Alexandria, VA

Move over Meghan Markle, there’s a Princess scandal in town.

The long back-and-forth saga over a new trio of new homes is scheduled to continue later this month when the applicant returns to the Board of Architectural Review on Wednesday, March 17.

The applicant is hoping to build three new single family dwellings on three small parcels, but the lot has sat empty since 1893 and nearby neighbors are pushing back against a development they say is crowding in.

The resident of 1403 Princess Street spoke at an earlier public hearing to describe how the new development would be pressed up against the front door of his house — built on the side of the building under the erroneous assumption that the parcel next door wouldn’t be developed.

The project made some changes as a result of earlier input from the Board of Architectural Review but the core design of the project remains intact as it heads to public review later this month.

Staff are recommending approval of the project.

Images via City of Alexandria

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Morning Notes

Virginia State Police Car Chase Ends With Arrest — “State police found the vehicle heading north on the Beltway near Braddock Road. A state trooper tried to stop the vehicle, but the driver sped away. Police say the vehicle reached speeds above 100 mph and struck three vehicles and a trooper’s vehicle during the pursuit.” [Patch]

Stomping Ground to Open ‘The Alley’ — “The Alley’s menu is available for sampling now at Stomping Ground, at 2309 Mt. Vernon Ave. Stomping Ground is the brainchild of Nicole Jones, who is also working on opening a new venture at The Atrium in Old Town.” [Alexandria Living]

Nominations Open for Alexandria Celebrates Women Awards — “Know an essential worker who has benefited Alexandria in a positive way? A nurse, postal worker, or law enforcement official? The selection period is open until March 15.” [Zebra]

Lost Boy Cider Awarded at Governor’s Cup — “Alexandria’s own Lost Boy Cider won several awards at the 2021 Virginia Governor’s Cup and is in the running for Best in Show. This is the first year that Virginia cider was judged in its own category. There were 27 entries in 2021 in the cider category. Lost Boy Cider’s 2020 Comeback Kid won a gold medal.” [Alexandria Living]

Old Town Irish Pubs Having Guinness Contest — Participate in the Guinness Challenge between Murphy’s and O’Connell’s! Help both restaurants sell 10,000 pints of Guinness for the benefit of Christ House Food Pantry of Alexandria.” [Twitter]

50% Off All Things Meatball at Lena’s on National Meatball Day — “National Meatball Day is Tuesday, March 9! To celebrate, Lena’s Wood-Fired Pizza & Tap is offering 50 percent off on on all menu items that include meatballs. So have a plate of spaghetti, a pizza, or panini.” [Zebra]

Today’s Weather — “Sunny (during the day). High around 45F. Winds NW at 10 to 20 mph… A mostly clear sky (in the evening). Low 29F. Winds WNW at 10 to 15 mph.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Pool Technician — “Starting pay for candidates with no experience is $36,000/yr. Candidates with 1+ years of experience in the pool service field should expect starting pay of $38,000+/ yr. You must have the capability of operating independently and the ability to drive our vehicles (pickup trucks and vans), a clean driving record is required.” [Indeed]

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This Neighborhood Spotlight is brought to you by The Seward Group of TTR Sotheby’s International Realty.

Welcome to our first Neighborhood Spotlight. We are pleased to present this new monthly column that will highlight the vast array of Alexandria neighborhoods.

This month’s Neighborhood Spotlight lands on Old Town.

The saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” holds true for a town’s name. Our beloved Old Town Alexandria is historic and charming, but it’s changing and showing itself as anything but old in 2021. Vibrant and full of life, Old Town is the perfect place to call home — or simply visit for an afternoon or a night on the town. Check out the top five things to see and do in Old Town Alexandria.

Known for its rich history, Old Town is located just 6.5 miles north of George Washington’s Mount Vernon home and 5 miles south of Washington, D.C. Recently, Old Town has been welcoming many new businesses and new residences, making it a true melding of historic charm (dating from the 1700s) to today’s modern life. Whether you’re visiting or a resident, the rich history and attractions are not to be missed!

Named one of the Top 5 Best Small Cities in the U.S. in 2020 by Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards and one of the South’s Best Cities by Southern Living, one would have a hard time disagreeing. Old Town boasts a Walk Score of 85, Bike Score of 80 and a strong transit score as it is both Metro and water taxi accessible and only 3.5 miles to Reagan National Airport. Commuters enjoy many options, including two metro stations (King Street and Braddock Road), the 11Y Express Bus (runs north/south on GW Parkway to/from downtown Washington, D.C. and Mount Vernon), 495 and Route 1. Check out more of Old Town’s national accolades!

The Community

What makes Old Town Alexandria the best community? The people, of course… but also, the dogs! You won’t get far walking on King Street before you see water bowls, biscuit offerings and even signs for free treats for our four-legged pals if you pop inside. Known as one of the top dog-friendly locations in the country, hotels, restaurants and shops alike are ready for your pups to move about town with you.

Old Town Alexandrians love their town, their neighbors and their community — and it shows. Alexandria has a rich history of philanthropy and community involvement.

Some popular local nonprofits include:

…and so many more!

Dining & Shopping

One of the most unique things about Old Town is that it has only a few national chains and is populated by many small, independent businesses. The newly revived Waterfront is a wonderful place to people-watch, grab a bite to eat and catch the water taxi to Nationals Park or National Harbor!

Old Town’s culinary scene includes a variety of favorite restaurants, many of which are housed in historic buildings. From seafood to Italian to French bistros, Old Town has it all! A sampling of our favorite family-run restaurants includes Taverna Cretekou and Landini Brothers. Other favorites include Hummingbird, Ada’s on the River and Virtue Feed & Grain.

As for hotels, The Alexandrian Hotel is our team’s favorite place for photo shoots. The Gadsby Tavern & Inn is a favorite tourist destination hosting local events and even yoga in the ballroom! The Lorien features its own on-site spa, The Morrison House is a small boutique and luxury hotel, and Hotel Indigo is the newest addition on the waterfront.

In 2019, Forbes named Old Town Alexandria the “Ice Cream Cone Capital of the United States” for good reason! Where do we start? Pop’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream Company, Kilwins on King Street, Ben and Jerry’s, and Jeni’s on Patrick.

To work off your ice cream, Old Town provides a fitness lovers paradise with jogging and bike paths nearby and many wonderful fitness and yoga studios.

Old Town’s Farmer’s Market is a local favorite every Saturday, not to mention it’s the oldest farmer’s market in the country consistently held at the same location! Did you know that George Washington sent produce from his farm to this market to be sold? Visitors and locals alike love the abundant selection of fresh local produce, baked goods, various ethnic delicacies and dairy products. The market also boasts a wonderful selection of local artisans!

Our Local Favorites

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Morning Notes

Famed Jewish Songstress Dies in Alexandria at 97 — “Singer, songwriter, guitarist and accordionist Flory Jagoda worked hard to preserve the music and language she inherited from her Sephardic Jewish ancestors in her adopted American home. Named a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2002, she died on Jan. 29 at age 97 in Alexandria, Va. at a long-term memory care facility, according to an obituary placed by her family.” [NPR]

Virginia American Water Identifies Source of Water Main Break — “The issue on S Whiting Street was identified to be a broken valve which has been repaired. We are slowly restarting service and it may already be on for some customers. We anticipate it will be fully restored within two hours.” [Twitter]

Collective Bargaining Taking Center Stage Next Week in Alexandria — “Very important meetings coming up next week regarding the Collective Bargaining agreement in #Alexandriava.” [Twitter]

Alexandria Mindfulness Educator Training Police —  “”We think officers could have some benefit in wellness course training. This course introduces strategies to regulate emotional states in a trauma-sensitive way, planting the seed of mindfulness, with the hope that they will continue to learn about it more in-depth later.” [Zebra]

FEMA Updating Flood Map in Alexandria — “While the flood maps are exclusively a FEMA initiative, the City of Alexandria plays a role in determining how the final flood maps could look. The City will provide feedback on preliminary maps and facilitates feedback and information between individual residents and FEMA.” [Alexandria Living]

Today’s Weather — “Mostly sunny skies (during the day). High 52F. Winds NW at 10 to 20 mph… Mainly clear (in the evening). Low 26F. Winds NW at 10 to 20 mph.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Youth Soccer Coach — “Soccer Shots blends soccer, education, and fun into high energy 30-minute sessions to kids ages 2-8 throughout the DC/MD/VA area. You’ll laugh. You’ll break a sweat. And you’ll go home at the end of the day knowing that you made a difference. It may be tough but coaching our children will be one of most rewarding things you ever do. Apply today to be our friend and their hero.” [Indeed]

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Updated at 2:30 p.m. — Vice President Kamala Harris managed to stitch a visit to Old Town knitting store fibre space (1319 Prince Street) into the day’s agenda.

It was the vice president’s first official visit to a small business since she took office in January. Harris spoke for more than a half hour with owner Danielle Romanetti and her staff about the impact of the pandemic and the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill that’s working its way through the U.S. Senate.

“We have to understand… who are the folks who have been sacrificing on the front lines, and really are part of not only the economic engine, but to your point, the vitality of the community,” Harris said. “We have, for example, as part of the American Rescue Plan $15 billion that goes just into to small businesses. We have been paying a lot of attention to the fact that during COVID, two-and-a-half million women have left the workforce.”

Alexandria City Councilman John Taylor Chapman arranged the visit after being contacted last week by the vice president’s office.

“The vice president’s office was looking to chat with small, locally women- owned businesses and reached out to me and I connected them with fibre space,” Chapman told ALXnow. “It’s definitely an honor that she chose Alexandria for her first visit out of the White House. It was great to have her come across the river and spend time with us.”

Romanetti got a call from the White House on Friday, and opened her store after the visit at 2 p.m. She said that Harris likes to crochet, bought a hoodie for her daughter with the printed message “Come the apocalypse I will have clothing” on it, and talked about the relief that small businesses will experience in the event of the bill’s passage.

Communications officials on Harris’ staff said the vice president was discussing what women in the workforce are going through and how to get them the support needed.

“She’s actually really easy to talk to, and, and it was very comfortable,” Romanetti said. “Her daughter, Ella, is a knitwear designer who just was in Vogue. She just signed a contract with a with a designer to do a line of knitwear.”

Fibre space was one of several stores that took a severe hit last year from the pandemic. The store has been able to weather the last year with a PPP loan, a COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan and two small federally funded business grants from the City.

“I am hopeful that this bill will pass, and that it’s going to put a lot of money into small businesses,” Romanetti said. “A lot of business owners are wondering if there is gonna be more loan money available. We also need vaccines, and we need schools to safely reopen because those are also huge issues for business owners. That’s also a huge part of the relief bill.”

Shop employee Maiya Davis talked with her about her pandemic experience. She’s worked there for two-and-a-half years, and was forced to completely shift her life last March.

“We basically had to learn new jobs overnight,” Davis said. “It was a job that just kept changing depending on which struggles we were facing that day. We had to deal with stressed out customers, we had to deal with running a web store all of a sudden, which is something we hadn’t done before. And then we also had to deal with the loss of our community space.”

Alexandria marketing strategist Maurisa Potts was also in attendance, and told Harris about the experiences that dozens of her small business clients have experienced.

“From where I sit in having to service these clients and getting their message out and communicating the hardships and the innovation that’s been happening during this time, a relief package like this will greatly help them,” Potts said.

Vernon Miles and James Cullum contributed to this article.

Photos via Peter Velz/Twitter and fibre space

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The Basilica School of Saint Mary (310 S Royal Street) in Old Town could grow by two new buildings if a new development application goes through.

The Catholic Diocese of Arlington is requesting permission to build a new library and media center at their 400 Green Street property.

“St. Mary’s has operated on the Property since 1948, and has grown and changed along with the needs of the student body and the community,” the diocese said in the application. “The proposed addition would connect two school buildings on the Property and allow students to safely travel between the two classroom buildings. Site improvements include reorienting the parking lot and student pick-up and drop-off area, adding one elevator for ADA accessibility, and other landscaping and playground improvements.

Even with the added buildings, the diocese said the floor area ratio (FAR) of 0.7 is still significantly below the permitted 1.5 FAR.

“The proposed addition connects the southeast corner of the Main Building with the northwest corner of Stephen’s Hall and contains approximately 19,298 square feet of floor area on the library level,” the diocese said.

The proposal will also add a new tower to the campus, described as “architecturally distinct from the existing cupola” but still borrowing from parts of the main design.

The new design also aims to cut down on the traffic from the school piling up on nearby streets.

“Currently, the existing pick-up and drop-off pattern involves significant queuing in surrounding streets and neighborhood,” the diocese said. “In order to internalize the pick-up and drop-off traffic, the Applicant proposes to reorient the pick-up and drop-off area to the rear of the school, behind the gym. Parents will enter the School from South Royal Street, drive under the proposed addition to the rear of the school, where faculty will direct the pick-up and drop-off process. To exit the School grounds, they will drive down a one-way alley along the western side of the Main Building and exit on to Green Street.”

The item is scheduled for review at the Thursday, April 8, Planning Commission meeting.

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Old Town waterfront restaurant Virtue Feed and Grain could make a recent its outdoor dining expansion permanent if the closure of a nearby alleyway by the waterfront goes through.

At the Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday, March 2, the city is putting forward a proposal to close Wales Alley between S. Union and Strand streets to vehicle traffic.

According to the staff report, the closure would allow Virtue Feed and Grain at 106 S. Union Street to expand an outdoor dining accommodation granted last spring.

According to the report

In Spring 2020, the Virtue Feed and Grain submitted a request to use more of the alley for outdoor dining. Indoor dining was limited, and additional space was needed to meet social distancing requirements. To accommodate this request, the City temporarily closed the alley to vehicular traffic to allow the restaurant to expand further north into the alley, while maintaining pedestrian access along the north side. This expansion was approved through the City’s temporary outdoor dining program that was created to allow for additional dining space in the public right of way. The concept of closing this portion of Wales Alley had also been discussed prior to the pandemic as a way to provide additional pedestrian space and more connections to the Waterfront.

The report notes that the city would continue to own the alleyway, but would operate licensing agreements for its use with nearby business owners. Staff also said that, in addition to helping a local restaurant, the closing would help further advance plans to increase pedestrian access and circulation around the waterfront.

“This portion of the alley does not provide any significant benefit to traffic circulation,” the report said. “By eliminating vehicles from this area, more space is provided for pedestrians and reduces conflicts.”

Staff recommended approval of the closure in the report.

Photo via Virtue Feed and Grain/Facebook

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U.S. Sen. Mark Warner has lived in Old Town for 35 years, and on a freezing Monday morning he learned about the lives of enslaved and free Blacks via a tour with Alexandria City Councilman John Taylor Chapman.

“We have to tell the whole story — the good, the bad, the ugly,” Warner told ALXnow. “I’ve lived in Alexandria for 35 years and I’m hearing some of these stories for the first time.”

Chapman, who founded the Manumission Tour Company in 2015 to tell stories about the struggle for freedom in Alexandria, said that he’s been trying to get VIPs like Warner to take one of his tours for years.

“We’ve had thousands of people come here (on Manumission tours),” Chapman said. “We’ve had family reunions, we’ve had VIPs… and a lot of out of town guests. So, I like to say especially for political reasons, I’m adding to the city coffers with my tourism company and my business taxes as well.”

The seven-block tour lasted just under an hour and included Lloyd House, the Fairfax-Moore-Montague House, the Oscar Ball runaway site, the Moses Hepburn homes, Gadsby’s Tavern and City Hall. Alexandria was a duty-free port of call with one of the largest slave trading operations in the country, making it a popular destination during the 19th century.

Warner, who acknowledged that Monday was a difficult day weather-wise to conduct an outdoor tour, attended in recognition of February as Black History Month.

“We lived last year through COVID, the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, an unprecedented election, and then starting on January 6, an insurrection at the Capitol,” Warner told ALXnow. “The history of this country, the history of our city, the history of the Commonwealth is a lot different than the history that probably I got taught with my school books back in the 1960s.”

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Morning Notes

Beyer Praises U.S. Rejoining Paris Climate Agreement — “Excellent news. At last!” [Twitter]

Alexandria library Launches Mobile App — “Library access is now available everywhere you go. Alexandria Library today launched its new mobile app, making their whole catalog and more available on your smartphone.” [Zebra]

Windsor of Old Town Celebrates 40 years in Business — “When Donna Windsor opened her shop on Valentine’s Day in 1981, she couldn’t have known that by the time 2021 rolled around she’d be celebrating 40 years operating Windsor of Old Town, outlasting scores of nearby businesses that opened and closed in the process.” [Zebra]

Fire Chief Participates in EMS Training — “Fire/EMS Chief @SmedleyCorey goes through an EMS scenario in our simulation lab with Firefighter Fiera Givens and Medic Beth Honaker during advanced life support training earlier today.” [Twitter]

City Offering Free Webinars on Medicare — “DCHS is offering a series of free virtual workshops about Medicare for residents who are new to the health care coverage or a caregiver for a Medicare beneficiary. Next workshop: Original Medicare, March 2, 10-11 am. Register at alexandriava.gov/Aging.” [Twitter]

Today’s Weather — “Rain and snow in the morning changing to rain late. Some mixed winter precipitation possible. High 41F. Winds SSW at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 100%. Snow accumulations less than one inch… A few clouds (in the evening). Low 33F. Winds W at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New Job: School Portrait Photographer — “The oldest school picture company in America is seeking photographers in the Fairfax County and surrounding Regions for the upcoming 2021 Spring school photography season.” [Indeed]

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