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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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Morning Notes

Around Jones Point Park (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

New Compost Station Opens — “On Sunday, July 17, the Old Town North Sunday Farmers Market officially opened its Compost Cab compost station. The new compost station will be a permanent fixture at this year-round market, every Sunday from 10am-2pm.” [Zebra]

City Ranks as One of the Top U.S. Cities — “Readers of Travel + Leisure appear to have a favorable opinion of Alexandria, because the city made the top 10 of the magazine’s 15 Best Cities in the United States list… Alexandria was ranked eighth among big cities like New York City, New Orleans and Chicago on the national list.” [Patch]

Film Festival Submissions Open — “Calling all #artists and #filmmakers–Join us this November in @AlexandriaVA for the 4th Annual STEM Art & Film Festival at #IFoRE22. Now accepting submissions http://experienceIFoRE.org/stem-art-film-rt-film-festival #art #artstudent #artfestival #filmfestival #scienceart” [Twitter]

It’s Monday — Rain in the evening. High of 87 and low of 75. Sunrise at 5:59 am and sunset at 8:33 pm. [Weather.gov]

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What two additional stories looks like on a 45-foot-tall structure. (Via City of Alexandria)

After public outcry over a rushed plan, the Alexandria Planning Commission deferred a city staff proposal to allow developers to build affordable housing into new apartment buildings up to 70 feet in height in areas where height limits are 45 feet or more.

There were more than 30 speakers at the meeting on Thursday, June 23, mostly residents of Del Ray.

Gayle Reuter has lived in Del Ray for 40 years, and said that the proposal would ruin her neighborhood’s small town feel.

“I understand the city is in need of and has promised increased affordable housing and endorsed the Washington COG Regional Housing Initiative,” Reuter told the Planning Commission. “If this is approved, developers will come to come in and the Avenue with its small town feel of mom-and-pop businesses where Main Street still exists will be gone forever.”

The proposal would allow developers bonus height of 25 feet in any zone or height district where the maximum allowable height is 45 feet.

Planning Commission Chair Nathan Macek asked city staff to present a refined proposal to the community before reintroducing it to the Commission for review again.

“I think it’s an important tool, and I think I think the actual impact would be very modest in terms of when it would choose to be enacted,” Macek said. “I don’t think you’re gonna end up seeing 70-foot buildings and this and that. That is sort of the extreme if every site were to redevelop, but I don’t think that that’s the reality of what would happen. But rather than speculate about that, I think we have a chance to step back and study it or provide some projections, some best guesses about what we’ll see so that we can inform the decision and possibly take it in steps with a pilot for a phased amount of density and we can revisit.”

Under the proposal, numerous areas of the city would be open for developers to move in and increase the height of 45-foot-tall buildings to a maximum of 70 feet in height — specifically along Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray, in Arlandria, Alexandria West, the Beauregard area, the Landmark area, Eisenhower West, Old Town North and Carlyle.

The proposal does not apply, however, to single family, two story and town home dwellings.

Areas of the city that would be impacted by the proposed change to height restrictions. (Via City of Alexandria)

Alexandria is currently experiencing an affordable housing crisis, and lost 14,300 (or 78%) affordable housing units between 2000 and 2022. Consequently, the city has pledged to produce or develop thousands of units to meet 2030 regional housing goal set by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

“While approximately 800 market-rate and affordable units of housing are currently generated per year in Alexandria, meeting the RHI (Regional Housing Initiative) goal involves the production of an estimated additional 300 units per year, of which 75 percent are recommended to be affordable,” staff wrote. “This represents an estimated additional 2,250 affordable units over the 10-year period…”

Save Del Ray founder Nate Hurto said that the community needs time to understand the potential impact of such a move.

“I think we really need to look at the impact that it could have communities have to the existing housing stock, and to the very nature and character of our neighborhood,” Hurton said. “How will it affect the existing stock of apartments, rentals, condos that are affordable? How will it affect businesses, especially along Mount Vernon Avenue and governed by the small area plan?”

Commissioner Stephen Koenig said that he was swayed by the input of residents.

“I’m certainly persuaded by the sort of breadth and depth of the input that we’ve had tonight,” he said.

Commissioner David Brown said that the City needs to reevaluate its approach.

“We we have a process where we figure out what works in particular places,” Brown said. “It’s called planning. We haven’t done any planning here. We need to look at each one of these zones, figure out what the likely impact is going to be in that zone and figure out whether or not that zone should be considered a candidate for affordable housing.”

According to the City:

At the core of the Bonus Density and Height Program of Section 7-700 is the idea that the affordable housing gained through incremental increases in density and height is a positive exchange.

Additionally, by its nature and in alignment with the City’s All Alexandria Resolution, the initiative provides affordable housing opportunities in locations that might otherwise not receive them, and this specific proposal could increase the likelihood of affordable housing in projects that are more mid-scale. Moreover, each project approved through this proposal would be reviewed rigorously and through a public process to ensure that additional density and/or height is designed in a way that respects the neighborhood.

The requirement that a project using this provision obtain a Special Use Permit means that all impacts of the project are thoroughly reviewed and mitigated as a condition of approval.

As for outreach, City staff noted:

The City undertook the following outreach: established a Bonus Height Webpage; developed and posted Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) in English, Spanish and Amharic; conducted two virtual community meetings–on April 12 (130 attendees) and May 19 (90 attendees); addressed questions during the meetings and posted Questions/Comments/Responses subsequent to the meetings; and advertised engagement opportunities through eNews and directly to Civic Associations and to those who contacted the City by email or other communication.

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Made in ALX pop-up display (photo via Made in ALX/Facebook)

Local handcrafted shop Made in ALX has been a staple of local pop-up markets but it will soon be getting a permanent home in Old Town North.

The local artist collective announced in a release that a retail store and workshop will open at 533 Montgomery Street next month. The grand opening is scheduled for Saturday, June 11, with preview shopping days on Saturday and Sunday, June 4 and 5, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Free underground parking for the shop is available at the 530 First Street garage.

“Made in ALX, a collective of more than 40 Alexandria-based makers, creators and artists, is opening a retail store and workshop space in the quickly growing Old Town North neighborhood,” Made in ALX said in a release. “Items in the shop will include candles, pet items, clothing, accessories, books, jewelry, household items, art and other items created by independent makers who live and work in Alexandria.”

The first workshop at the new location will be a candle-making class on June 4. Registration is available through the MadeinALX website.

Made in ALX also noted that the location will support Alexandria-based nonprofits Pawfectly Delicious, which provides jobs to residents with physical or mental challenges, and Rosie Riviters, a stem-focused educational organization.

“In addition to in-store shopping, Made in ALX offers online ordering with curbside pickup, local delivery or nationwide shipping,” the release said. “The website features more than 600 items from a diverse group of Alexandrians.”

Photo via Made in ALX/Facebook

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New development plans submitted to the City of Alexandria show a mixed arts-retail district that could be an integral part of designs to reshape Old Town North.

The new 349,000 square-foot Montgomery Center development fills the block from N. Royal Street to N. Fairfax Street and Madison Street to Montgomery Street, sandwiched between the one-acre Alexandria House Park and 2.4-acre Montgomery Park.

Developer Carr Companies submitted the plans for the redevelopment of Montgomery Center, drawn up by Cooper Carry, to the Urban Design Advisory Committee for Old Town North.

The development plans show two mostly-residential mixed-use buildings featuring retail and a 13,460 square foot arts venue. The core of the development will be split with a T-shape courtyard connecting the retail and arts center spaces. The project is planned to include 331 residential units.

The site will also include an event area with renderings of ice skating shown as a potential concept for the space.

The plans also show underground parking at the site.

A presentation of the development plan is available online.

Hat tip to an anonymous tipster

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