Alexandria, VA

A local addition to the National Defense Authorization Act — a $740 billion bill approved through the House and Senate and headed to the White House — would require the Pentagon to establish a helicopter noise abatement group for the region.

Helicopter noise has long been a local complaint in Alexandria, perhaps second only in overhead noise controversy to sound coming from National Airport.

The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Don Beyer (D) would also require the Pentagon to establish a noise inquiry website based on the DCA’s complaint website.

“Since I took office, complaints about aircraft noise have been one of the most consistent sources of calls to my office,” Beyer said in an email. “We get calls about airplanes on approach and departure to and from DCA, and increasingly about military helicopters across the region, many of which fly in and out of Fort Belvoir. I had a town hall on the issue a few years ago in Fairlington, which has been particularly affected, and it was clear that people wanted ways to track and report noise complaints, and to have a forum for ongoing discussion about ways to mitigate that noise which would include input from the local community.”

While the bill has been approved by both chambers, a threatened veto over changing the names of bases named after Confederate leaders could still keep the helicopter noise solution from moving forward.

“With its adoption in the House we are now on track to get this enacted,” Beyer said. “Given the work that MWAA has already done in some of these areas it just makes sense for the Pentagon to look at what they have done, take what worked well, and make changes in areas that they could improve.”

Flickr pool photo by Jeff Sonderman

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A new noise ordinance could impose Old Town’s decibel limits citywide, but one local restaurant isn’t taking the news lying down.

Lost Dog Cafe, a popular restaurant at 808 N. Henry Street near the Braddock Metro station and part of a regional franchise, expressed frustration at the proposed limits on Twitter.

The ordinance would limit noise in public places citywide to 65 decibels (about the volume of a normal conversation) in a public place within 10 feet of a structure, and nothing louder than 75 decibels (about the volume of an average dishwasher) in a public place within 50 feet of a structure.

Other proposed limitations include new nighttime measures from 11 p.m.-7 a.m. that would prohibit audible noise from one residence that reaches another and commercial loading or unloading.

Lost Dog Alexandria owner Matthew Sisk told ALXnow that his main frustration was that many of the plans seem already predetermined by the time they reach public input.

“I think, in general, a lot of what the city puts out for changes to regulations… they don’t do a very good job of circulating that through the business community,” owner Matthew Sisk told ALXnow. “We get caught off guard by these changes with very little time to respond or [offer a] rebuttal.”

The city is currently collecting input on the changes, which are scheduled to go to the City Council for a vote early next year.

Sisk said he appreciated the need for noise ordinances, but said excessive noise complaints can sometimes lead to frustrations for businesses with any nighttime or outdoor activity. Noise was cited as one of the reasons for an outdoor dining ban in Old Town that lasted until 2000, according to the Alexandria Times. In Vienna, hookah bar Bey Lounge has been in a long legal struggle with nearby residents over noise complaints.

“I think the base reason for a noise complaint is good,” Sisk said. “Nobody wants people next door blasting music. But at decibel they’re putting out as the threshold it becomes a weapon for disgruntled residents to use against the city as a whole or specific businesses.”

If the new noise ordinance moves forward, Sisk said the city needs to work to balance managing legitimate noise complaints with the nuisance caused by frivolous noise complaints.

A few years ago, Sisk said he might not have been hopeful of that happening, but recently there have been signs of change.

“I’m happy to own a business in Alexandria, but Alexandria isn’t business-friendly,” Sisk said. “But I will give [City Council] credit, that’s changing slowly.”

Sisk praised responsiveness from city leaders like Mayor Justin Wilson, who responded to his complaints on Twitter.

Sisk said he is still worried that too much work has gone into putting the noise ordinance together for the city to be willing to make changes, but that the direction the city government has been moving gives him hope for some responsiveness.

“You have people who still see it as a quiet town, but it’s an urban environment,” Sisk said. “The city is making advances and it’s getting better by the year. It’s better than it used to be.”

Photo via Lost Dog Cafe/Facebook

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The City of Alexandria could be restricting noise limits citywide, and double violations fines as part of new ordinances.

City staff are proposing a citywide noise limit of 65 decibels (about the volume of a normal conversation) in a public place within 10 feet of a structure, and nothing louder than 75 decibels (about the volume of an average dishwhasher) in a public place within 50 feet of a structure.

Previously, those limits only applied to Alexandria’s Central Business District.

In a presentation shared with residents, officials note that the existing 53-year-old noise regulations on the books are long overdue for an update. The old rules don’t include information about loading times for delivery trucks and measuring noise across property lines, for example.

Now staff are proposing several updates, including:

  • A loading truck ban from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. every day.
  • A quiet hours designation for “plainly audible sound” in residential areas, from 11 p.m.-7 a.m.
  • Limiting the hours of outdoor cleaning equipment (like power washers) to match the hours set aside for lawn equipment: 7 a.m.-9 p.m. on weekdays, and 9 a.m.-9 p.m. on weekends.
  • Limiting pet noise: nothing audible from neighboring houses for more than five minutes during the day, or anytime at night if the barking (or other animal noise) is audible to neighborhoods with closed windows and doors closed.

The proposed changes would also double the existing penalties for breaking noise ordinances: from $50 to $100 for the first violation, $100 to $250 for the second violation, and $250 to $500 for the third violation.

However, the new regulations would keep several, long-standing exemptions, including aircraft noise which residents have long protested, as well as Metrorail trains and road work.

Any changes in Alexandria will require approval from the City Council before going into effect. The city is currently accepting comments about the proposed changes.

“We’re in the middle of a public outreach process,” said Department of Transportation & Environmental Services spokeswoman  Sarah Godfrey. “Once we review all comments, we’ll address those raised before submitting a final revision to Council for consideration. We expect to go to Council early next year.”

Godfrey said the recommended increase in fines is based what other nearby jurisdictions impose.

“The current fines are outdated,” she told ALXnow. “We looked at the fine structures of our neighboring jurisdictions and worked to come up with comparable, reasonable amounts.”

Staff are also proposing to create a new noise institutional zoning category of noise regulations, to cover schools, public buildings, and places of worship that fall outside the city’s other, existing categories (residential, commercial, and industrial.) Properties that fall under this new category could allow a higher threshold for noise (65 decibels) than residential properties (55 decibels), but lower than industrial areas (70 decibels.)

Image via Flickr/Phil Roeder

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Morning Notes

ALXnow Launches Today — This is the first post on the first day of ALXnow. Our goal is to bring Alexandria timely, relevant and useful local news coverage that uncovers unreported stories and drives community conversations. We hope you like it.

About the Morning Notes — Morning Notes posts like this one will be published on most weekday mornings and will highlight notable social media posts, press releases and the reporting of other news outlets. Most posts will be shorter than this one — we’re catching up! Each Morning Notes post will also feature a photo from around town, often from our staff photographer, Jay Westcott. You can submit photos for possible publication too: email us at [email protected] or tag us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

All ACPS Schools Meet State Benchmark — “All schools within Alexandria City Public Schools are fully accredited for the 2019-20 academic year for the first time in 20 years. On Monday morning the Virginia Department of Education announced the results that all ACPS schools met the state benchmark for the first time since the accreditation system first began in 1999.” [ACPS]

Bank Manager Pleads Guilty to Fraud — “An Alexandria bank branch manager pleaded guilty Monday to stealing more than $500,000 from older customers after gaining their trust to personally handle their transactions. Fetehi Mohammed, a manager since 2015 at the Wells Fargo Bank branch near the intersection of Quaker Lane and King Street, reviewed which customers had enough money that his unauthorized withdrawals would not attract notice.” [Washington Post]

Proposed Shelter for Migrant Kids Nixed — “Plans for a facility to house unaccompanied migrant children in Northern Virginia have been scrapped after pushback from local leaders and community members. Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson tweeted an email he received from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services confirming that the Office of Refugee Resettlement was no longer considering Northern Virginia as a potential site for an unaccompanied migrant children shelter.” [WTOP]

Bank Robbery Suspect Arrested — “Alexandria police have a subject is in custody for robbing an Alexandria bank. The robbery happened at the 300 block of South Van Dorn street at around 11:15 AM on Saturday. Alexandria police arrived on the scene and made an arrest.” [Twitter, WDVM]

Hank’s Pasta Bar Closes — “Hank’s Pasta Bar closed Wednesday after 3 years in business. The restaurant, at 600 Montgomery Street in Old Town North, closed to make room for a new Italian restaurant that will open later this year.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]

Meeting Today About Proposed Noise Law Changes — “[Alexandria] is planning major revisions to its Noise Control Code, and it is asking the community to weigh in on proposed changes to the ordinance. Changes to the code, which was first adopted more than 55 years ago in 1963, include expanded wording in the animals section, which sets specific limits on barks, howls, bays, meows, squawks, quacks or other sounds between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.” [WTOP]

Joint Arlington and Alexandria Meeting Tonight — “Building on the two localities’ collaborative success in recruiting unprecedented new investments in National Landing, the Alexandria City Council and the Arlington County Board will hold a joint meeting on Tuesday, October 1, to discuss the development of a formal framework to continue working together on key policy issues that support inclusive growth.” [City of Alexandria]

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