Old Town was packed on Saturday morning for Alexandria’s 40th annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Thousands of visitors lined King Street to watch a procession of more than 2,000 participants, including Irish dancers, historic reenactors and the City of Alexandria Pipes and Drums. The festivities also included a car show and a dog show at Market Square outside City Hall.
This year’s Grand Marshal was Charlotte Hall, managing director of Old Town Business. The parade was sponsored by the Ballyshaners, a nonprofit dedicated to Irish heritage. Ballyshaners is Gaelic for “Old Towners.”
Enjoy the photos!
It’s the 40th annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in old town Alexandria. @wtop pic.twitter.com/GALWNTcrJE
— Dick Uliano (@DickUliano) March 4, 2023
Get out of the way!!
Today, the Woodridge Showtime Marching Eagles Performed at the 2023 Ballyshaners St. Patrick's Day Parade held in Old Town Alexandria Virginia. #woodridgeeaglessoar💙💛💙🦅 #FriendshipProud #fpcswoodridge #dccharterproud #marchingband pic.twitter.com/0jpJoQ4U4F
— Friendship PCS (@FriendshipPCS) March 4, 2023
Some St. Patrick’s Day parade shots. #alexandriava #oldtownalexandria pic.twitter.com/l1Cx1kgLG2
— Old Town Dog Walks (@Oldtowndogwalks) March 4, 2023
The 1.1 million-square-foot Inova at Landmark project is headed to the Alexandria Planning Commission on Tuesday, signaling the beginning of an official public approval process. If all goes according to schedule, construction of the four-building medical campus could wrap in the second quarter of 2028, according to site development partner Foulger-Pratt.
The hospital building is designed to face Interstate 395, and is proposed to have a two-story glass atrium at its entrance, above which would be a six-story Z-shaped inpatient tower. Inova anticipates that the building will be 184 feet tall (nearly 17 stories) to hide hospital mechanical equipment, although the hospital system is asking for a maximum height allowance of 250 feet, or 23 stories.
“This layout ensures that the primary hospital building–the tallest building on the site–will be a visible anchor and focal point for the western end,” City staff said in a report.
Following approval by the Planning Commission, the City Council will hold its public hearing on the project on Saturday, March 18.
The project takes up a fifth of the total land use on the 52-acre West End Alexandria development, and includes a 565,000 square-foot hospital center, a 111,000 square-foot cancer center, an 83,000 square-foot specialty care center and a retrofit of the mall’s old 550-space parking garage. The parking garage is the only remaining vestige of the once-popular shopping destination.
“This will not only revitalize a site that many had given up on, but will also provide a catalyst for redevelopment and enhancement throughout the West End of our City,” Mayor Justin Wilson said in his March newsletter. “Despite over two decades of decline, it is not a mystery why we had been unable to spur redevelopment on this site in the past, It is a complicated site, with a complicated ownership structure requiring significant infrastructure investment.”
The fate of the Landmark Mall property lingered for years. The mall opened to the public in 1965, and was the first in the region to feature three anchor department stores (Sears, Woodward & Lothrop, and Hecht’s). By 2010, the mall had nearly no tenants, and in 2021 the city bought the 11-acre parcel of land for $54 million from The Howard Hughes Corporation. That same year, Inova signed a 99-year ground lease for the property.
The project was designed by Ballinger and Ennead Architects and is managed by Inova.
Alexandria City Manager Jim Parajon released his proposed $881.1 million fiscal year 2024 budget at City Hall on Tuesday night, and it includes an option to raise taxes by 1 cent.
The budget also reflects $8.1 million in collective bargaining agreement funds that will go to the Fire and Police Departments.
Parajon, who presented his budget to City Council, said that unexpectedly high real estate assessments and $4.6 million in efficiency reductions wiped away a projected $17 million budget shortfall.
The budget is a 5% increase over last year’s budget, and Parajon is proposing no change in the real estate tax rate, which would remain at $1.11 per $100 of assessed value for the second year in a row. The same goes for other tax rates, including personal property taxes, which would remain at $5.33 per $100 of assessed value for vehicles and $4.75 per $100 of assessed value for tangible personal property.
Stormwater utility fee rates are, however, projected to increase from $294 to $308.70.
The budget funds the Alexandria School Board’s operating budget transfer request of $258.7 million, which is an increase of $9.9 million, or 4%.
“You’re also going to see a fairly significant emphasis on public safety and first responders,” Parajon told Council.
Parajon is also asking for $500,000 for diverse small business funding. That particular funding request comes after the city recently abandoned a grant program aimed at helping minority business owners after a lawsuit claimed the program was discriminatory against white people.
The budget provides:
- A 7% market rate adjustment for sworn fire, medics and fire marshals
- A 6% market rate adjustment for sworn police and Sheriff’s Deputies
- A 2% increase in General Schedule and Sheriff’s Deputy pay scales
- A $4.5% market rate adjustment for non-public safety personnel
- Three new steps in the general pay scale, which is a 7% increase in salary potential
- 25 SAFER grant-funded firefighters
- Funding for Commonwealth’s Attorney staffing for more than $600,000 toward the APD body worn camera program, which launches in April
Parajon asked all departments for 1.5%-to-2% in budget reductions in their proposals, with efficiencies including the outsourcing of city employee leave of absence reviews, benefits consulting, and city vehicle fleet repair.
The manager is also advising Council to consider an “alternative” 1 cent increase in real estate taxes, which would reduce borrowing for the Alexandria City High School Project, increase city employee compensation and provide an additional pay increase of 1% over what’s being proposed for city and Sheriff’s Office employees.
That 1 cent would also fund:
- An emergency services bed-finder for $79,225
- A new bilingual clinical psychologist to help city employees experiencing trauma for $166,380
- A construction project manager for $212,445
- Out of school time staffing for $200,000
- Summer youth employment expansion for $200,000
Parajon, who also presented a $2.39 billion 10-year Capital Improvement Program (CIP), proposes $367.2 million for Schools capital projects, including $39.5 million in cost escalations for projects currently underway like the George Mason Elementary School project.
The FY 2024-2032 CIP includes:
- $282 million for the city’s stormwater management systems
- $185.1 million for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s capital program
- $63.3 for citywide street reconstruction and repaving
- $48.2 for capital infrastructure improvements associated with the Waterfront Implementation Project
- $17.4 million to renovate Four Mile Run Park
“I certainly look forward to working alongside my colleagues as we spend the next next few months engaging with the community to provide a budget,” said Mayor Justin Wilson.
There will be multiple public forums to discuss the budget, the next being a public presentation by Parajon on Thursday, March 2 at 7 p.m. at Charles E. Beatley, Jr. Central Library (5005 Duke Street), followed by a City Council/School Board budget work session on Wednesday, March 8, and budget public hearings on March 13 and March 18.
The budget will be approved on May 3 and go into effect on July 1.
Old Town was packed on Monday, as thousands of revelers and marchers celebrated the George Washington Birthday Parade.
More than 2,000 freemasons from all over the country marched in the 100th annual parade, which is the largest annual celebration of Washington in the world.
This year’s event saw a rare route change for the parade, which is traditionally held east of Washington Street near City Hall in the Old Town Historic District. This year, the parade made its way from Old Town North to King Street and near the George Washington Masonic National Memorial at King Street and Commonwealth Avenue.
This event commemorated the construction of the Memorial in 1923, which saw then-President Calvin Coolidge, Chief Justice William Howard Taft and Virginia Governor E. L.Trinkle lay the cornerstone.
Alexandria’s next parade is the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Old Town on Saturday, March 4.
Seven months after Luis Mejia Hernandez was fatally stabbed in a brawl at the Bradlee Shopping Center McDonald’s, the city has made some progress on putting together a series of teen-led recommendations for preventing future violence.
Some of the initial suggestions coming out of those focus group meetings, though, are a little generalized. They include things like encouraging the city to listen to youth voices more and build better partnerships.
The city surveyed 125 local teens and children to put together a “Youth Safety and Resiliency concept” — a plan to help offer better services to local teens to help build positive relationships and understand more about the mental health of students in Alexandria City Public Schools.
In an initial update, the focus groups came back with suggestions that mainly involve better lines of communication and opportunities for local teens.
Mayor Justin Wilson, who chairs the committee along with Council member Alyia Gaskins, said in a newsletter released this morning:
What we learned in the focus groups should not surprise us. Students told us that policymakers should:
- Offer creative, inclusive, flexible youth programs that foster social connection and a sense of belonging and promote youth behavioral health
- Use a variety of methods and partnerships to creatively encourage young people and ensure that they are aware of the resources and programs available to them
- Build effective Youth-Adult Partnerships by providing adults with ongoing trainings and technical assistance to promote positive youth development, and by providing youth with a strong foundation and opportunities to participate in decision and policy making with adults
- When asking youth for their input and feedback, it is critical that adults listen, take their ideas seriously, and hold themselves accountable to respond to their concerns.
One of the ideas was for the city to hold a “Youth Summit” to address topics like mental health, the education system, and social change.
“Our youth have shouldered the worst of the challenges we have collectively faced over the past 3 years,” Wilson wrote in the newsletter. “Ensuring that every young person in our City is equipped to thrive during these challenging times remains a top priority in our community.”
Marijuana was legalized in 2021, but Alexandria is hoping 2023 is the year the state finally settles the weird issues around selling weed.
Currently, it’s legal to possess small amounts of pot and grow them at home, but it’s still illegal to buy it commercially without a medical card.
Among the dozens of bills related to everything from historic preservation commission membership to laws around disability language, the status of marijuana is one that city leaders said could grow as the session goes on.
At a meeting of the City Council Legislative Subcommittee last week, Alexandria leaders took a look at House Bill 1464 from Del. Keith Hodges (R-98).
According to the state’s legislative information system, the bill:
Establishes a framework for the creation of a retail marijuana market in the Commonwealth, which would be administered by the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority. The bill allows the Authority to begin issuing marijuana licenses on July 1, 2024. The bill allows, beginning July 1, 2023, certain pharmaceutical and industrial hemp processors, pending establishment of the retail market, to cultivate, manufacture, and sell cannabis products to persons 21 years of age or older.
Legislative Director Sarah Taylor said the Republican majority in the House of Delegates might address the retail sale of marijuana in a large bill or could push the responsibility away from the legislative side of government.
“Do you get the sense that there is the feeling from the house majority that they need to figure out marijuana this year?” Mayor Justin Wilson asked ‘bluntly’.
“Yes, but I think what ‘figure it out’ means could be two different ways,” Taylor said. “One would be cleaning up a full bill… it could be another big bill. The other thought is it could be a skinny bill that just kicks the whole thing to the regulatory environment. Instead of legislating it, [this would be] putting it all in code. It would provide some guardrails and kick it to the regulatory environment.”
The one legislation Taylor said seemed certain to move forward is legislation connected to restricting “youth access” to marijuana.
The topic of legalizing the retail sale of marijuana also touches on a long-festering issue dividing local and state leadership: the Dillon Rule, which says localities can only exercise authorities granted to them by the state.
Taylor said some localities have tried to use zoning to prohibit marijuana from being sold in their communities, which has rubbed some state leadership the wrong way.
“The one thing we should be thoughtful about is what this means for our zoning authority,” Taylor said. “My understanding is some of the folks involved in our negotiations last year are unhappy with localities that have used their authority to essentially redline cannabis retail out of parts of their community. Those localities have made some of those folks grumpy and the rest of us may have to suffer a little bit for that.”
Taylor said the discussion is likely to “grow and evolve” as the legislative session continues.
“I do agree they need to figure this out,” Wilson said. “I like the idea of them figuring this out sooner rather than later.”
Photo via Wesley Gibbs/Unsplash
At a City Council meeting last night (Tuesday), Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson unveiled the next stage of plans to ramp up the renaming of streets that honor Confederate leaders, the Washington Post first reported.
While the city has renamed the Alexandria portion of Jefferson Davis Highway and removed the Appomattox statue, streets honoring Confederate leaders like the “Gray Ghost” John Singleton Mosby or Ku Klux Klan founder Nathan Bedford Forrest still exist around the city.
Discussions to rename more streets began last October, but there’s a much longer history of Civil War names on streets dividing Alexandria. As of 2018, about 60 streets potentially were named for Confederate leaders, but in some cases — such as Lee Street — the historical record is unclear about a street’s namesake.
The mayor said his new plans stem from the conversation that kicked off last fall.
“Last year, I talked on the dais about a process and a deliberate schedule to identify street names in our city that really were designed as a permanent protest against the civil rights movement and growing political power for African Americans in our city,” Wilson said. “Those places and those honors have no place in our city.”
Wilson said his plan is for two committees to work in tandem to find both streets to rename and suitable names to replace them.
Historic Alexandria Resources Commission would develop a list of people, events and locations that deserve honors, with a focus on women and minorities — people traditionally underrepresented in city honors. The City Council Naming Committee, meanwhile, would identify which streets should be prioritized for renaming.
Wilson said the city should aim to rename three streets each year, which would “keep us busy for quite a while” but would also give city leadership space to determine if that’s too ambitious or not ambitious enough.
The proposal found widespread support on the City Council, where others said they had first-hand experience with how difficult the legacy of Confederate honors can be to escape.
“As someone who bought a home in Alexandria just a few years ago on the West End, it was very startling how many houses we looked at were on streets with names I would have a hard time living on,” said City Council member Kirk McPike. “We thought we dodged that, but as it turns out our current street is named after a Confederate naval vessel.”
The memo is set for review as part of the city’s budget process. City Manager James Parajon is scheduled to present a draft of the budget to the City Council on Feb. 28, followed by a period of meetings and discussions that culminate with a vote on the budget in May.
At tonight’s Alexandria City Council meeting, @justindotnet proposed a plan to speed up the renaming of the 41+ streets in town named after Confederate leaders.
It would direct a cmte. to rename 3 of those a year, drawing from a list of new honorees emphasizing women & POC pic.twitter.com/nLZ1w6p7qI
— Teo Armus (@teoarmus) January 11, 2023
Earlier this year, Alexandria got into a scrap with Virginia American Water Company (VAWC) over a rate increase. Now, Mayor Justin Wilson says the city, utility company and other parties are getting closer to a compromise.
Alexandria is one of a handful of Virginia with a private water utility provided by VAWC, a subsidiary of a large national company regulated by the State Corporation Commission (SCC). In November 2021, it applied to the SCC for a nearly 28% increase in rates, along with other charges and rate supplements.
At the time, the company claimed the increase, to the tune of $14.3 million, would fund infrastructure investments in Alexandria and three other localities. But local leaders said the rate increase was significantly beyond what had been expected. Had it gone through, Wilson says residents would have seen their bills increase by about 36%.
“After analysis, our staff determined that this rate increase was excessive and Council voted to again intervene with the State Corporation Commission to oppose this proposed rate increase,” Wilson wrote in his Council Connection newsletter, released on Sunday.
In a report filed in early December, a hearing examiner from the SCC agreed with a proposed $3.5 million reduction to the overall increase. The total proposed increase of $10.75 million is called “the stipulation.”
“The SCC appointed a hearing examiner to review the case and provide recommendations to the Commission,” Wilson wrote in the newsletter. “Last month, the hearing examiner provided his report, which largely endorsed a proposed settlement between the City, VAWC, and the SCC. This settlement will lower the increase and provide for refunds to Alexandria ratepayers. Last week, the City provided input supporting most of the hearing examiner’s findings.”
Two weeks ago, the city filed comments mostly agreeing with the findings from the report — though there remains some disagreement about additional refunds.
Wilson noted that the SCC will still need to act on these recommendations later this year and he hopes the city and VAWC can move past the disagreement — water under the bridge, so to speak.
“I’m hopeful we can continue our efforts working with VAWC to improve our aging water infrastructure but respect our ratepayers and good processes at the same time,” Wilson wrote.
The tension between Alexandria’s leaders and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin is not exactly a secret, but there have been a few surprising examples of overlapping policy goals.
Most recently, Mayor Justin Wilson shared vocal support for Youngkin’s new Make Virginia Home plan.
The plan includes a multi-pronged approach to affordable housing, with a focus on:
- Increasing the supply of land for housing: the plan promotes discretionary state grant funding for localities to use for affordable housing. The plan establishes “guard rails” for zoning and land use review processes for localities seeking state assistance, along with requiring transparency in reporting on affordable housing and a comprehensive review of the state’s land use and zoning laws.
- Remove regulatory barriers to housing development: the plan makes it easier for affordable housing to meet certain environmental regulations and streamline the permitting process, along with translating the building regulations into Spanish.
- Align housing development with economic growth: the plan includes housing in economic development planning and site development processes. It also includes goals for establishing public/private partnerships that include workforce housing in site development.
The plan has gotten some support, including praise online across the aisle from Wilson. In particular, Wilson said city staff and affordable housing leadership attended a conference last month where Youngkin outlined potential coordination on affordable housing goals.
“As you noted in your speech, this is a multi-faceted challenge that requires policy coordination across local, state and Federal governments,” Wilson wrote in a letter to Youngkin. “We believe there is considerable opportunity for bipartisan agreement to advance good policy and we want to be partners with your Administration to make this happen.”
Wilson outlined some of the progress Alexandria has made in affordable housing, particularly in the use of private development to fuel public affordable housing.
“Given that success, we strongly support your proposals to strengthen the linkage between housing and economic development,” Wilson said. “As you have noted, employers will not locate jobs in the Commonwealth without the ability to house the workforce required, including new jobs at a range of income levels.”
Wilson also praised the proposals to direct future state funding to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and encouraged investment in the State Housing Opportunity Tax Credit Program and the Virginia Housing Trust Fund.
There was one area of concern about potential punishments for local jurisdictions that fail to meet certain state requirements. According to Wilson:
While we strongly support the provisions of your Plan that will incentivize new housing creation, link economic attraction to housing production, and use state funding as a “carrot” for the adoption of pro-growth land-use policies, we are concerned by proposals that purport to punish local jurisdictions for the diligent exercise of ministerial acts, or proposals that remove local control as a method to accelerate housing creation.
Wilson said piecemeal acts by Richmond to erode local control over land-use processes have had a negative impact on housing creation, and that aspect of the Make Virginia Home plan would only reinforce that problem.
“We would instead suggest more comprehensive reform to expand local capabilities to manage the externalities of development, while providing robust incentives for the adoption of pro-growth land-use policies,” Wilson wrote. “This will not only accelerate housing creation, including enhanced housing affordability and accessibility, but also maintain the critical public support required to sustain these policies over time.”
The @GovernorVA has presented a housing plan that has some good ideas.
If the Commonwealth can work WITH local governments to create the housing supply necessary to support a growing Virginia, there is a real opportunity for bipartisan progress. pic.twitter.com/mS8rRISlrx
— Justin Wilson (@justindotnet) December 16, 2022
Despite the political divide between the Republican Youngkin and the largely-Democratic Alexandria, there have been areas of overlap between local goals and state leadership. Early in Youngkin’s campaign, Wilson expressed enthusiasm for Youngkin’s goals of holding Dominion Energy more accountable and state officials appointed by Youngkin have worked with Alexandria’s local and federal representatives on infrastructure funding.
Inova Alexandria Hospital celebrated its 150th anniversary on Monday with local elected officials.
The hospital was founded in 1872, in the wake of a typhoid outbreak. It is Virginia’s oldest continuously operating community hospital.
“The city of Alexandria faced a significant health threat,” said Inova Alexandria President Dr. Rina Bansal. “A ship docking in Alexandria’s port had an outbreak of typhoid and everyone in the city fear a wider epidemic was on the way.”
The hospital was founded as the Alexandria Infirmary Association in 1872 by Julia Johns, the daughter of the Episcopal Bishop of Alexandria. Johns called on her charitable friends and formed a board of Lady Managers, who operated the hospital for decades. The first surgery at the hospital was reportedly a leg amputation in 1882, at the first location at the intersection of Duke and Fairfax Streets in Old Town.
The infirmary was also the first nursing school in Virginia. Alexandria Hospital was officially renamed in 1904, and the current 318-bed facility at 4320 Seminary Road has been in use since the 1960s.
“Alexandria residents don’t have to choose between getting world class and health care and getting convenient health care close to home,” said Dr. J. Stephen Jones, president and CEO of the Inova Health System.
The hospital merged with the Inova health system in 1996, and will eventually move to the Landmark area. By 2028, the proposed 675,000 square foot Inova at Landmark project will include a 130,000-square-foot cancer center and 110,000 square-foot specialty outpatient care center.
“You all are not only contributing to the health of our community for the future, but you’re also contributing to the economic health of our community and very much becoming a catalyst for redevelopment at Landmark law and we’re very excited to see that come to fruition,” Mayor Justin Wilson told hospital staff.