Alexandria, VA

Morning Notes

Mayor Reports COVID-19 Cases Increase by 14 — “Positive tests up 14 to 2,749 in the City 7-day Positivity Rate up to 5.9% 0 new hospitalizations Still safer at home, wash hands, wear masks and support our essential workers.” [Twitter]

Beyer Asks U.S. Park Police Chief to Implement Body Cameras After Lafayette Square Incident — “Beyer seeks commitment to body cam program funded/authorized by Congress from acting Chief Monahan given USPP’s transparency failures in the killing of Bijan Ghaisar. Monahan: USPP not ‘in a position to successfully implement, manage, and sustain a body-worn camera program.'” [Twitter]

New Deli Opening in Old Town North — “The Chewish Deli announced they will be opening a location at 807 Pendleton St. in the next few weeks. According to the business’s website, founder Greg Linzey is known for his hand rolled, NY-style water bagels. In addition to bagels, The Chewish Deli offers coffee as well as breakfast and lunch sandwiches.” [Alexandria Living]

The Irish Walk is Closing Today — “The last day is tomorrow for this wonderful Irish Store in Old Town Alexandria. Stop in and visit and get the last of the remaining treasures. @AlexandriaNow #OldTownAlexandria #Irish – The Irish Walk has been such a treasure and it will be missed.” [Twitter]

Photos Show Flooding From Last Week’s Storm — “Photographer Alex Snyder shared photos of the Thursday flooding with Patch to demonstrate that the city has ‘stormwater runoff problems that is costing taxpayers thousands.’ The photos show ‘waist-high’ flooding at Ashby Street and Glebe Road in the Del Ray area.” [Patch]

City Advises on Hurricane Preparedness — “Today the city advised residents to prepare for hurricane season through November. And they know the  pandemic makes doing so a challenge. Officials though stress it is important to be ready. Their recommendations follow.” [Zebra]

Today’s Weather — It will be mostly sunny with a high temperature of 93 degrees. [Weather.com]

New Job: Scooter Collector — “As a Scooter Collector, you’ll be responsible for collecting scooters from the street and dropping them off at the Spin warehouse. This is a night-time role in which you will be using your personal vehicle to transport scooters.” [Indeed]

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After years of inaction, a new applicant is hoping to take a crack at converting the vacant Waterfront Center office building in Old Town at 801 N. Fairfax Street into a residential development.

“Interest in converting the nearly 50-year-old office building dates back to at least 2015, when the property owner for both office buildings approached the City about converting the 801 N. Fairfax Street building to residential,” said the applicant, A & A Limited Partnership. “The property owner demonstrated that floor area ratio (FAR), setbacks, parking and open space requirements could be satisfied in a ‘by-right’ conversion from office to multifamily residential.”

The project is scheduled to go to the Planning Commission on Thursday.

Converting the building to residential did require one Special Use Permit (SUP) for increased height to allow rooftop access — which would technically increase the height of the building by adding railings and dividing walls. An SUP was granted in 2017, but no action was taken and the permit expired.

“A contract purchaser of the 801 N. Fairfax Street building is the applicant for the current SUP and plans to convert the vacant office building to residential use,” the applicant said.

The plan is to convert the building into multi-family residential housing. While the building doesn’t comply with guidelines on height for that area, a staff report praised the proposal’s flexible use of an existing building footprint.

“Staff supports the SUP application for a building height increase that will provide additional flexibility for the adaptive reuse of the existing building at 801 N. Fairfax Street,” the staff report said. “The SUP increases the viability of converting the vacant office building into active residential use.”

Waterfront Center isn’t the only North Old Town office space getting a residential makeover: nearby office complex The Towngate has also requested permits to undergo a conversion to residential use.

Photo via Google Maps

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The Towngate office complex in North Old Town (625 and 635 Slaters Lane) are requesting permits from the City of Alexandria to facilitate changing the office buildings into a residential building.

Most of the changes will take place inside the building, but the property is scheduled to go to the Board of Architectural Review on June 17 over a handful of exterior changes, like new doors, windows and siding.

“The applicant requests a permit to demolish and certificate of appropriateness for improvements… in order to convert the buildings from office to residential,” Brookfield Towngate LLC said in a statement. “No additions or increases in floor area are requested.”

Designs put together by Heffner Architects, PC, a local architecture firm in Alexandria, show the large open office spaces replaced with smaller individual units.

There is no information in the application yet about how many units will be included in the final building, or whether these will be town houses or apartments.

Images via Heffner Architects, PC

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It looks like CorePower Yoga could be joining a handful of new developments coming to Gables Old Town North (525 Montgomery Street).

Special Use Permit filed with the city yesterday (April 8) indicates the studio is planned for 921 N. St Asaph Street at the northwest corner of the site.

According to the application, the studio will have changing rooms and locker rooms, offices, and two studios. The studios will have a max capacity of 43 pupils in one and 39 pupils in the other.

The studio will be open from 6 a.m.-10 p.m.

Layout map via CorePower Yoga LLC

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The Gables Old Town North/EDEN project (525 Montgomery Street) is bringing a new suite of retail, restaurants and services to North Old Town.

The new openings at the development are planned to be staggered across the next few months, however, so nearby residents will have to wait a little longer for some of the new spots listed as “coming soon.”

Two of the soonest scheduled to open are Hinata Sushi Bar and Grill and Cut and Shave Barbershop at 909 N. Saint Asaph Street and 907 N. Saint Asaph Street respectively. Chef Hyun Su Kim told ALXnow that Hinata plans to open sometime late this month. Staff at another Cut and Shave in Alexandria said the North Old Town location should be opening in roughly three weeks.

There is no word yet on when Sisters Thai, a Thai restaurant with locations in the City of Fairfax and the Mosaic District, will open but staff working at Gables Old Town North said it should be “very soon.”

Loyal Companion, an East Coast-based pet store chain, is scheduled to open at 530 First Street sometime this summer.

“We’re looking at opening sometime in June, during a summer timeframe,” said a regional manager for Loyal Companion. “It’s a new location so we have to get all our ducks in a row.”

Del Ray staple St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub, meanwhile, is scheduled to open at 529 Montgomery Street this August, owners Christine and Larry Ponzi told ALXnow.

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Morning Notes

Biden Wins Virginia — “Virginia voters have overwhelmingly given former Vice President Joe Biden a sizable win over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in Tuesday’s primary election. According to unofficial state election returns, Biden has been called the winner of the state with 53.3 percent of what was a record primary turnout, and will capture the largest share of its 99 delegates.” [Patch, Washington Post]

City Holding Coronavirus Info Session — “The City of Alexandria, the Alexandria Health Department, Inova Health System, and the Alexandria City Public Schools will hold an online virtual information session on Thursday, March 12, from 8 to 9 p.m., to provide information and answer questions about the COVID-19 coronavirus. The session will be accessible at alexandriava.gov/Health.” [City of Alexandria, Alexandria Living]

North Old Town Quickly Developing — “Old Town North has been witnessing metamorphic change evolving before our eyes over the last two decades. Residential and mixed-use developments, including rental apartments, townhouses, condos, and retail spaces scattered throughout. Among notable additions are the Harris Teeter at The Kingsley, the Gables Old Town North with apartments, restaurants and retail built on the old Giant/ABC Store site. Redevelopment of the abandoned Bus Barn site has just commenced.” [Zebra]

Nearby: Redevelopment Floated for Shopping Center — “One developer is proposing putting 900 apartments where the Belle View Shopping Center — recently ravaged by a fire — now stands.” [Alexandria Living, Covering the Corridor]

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Morning Notes

TV Show for Monte Durham’s New Salon? — “There is a possibility that Durham’s salon will be the premise of a new show. ‘I am very proud to say that I have been tapped on the shoulder by a production company out of L.A. that has signed a contract to do a sizzle reel on the hair salon, hopefully to take that to a network and sell it so we’ll have a show on that,’ Durham announced at a Visit Alexandria meeting last month.” [Alexandria Times]

Alexandria BBQ Restaurant on Local TV — “Tommy McFly visit[ed] Myron Mixon’s Pitmaster in Old Town Alexandria to see what it takes to cook award-winning barbecue.” [NBC 4]

Beyer Campaigning for Mayor Pete — “As Pete Buttigieg struggles for momentum going into the South Carolina Democratic primary and Super Tuesday, two members of Congress from the Washington region are traveling the country to promote his presidential campaign. Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Anthony G. Brown (D-Md.) were early endorsers of the 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Ind., who they say has the personal story and calm demeanor to unite a nation divided by Donald Trump’s presidency.” [Washington Post]

New Bubble Tea Spot in Old Town North — “Ya-Gút St. Coffee & Treats ‘is the place for all things sweet,’ said Dustin Ngo from behind the counter of one of Old Town North’s newest businesses. The specialty shop opened in January at 682 N. St. Asaph St. next to its partner restaurant, Sunday in Saigon… The shop serves coffee drinks, unique pastries, bubble tea and gelato.” [Alexandria Living]

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(Updated 10:35 a.m.) Residents of the Liberty Row condominium community in North Old Town are upset that construction at the nearby Abingdon Place development has been shaking their walls.

“We’ve received several complaints from [other Liberty Row residents],” said Nathan Collins, a resident of Liberty Row and a member of the Liberty Row Condominium Association. “I contacted the city but basically got shuffled from department to department.”

The redevelopment of the Old Colony Inn (1101 N. Washington Street) has faced controversy since it was first proposed as a hotel in 2016. The hotel proposal faced outcry from nearby residents who said it would literally overshadow the Liberty Row development. Two years later, developers returned with the current proposal to redevelop the site as a new townhouse complex called The Towns of Abingdon Place.

The Abingdon Place development includes 19 luxury townhouses built by Madison Homes. The website said prices are anticipated to start at $1.4 million.

Collins said the reports he’s been hearing from his neighbors include vibrating glassware, pictures shaking against the walls, and floors and windows rattling.

Collins also claimed that a wall on his property was damaged by the construction activity.

Barbara Carroll, who sits on board of directors for the Liberty Row Condominium Association, said the fact that the wall wasn’t cracked before construction and is now in the wake of the pile driving next door points to a clear cause. However, what the nearby residents really want, she said, is more communication.

“The issues revolve around the fact that the builder was not really forthcoming with people about what he’s doing,” Carroll said. “This is unlike the development at St. Asaph — the Gables project. [That] was incredible, they communicated every month and told us what to expect. They installed noise and vibration monitors. I don’t know that the group across the street has.”

“There was more transparency and communications with the [Gables] project,” Collins agreed. “It was a huge project and they took the good neighbor approach. I wish I could say the same in regards to Abingdon Place.”

Mark Westmoreland, Vice President of Madison Homes, said the disruption wasn’t from pile driving, per se, but a process called gravel injection to treat tiers of gravel at the site. Westmoreland said most of the gravel injection was finished, but that there would be some more work in March and the company would be in contact with surrounding homeowners associations.

“We have started the foundations for the model building,” Westmoreland said. “We will start vertical construction in the next 30 days. If people drive by, they’ll certainly notice that.”

The model building at the site is scheduled to open in late summer. Westmoreland said the opening of the rest of the project depends on sales, but he anticipates a full build-out in 2021.

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St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub has been a Del Ray staple for decades, and it’s expanding to Old Town North.

Owners Christine and Larry Ponzi recently requested an administrative special use permit request for a change of ownership to operate the coffee shop and restaurant at 529 Montgomery Street in the mixed-use Edens property. Construction plans are set and permit applications will be submitted to the city in the coming weeks.

The Ponzis estimate that the 2,210 square-foot location could open as early as August.

“We like this area of Old Town because it doesn’t have a tourist feel. It’s more of a neighborhood,” Larry Ponzi told ALXnow. “We really like being in neighborhoods. We love to get visitors from out of town, and we do, but we really want the base of customers to be from the neighborhood.”

Edens broke ground in North Old Town in 2017. The development is also home to the Hinata sushi bar, Oak Steakhouse, West Elm and 232 residential units.

The Ponzis are also the owners of Pizzaiolo Cafe on Fern in Alexandria, Cafe Pizzaiolo in Shirlington and the Market to Market sub shop next door to St. Elmo’s in Del Ray.

The family is aiming for that familiar living room vibe of St. Elmo’s in Del Ray, with open mic nights and poetry readings, and custom-made table tops and local art on the walls. The new location will have a full service kitchen, and accommodate up to 65 people inside and 22 people with outside seating. Plans include plenty of space for couches, comfy chairs, long tables and a bar area to serve beer and wine. There will even be a kid-friendly area with toys.

“At St. Elmo’s in Del Ray, we really took two concepts and and merged them together — our Market to Market sub shop and our coffee shop,” Larry said. “So here out of one kitchen we’ll be doing an extended breakfast, breakfast sandwiches, avocado toast and smoked salmon and breakfast burritos and waffles. We have a banana oat pancake. So, actually a little more cooking than what we’re doing in Del Ray and, and then from-scratch soups and we’ll make our own homemade meatballs.”

The Ponzis bought St. Elmo’s five years ago, and the company currently employs 80 full- and part-time employees. They plan on hiring about 20 more for the new location.

The couple, who met as students at the Rochester Institute of Technology, have learned a lot since opening their first Cafe Pizzaiolo in 2007 on Mount Vernon Ave. Before their lives as entrepreneurs, Larry managed cafes and catering at the Smithsonian locations in Washington, D.C., and Christine spent a number of years as an accountant.

The Ponzis have two daughters in college, and have learned to delegate. A lot of responsibility is given to their general managers, and the company is currently interviewing candidates for the general manager position in Old Town.

“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” Larry said. “We like what we do, we’ve learned what people like. And so we’re really shooting for something very similar, but we feel it’s a nice fresh start to be able to build the kitchen the way we want to, and there will be a much more efficient way we do it.”

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After three years in business, Adriana Penachio-Sifakis is ready for growth, and that means franchising.

At just 700 square feet, her sub shop and market The Italian Place (621 Wythe Street) can get busy fast, but customers don’t wait too long. A new self-serving kiosk in the shop and online ordering have made for a quicker experience, she says, and those who choose to stick around for a few minutes might get carried away by the dulcet tones of Frank Sinatra while perusing the market full of gourmet Italian products.

Now Penachio-Sifakis is working with the Alexandria-based Fransmart to offer franchising opportunities in the D.C. area. She is also looking on corporate expansion, and last week toured five locations in high-traffic urban areas in D.C.  Next week she will look at locations in Arlington and Tysons Corner.

“It’s important to be in the right location, in a high-traffic area with lots of people who want to get something to eat quickly, who want something fresh,” Penachio-Sifakis told ALXnow. “Since the beginning, people fell in love with the place and it continued to grow, from locals to people visiting from out of town, and they’d tell me, ‘I want an Italian Place on my street corner, in my neighborhood.'”

In order to franchise, Penachio-Sifakis had to disclose financial statements that show The Italian Place has room for growth. She said that it has been challenging for her as a first-time business owner and the mother of three children. Still, she is encouraging female entrepreneurs to pursue franchising with her company.

“Being a woman and a mom and balancing life and a business is something that I pushed myself to do to show my children that anyone can do what they want to do if they have a passion,” she said. “Just because I’m a woman also makes a big difference. It might be more challenging, but it adds a friendly and lovely essence to The Italian Place.”

Lunch at The Italian Place averages between $10 to $13 with chips and a drink. The Eva sub, which is made from mortadella sausage, salami, provolone cheese, tomatoes, onions, banana peppers, lettuce, olive oil and seasonings, is one of the most popular items on the menu.

Penachio-Sifakis said that Italian food — and culture — is her passion.

“I love watching people dance to Louis Prima or Sinatra while they wait for their sandwich at the register,” she said. “Growing up Italian and being in a family that is in hospitality-mode hosting parties and events and cooking fresh meals all the time, it’s not unusual for me to run a small gourmet market that’s extremely popular. People come in and know it’s real and authentic.”

Photo via The Italian Place/Facebook

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The Italian restaurant replacing Hank’s Pasta Bar (600 Montgomery Street) in Old Town could feature a brand new rooftop deck if it gets approval from the city tomorrow.

The building owners are scheduled to go to the Board of Architectural Review tomorrow (Wednesday) for approval of a full suite of changes, including the new rooftop patio. The new deck is part of a suite of changes planned as the restaurant prepares to reopen sometime this year as Hank & Mitzi’s Italian Kitchen, according to Eater.

Judging by a staff report, the building should have a relatively easy time getting that approval.

“Staff has no objection to the proposed roof deck, as it is well designed and architecturally compatible with the style and proportions of the existing building,” staff said. “The roof deck is differentiated from the existing building by introducing new and compatible materials.”

If approved, this would be the biggest change in the building’s history, which has remained virtually unchanged since it was built in 1948, according to the staff report.

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A new Thai restaurant and bakery is coming to Old Town North.

Sisters Thai tells ALXnow that it plans to open its doors at 530 Montgomery Street by early May.

The Old Town location will be the fourth restaurant for Fairfax-based Mungkorn Thong Inc, joining locations in the City of Fairfax, the Mosaic District and Cabin John, Maryland. The company was founded in 2012 and also owns Magnolia Dessert Bar & Coffee in Vienna.

“It’s going to be homey, like our other locations, and we’re going to put a Magnolia bakery inside, too,” said Ticky Komol, the manager at the Mosaic District location at 2985 District Ave.

The restaurant will offer delivery and takeout, and also serve beer and wine. It will be located near the Gables North Old Town apartment complex, the Oak Steakhouse Alexandria and the Holiday Inn & Suites.

The varied menu includes appetizers like $6 steamed dumplings, plus four different kinds of fried rice, Thai street food dishes, and five curry dishes. House specialties include the Krispy Duck Ka Pow, while staples like Pad Thai and Drunken Noodles are also on the menu.

Sisters Thai has gotten some attention over the years for its home-like decor that resemble tea rooms. The Fairfax location in the heart of the city’s Old Town, for instance, is full of colorful art, mismatching chairs and all sorts of knick-knacks and conversation starters.

Photo via Sisters Thai/Facebook

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