Alexandria, VA

(Updated 10:50 p.m.) When the City of Alexandria builds new schools, a new ordinance change (Item 9) could mean they’re a little larger than they used to be.

A new ordinance proposed for the Tuesday (September 1) Planning Commission meeting would “streamline and modernize the zoning regulations,” according to a staff report.

“School enrollment has been growing significantly over the last couple of years and is expected to continue to grow in the foreseeable future,” staff said in the report. “Since 2007, ACPS has faced rapid increases in enrollment and projects continued growth in its student population through FY 2029 — reaching over 18,000 students by that time.”

The update coincides with ACPS’ modernization plan to address capacity issues and aging facilities, including potential rebuilds like the Douglas MacArthur Elementary redevelopment up for review at the same meeting. The proposed MacArthur redevelopment is planned for 0.6 Floor Area Ratio (FAR). The new ordinance allows that level of density by-right — meaning no special permits are required — and an increase above 0.6 FAR with a special use permit (SUP). Building height remains unchanged, however, at a 60 foot limit. Read More

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Opponents of the Alexandria Presbyterian Church’s expansion went into Saturday’s public hearing knowing it was an uphill fight, and ultimately the City Council unanimously struck down the appeal.

The City Council voted unanimously to uphold the Planning Commission’s ruling in November that Alexandria Presbyterian Church could expand by-right from a 3,400 square foot building that can’t hold its congregation to a 22,794 square foot gothic-inspired church.

Neighbors, who rallied around a petition to appeal the Planning Commission’s ruling, came out to the public hearing in force to share a wide range of concerns about the project like increased traffic, parking in front of neighbor’s homes, and increased stormwater runoff.

Richard Weiblinger, one of the appellants, showed photographs of backups on Scroggins Road, a road the church would be built along that’s frequently used as a traffic cut-through. Weiblinger said residents were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to get in or out of their driveways with the added traffic, noting that driving on Scroggins is already “a game of chicken.”

A letter published by the Alexandria Gazette Packet and written by Cara Weiblinger said the area is already “overwhelmed” by traffic, expressing concerns about “incredible pain and a diminished quality of life for neighbors” and “bad blood between a church and the neighborhood in which it plants itself.”

The argument that the new church would add dangerous levels of traffic to the nearby roads didn’t garner any more sympathy from the City Council than it did from the Planning Commission, with councilmembers repeating the Planning Commission response. Councilwoman Redella “Del” Pepper said current hours of peak traffic were different from the hours of peak usage for the church — namely Sunday ,orning.

“They’re not going to be there on Monday mornings,” Pepper said.

One area where the City Council did recognize the plight of nearby residents was on the stormwater issue. Several neighbors noted that the area already has stormwater drainage problems. One said that her basement is regularly flooded during storms and she was concerned that more impervious space across the street would only make that situation worse.

“If you can’t mitigate stormwater adequately, I’m the one that pays for that,” the resident said. “If they don’t manage the stormwater, it’s going to put us under, and I don’t just mean literally underwater… Please don’t be lazy and just say ‘it’s going to be fine.'”

Cathy Puskar, an attorney for the church, argued that the church would not have a negative impact on the neighborhood, pointing to a handful of stormwater management initiatives at the site that she noted could improve the local flooding issues. Many on the City Council seemed unconvinced, though ultimately not enough to change their vote on the project.

“If we’re serious about looking at water runoff, we need to push our applicants to do more progressive things,” Councilman John Chapman said.

Mayor Justin Wilson said the stormwater issues being raised by neighbors were existing conditions, but the city would have to look at ways to work on the runoff situation in that area in the upcoming budget season.

Despite these concerns, staff noted that the project met all zoning requirements, which Puskar argued left the city with no choice but to approve it, which the City Council ultimately did.

“What many of the neighbors are telling us is that it’s counterintuitive that you can have a church double its size and not double some of the problems,” Pepper said. “We’re really in a tight spot. There’s no wiggle room. We have to follow the law.”

Photo via City of Alexandria

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It’s been a long time coming, but Fire Station 203 (2801 Cameron Mills Road) in North Ridge is finally coming down.

The 71-year-old station is being replaced by a modern, 15,000 square-foot, two-story station. The new station is planned to have two and a half operational bays to house a fire engine and medical units, according to the city’s website.

The firefighters of Station 203 are currently operating out of a temporary facility at the intersection of Pierpoint and Monticello Blvd.

Construction on the new building is scheduled to start this month, with the fire station scheduled to move in sometime in spring 2021, followed by the demolition of the temporary fire station.

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(Updated at 3:10 p.m.) Firefighters from Alexandria and Arlington battled a house fire in the North Ridge neighborhood this afternoon.

Dark smoke was seen coming from a home on the 2900 block of Mayer Place around 1:45 p.m. Arriving firefighters reported finding an active fire on the first floor of the split level home, prompting additional units to be dispatched to the scene.

As of 2 p.m. the fire was reported to be under control and firefighters were working to ventilate smoke from the structure.

Initial reports suggest a dog was found deceased inside the home. The family later arrived at the house and could be seen grieving over the dog, which was placed in a stretcher by firefighters.

Editor’s note: Readers may find some photos within the gallery mildly disturbing.

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Despite some concerns from neighbors, the Planning Commission unanimously gave the thumbs up a new 22,794 square-foot, gothic-style Presbyterian church, a couple of blocks north of T.C. Williams High School.

The new building will replace the existing 3,400 square foot Alexandria Presbyterian Church at 1300 W. Braddock Road, as well as a parking lot and an adjacent residence, but the congregation is larger than the church can contain. The congregation also has held worship services at Del Ray Baptist Church since 1999, but the new church will bring all of the members together under one roof.

The church’s parking lot will have 98 lots and bicycle parking. There is no open space requirement for the church, but 34 percent of the church will remain open space to meet the city’s stormwater requirements.

Most of the speakers at the event were members of the church who said they were excited to finally all be able to congregate together in one facility.

The church faced some gentle pushback from neighbors. While neighbors said they appreciated the mission and community work of the church, they had concerns about the traffic and stormwater impact of the new facility.

Neighbors cited concerns about traffic on Scroggins Road, a small, two-lane street navigation apps have turned into a cut-through corridor to avoid the crowded Braddock Road, Quaker Lane and King Street. Some said the gridlock on the street has made it difficult for residents to access their own homes.

The traffic study done by staff was also criticized for taking place during the government shutdown, giving an uncharacteristically low estimate of traffic on the street. Residents said crowding at T.C. Williams has led to more students parking on nearby residential streets.

The Planning Commission recognized the concerns from neighbors, but Commissioner Maria Wasowski said the church can’t be expected to single-handedly address the traffic, parking and stormwater problems on Scroggins Road.

Commissioners were also dubious that the church, which would likely see peak occupancy on Sundays, would have a noticeable impact on school parking and commuter cut-through traffic.

“There are four churches in Old Town that rely on on-street parking, and everyone seems to survive,” said Commissioner Mindy Lyle. “Churches enhance our community.”

The Planning Commission unanimously approved the project, which will not require City Council approval unless the Planning Commission’s decision is appealed.

Photo (top) via City of Alexandria, (below) via Google Maps

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