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1225 and 1229 King Street (image via Google Maps)

In what’s become a trend in Alexandria, the owners of an office and retail building in Old Town are hoping to have the upstairs space converted to residential units.

The buildings in question are 1225 and 1229 King Street, the buildings containing American in Paris Boutique and the T-Mobile store on the street level in the middle of Old Town.

In a special use permit application, the building owners said the change to the building type would take advantage of ordinances codifying housing uses above retail space. The application said the residential use will be within the existing footprint of the building. Applicant King Street Apartments LLC said in the application it would convert the upstairs units into 12 condominium units.

Alexandria has become a capital for office-to-residential conversions, ranking fourth in the nation in conversions from office space to apartments or condominiums between 2020 and 2021. Office buildings throughout Old Town are in the process of being converted to residential spaces.

Still, City Manager Jim Parajon warned the City Council in a recent meeting not to be too hasty in abandoning office space, saying that the city could lose valuable office space in a rush to follow an economic trend. In nearby Vienna, the Town Council recently rejected a townhouse development replacing office space — partially on the basis of clinging to hopes that the office market will return.

“The conversion approach for outdated office makes a lot of sense, but I want to be careful that we don’t lose good office space to conversion,” Parajon said. “That’s really important, and that may mean we play out a cycle or two in the economy so we’re looking at a balance of commercial to residential.”

The conversion of 1225 and 1229 King Street is scheduled for review at the Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 3.

Image via Google Maps

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Last week, Alexandria’s City Council voted to permanently expand the King Street pedestrian zone to encompass the waterfront block.

The change is the latest in a push for a more pedestrian-friendly King Street that started in 2019. Now, both the unit block (the one closest to the water) and the 100 block are closed to vehicle traffic except in emergencies, with the streetscape converted into a place for pedestrians to walk and local businesses to expand onto the sidewalks.

An overwhelming majority of respondents to a city survey about the unit block being converted to a pedestrian zone said they saw the change as either “very positive” or “positive”.

No plans have been announced yet for whether the pedestrian zone will be extended.

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Buffet at Bollywood Masala La Plata (via Bollywood Masala/Facebook)

Old Town could be getting a new Indian restaurant next year, replacing a sushi restaurant in the heart of Old Town.

According to a recently filed special use permit, Ichiban Sushi and Ramen at 211 King Street in Old Town could be undergoing a change to become a new Bollywood Masala.

Bollywood Masala is an Indian restaurant currently based out of La Plata, Maryland. The restaurant features dishes like vindaloo and the eponymous masala along with other regionally-based meals like lamb gosht and various types of curry. The restaurant also features chai and coffee on the menu.

Staff at Bollywood Masala said the restaurant is currently working through the permitting process but the plan is to open in summer 2023.

Photo via Bollywood Masala/Facebook

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Santa Claus will ride into Old Town on the King Street Trolley this Saturday night (Nov. 19) for the annual holiday tree lighting ceremony in front of City Hall.

The party starts at 6 p.m. at Market Square (301 King Street), where Santa and Mayor Justin Wilson will do their part to reduce seasonal darkness by lighting the 40,000 lights on the city’s 40-foot-tall holiday tree.

Town Crier Ben Fiore-Walker will cap off the event, which will include a program of holiday carols.

Admission is free, and the event will occur rain or shine.

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Rendering of the unit block of King Street with street closure (via City of Alexandria)

The King Street Pedestrian Zone was officially expanded to reach Waterfront Park on Saturday (Nov. 12).

Council voted unanimously and without discussion on the permanent conversion of the unit block of King Street and the northern portion of Strand Street.

The City shut down the 100 block of King Street in 2020 to help small businesses with outdoor seating during the pandemic. The unit block of King Street and Strand Street were later added to the pilot.

A survey of community feedback on the closure found that 91% (of 1,853 survey respondents) rated the pedestrian zone as very positive, and that 89% of wanted it to be permanent.

The Waterfront Commission also approved the plan, and suggested to City Council the following “enhancements”:

  • Strengthening temporary barricades to provide for the safety and security of pedestrians in these blocks until full implementation of street improvements
  • Installing a sign on Strand Street at the intersection of Prince Street identifying “no outlet” or “dead end” and noting limited parking available on Strand Street
  • Closing Strand Street at Prince Street and designating the metered parking spaces adjacent to Waterfront Park as Handicapped Parking and City Service Vehicles Only. Continue to allow vehicle access to the private garage at 110 S. Union Street. This would provide additional parking near the waterfront for disabled individuals, and would discourage traffic from drivers looking for limited parking in the 100 block of Strand Street
  • Designating specific resources to provide appropriate City maintenance and security of the pedestrian zone
  • Installing pavement markings on Strand Street clearly identifying the turnaround and no parking areas on Strand Street

Conversion costs will be minimal, said City Manager Jim Parajon in a note to Council.

“If the closure is approved, there will be minimal costs associated with updating parking signage and refreshing striping,” Parajon wrote. “All of these costs can be handled with existing budgets. Also, since there will be four metered spaces eliminated along the Waterfront Park to provide turnaround space and parking for police, this will total approximately $8,000 per year, or $666/month.”

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The four-story, three part development at 1300 King Street is running a little behind schedule, but should be finished by late December, The Holladay Corporation tells us.

The final touches are being made to the four-story, 31-unit apartment complex with 6,000 square feet of new street-front retail.

The development — located at the former homes to Pines of Florence and Aftertime Comics (1300 and 1304 King Street) — was supposed to be finished this month by Holladay Corp. and The Foundry Companies.

“We were running into some supply chain issues,” Rita Bamberger, senior vice president at The Holladay Corp. told ALXnow. “It’s been a lot of work, and we’re hoping to be finished by the end of the year.”

Rumors are swirling about the potential tenants that will inhabit the retail spaces, but the partners in the joint venture haven’t made any announcements.

The Holladay Corporation’s last project in Alexandria was in 2012, with the Printer’s Row townhouse project in Old Town North.

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There’s a new cheap lunch spot in Old Town. On Halloween — Monday, October 31 — franchise Falafel Inc will formally open at 726 King Street.

Foodies may remember that the location is the former home to Nicecream, the shop that made ice cream with liquid nitrogen, which closed a year ago.

Lunch at Falafel Inc. costs $10 or less, with entrees ranging between $5 and $7, and sides (Baklava, hummus, pita bread)  ranging in price from $1 to $4.

The menu is simple:

  • Falafel sandwich, $5 — Falafel, letuce, red cabbage, pali salad, tatbili, tahini and red sauce on a fresh-baked pita.
  • Falafel bowl, $6 — Falafel, red cabbage, tabouli, tomato, cucumber, pickles, and greens, with chips
  • Shawarma sandwich, $6 — Vegan meat, red ummi cabbage, lettuce, pickles and special sauce
  • Rice shawarma bowl $7 — Vegan shawarma meat, red umani cabbage, pali salad, pickles and special sauce, on a bed of rice

The company was founded in D.C. in 2015 by entrepreneur Ahmad Ashkar, and there are three locations in Washington, D.C., as well as locations in Tysons Corner and Los Angeles.

The restaurat will be open from 12 to 9 p.m. seven days a week.

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Unit block of King Street pedestrian zone (image via City of Alexandria)

Ten years after adopting a plan with suggestions for turning the Waterfront into a cultural hub, the City of Alexandria is poised to move forward with one of them: making the streets closest to the river pedestrian-only.

Ahead of a potential vote to close the unit block of King Street and part of The Strand to traffic, a new report suggests that these street closures are supported by the 2012 Waterfront Small Area Plan and are broadly popular among locals. The unit block of King Street, the block closest to the Waterfront, is a one-way street connected to the two-way street called The Strand that runs parallel to the Potomac River.

While the pandemic sped up discussions about the pedestrianization of King Street, the report said discussions about closing these blocks to vehicle traffic go back to when the plan was approved in 2012.

“Among many things, [the plan] recommends closing the unit block and the Strand north of the parking garage entrance to traffic (except EMS, fire, police, etc.) to make a pedestrian plaza,” the report said.

And 10 years later, pedestrianizing the Waterfront has gained traction among locals. Per the city report, more than 90% of 1,800 respondents supported the temporary street closure.

“Of resident respondents, 91% had a positive or very positive experience with the pedestrian zone, and 89% of residents responded that they wanted to see the closure continue into the future,” the report said. “Throughout the closure, businesses periodically expressed support for the closure. In addition, an advisory group made up of staff from various departments, APD, Fire and the Old Town Business Association recommended permanently maintaining the pedestrian zone.”

The plans to close the unit block to vehicle traffic follow a pilot program that started in May and was set to end Labor Day weekend, but was extended to November. Last year, the City Council approved an identical change to the 100 block of King Street.

The staff report said the change has been largely popular:

Following the closure of the 100 block of King Street, an observable decline in through traffic on the unit block resulted. This decline, and the popularity of the new Waterfront Park, has led to an increase in pedestrian volume on the unit block and the Strand. In addition, based on the success of the closure of the 100 block, staff has received requests from the businesses along the unit block to assess the feasibility of closing this block as well. The City conducted a pilot project between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend (and extended through November 20), which proved this closure successful.

The Waterfront Small Area Plan includes multiple recommendations for orienting the space toward pedestrians. It recommends that the waterfront should have continuous pedestrian access and provide an attractive visitor experience.

The plan also calls for improvement to vehicular and pedestrian circulation, which the staff report said pedestrianization would accomplish.

These blocks are particularly challenging for pedestrians given the limited sidewalk space, lack of traffic, and desire that by visitors to walk in the street. By eliminating vehicles from these blocks, the businesses can expand while also creating more space for pedestrians to move through the blocks along the sidewalks and down the center of the street. Additionally, the intersection of Union and King Street is often congested from vehicles and pedestrians moving through the area. While the closure does not completely eliminate conflicts, eliminating one of the vehicular travel directions does reduce potential conflicts between pedestrians and vehicles.

The report said that while the proposal doesn’t eliminate two metered parking spaces and two unmetered spaces, there are several public parking options nearby. Specifically, the report said those looking to park should be directed toward the nearby — and notably underused — parking garages.

Before the streets can be closed, however, the Planning Commission must review these changes, per the City’s Charter.

The item is on the consent calendar — meaning it is likely to be approved without discussion — for the upcoming Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 1.

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Zenn Press juices (image via Zenn Press/Instagram)

Zenn Press, a wellness-focused juice bar and cafe in Fairfax, is planning to open a new location in the heart of Old Town.

Zenn Press’ owner filed a special use permit application to open a new cafe at 806 King Street — formerly a Galt & Bro. jewelry store.

According to the Zenn Press website:

At Zen Press, we have one goal in mind — crafting the perfect recipes that will boost your wellness and elevate your nutrition in the best way possible. With our fresh flavors and natural ingredients, all that’s left to do is choose the daily blend that will turn your day around and get you the glow you deserve. Meet your daily ritual — stay fresh, stay balanced.

The menu features healthy and vegan-friendly sandwiches, bowls and more. The application said the new location will serve juice and coffee along with prepped meals, salads and sandwiches with no cooking done on-site. The application also said the cafe is hoping to have outdoor dining.

The new location will be open every day from 7 a.m.-4 p.m.

Photo via Zenn Press/Instagram

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Woodbine expansion plans (image via City of Alexandria)

The Woodbine Rehabilitation and Healthcare Facility (2729 King Street) could be getting a significant expansion that should help make it a little less crowded.

The facility isn’t adding any new beds, but a new three-story front addition would allow the nursing home to offer more private homes for residents.

According to the staff report:

The Applicant proposes to construct a three-story addition of approximately 31,909 gross square feet at the front (King Street side) of the existing nursing home building, in the location of the existing entrance lobby. This proposal will remove a portion of an existing entryway and replace it with a three-story addition to reduce the number of quad- and triple-occupancy rooms and increasing the number of private rooms for patients with no change to the total number of beds

The new addition will add 31,909 square feet to the building and increase height to a maximum of 45 feet.

The project is coming into the City Council meeting with support from staff and the Planning Commission.

The expansion plans are scheduled for review at the Saturday, Oct. 15, City Council meeting.

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