Alexandria, VA

Morning Notes

COVID-19 Cases increase by 10 — “Positive tests up 10 to 2,759 in the City 7-day Positivity Rate down to 5.6% 0 new hospitalizations Still safer at home, wash hands, wear masks and support our essential workers.” [Twitter]

Beyer Votes for Republican Colleague by Proxy — “Beyer is a popular proxy choice for House Democrats, since he represents a Northern Virginia district that is just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.” [Roll Call]

Volunteer Alexandria Hosting Emergency Disaster Response Class — “This class will teach you how to recognize violent activities, respond safely, provide immediate rescue tactics to the injured, and report them to 9-1-1 efficiently. The skills you will learn are transferable to countless situations involving traumatic injury, which include car accidents, household injuries, or an active shooter.” [Volunteer Alexandria]

WMATA Virtual Job Fair at 2 p.m. — “Attendees will meet the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMTA) team and learn more about immediate employment opportunities, including Metrobus Operator, Elevator/Escalator Apprentice, Special Police Officer and General Transit Mechanic. Apply after the event. Learn more about the event and register at the link below.” [City of Alexandria]

Delegate Herring and Councilman Chapman Hosting Chat on Policing at 6:30 p.m. — “Please join Councilman John Taylor Chapman for a Special Zoom Meeting With Delegate Charniele Herring, will give an update on the General Assembly Special Session in August about Criminal Justice Reform and Police.”  [Facebook]

Office of Historic Alexandria Harry Potter Trivia Night Canceled Over Racial Concerns — “While OHA intended to leverage a popular annual museum program to share elements of Alexandria’s African American history, residents have raised concerns about the event being perceived as disrespectful. Disrespect was never our intent and we have canceled the event. OHA strives to create historical programs that are uplifting and done through a lens of equity. Unfortunately, we failed to do so with this event. We are very proud of our African American history and always want to improve the visitor experience. We appreciate those community members letting us know their concerns.” [City of Alexandria]

Today’s Weather — It will be partly cloudy most of the day, there will be a high temperature of 94 degrees and a 50% chance of thunderstorms at 10 p.m. [Weather.com]

New Job: Ice Cream Ambassador — “At Jeni’s, we’re devoted to making better ice creams and bringing people together.” [Indeed]

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Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus could bring a wealth of economic sustainability to Alexandria, and now the school has requested that the future Potomac Yard Metro station include “VT” in its name.

If approved, the name of the station would be “Potomac Yard-VT.”

Virginia Tech plans to open its doors at Potomac Yard in 2024, and construction is slated to begin this fall. When all is said and done more than 3,000 students will attend classes at the campus in 2028.

The city anticipates no new costs or adjustments to the construction schedule of the metro station due to a potential name change, and the station is scheduled to open in spring 2022. City Council will have to approve the resolution for the name change request, and it will then go to the board of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority for final approval, according to a city release. Additionally, WMATA will have to approve an exception to its rules for the name change, since there needs to be a “significant classroom presence” in order to meet specific criteria, and Virginia Tech won’t be there at that time, according to the city.

“This issue is currently anticipated to be docketed for consideration at the City Council Legislative Session on Tuesday, September 8, 2020,” according to the city. “The City has conducted outreach to stakeholder groups comprised of residents, businesses, and Potomac Yard advisory groups within a half-mile radius of the station to solicit feedback on the potential name change.”

Image via City of Alexandria

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Morning Notes

Beyer Says Acting Homeland Security Chief Should Resign — “Ordering the occupation of US cities, seeking the escalation of violence, and intentionally risking American lives over peaceful protests and graffiti is unfathomable and unacceptable. Acting Secretary Wolf must resign immediately or be fired.” [Twitter]

Del Ray Used Book Store to Open in August — “Piles and boxes of thousands of donated books crowd Donald Alexander’s house as he prepares to turn his vision for a used bookstore in Del Ray into reality.” [Alexandria Living]

Police Report Carjacking on Edsall Road — “The Alexandria Police Department is investigating a carjacking in the 6000 block of Edsall Road. There were no injuries. Expect police activity in the area.” [Twitter]

ACPS Staff Discussion on Reopening Today at 12:30 p.m. — “In order to be able to hear voices from across every school during the Reopening Community Chats, ACPS has asked for representation from various staff groups across the school division to serve as conduits for feedback and questions from their school, department, office or facility.” [ACPS]

Food Drive at Trinity UMC Wednesday — “Thank you to all who have and are continuing to contribute to the food drive for Rising Hope United Methodist Church, which takes place each Wednesday from 4:00 – 7:00 p.m. at Trinity United Methodist Church.” [Rising Hope UMC]

Metro Expanding Operations in Mid-August — “Metro will add more buses, more trains, and more hours of service beginning on August 16, restoring most service to pre-Covid levels while maintaining a strong response posture to Covid-19. Metrorail will add 15 hours more service per week, with opening times returning to normal and the system closing two hours later each night in anticipation of potential increases in ridership after Labor Day.” [Facebook]

New Job: Nanny — “MyWoosah provides personalized childcare solutions for busy families across the country. Our services include childcare, transportation, home management, and nanny share.” [Indeed]

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Morning Notes

High School Student Assaulted Walking Home — “The assault occurred near the intersection of Russell Road and Rosecrest Avenue in the Del Ray/Rosemont neighborhood. The victim was a member of the T.C. Williams High School baseball team.” [Alex Times]

Officers Complain of Toxic Work Culture at Alexandria Police Department — “There are employees, including some who resigned after allegedly being subjected to retribution, who blame Chief Michael L. Brown for establishing an environment without discipline or accountability, where misconduct is swept under the rug. They say that under Chief Brown’s leadership, problems have gotten worse, which has fueled retirements and resignations from the department.” [Alex Times]

Vigil for Victims of Police Brutality Tonight in Arlandria — “Let’s join in solidarity with our Black community. Please bring a candle, poster, or other tribute to honor the lives lost at the hands of police. We will gather in the parking lot behind TWU’s building at 3801 Mount Vernon Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22305. For everyone’s safety, please wear a face covering.” [Facebook]

fibrespace Gives May 31 Profits to ‘Innocence Project’ — ‘Thanks to your shopping, we sent almost a thousand dollars today to this incredible organization who is working to exonerate the innocent and reform our broken criminal justice system.” [Facebook]

George Mason Elementary Donates Books to Community Lodgings — “The principal, Mr. O., was so generous to collect the books and spread them around the lawn at Fifer so that families could select books while maintaining a safe distance from one another.” [Facebook]

Virtual Concert Saturday Benefiting Senior Services of Alexandria — “100 percent of your contributions to the Löwball virtual tip jar for our June 6th webcast will go to support SSA Meals on Wheels program.” [Facebook]

Wesley Housing Closes on Affordable Housing Near Huntington Metro — “Located at 2317 Huntington Avenue, The Arden will be a seven-story building at the intersection of Huntington Avenue and Biscayne Drive.” [Zebra]

New Job: Brand and Public Relations Specialist — “The Specialist, Brand and Public Relations is a core member of the SHRM Brand and Communication team with responsibilities to support national TV commercials, brand activations, PR campaigns and earned media to amplify SHRM’s thought leadership and reputation.” [Indeed]

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Morning Notes

‘Good. Works. Alexandria’ Giving Event is Today — “Alexandria’s stores and restaurants will give a percentage of their sales to the charities of the customers’ choice.  For every lunch or dinner ordered OR purchase made, we will share those profits with clientele’s charity of choice located on the Spring2ACTion website.” [Old Town Business Association]

Here’s What Services Will Open Under Phase 1  — “As the region proceeds through the reopening phases the Recreation, Parks & Cultural Activities, City of Alexandria, VA has released the schedule of how recreation services, facilities and programs will be restored.” [Facebook]

Beyer Opposes Trump’s July 4 Parade Proposal — “Members of Congress representing the national capital region strongly oppose Trump’s plans to hold another large military parade in Washington DC on July Fourth as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to hit the area hard. This is a bad idea and could put many people in danger.” [Twitter]

ARHA Opening Waiting List for Two Days Only — “If you are looking for housing in Alexandria and you fit the criteria, apply. The list is open for only 2 days (June 1 and 2).” [Facebook]

Volunteer Alexandria Needs Help Preparing Meal Distribution — “Help feed your neighbors on Thursday, May 28, 3:30 to 6:00 P.M. Washington Street UMC, ALIVE!, ARHA, Royal Restaurant, Charles Houston Recreation Center, and Volunteer Alexandria have come together to offer meals/groceries for area residents. Bring your mask and join us to help with set up, meal/grocery distribution, and clean up.” [Facebook]

Bishop Ireton High School Holds Commencement Online — “Congratulations to the extremely talented Class of 2020! So very proud of you!! You will be missed!” [Facebook]

ALIVE! Thanks Great Harvest Bread Co. for Weekly Donation — “Thank you Great Harvest Bread of Alexandria for your twice weekly donations of fresh baked loaves for ALIVE!’s Truck-to-Trunk and our community partners.” [Facebook]

Chamber of Commerce Hosting Biz Reopening Webinar Today — “Join us for The Chamber ALX’s latest series, ‘Reopening: The New Normal’ (at 11 .m.). Each 30-minute session will feature a different business, sharing what their customers and the community can expect from them in Phase One and beyond. [Chamber of Commerce]

New Job: Police Communications Specialist — “The Police Communications Specialist position plays a critical role in the success of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA’s) Metro Transit Police Department. Police Communication Specialists are responsible for answering and dispatching the appropriate Police, Fire, or Emergency Medical Services personnel for calls received by Metro customers and employees.” [Indeed]

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Morning Notes

Arlandria in Crisis Over COVID-19 Spread — “Azucena Esquival lives in a cramped apartment in the Arlandria neighborhood of Alexandria, where the problem of community spread isn’t just theoretical. The pandemic is in her household. Earlier this month, she tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Another adult in her household paid $300 to get a test, which was also positive. They are living with two people who have not been tested. None of them are currently working, and they have no source of income.” [Gazette]

Alexandria Unemployment Claims Spike — “As of the Times’ print deadline, Alexandria residents had filed 10,609 initial unemployment claims, according to the Virginia Employment Commission. Initial claims began pouring in throughout mid-March, climbing from 33 the week of March 14 to 797 the week of March 21.” [Alex Times]

Senior Shoppers Surprised with $100 Cash Visa Cards at Alexandria Safeway — “Shoppers at the Safeway in Alexandria on King Street were surprised this morning with $100 gift cards at checkout courtesy of PenFed Credit Union. In all, there were 100 cards disbursed to customers in addition to goodie bags containing face masks and hand sanitizers.” [Zebra]

‘The Dog Park’ Having Anniversary Sale — “10 years ago on May 15th, The Dog Park opened it’s doors! We had a 10 day celebration planned but due to the ongoing crisis we decided to postpone the event until our customers feel more comfortable leaving their homes. However we can still celebrate.🐾 On Friday, May 15th we will be having an Anniversary Sale. EVERYTHING (with the exception of can/kibble) is 10% OFF to honor our anniversary.” [Facebook]

Teacher Does Extra to Help Student Online — “Virtual High Five! Ms. Hall congratulates one of her kindergarten students during a 1:1 zoom session. Ms. Hall noticed during their synchronous math class yesterday that this student was struggling with a concept and scheduled an extra 1:1 zoom session to work through it.” [Facebook]

Here’s How to Thank Hospital Heroes — “We have been grateful for the outpouring of support our community has provided our healthcare heroes! We are sharing notes of gratitude sent for #InovaHeroes. If you would like to send a message to an Inova team member, send an email to…” [Facebook]

Pork Barrel BBQ Buys Fancy New Red Tent — “We have UPGRADED to a bigger and better tent! Pick up all your orders for Pork Barrel BBQ, Holy Cow Del Ray and The Sushi Bar at the BIG RED TENT from here on out!” [Facebook]

Scholarship Fund of Alexandria Auctions Gift Cards to Local Restaurants — “Click Below & Bid! And then…order some takeout for dinner to support THEM in this time of COVID (https://events.handbid.com/…/scholarship-fund-of-alex…/items). ALERT: Some Gift Cards are ALREADY SOLD through our Buy-it-Now Option. Get Bidding before it’s too late.” [Facebook]

Carpenter’s Shelter Honors Volunteer of the Week — “Our Volunteer of the Week, Angela of DC Metro Church, truly has a heart for the children of the shelter. For over 4 years, she participated weekly in Children’s Hour at the shelter, a program in which volunteers interacted with and entertained kids in shelter for an hour on weekday evenings. After the weekends, the children would be jumping out of their seats in anticipation of children’s hour with Angela every Monday! Even now, with our children’s hour program suspended due to COVID-19, she donates to help our families currently housed in a hotel. Thank you Angela for your huge heart and years of service to our families.” [Facebook]

New Job: WMATA Assistant Superintendent — “This is technical management, supervisory and administrative building and support equipment maintenance work. Employee in this job is responsible for assisting in the planning, scheduling, inspecting, managing, coordinating and establishing work priorities for major Plant Maintenance activities.” [Indeed]

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Morning Notes

Northam Says Northern Virginia Will Ease Restrictions More Slowly — “Northam said that more information about ‘how this will work’ for Northern Virginia localities will be released on Wednesday.” [Reston Now]

Metro Phased Reopening Plan Includes Face Mask Requirement for Riders — “In the first phase, trains will run every 20 minutes and buses will operate on a Sunday schedule. Service will ramp up slowly from there. All riders will need to wear masks to board a bus or train in the WMATA system. (Right now, that’s just a recommendation and request, according to Metro’s website.)” [Alexandria Living]

Alexandria Salon Owner Cautions Against Reopening — “My colleagues and I think the Governor’s plan to allow salons to open is dangerous and shortsighted. It’s also worth mentioning that it seems the overwhelming majority with opposite opinion aren’t the professionals who have to do this work, based on the engagements I’ve had and observed in the comments section of the Governor’s Live streams. While that may not be an effective means of data collection, I think it speaks volumes– we are being excluded from the conversation about our own industries and our own lives.” [Alexandria Living]

DASH Adds Digital Displays for Riders at Bus Stops — “Thanks to the I-395 Commuter Choice funding, DASH is adding new digital displays to stops on the AT1 and AT9 to improve riders’ experience during essential travel. These signs display real time bus arrival information and helpful alerts.” [Facebook]

Scholarship Fund of Alexandria Online Auction Open Until May 30 — “We have received MORE THAN 150 Fantastic Auction Items, Expieriences, Packages, Gift Cards and One-of-A-Kind Opportunities from some amazing and generous local donors. This VIRTUAL SILENT Auction will help make up for our Canceled Spring Benefit Gala. ALL Proceeds Go to Helping Send T.C. Williams High School students with financial need to College.” [Facebook]

The Bishop Ireton High School Food Drive is on May 15 — “Spread the word! Looking forward to seeing you, even if for only a few minutes, socially distant. Thank you in advance!” [Facebook]

The Birchmere Reopening in June Schedules Performances in June — The upcoming schedule of performances includes Gaelic Storm, Steve Earl & The Dukes, and actor Kevin Bacon and his brother. [Facebook]

New Job: Digital Content Manager — “The Manager, Digital Content is responsible for the management and creation of content on AASLD’s (American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases) primary website and its related sites. This position will work with the Director, Digital Media to ensure AASLD’s websites are up-to-date, provide solid user experiences and follow best practices.” [Indeed]

Zebra Newspaper to Resume Printing in June — “The printing press rolls for us again in June, with your papers arriving around town and online June 8, 2020. But, the times, they are a-changin’ in terms of our distribution. We are adding more newspaper boxes to neighborhoods. If you want a box somewhere in particular, please let me know directly. You will start seeing them delivered in about 14 days.” [Zebra]

Road Paving Begins on Mount Vernon Avenue — “Mount Vernon Avenue will be under paving reconstruction for two weeks starting May 13, 2020.” [Zebra]

Taste of Del Ray, Other Community Events Canceled — “Taste of Del Ray and Well Ray in June as well as the Del Ray Music Festival will not happen in 2020. A decision on October’s Art on the Avenue, one of Del Ray’s largest events, has not been made. Art on the Avenue typically draws 75,000 people.” [Patch]

Former Councilman Fannon Named Alexandria Living Legend — “I have always been proud of Alexandria and was very fortunate to be born in such a great community… I was raised to be civic minded and to always contribute and give back to our fellow citizens.” [Gazette]

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The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is interested in receiving more federal CARES Act funding, as the transit system has seen a 90% reduction in ridership and the transit system may not return to full functionality until next year, WMATA Board Chair Paul Smedberg told ALXnow.

On Saturday, WMATA unveiled a multi-phased COVID-19 recovery plan Monday, and it says that service may not fully resume until next year.

“Since Metro implemented its pandemic plan, ridership has fallen by 95% on Metrorail and by more than 70% on Metrobus,” according to the plan. “The return of pre-pandemic levels of community activities including travel will likely depend on the timing of easy access to testing, a widely-available vaccine and the building of immunity. The CDC suggests this may be the case by some time in 2021.”

The pandemic has also created an opportunity to expand Metro’s summer rail improvement shutdown. Last summer, all of Alexandria’s metro stations were shuttered for renovations, and this summer all nine Orange and Silver line stations west of the Ballston-MU station will be closed and Silver line service will be temporarily suspended, beginning on May 23 until September.

Smedberg, a former member of the Alexandria City Council, was named chair of the Metro board last year and said that the speed of the pandemic took him and the WMATA board by surprise.

ALXnow: When did Metro begin to get inklings that it was going to have to resort to emergency operations? 

Smedberg: It was about the same time everyone else did, really. There was some chatter that there was a pandemic coming, and the staff started to prepare when everything really started to hit in the region at the end of February and the beginning of March.

ALXnow: Metro has only been around 53 years. The New York City subway system was around during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. Have you been in consultation with other subway and service train providers around the country on best practices? Or have you simply been referring to your own emergency preparedness plan?

Smedberg: Metro obviously has plans in place for emergencies, but in terms of the scope of this, no. Immediately the general manager did put a team in place to manage the issue, our chief safety officer coordinated, and still does coordinate, the efforts in response to the COVID, the safety of workers and riders and making sure that people are still able to get around.

We’re an essential service for the area, whether it’s rail or bus, a lot of people are getting to hospitals, to their work via Metro. Metro is coordinating with the hospitals in the region to help get the essential workers to and from work with shuttles. This is pretty new for everyone. Paul Wiedefeld [Metro’s CEO and general manager] is talking to his counterparts around the country about various ways they’re dealing with the issue.

But it’s been very coordinated and also unique for Metro, because we’re a multi-jurisdictional entity. We’re coordinating not only internally, but externally with the Commonwealth of Virginia, the state of Maryland, the District of Columbia and the federal government. So, a lot of coordination is going on at that level as well, making sure that we’re in sync with the local transit agencies and other departments in the region. So, it’s really a multi-faceted effort, and I think they’ve been managing it quite well, actually.

ALXnow: The economy was booming before this implosion brought on by the virus. What did Metro’s 2020 future look like before the pandemic? 

Smedberg: Metro after the (summer) shutdown and all the rehabilitation projects over the last couple of years and everything. Reliability is way up, safety is way up, ridership was up across the board, both bus and rail. We were seeing real strides. We had a few new initiatives that we were looking forward to help further enhance and increase options for riders, and this hit and everything ultimately had to be put on hold. We’ve seen quite a drop in ridership, about 90%, that other systems have and other buses systems have across the nation.

It’s been a real challenge. Obviously, we were able to take advantage of some of the CARES Act money that was made available to transit systems across the country. That’ll help stabilize things a little bit as we move forward, but it is definitely going to be a challenge. We’re very sensitive to how jurisdictions are having to deal with things financially. They, ultimately for the most part, are the ones paying the bill. So we’re very sensitive to what’s going on and we’re all dealing with the same challenge. So, it’s gonna be a year where we’re really gonna have to reflect on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

ALXnow: Metro received $877 million in federal CARES Act funds, and $110 million was earmarked to reimburse localities for the hit for on monies that they won’t be receiving due to Metro’s reduction in services. How else has Metro been impacted? Have you had any layoffs?

Smedberg: That money’s obviously been very helpful. There have been no layoffs or furloughs, and because of that a lot of those dollars will be put toward making sure people are still employed. That was one of the main purposes of it. We were able to credit some of the money back to the jurisdictions to help them with their subsidy.

I think right now we’re looking at various scenarios as to when ridership does start to come back, when will things be lifted enough? When are companies or organizations going to feel comfortable enough in having employees phase back into their office space and how that’s gonna look?

ALXnow: Do you need any more federal funds?

Smedberg: There’s talk of the possibility of a CARES Act 2, sort of the second phase. We would be interested in that and that would obviously be very helpful. I think the American Public Transportation Association is actively advocating for that right now and is working with Congress. They just sent a letter to Congress and the administration requesting in a bill $23.8 billion to address additional costs, because of revenue losses in excess of public transit funding provided by the CARES Act.

ALXnow: How much do you need out of that? 

Smedberg: No idea. I’m not sure what the formula would look like for that. Metro is one of the nation’s larger systems, though.

ALXnow: With ridership down so significantly, how closely has Metro been continuing to sanitize stations, trains and buses?

Smedberg: That has been top of mind for quite a while now. We get regular updates from the safety officer on how those efforts are going, if there have been changes. That’ll likely be going on for quite some time.  That was a concern from the very beginning, how to manage cleaning and sanitizing the cars and certain parts of the stations, and internally, because we have a decent number of folks who are deemed essential that have to be at work in person, and they cannot work remotely from home.

ALXnow: If you go to a hospital, the heroes right now are those on the front lines, the doctors and the nurses. Right now in Metro, the heroes are the bus drivers. Do you have enough bus drivers?

Smedberg: So far so good. We get updates constantly on the workforce and the number of people that are infected. We made changes operationally where people now are boarding the rear doors of buses so there’s less exposure to the drivers and the riders. There are no fares being collected right now for bus ridership, which is free. People with disabilities can still enter through the front doors.

The management is in constant contact with labor, and those relations are good. So far there’s been a lot of cooperation and communication and keeping everyone as safe as can be.

ALXnow: You’re also going to be expanding the summer closure of stations for track improvements. Can you talk to me about the opportunity for making some infrastructure improvements?

Smedberg: There was an originally planned shut down for a certain segment of the Orange and Blue lines, but with ridership down significantly, management has proposed an additional shutdown for further opportunities along the orange and blue line and in the silver line, taking advantage of that shutdown and the fact that ridership is down so significantly. It’s money that’s there, part of the capital program and will prevent future shutdown disruptions in service, potentially, in the future.

ALXnow: Do you anticipate future summer construction projects to continue, or will those capital funds be reallocated?

Smedberg: We haven’t really talked about that. I don’t think we’ve really gotten that far yet, to be honest.

ALXnow: In other words, has COVID-19 impacted your capital improvement program at all?

Smedberg: Not to date.

ALXnow: Virginia and other localities are preparing to reopen. How are you approaching that?

Smedberg: That’s the thing we’re looking at when people are going to start potentially going back to work in our three jurisdictions, and seeing what the reopening plans are for localities and how they’re managing things. Now, things are still changing so quickly, day-to-day, week-by-week.

It’s been very, very interesting. I’ve learned a great deal. The board now as it exists is a really good group. And everyone is playing their part and chipping in and we have really good working committees, and, more importantly, I think, we have really good management of Metro right now.

Staff photo by James Cullum

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The Potomac Yard development process is moving forward, with the in-person meetings now switched to virtual sessions with the city hosting a second town hall planned tomorrow (Wednesday).

At a meeting Wednesday from 7-8:30 p.m., the Virginia Tech Foundation and JBG SMITH are scheduled to give a public update on the project and describe plans for the southern group of buildings. Those are the office and residential buildings closest to the Potomac Yard Metro station.

The public can join the meeting at 7 p.m. and submit questions or comments to [email protected]

Designs for buildings in Potomac Yard have been trickling out over the last few weeks as designs for the new district near the Potomac Yard Metro station is finalized.

Further developments about the project, including the Coordinated Development District plan and the infrastructure site plan, are planned to go to a city council public hearing in June.

Rendering via City of Alexandria

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There will be no tax increase on the city manager’s proposed fiscal year 2021 budget, as the City Council swept through its budget public hearing on Saturday, paving the way for approval next Wednesday, April 29.

Council also unanimously approved the plan for the construction of the southern access to the Potomac Yard Metro station. The access will be a bridge that connects to the northern entrance, and will open at the same time as the station in March 2022.

The remote meeting took an hour and a half, and had only a handful of public speakers tuning in on Zoom.

In February, the Council approved a 2.5 cent real estate tax ceiling, giving themselves some wiggle room for the addition of services and other budget additions. That was an increase from the City Manager Mark Jinks’ initial 2 cent tax increase proposal, but the coronavirus pandemic has since wiped out those plans.

Instead, Jinks released a substantially cut-back $753.3 million fiscal year 2021 operating budget, and on Saturday the Council bypassed its traditional add/delete process without any recommendations. In other words, council members did not add anything to the budget or make additional cuts — a timely process that requires staff to reconfigure the budget proposal before another council review.

“The city manager did revise his budget proposal, and removed his proposed 2 cent tax increase,” Mayor Justin Wilson said in the meeting. “Certainly Council, when we adopt our budget on April 29 could adopt a 2-and-a-half cent increase, which is the level we gave ourselves. We have now completed the add/delete process and there were no proposals for any changes in the proposed budget.”

The budget is 5.8% lower than the $800 million operating budget Jinks proposed before the COVID-19 pandemic, and includes $46.6 million in cuts to the operating budget and $140.6 million in the capital budget. It closes a nearly $100 million shortfall by implementing a city staff hiring freeze, and holding off on a number of capital projects.

Jinks also proposes reducing the transfer to the Alexandria City Public Schools system by $7 million, equating to a 2% staff bonus, merit step increases and a 1.5% decrease in the employee contribution to the ACPS supplemental retirement plan. The proposed Capital Improvement Project budget has been sharply reduced from $2.1 billion, and while the T.C. expansion at the Minnie Howard campus is delayed, the in-progress plans to renovate MacArthur Elementary School will proceed.

Staff photo by James Cullum

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While city business has mostly been limited to pandemic related emergencies, the Alexandria City Council is moving forward with time-sensitive decisions about southwest access to the new Potomac Yard Metro station.

Southern access to Potomac Yard was a selling point for businesses and organizations moving into the parts of that area, but was cut back to save money on the project. The new plan does not include the full southern entrance as originally envisioned, and instead replaces it with a bridge that connects to the northern entrance.

Staff told council that it’s a solution staff said will fit within the project budget.

“Today, we are also letting council and the mayor know that the total cost will be covered within the $50 million of state funding along with the credit from the original ramp,” Daphne Kott, a project manager in the Department of Project Implementation, told council on Tuesday night. “[It] will be completed within the construction duration of the overall station.”

There was debate between the city and Metro contractors that a southern access could be built within the $50 million in funding provided by the state, and late last month both parties agreed the project could be accomplished under that amount.

The city’s plan for southwest access is docketed for a public hearing on Saturday, April 18.

Image via City of Alexandria

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In addition to a series bus line closures due to coronavirus, Metro is suspending service of Metroway-Potomac Yard — a bus line running between Pentagon City and Braddock Road.

The Metroway runs between Arlington and Alexandria through Crystal City and the Potomac Yard Shopping Center. The move comes after a day after Metro shut down several stations, including the Eisenhower Avenue and Van Dorn stations in Alexandria.

Andrew Kierig, Vice-Chair of the Riders’ Advisory Council, said he was concerned about the bus line closures but understood the reasoning.

“The Riders’ Advisory Council is deeply concerned about the impact these service changes are having on those who have no other alternative to get to work,” Kierig said. “At the same time, we’re also concerned about the health and wellbeing of Metro’s frontline employees.”

Kierig said another concern surrounding bus line closures was the ability of riders living in food deserts [places without access to affordable and nutritious food] when they live far from grocery stores.

“We’re concerned about the ability of those folks to get the supplies they need to make it through this thing alright,” Kierig said.

Granted, Kierig noted that this was less of a concern for the ridership of the Metroway, which tends to be from more affluent communities in Crystal City and Potomac Yard. For many riders, though, Kierig said the line is a quick and efficient way to get to the popular Target at Potomac Yard.

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