Post Content

If you’ve never heard of or been to Winkler Botanical Preserve, you’re not alone.

In a 2021 poll, over 55% of ALXnow readers had never heard of the Winkler Botanical Preserve and nearly 20% had heard of it but never gone there. A little over 5% said they go to the park frequently.

But that could be changing as NOVA Parks works to make the park more accessible and involved in local partnerships.

A little over a year after NOVA Parks took ownership of the Winkler Botanical Preserve, NOVA Parks and city leaders met to commemorate the changes over the last year, unveil a new sign by the central pond, and look ahead to what’s coming for the park.

Sean Kumar, NOVA Parks Board vice chair, said that over the last year over 600 Alexandria City Public Schools students have gone to the park and 56 students were involved in the summer camp at the park.

“I’m so excited by what NOVA Parks has been able to do in such a short time,” said Mayor Justin Wilson. “This is a great community resource. In an area without a lot of community green space, we have the best community green space. I appreciate the incredible act of charity and vision that led to this park.”

“This is truly a hands-on experience for children to engage with,” Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt said to Kumar. “On behalf of students and staff, thank you.”

The park is described on the NOVA Parks website as a 44-acre oasis in the middle of Alexandria’s Mark Center. Those 44 acres contain two herds of deer, foxes, herons and more.

While the park is a beautiful resource, NOVA Parks Executive Director Paul Gilbert said parking remains a challenge for making the park truly accessible to the community.

“The weak link in the preserve is a significant lack of parking,” Gilbert said. “We can’t even have tree identification hikes because we only have eight parking spots.”

Gilbert said NOVA Parks is working on plans to expand the parking, and he hopes to start the permitting process by this upcoming spring.

“The ideal would be enough space to bring in a school bus to come in and turn around,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert said he hopes more parking would get people out to what he described as a spectacular park and a learning opportunity.

“It’s a botanical preserve, too; it’s more than an opportunistic forest,” Gilbert said. “The Winklers cultivated and grew native plants. There’s an impressive collection of native plant life and a low level of invasive species.”

Gilbert said his dream for the Winkler Botanical Preserve would be for every ACPS student to visit at least once.

“Wouldn’t it be great if every child in Alexandria came here at least once and experienced a forest in this city?” Gilbert asked.

Park Manager Rachel Doody said one of her favorite parts about working at the park is seeing the reaction of local students.

“I love what we’ve seen with summer camps,” Doody said. “The look in their eyes when they see the waterfall and the pond. One girl right behind me said ‘That’s a waterfall! Where are we?'”

Winkler Botanical Preserve is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.


The future of Alexandria’s West End is being reevaluated with a series of open houses in the coming days.

City staff are working to update Alexandria’s long-term vision for the  1992 Alexandria West Small Area Plan and integrate it with the 2012 Beauregard Small Area Plan.

City Council directed staff last year to start updating the plans to include new policies on affordable housing, open space and “address current community needs and incorporate current City policies and best practices,” according to the city.

“We need more deeply affordable housing, current numbers/goals are not enough,” one meeting participant recently recommended.

“We need a more livable community, both in terms of quality of life and affordability,” said another.

The following open houses will include interactive stations to allow participants to leave feedback on land use, open space, mobility and sustainability in the West End, according to the city.

“All are welcome to participate in these open houses which are free and open to the public,” according to the city. “We invite you to come to any or all three open houses to share your thoughts on the future of Alexandria West and hear about different concepts for open space, sustainability, land use, and mobility. Each open house will have the same general content.”

Many of the city’s proposals over the past year have included data on residents who are housing cost burdened (in gallery above).

According to the city, the updated plan will:

  • Enable the 10-to-30-year-old land use plans to be updated comprehensively to address current community needs and incorporate current City policies and best practices
  • Address the issue of housing vulnerability and affordability by leveraging housing resources, policies, and funding opportunities to meet this challenge; and
  • Develop an approach to guide and shape future development and make expectations clear for the community, City and developers

The city anticipates releasing a draft plan in March/April, a community comment period next summer and then Council approval in September.

Below is a video update on the Alexandria West Planning Project.

Robbery on the 2000 block of North Beauregard Street (image via Alexandria Police Department/Twitter)

The Alexandria Police Department (APD) said one man was injured in a robbery near the Mark Center.

APD said the victim sustained minor injuries.

Two male suspects reportedly attacked the victim inside a parking garage near the Mark Center around 12:55 p.m, according to scanner traffic.

The suspects fled in a black Mercedes SUV, according to scanner traffic.

The Rutherford at Mark Center (image via DCS Design/City of Alexandria)

The 367-unit residential development The Rutherford is headed to Planning Commission review tomorrow and makes use of a relatively recent new policy that codified an older trade.

The project is a multifamily building set on a 4.5 acre site at 5000 Seminary Road, next to the Hilton Mark Center. Of those 367 units, 25 will be committed affordable units. The developer is also contributing $811,547 to the Housing Trust Fund.

The staff report noted that The Rutherford is the first application within the Beauregard Small Area Plan to use the increase in density in exchange for housing approved back in 2020. The practice was a longstanding one for developments in Alexandria, but The Rutherford is the first in the Beauregard area to use the new official guidelines.

“The applicant noted that the proposed project is the first application within the BSAP to involve an increase in density following the adoption of the 2020 Housing Policy Update and underscored its efforts to maximize the total affordable housing contribution,” the report said. “Pursuant to the BSAP, developer contributions are charged on net new development and are intended to offset plan-wide and neighborhood-specific impacts to infrastructure, public facilities, affordable housing, and other city priorities by new development.”

The project is also set to have 405 parking spaces in two levels of underground parking. A presentation on the project notes that city staff are currently recommending approval of the project.

The project’s development special use permit, coordinated sign permit and transportation management plan are scheduled for review on Tuesday, June 6.

4850 Mark Center Drive. (Courtesy photo)

The Alexandria City Council could be signing a lease tonight for the new ‘West End City Hall‘.

The council is scheduled to review a 10-year lease agreement for the future home of the city’s Department of Community and Human Services at 4850 Mark Center Drive tonight (Tuesday). If approved, the City’s Health Department’s lease for the Redella S. “Del” Pepper Community Resource Center would go into effect on March 1.

DCHS services are spread in eight service locations throughout the city, and the Mark Center property will centralize operations. The deal has been in the works for nearly five years.

That initial agreement was for a 15-year lease, and would go into effect in February. The term has since been reduced to a decade. If approved by City Council, the Health Department would pay the landlord, which is the City, $1.8 million in rent every year, or $158,000 per month.

Council will review the lease agreement at its meeting tonight.

Proposed rent rates for 4850 Mark Center Drive (via City of Alexandria)

“The facility will include the Department of Community and Human Services, the Alexandria Health Department, Neighborhood Health, and a West End Service Center with a Permit Center, Finance Department transaction functions and limited Clerk of Court services,” according to the city.

The 270,000-square-foot property also includes an adjacent 800-space parking garage.

The new community resource center is named after Del Pepper, the longtime City Council member who retired last year.

The article previously stated that the Institutes for Defense Analyses owns the building. It is, in fact, owned by the city, which bought it from IDA.

Actor Leon Preston Robinson (via Facebook)

Black resistance is the theme of the upcoming Virginia Black History Month Gala in Alexandria.

Actor, singer and producer “Leon” Robinson will be the keynote speaker for the annual event, which will be held at the Hilton Mark Center (5000 Seminary Road) on Friday, February 24, and Saturday, February 25. Robinson performed roles in “The Temptations,” “The Five Heartbeats,” “Cool Runnings,” “Above the Rim,” and as Little Richard in the 2000 film “Little Richard.”

The gala will also honor civil rights pioneer Betty Kilby Fisher Baldwin, who successfully sued the Warren County Board of Education to attend Warren County High School in the 1950s.

“African Americans have resisted historic and ongoing oppression, in all forms, especially the racial terrorism of lynching, racial pogroms, and police killings since our arrival upon these shores,” said the Virginia Black History Month Association, which is hosting the event. “These efforts have been to advocate for a dignified self-determined life in a just democratic society in the United States and beyond the United States political jurisdiction.”

Tickets to attend the two day event cost $45 to attend virtually, $95 for general admission and $160 for adult VIPs.

The schedule for the event is below.

  • Black Health Health Fair — Friday, Feb. 24, at 4 p.m.
  • Relationship Seminar — Friday, Feb. 24, at 6 p.m.
  • Black Vendor Showcase — Saturday, Feb. 25, at 5 p.m.
  • The VIP Social with Keynote — Saturday, Feb. 25, at 5 p.m.
  • The Virginia Black History Month Gala — Saturday, Feb. 25, at 6 p.m.
Envision Route 7 BRT concept, photo via NVTC

A new bus rapid transit (BRT) system could connect Alexandria’s Mark Center with Tysons along the second-busiest corridor in Northern Virginia.

BRT systems are a way of potentially redesigning a roadway to favor fast and accessible bus travel, sometimes separating the bus into its own lane as in the Potomac Yard Transitway. The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) has scheduled a community discussion tomorrow to look at the planned Route 7 BRT system.

While the route will extend into Alexandria, the discussion tomorrow will mostly focus on the Falls Church section.

“Route 7 is the second busiest corridor in Northern Virginia, and ridership remained strong during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the essential workers who rely on this service,” the NVTC said in a release. “BRT would upgrade transit quality through the 14-mile corridor, connect major job centers, connect one Metrorail station and one BRT service, serve more than 7,500 transit dependent riders weekly and increase pedestrian access to transit.”

The exact route the BRT will take is still being studied, with a report on the options expected to wrap up in April 2023.

The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 11, from 6:30-8 p.m. The meeting is scheduled for Meridian High School at 121 Mustang Alley in Falls Church.

Mark Center Avenue and Seminary Road, image via Google Maps

A three-car crash has temporarily shut down part of Seminary Road near the intersection with N. Beauregard Street.

Alexandria Police said in a release that the crash has shut down westbound traffic on Seminary Road after Mark Center Avenue, between N. Beauregard Street and I-395.

Injuries from the crash are non-life-threatening, according to police

Image via Google Maps

4850 Mark Center Drive. (Courtesy photo)

Alexandria is moving forward this year with plans to shift more of its services to the city’s West End.

In a recent town hall, Mayor Justin Wilson provided an update on plans to consolidate the Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS) into the former Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) headquarters (4850 Mark Center Drive) at Mark Center. As part of the shuffle, IDA moved to Potomac Yard and redevelopment plans are in the works for one of the DCHS facilities in Del Ray.

“This is an opportunity to bring these agencies closer to the people they serve,” Wilson said. “Most of the population they serve is in the West End of the city.”

Wilson said the new centralized DCHS office is also an opportunity to set up what Wilson called a “West End Service Center.”

“The majority of our population is west of Quaker Lane, yet all the customer service elements have long been in City Hall in the farthest east of our city,” Wilson said. “Part of this effort is a desire to bring those city services to the West End of our city to make sure folks can access their government without having to get into a car and go to Old Town and find parking.”

The deal has been in the works since at least 2018. According to a city memo, it will cost approximately $1.9 million in annual building operating expenses and the city would need nearly $14 million in “upfront tenant fit-out costs.” As a city-owned building, Wilson said it will also save money long-term in comparison to buildings currently being rented across the city to house DCHS offices.

Wilson said staff should start moving into the building this year with services opening in the building sometime in the next fiscal year. The new 15-year lease on the building is scheduled to go into effect in February 2023.

“We should be moving people in this year,” Wilson said. “The building is in good shape. We have a lot of work to do, but we should have people coming in the next fiscal year. We’re excited to get this service center set up.

Envision Route 7 BRT concept, photo via NVTC

The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) is starting to look at financing for an extensive transportation project connecting Alexandria and Tysons.

The Envision Route 7 BRT project aims to bring a high-capacity transit service running from Tysons to Mark center in Alexandria, with stops at Seven Corners, Falls Church and the East Falls Church Metro station. The project is currently undergoing a mobility study looking over traffic operations and impact, with a particular eye toward the Falls Church segment.

At a meeting scheduled for Thursday, March 3, the is scheduled to look over next steps for the Envision Route 7 BRT project. A report to the NVTC laid out a timeline ahead for the project. Traffic modeling and simulation is planned to continue through the summer with public meetings and outreach for the project starting this fall.

Envision Route 7 timeline, image via NVTC

NVTC staff are also working on identifying key funding, governance and operational decisions ahead for the project, the report said.

The effort is proposed to be jointly funded by Fairfax County and NVTC and will focus on the following elements:

  • Develop a strategic framework that will serve as a guide for NVTC staff and the
    Commission in the implementation of the BRT project.
  • Identify and prioritize the key funding sources for each stage of the BRT project and the
    applicable timeline for each funding source.
  • Develop an interjurisdictional governance approach to guide the planning,
    implementation, and operation of the BRT project.

The report said that proposals for consulting on the project are likely to come back to the NVTC at the meeting in May.


Subscribe to our mailing list