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Juice Box in Old Town North (image via City of Alexandria)

A juice trailer parked in North Old Town is headed to Planning Commission review next month after a zoning inspection triggered by a complaint found it was not in compliance with city ordinance.

Juice Box Old Town is a cold-pressed mobile juice bar set up at 500 North Union Street, near Founders Park. The Juice Box website describes it as a perfect site to catch locals and visitors walking along the river. What it was not, a staff report said, was in compliance with city zoning ordinance.

“On June 10, 2022, a zoning inspection of the subject site was conducted after the City received complaints of the operation of a commercial trailer,” the report said. “A Zoning Inspector confirmed that a trailer was being used as retail juice establishment at the subject site and the proprietor was informed of the need to bring the trailer into compliance through Special Use Permit approval. To bring the business into compliance with the City’s Zoning Ordinance, the applicant has submitted the current application for an after-the-fact SUP review.”

It is likely Juice Box will get that approval, though, with the staff report recommending approval and saying the trailer makes a welcome addition to the city’s efforts to make the waterfront more vibrant.

“Staff recommends approval of the applicant’s request for a temporary trailer. The temporary trailer would provide a desirable amenity in close proximity to the City’s active waterfront area and in a location where this relatively small business would not impact the surrounding commercial and residential neighborhood.”

The trailer turns the empty lot into a space for beverages; offering pressed juice, water and coffee at a walk-up window.

The report also said there’s no reason to believe the trailer would impact parking of traffic flow.

Juice Box is a seasonal business, and the report said the trailer will be permitted for up to two years beginning on April 1, 2023, when the business reopens. Additional years could be approved via an administrative special use permit.

The Planning Commission meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 6.

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Last week, Alexandria city staff pulled back the curtain on the city’s progress on turning Old Town North into an arts district.

The goal is to trade density in Old Town North for arts uses — mirroring earlier arrangements between the city and developers for affordable housing uses.

At an “Old Town North Arts and Cultural Uses” meeting last week, Director of Planning and Zoning Karl Moritz offered an overview of sites in Old Town North making use of that arts density.

Two have already been constructed, two have had their development special use permits approved, the former power plant site has had a coordinated development district (CDD) approved, and a sixth location is under review.

  • The Muse (constructed) – 5,900 square feet
  • The Venue at Crown Plaza (constructed) – 7,300 square feet
  • TideLock (DSUP approved) – 5,000 square feet
  • 901 N Pitt (DSUP approved) – 6,445 square feet
  • Hilco (CDD approved) – 30,000 square feet
  • Montgomery Center (in review) – 20,000 square feet

The Muse (1201 N. Royal Street) is set to house The Art League along with other arts programs. Theater company MetroStage is working on opening at The Venue ( 925 N. Fairfax Street).

Musical instruction program Levine Music was approved earlier this year as the tenant at the TideLock development ( 1033, 1055 and 1111 N Fairfax Street). 901 N. Pitt Street, meanwhile, will be the new home of CityDance.

The public at the meeting was surveyed on what other arts uses they’d like to see in Old Town North. Suggestions included a piano bar, a jazz club and an opera house, but one of the most popular suggestions was a Governor’s School for the Arts — a type of public arts program. There are Governor’s Schools in other states, like Kentucky and South Carolina, and several across Virginia.

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Janis Joplin in Alexandria psychedelic rock-and-roll poster exhibit (image courtesy Gallery at Canal Center)

A local art exhibit showcasing psychedelic art throughout rock-and-roll history will be free this weekend and includes a unique piece of local music history.

The Psychedelic Art Exchange’s Rock & Roll Poster Show is on exhibit at Gallery at Canal Center (11 Canal Center), a new art gallery that opened earlier this month. The gallery said in a release that entry will be free this weekend.

“View the original concert poster art that defined a generation, including legendary works from the beginning of the revolution in San Francisco to modern era,” the gallery said in the release. “On display will be an incredibly rare local artifact — the 1968 of Janis Joplin/Big Brother Alexandria Arena Roller Rink poster.”

For the exhibit’s upcoming opening weekend, admission will be free. According to the release, the hours this weekend are:

  • Friday, Oct. 21, 4-8 p.m.
  • Saturday, Oct. 22, Noon-8 p.m.
  • Sunday Oct. 23, 2-8 p.m.

“These pop culture posters are the intersection of fine art and collectible, illustrating the history of Rock Music — the original American art form,” the gallery said.

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More art is in store for Old Town North.

On October 15 (Saturday), a number of sidewalks and parking lots will be brightened by work from more than a dozen chalk artists.

October is National Arts & Humanities Month, and last weekend  the Old Town Arts Alliance celebrated with the opening of an art gallery in the new Old Town North Arts District.

“This is the first major art event for the Arts District,” according to Agnes Artemel, President of the Old Town North Alliance.  “We are looking forward to this event and bringing more art to OTN.”  Members of the Alliance are actively participating in the Walk by providing space in which the artists can work, including Canal Center. and businesses like St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub and Made in ALX.”

The event is free and open to the public.

Via Alexandria Arts Alliance

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A new art gallery in Old Town North will celebrate its grand opening with an event showcasing a number of Alexandria artists.

Starting on October 8 (Saturday), the Old Town Arts Alliance will celebrate National Arts & Humanities Month at the Canal Center Plaza (44 Canal Center) in the new Old Town North Arts District.

The Party For The Arts will be held from 4 to 7 p.m., and will feature performances on multiple outdoor stages and a special art exhibit at the new gallery.

“The goals of this event are to provide a collaborative platform to promote the city’s arts and culture sector as it recovers from the pandemic, and to highlight the arts’ power to inspire, spark change, and contribute to a vibrant, thriving and inclusive city,” according to an Old Town Arts Alliance release.

Participants at the event include:

  • Yellow Door Concert Series Sextet
  • Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic
  • Principle Gallery
  • Kyo Gallery
  • Local Motion Dance Project
  • The Art League
  • The Athenaeum
  • Galactic Panther Gallery
  • Alexandria Harmonizers
  • Torpedo Factory Art Center
  • MetroStage
  • Arts On The Horizon
  • Alexandria Citizens Band
  • Del Ray Artisans
  • Artspire
  • Upcycle Creative Reuse Center
  • Heard Arts Program

Courtesy image

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Hotel Aka with new black color scheme, photo via EAGH Alexandria

The Electra America Hospitality Group (EAHG) has filed an application to open a new cafe with outdoor seating at Hotel AKA — an Old Town North Holiday Inn replacement at 625 First Street with a dark exterior.

The amendment to allow a cafe is bundled in with an official change of ownership special use permit headed through the city review process.

The hotel is currently under construction and is scheduled to open sometime this winter. One of the most notable parts of the application process was the proposal to paint the exterior of the building fully black, though concept renderings on the Hotel AKA website show the exterior as a lighter grey.

“The Applicant is requesting a minor amendment to the existing SUP to add 40 outdoor dining seats,” the application said. “The Applicant is in the process of completing interior and exterior renovations to the existing hotel and plans to re-open as the Hotel AKA Alexandria.”

The new hotel will have 180 guest rooms with various amenities, including the new cafe if the permit is granted.

“The cafe will offer coffee, pastries, and similar beverages and light fare typically offered in coffee shops,” the application said. “The cafe will include a total of 40 outdoor dining seats in an outdoor seating area on First Street.”

The hotel will also include a lounge area and bar on the ground floor near the lobby. There are 148 parking spaces on-site, and the application said that’s expected to remain the same.

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A fall festival celebrating the broad culinary options around Old Town North makes its return next Thursday.

The annual Taste of Old Town North is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 29, from 4-9 p.m. in Montgomery Park (901 N Royal Street).

“Join us at this Free, Family Friendly, Dog Friendly Celebration of the Charms of Old Town North in Montgomery Park,” the Old Town North Community Partnership wrote in an email.

The festival includes sampling from restaurants around the area like Cafe 44, Lost Dog Cafe and the newly moved Hanks Oyster Bar.

The event will also include live music starting at 4:30 p.m.

Photo via Lost Dog Cafe/Facebook

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Samuel Madden redevelopment rendering (image via Torti Gallas + Partners/City of Alexandria)

It’s a second shot for the proposed Samuel Madden redevelopment after the plans’ first encounter with the Board of Architectural Review sparked some debate.

The Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA) project aims to tear down a dozen aging townhouses at 899 and 999 North Henry Street — 66 units in total — and replace them with two new multifamily apartment buildings featuring 500 residential units.

The proposed change would be a massive shift in scale for the pair of properties and be a marked visual change to the approach into Old Town along Route 1. The project faced some pushback from the Board of Architectural Review for demolishing homes identified as architecturally characteristic of the historic Parker-Gray neighborhood.

The staff report heading into a BAR meeting tonight (Tuesday), however, expresses more support for the project and said the applicant worked with staff to make changes to the properties.

As previously noted, staff finds that the applicant has been responsive to comments from the Board
and staff and has made significant changes to the proposed design throughout the Concept Design
review phase. These changes include the following:

  • Addition of shoulders on portions of the building facing the historic district;
  • The reconfiguration of the north building to extend the building further into the proposed
    park, relocating the public open space to the north end of the south building;
  • The creation of an exterior courtyard at the north end of the building;
  • Reorganizing the building organization to locate the entry lobbies across from one another
    to further the connection between the north and south buildings;
  • The addition of significant setbacks at the south end of the south building in response to
    adjacent buildings;
  • The elimination of a floor and overall lowering of the south building.

The report said the changes are the direct result of comments from the BAR.

“Staff appreciates the responsiveness of the applicant and the collaborative approach to the design the Board and the applicant have engaged,” the report said. “Based on all of these revisions, staff finds the height, mass, and scale to be appropriate for this location and the surrounding context.”

In general, the staff report said the new architectural shifts in the project will help it blend in more with the buildings around it, including those west of the property that are taller than the proposed development.

“Staff finds that the general architectural character of the proposed design is compatible with the Design Guidelines and the nearby context,” the report said. “Staff recommends that the Board endorse the proposed height, mass, scale, and general architectural character…”

The report also noted that the approval should be contingent on a few more minor changes, like slight elevation and window changes.

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Ladrey High Rise in Old Town North (image via Google Maps)

The Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA) has announced some next steps for plans to redevelop Ladrey High Rise, a public housing building in Old Town North.

The current building is an 11-story, 170-unit high rise building housing seniors and residents with disabilities. The redevelopment plans will see that building and an adjoining property demolished for a new mid-rise construction. The new development is slated to be a one-to-one replacement of the units on the site.

The building primarily houses seniors and residents with disabilities. ARHA said in the release the new development will increase the number of units on-site that are committed affordable units.

The building is currently fully occupied, with residents temporarily relocated during redevelopment. Earlier development plans noted that current residents will have a right to return — priority on new units given to current residents displaced during construction.

“This is the next big step in our plan for improving housing and the quality of life for all residents in our city,” said ARHA CEO Keith Pettigrew. “When completed, the units in the Ladrey High Rise will rival other modern housing developments in Alexandria. We look forward to hitting the ground running so that we can get these longtime residents into their brand-new homes as soon as possible.”

New amenities in the redevelopment include underground parking, meeting exercise and service rooms, and a community plaza. Residents will also have access to rooftop amenity spaces. ARHA said the redevelopment was spurred on in part by a need to make the building more accessible to residents with disabilities.

Kenneth Burton, a 20-year resident of Ladrey who uses a power wheelchair, said the in the release that the current building is not designed for him to easily get around.

“We are the ones who are going to live here, who will utilize the building day in day out, so it’s good to have a voice in the process,” Burton said. “We have been told Ladrey would be renovated and upgraded many times before, but it hasn’t happened yet. But now this time, I believe it will.”

In a release, ARHA said it selected Winn Companies and developer IBF Development to help spearhead the redevelopment plans. The project still has to work through the city’s redevelopment process.

“Both firms have extensive experience developing quality affordable housing communities regionally and nationally,” ARHA said in the release. “The proposed development plan will replace all the current Ladrey units and increase the number of apartment homes available to working households.”

Photo via Google Maps

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A group of community organizations for Old Town North have worked in partnership to plan a suite of events next month and beyond for the neighborhood.

First up is Taste of Old Town North, an annual festival spotlighting local restaurants in the area.

“A neighborhood and city-wide favorite, this annual event held in Montgomery Park, 901 N. Royal Street, features booths and tastings from area restaurants, music, and fitness demonstrations,” the Old Town North Alliance said in an email. “This year’s event is planned for Thursday, September 15 in the afternoon.”

The Old Town North Alliance also said there will be recurring events throughout the month.

“The Old Town North Farmers Market takes place each Thursday from 3 to 7 pm, and each Sunday from 10 to 2 pm on the parking surface at Montgomery Park, 901 N. Royal Street,” the Old Town North Alliance said. “The market features 8 to 10 vendors offering a variety of food and artisan products. A compost station is available on Sundays.”

Additionally, a happy hour event is scheduled for Fridays at the Canal Center office complex (44 Canal Center Plaza).

“On many Fridays beginning at 4 pm, the Canal Center office complex on the river offers happy hours with live and DJ music, beer and food trucks, children’s games, and more,” the Old Town North Alliance said. “Enjoy the beautiful setting and have a lovely Friday!”

One of the new events is a “Chalk Walk” next month.

“This is a new event focused on Old Town North’s status as Alexandria’s Arts and Cultural District,” the Old Town North Alliance said. “Artists will be stationed throughout the neighborhood on 10 by 10 spaces and will create new works of art in chalk. Attendees will be invited to stroll by each site and admire the artists at work or the finished work. There will also be a kid’s station in Montgomery Park. Food and drink will be available for purchase at Canal Center on the plaza, and several artists will be in that location as well.”

A full list of events is available online.

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