and step-pools and log riffles would be designed to curb erosion. The city’s stated goals are to stabilize the stream corridor and natural environment against erosion, and protect public infrastructure while meeting Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals.

The stream restoration project is nearing the end of the public engagement phase and construction proposed to begin in late winter 2021. Additionally, a Q&A document put out by the city is 25 pages long and features 254 comments and responses.

But the project has attracted concerns from a diverse range of local groups, from the Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria activist group to the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia. Criticisms range from planned removal of plant life along Taylor Run — despite promises that the vegetation will be replaced — to specific arguments that the city could be dramatically overestimating the level of harmful pollutants currently in the stream.

Jesse Mains, stormwater division chief, said in a public meeting last week on the project that he was in an Uber headed home on New Year’s Eve when he got talking to the local driver about events around the city. The driver asked Mains if he’d heard that the city was going to “bulldoze Taylor Run and build townhomes?”

Mains used the story as an example of misinformation about the project. There will be heavy machinery, he said, but not bulldozers and there are no plans to build townhomes there.

But Andrew Macdonald, former Vice Mayor and chair of the Environmental Council of Alexandria, says scientific inconsistencies in the city’s planning can’t be washed away.

“People recognize that this may do some real harm to places they really want us to preserve for the future,” Macdonald said.

Mayor Justin Wilson said there are no plans to bring actions on the item back to the City Council, but discussion of whether to fund the project could come up during the budget process.

“The Council voted back in 2018 to apply for the grant for this project and initiate the effort,” said Wilson. “Since that time, Council has approved the annual Capital Improvement Program containing funding for this project on a few occasions. Council could certainly choose to remove the funding for this project when we go through our budget process this spring (we would need to identify an alternate project to achieve similar water quality requirements), but that would be the venue for that conversation.”

Macdonald said the problems at Taylor Run start further upstream with runoff from developments in the heart of Alexandria. Read More

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Alexandria is planning an upcoming meeting to look over the latest on the Taylor Run Stream Restoration Project.

The city announced revitalization plans earlier this year and recently completed gathering feedback. The renovation is scheduled to begin mid-to-late 2021 and will include trail improvements.

“The purpose of the Taylor Run stream restoration is to reduce and limit the ongoing erosion, widening, and downcutting in the corridor,” the city said on the project website. “This effort will help to prevent pollution (sediment and phosphorous) associated with that erosion from being delivered downstream. Currently, the design process is ongoing with additional community outreach events occurring in fall 2020.”

Critics of the restoration says that it will negatively impact the habitat.

The Department of Transportation and Environmental Services is planning a community outreach meeting on Thursday, Jan. 28 from 7-8:30 p.m. to provide an update on the project. Attendees can register online with access codes available online.

The city has committed to replanting around 9,500 native trees and shrubs along the stream.

“This forest has thousands of beautiful trees,” the city said. “About 60 along the stream are already dead and others are in jeopardy of falling since bank erosion will accelerate without our help. We will replant 2,280 trees and 7,200 shrubs (using over 30 native species) to replace these and another 209 trees that will be removed.”

Photo via City of Alexandria

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Alexandria environmental planning staff say that the stream restoration at Taylor Run is necessary to combat the effects of climate change and improve flooding conditions.

On Tuesday night, staff from the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services and city consultants held a Zoom meeting to discuss the proposed $4.5 million restoration of the 1,900-foot-long project. The project falls within the city’s Chesapeake Bay TMDL Action Plan to reduce pollution, and staff say the area is experiencing the effects of climate change.

“We’re seeing more frequent storms,” said Jesse Maines, the stormwater management division chief for T&ES. “We actually walked the stream last weekend and you can see trees that were… falling into the stream with green leaves. What we’re talking about with this project is not only water quality we’re talking about water quantity and really stabilizing the stream so we don’t get just this continual degradation of the stream. We’re just seeing that it’s being continually impacted especially with climate change.”

Staff’s plan to clear the waterway near T.C. Williams High School and Chinquapin Park will result in the removal of 269 trees, of which they say 22% are dead.

“The City anticipates re-planting 2,280 trees for this stream restoration including oaks, maples, dogwoods, and sycamores,” according to the City’s stream restoration page. “An additional 7,200 shrubs are expected to be planted which include buttonbush, winterberry, and spicebush.”

Mayor Justin Wilson said that the city was successful in getting $2.255 million in grant funds from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) to “restore a badly-neglected and rare natural stream.”

“This effort will plant over 2,300 new trees, in perhaps the largest single tree planting initiative in recent City history,” Wilson told ALXnow. “This project is designed to increase and improve natural open space, reduce human impact and improve water quality. I look forward to engaging with our residents so that we can improve our stewardship of these natural spaces.”

The meeting did not alleviate the concerns of a local group led by former Vice Mayor Andrew MacDonald.

MacDonald, who chairs the Environmental Council of Alexandria, wants the city to meet with their advisor John Field, a fluvial geomorphologist and stream restoration expert. ECA has also started a GoFundMe campaign to pay Field $5,000.

“(John Field) understands what happens to streams when you manipulate and try to restore them,” MacDonald told ALXnow. “His preliminary view is that the City doesn’t really know what it is doing.”

City staff will soon release a Survey Monkey comment/response table, and the public comment period will end on October 23. Staff said that the next public meeting on the subject will be in November.

Photos via City of Alexandria 

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Morning Notes

Mayor: Council to Accelerate Sewer Capacity Projects — “Our ’16 Storm Sewer Capacity Analysis identified 90 areas where the system does not meet our CURRENT design standard of a 10-year storm. Our Stormwater Utility Fee was implemented in ’18 to fund capacity and environmental compliance. Council will now discuss how to accelerate.” [Facebook]

Beyer Attacks Trump’s Environmental Stance — “Trump’s climate change strategy is the same as his pandemic strategy: play it down and pretend it isn’t happening. There are a record number of named storms in the Atlantic and the west coast is on fire.” [Twitter]

Anonymous Donation Helps Expand SNAP Double Dollars Program — “A $10,000 anonymous donation to help fight food insecurity during the pandemic will help the City expand SNAP Double Dollars program, which allows SNAP customers who visit participating Alexandria farmers’ markets to receive up to $20 in double dollars to purchase eligible food products at the markets.” [Facebook]

Environmental Council of Alexandria Decries Taylor Run Restoration Plan — “We’ve got our work cut out for us to make sure that the City doesn’t continue to promote so-called “eco” policies that actually come at the expense of the environment and efforts to reverse global warming.” [Facebook]

Tall Ship Providence Sails Away for Inspections — “And, they’re off… Bright and early this morning, Providence headed out on a voyage to Georgetown, MD for a scheduled haul out and Coast Guard inspection. They’ll inspect the hull, complete any necessary maintenance, and she’ll get a new coat of bottom paint. Please join us in wishing our Captain and crew “Fair winds and following seas.” Providence will return home by the end of September. We look forward to welcoming you back aboard for tours and cruises!” [Facebook]

Classic Car Show in Old Town September 19 — “This Saturday you can head to the parking lot of the Alexandria History Museum at The Lyceum for a classic car show featuring a variety of Packards and other ‘orphan’ vehicles.” [Zebra]

Today’s Weather — “During the day, mainly sunny. High 73F. Winds NE at 5 to 10 mph. At night, clear. Low 54F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Spanish Language Teacher — “You must have previous tutoring/teaching experience, and minimum Bachelor’s degree.” [Indeed]

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Alexandria City Public Schools today cut down a 150-year-old oak tree to make way for a concession stand as part of the renovation of Parker-Gray Stadium at T.C. Williams High School.

“Shame,” Alexandria activist MacArthur Myers told ALXnow. “A crime has been committed.”

There were more than 2,850 signatures on a Change.org petition to save the “Witness Tree,” but the school system said that saving the tree was not feasible given site constraints and that 31 trees will be planted along the T.C. property line.

“Happy to report the renovation project is underway this morning at the Parker-Gray Memorial Stadium,” wrote the T.C. Williams High School Football Boosters in a Facebook post. “Thank you Alexandria City Public Schools for making this happen for the students and residents of the city!”

Tree removal marks beginning of the stadium improvement project

Happy to report the renovation project is underway this morning at the Parker-Gray Memorial Stadium. Thank you Alexandria City Public Schools for making this happen for the students and residents of the city! @TCWSports #TitanPride

Posted by T.C. Williams High School Football Boosters on Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Courtesy photos

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Construction will soon begin to renovate Parker-Gray Stadium at T.C. Williams High School, and that means a 150-year-old oak tree will soon be demolished, according to Alexandria City Public Schools planning staff.

Over the last several weeks there has been renewed discussion over the fate of the Witness Tree, which the school system said must go to make way for a new concession stand. A Change.org petition to save the tree even garnered more than 2,500 signatures.

John Finnigan, the acting director of Educational Facilities for Alexandria City Public Schools, said that a contractor for the project has been chosen and that work will likely begin in the next few weeks.

“It’s a very tight site and that is a very large tree right in the middle of our developable footprint,” Finnigan said in an online chat on Monday night. “The tree was unfortunately unable to be saved, but because of that we are planting around 31 new trees.”

Alexandria activist and historian MacArthur Myers says it is shameful to cut the tree down.

‘The Witness Tree is part of the soul of the Woods Place community,” Myers said. “ACPS has missed another opportunity to heal the community.”

Boyd Walker said that cutting the tree down conflicts with the city’s climate goals.

“It is unfortunate the school board has refused to request to save a tree that would provide oxygen, shade and carbon capture for decades to come, to the future students at the school and the athletes who will use this field,” he said.

Finnigan said that construction will be conducted from Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 6 pm.

According to ACPS, the project includes:

  • The addition of an eighth lane on the track
  • Replacement of the artificial turf
  • The addition of restrooms
  • A new concession stand
  • A ticket booth
  • Replacement of the score board and placement on the other end of the field
  • Egress safety lighting
  • A new press box to replace the condemned one on the other side of the field to improve the quality of lighting for images and video for media
  • Field lighting
  • An upgraded the sound system to comply with the City of Alexandria’s Noise Ordinance, enhance the quality of the sound, disperse the sound via multiple speakers and direct it away from houses along the fence line
  • A 10-foot-tall wooden fence between the stadium and neighboring homes

Photo by Boyd Walker

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After getting a late initial start, the Four Mile Run Conservatory Foundation is back on the water and looking for volunteers to help kayak along Alexandria’s northern border and do some cleaning.

The organization has had three kayak cleanups so far this season, starting in late June. Upcoming sessions are planned for Wednesday, July 29 at 4 p.m., and on both  Saturday, August 1 and Sunday, August 16, at 9 a.m.

“It’s been great,” said Kurt Moser, President of Four Mile Run Conservatory Foundation. “Kayak cleanups are naturally distanced. You can’t really be that close, and we’re taking precautions on-shore and limiting the size of the groups.”

The kayak cleanups are limited to groups of ten. Moser said those spots fill up quickly but as of today (Tuesday) there were still open spots on the newly announced upcoming cleanups. Moser said the Four Mile Run Conservatory Foundation has kayaks and all the necessary equipment available for anyone to come and use, though some prefer to use their own kayaks.

June and July are late in the season for theses cleanups to start, Moser said. The crews typically start kayaking along Four Mile Run cleaning in April or May, but Moser said it wasn’t clear at that point what was allowable.

As far as the impact of coronavirus on litter in the stream, Moser said it’s too soon to tell.

“We’re not finding as much as last year, but not sure if that’s a reflection of any substantial change,” Moser said. “Just the timing of things, like when we get big rainstorms, we see variability with that.”

But while it’s not clear what liter impact will be on Four Mile Run, Moser said the silver-lining to the pandemic has been an upsurge in public use and enjoyment of the park.

“The neat thing to see this year, and what’s been the silver lining of having had people staying at home and not doing their regular routine, is a lot of people are starting to realize there really is a great park resource at lower Four Mile Run,” Moser said. “People who didn’t realize the park was there or that there was a big loop trail, a lot of people didn’t know about that. The park has seen a tremendous uptick in usage. I view that as very good, it means more people care about the place.”

Moser said that could also come with some negative consequences, like more informal trails through parts of the park, but he said those were “okay problems” for an urban park to have.

“People are using the space and it’s proving their value to them,” Moser said. “It’s more than demonstrated its value. People use it a lot to get fresh air and settle their minds.”

Photo via Four Mile Run Conservatory Foundation/Facebook

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Christina Pelliccio wants to make the world a cleaner place, and the high school senior was just awarded the Earth Day Scholarship by the National Society of High School Scholars.

Pelliccio, who lives in the city of Alexandria and attends West Potomac High School, plans on studying environmental science this fall at the University of California at Berkeley.

“This work is really rewarding and that alone continues to motivate me,” Pelliccio told ALXnow.

The $500 scholarship is given to students who are deeply passionate about the environment. Pelliccio, who routinely organizes and hosts cleanup events along the Potomac River, and at her school worked to install water bottle filling stations and recycling bins. Additionally, she is the local chapter leader of Think Ocean, a nonprofit youth-led network of student environmentalists around the world, and sits on the Mount Vernon Environmental Advisory Committee in Fairfax County.

Pelliccio said that succeeding on environmental issues is about making a string of little victories.

“It’s definitely a big challenge, the environmental issue,” she said. “It’s definitely not going away any time soon, but I just think that we have to be optimistic and keep pushing and just take in the little victories, even if they are small they can help motivate you and they are really rewarding.”

Courtesy photo

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