What an unexpectedly busy summer week in Alexandria. Here’s the rundown.
Our top story was on an Alexandria woman who claims she was roofied at a restaurant on the waterfront on the evening of July 9. A police report has been filed, and no charges have been made.
This week we sat down with acting Police Chief Don Hayes, who said that he’s thrown his hat in the ring with City Manager Mark Jinks to keep the top job. Hayes, a 40-year veteran of the Alexandria Police Department took over after the sudden departure of Chief Michael Brown last month, and will have to contend against candidates in a national search.
The Tokyo Olympics also start this week, and the games will include three T.C. Williams High School graduates — sprinter Noah Lyles, high-jumper Tynita Butts-Townsend and boxer Troy Isley. In fact, Lyles just had a comic book biography published in the Washington Post. If you’re a fan of the Olympic games, check out this list of local restaurants celebrating with special events and meals.
- Pot enthusiasts quiet in early days of legalization in Alexandria
- Alexandria sees 90 COVID cases in July, another death
- Local historians profile former slave in Alexandria who struggled to rescue his family
- Alexandria man caught with gun at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport checkpoint
- New Potomac Yard luxury condo community sells 30% of properties before construction starts
- Testing for Alexandria’s controversial stream restoration work starts next week
- Two years after massive flooding, city moves forward with Holmes Run trail restoration
- Del Ray licensed family counselor completely booked since launching in May
- Alexandria businesses advised to sharpen e-commerce as consumer patterns evolve
- Alexandria swimming pools operating with reduced hours, residents signing waitlists with capacity overload
- Without annual music festival, Del Ray is celebrating with a bar crawl
- Del Ray affordable housing completes long-awaited overhaul
- Woman claims she was roofied at Old Town restaurant
- Residents protest against conditions at West End apartment complex
- Developers eye Beauregard redevelopment with West End upgrades on the horizon
- Former chef at ‘The Alexandrian’ opening new restaurant in Arlandria on Monday
- No injuries after shots fired in Braddock area on Wednesday
- DASH takes lessons from D.C., Baltimore and Oregon in eliminating bus fares
- ‘Call Your Mother Deli’ signs lease in Old Town
- After last month’s Democratic primary, Republican Darryl Nirenberg tops campaign donation leaderboard
- New city health improvement plan aims to fix inequities
- Poll: Have you been to the Winkler Botanical Preserve?
- Lee-Fendall House to throw speakeasy party to finance building repairs
Have a safe weekend!
Parts of the trail in Dora Kelley Park have been inaccessible since flooding in 2018, but much of the rest of the trail has been in a state of disrepair since floods in 2019 undermined the structural integrity of two of the bridges and three stretches of trail.
A community meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, July 28, at 6:30 p.m. at the Patrick Henry Recreation Center (4653 Taney Avenue). The city said meeting will include a restoration schedule and planned restoration activities, as well as an opportunity for the public to ask questions.
:As part of the design phase of the restoration project the City will study how the flood impacted Holmes Run and determine how the trail, bridges, and slopes should be modified/stabilized to minimize potential damage from future flood events,” the city said in a press release.
Three sites along the trail, including the two bridges, are listed on the city website as Tier 1 repairs — repairs that are most essential and should be prioritized.
“Tier 1 repairs are the most complex and costly to complete due to the structural damage caused by recent floods,” the website notes. “Unfortunately, these are not quick fixes, and substantial civil and structural engineering is required to ensure these repairs are sustainable and not subject to damage by future flood events.”
These repairs are funded with the design phase scheduled to start in September 2021.
Alexandria will spend millions on emergency financial support programs, stormwater repair, childcare and dozens of other projects as part of its first portion of American Rescue Plan Act funding.
“Now the really hard work begins,” Mayor Justin Wilson said after Council’s unanimous passage of a plan Tuesday night. “I think this is an opportunity to make some transformational investments.”
The City received its first $29.8 million on May 17, and has to spend the total $59.6 million in funding by Dec. 31, 2024. Alexandria is getting substantial funding by being counted as both a city and county — along with 41 other cities across the country — and will get its second allotment in May 2022.
Federal funds will not directly go to individual businesses, but some are allocated toward the funding of business districts for trial street closures, ABC-licensed special events and public access parklets.
“Our thought was that direct assistance for businesses was best provided, and continues to be provided, through the federal government at scale,” Alexandria Economic Development Partnership CEO Stephanie Landrum told Council. “We are much better equipped as a community, and certainly as an economic development group to reach a wider swath of businesses than we ever have been. And so part of our challenge and responsibility is to make sure all of those businesses know about other programs not being provided by the city.”
The 30 projects include:
- $4 million for an Alexandria Community Access and Emergency Support program to determine which city services are eligible for residents, including emergency financial aid, rent assistance and child care
- $3.7 million in stormwater repairs at the Hoofs Run Culvert
- $3 million for a Guaranteed Basic Income Pilot, which will give $500 in gift cards to 150 poor families for 24 months
- $2.8 million for a Unified Early Childhood Workforce Stabilization Initiative to “support hundreds of childcare providers and early childhood educators, provide a safe and healthy learning environment for thousands of children, and help parents, especially women, get back to work.”
- $2.5 million for food security to ensure two years of continual free food distributions at hubs throughout the city
- $2 million for Alexandria Housing Development Corporation flex space to expand city services for the Arlandria neighborhood
- $1.9 million in flash flooding spot improvements throughout the city
- $1.1 million to scale up a workforce development pilot
- $800,000 to make permanent the closure of the 100 block of King Street
- $620,000 to fund the Out of School Time Program to help with learning loss associated with the pandemic
- $560,000 to the Alexandria Economic Development Authority fund commercial business districts for trial street closures, ABC-licensed special events and public access parklets
- $500,000 for Visit Alexandria marketing efforts
- $295,000 to fund two new Office of Historic Alexandria tourism experiences on the city’s history with civil rights and and the Duke Street Corridor
- $253,000 to increase services for LGBTQ and BIPOC communities
After literal flooding from record-breaking rainfall and proverbial floods of frustrated local citizens, an ad hoc committee has started gathering for a multi-year overview of what’s been going wrong and needs changing regarding flood control in Alexandria.
The Ad Hoc Stormwater Utility and Flood Mitigation Advisory Group met for the first time last week and, in addition to the usual groundwork for committees, also discussed the state of the city’s stormwater projects.
City staff said the planned Sanitary Sewer Asset Renewal Program aims to cut down on backups in those areas which can lead to flooding in nearby houses. Part of the process is inspection and rehabilitation of city-owned sewers and manholes.
“When stormwater gets in to the pipes, it takes up capacity, causes basement floods,” staff said. “We’re going in there and fixing those, cutting down on backups. Work is underway now for inspections and identification, with rehabilitation taking place in 2022.”
At the meeting, staff said the top three priority projects being worked on at the moment are capacity projects at Glebe Road and Commonwealth Avenue, Glebe and Ashby Street, and the Hooffs Run Culvert bypass — all areas around Del Ray, where a city heat-map of flooding indicated high levels of emergency calls.
The city is also pushing for federal funding to help combat flooding. The city is requesting $400,000 in federal funding for stormwater improvements on Clifford Avenue, Fulton Street, Manning Street.
On the smaller side, the city has installed six new rain gagues, part of an effort to more accurately track rainfall.
“The network prior was pretty good, but we had folks like Russ Adams who reports out things that are happening and I had buckets sitting around seeing how much rainwater was coming in,” city staff said. “We were seeing differences in reporting of how much rainwater we had.”
Now, the city is working with FEMA on floodplain remapping, redrawing the lines of what areas are considered flooding risks. For some residents, it could mean changes in the map could mean requiring residents to buy flood insurance.
City Councilman John Chapman was at the committee’s first meeting and said it will likely become more of a permanent body as it continues its work.
“We want to work through the city language to make those proper corrections,” Chapman said. “This will be a standing committee that monitors what we do when it comes to flood mitigation. There’s a greater goal here, but we just have to go through the bureaucratic steps to knock that out.”
A Flash Flood Watch is in effect for Alexandria until 2 a.m.
Additionally, a Severe Thunderstorm Warning is in effect until 11 p.m. Expect 60 mile-per-hour wind gusts and hail the size of a quarter, according to the National Weather Service.
According to the National Weather Service:
- Thunderstorms with intense rainfall will cause rainfall amounts around 1-2 inches in localized areas within an hour
- Heavy rain in short periods of time will cause the potential for streams and creeks to quickly rise out of their banks as well as the potential for flash flooding in urban areas
The Alexandria Fire Department has rescued a woman in a stalled car near the Alexandria waterfront, as the City contends with a continuing Flash Flood Watch and rising water levels.
The driver called 911 at 10:46 a.m. after getting stuck on Strand Street, and said that she couldn’t open her car door because of the rising water, according to AFD Senior Public Information Officer Raytevia Evans.
AFD’s Inland Water Rescue Team arrived at the scene at 10:51 a.m., and helped the driver out of her car.
“The water was at the door or vehicle and she couldn’t get out,” Evans said.
High water levels have not been reported in other areas of the City, Evans said.
“High tide in the Old Town area was at around 11 a.m. this morning,” she said. “We’re monitoring the rest of the City, but right now we’re not seeing any abnormal water levels in some of the usual places where we get flooding, like around Cameron Run, or Eisenhower Avenue and Telegraph Road.”
The fire department is asking residents to stay informed on local weather patterns and to stay away from standing water.
“Make sure you’re paying attention to local weather reports about the flooding,” Evans said. “If you see standing water do not walk through it. Do not drive through it. We’re asking people to be careful. Stay vigilant. If you find yourself in a situation please to call 911.”
Around 11 a.m., AFD’s Inland Water Rescue Team assisted an individual out of a stalled car on Strand St. EMS not required. Please be careful out there. Turn around, don’t drown. pic.twitter.com/meXivRwcZg
— Alexandria Fire-EMS (@AlexandriaVAFD) June 11, 2021
The National Weather Service has issued a Flash Flood Watch is in effect for Alexandria and the surrounding area until midnight.
An incoming cold front could result in two-to-four inches of rain from thunderstorms in the afternoon and evening, according to NWS.
“Because of the slow motion and ample moisture in the atmosphere, storms may drop 2 to 4 inches of rain in a short period of time, resulting in flash flooding,” NWS said in the advisory.
NWS continued, “Heavy rainfall in a short amount of time can result in rapid rises of water in streams, creeks, and urban areas.”
Alexandria was beset by flooding events last summer, prompting the city to buckle down on mitigation projects.
It’s been nearly ten years since Republicans had a spot on the City Council, but Republican City Council candidate Darryl Nirenberg is hoping several divisive issues that have cropped up over the last couple years can help break the blue stranglehold on the city this November.
“Prospects for a Republican are better now than they have been for years,” Nirenberg said. “The issues facing our city, such as divisive plans to house adults on school grounds; road diets; promoting more density in the midst of a pandemic; neglect of our storm drains and infrastructure; and destroying green space — are not partisan.”
Nirenberg also has a personal tie to the legacy of racism within the Republican party. From 1992-1995, he was chief of staff to Senator Jesse Helms, who is largely known for his fierce opposition to desegregation and his derision of Martin Luther King Jr.
According to a biography at his employer’s website, Steptoe & Johnson LLP, Nirenberg listed his work with Helms as dealing with banking, financial, and judicial issues. Before that, from 1987 to 1992 he was a counsel and deputy chief of staff for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and from 1983 to 1987 he was a staffer on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.
Nirenberg, a graduate of The George Washington University Law School, said he has experienced prejudice himself firsthand and, despite working for a segregationist, that he has always supported civil rights:
Having known and experienced prejudice myself growing up Jewish in rural New York, I have always supported civil rights, and I believe everyone has the right to marry whomever they wish regardless of gender. I have worked for Sen. Jacob K. Javits (R-NY) and Sen. S.I. Hayakawa (R-CA), served on the staff of two Senate Committees, and practiced policy advocacy for Tom Boggs. Instead of talking about these jobs and a long deceased Senator for whom I worked over a quarter century ago, I’d much prefer to focus on what’s at stake in this election and how we can work together to improve the quality of life for all who live in our city.
Even within the Democratic primary, housing co-location at schools, the Seminary Road diet, and stormwater infrastructure have been contentious issues between candidates. Nirenberg said he hopes the frustration with incumbents can lead to local citizens throwing more support behind Republican candidates in November.
“There is a growing recognition that the process is broken; that 100% one party rule over time does not produce the best results, and that there is a need for checks and balances,” Nirenberg said. “We all know the best decisions are reached when there are people from diverse backgrounds and with diverse perspectives sitting around the table.”
Along with Nirenberg’s City Council bid, Annetta Catchings is running as the Republican candidate for mayor. The last Republican City Council members were Alicia Hughes and Frank Fannon, who were ousted in 2012. The last Republican Mayor was elected in 1872 — years before the party’s staunch opposition to the Civil Rights movement starting in the early 20th century led to party realignment.
“We need to plan for our future, not muddle into it,” Nirenberg said. “These policies aren’t divisive or partisan. They are just common-sense.”
So far, Nirenberg has raised $42,807.
His top issues are:
- “The learning gap and reopening schools — not housing adults there.
- “Restore Seminary Road and end road diets.”
- “Save Chinquapin Park and preserve our green space.”
- “Fix our storm drains now.”
- “Stop spending tax dollars to promote more density until our schools and infrastructure catch up and there is a plan to accommodate more density.”
Photo via DarrylNirenberg.com
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.”
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.
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
In a crowded City Council election, the Alexandria Democratic Committee split the candidates into two groups for moderated debates, which posted Tuesday night.
Alexandria journalist Michael Lee Pope moderated the discussion, which touched on critical talking issues in city races over the last few years, from parking to broadband to — of course — Seminary Road. Interestingly, the coronavirus pandemic was not a main topic of discussion.
ALXnow featured the first debate on Wednesday.
This debate featured candidates John Taylor Chapman, Sarah Bagley, Amy Jackson, Kevin Harris, Patrick Moran, Bill Campbell and Kirk McPike. Answers are summarized.
A number of candidates support reversing the Seminary Road diet, which has been a controversial issue for years.
Chapman voted against the proposal in 2019, and said he would vote to reverse it.
Moran — “I think a lot of the framework in which these conversations are made are so permanent,” Moran said. “I would spend the money to undo it.”
Campbell — “I absolutely would not spend any additional money to change that unless there was some new information that came up with regards to safety,” Campbell said. “And then you have to be responsible to take a look at that.”
Jackson would also vote to undo it, although she said that future road diets would have to be considered on a case by case basis.
“This became a ‘he said, she said’ in a lot of ways that I don’t think anyone on council was prepared for when city staff brought it to us,” Jackson said. “That just means that we have to do our own sleuthing and know the questions to ask after we’ve done our homework.”
McPike said he would not undo the road diet.
“I would not initially in this next council session, vote to revert the road back to what it was,” McPike said. “The intersection at Howard and Seminary is going to change in the near future when Inova Hospital relocates to Landmark Mall, and we don’t know what the needs are going to be along that stretch of road once that has occurred.”
Harris — “It’s one of those things that we ought to wait and see how it plays out before we try to change anything,” Harris said. “Because we’ve already wasted too much money creating the road diet. I think that we could use this money in other places.”