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Children and adults who missed their Hogwarts letter can celebrate Harry Potter’s birthday with a special tour of the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum.

This July 31, the Apothecary Museum will celebrate its annual Harry Potter guided birthday tour with the 25th anniversary of J.K Rowlings’ first wizarding book, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

The tours explore the apothecary and “the historic muggle medicines that inspired the Herbology and Potions of Harry’s wizarding world,” according to the City.

The Harry Potter tours have been popular for potions-masters-in-the-making for several years. The museum still has all of the original ingredients that were in the pharmacy when it closed in 1933, including cannabis, opium, Dragon’s Blood, Mandrake Root and Wolf’s Bane.

Tours are every 30 minutes from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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Bucatini Carbonara at Thompson Italian (image via Thompson Italian/Facebook)

The former Hank’s Oyster Bar location at 1024 King Street could become a new location for Thompson Italian, an Italian restaurant in Falls Church.

According to a new special use permit filing by “King Street Italian, LLC”, the Italian restaurant could be taking over the spot vacated by Hank’s in March when the restaurant moved to Old Town North.

According to the permit, the operation of the restaurant will remain consistent with previous special use permits except for a change to alcohol sales codified during the pandemic.

“The operation of the restaurant will remain consistent with the special use permit approval dated June 16, 2012, with the exception of the requested elimination of condition #12,” the application said. “The Applicant requests an amendment to the conditions to eliminate Condition #12 since the October 17, 2020 Zoning Ordinance amendment to Section 11-514 revised the special use permit standards for restaurants to state that ‘on and off premises alcohol sales, consistent with a valid ABC license are permitted.'”

The application said there will also be minor interior changes.

“Minor interior renovations are proposed to the lower level kitchen, main level service area, and other finishes as shown in the enclosed plans,” the application said. “Minor exterior changes are proposed to the doors, light fixtures, and signage. These changes have been reviewed by historic preservation staff.”

Image via Thompson Italian/Facebook

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Five years after the City Council struck down a plan to get a Business Improvement District (BID) up and running in Old Town, a discussion of BID frameworks is coming back to the city.

While the city earlier rejected the idea of a BID in Old Town, BID advocates managed to get the concept approved as part of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funding.

Approval of guidelines for the creation and management of a BID is scheduled for the upcoming Tuesday, June 28 City Council meeting (item 16).

“Earlier this year, City Council adopted their calendar year 2022 priorities, which included COVID-19 pandemic recovery: Identifying policies, practices and resources needed to ensure a resilient and equitable recovery for all residents and businesses,” staff wrote in the city docket. “Aligned with that priority, staff has created guidelines for City Council’s adoption that outlines how interested business communities, or proponent groups, can propose the formation of a Business Improvement District (BID).”

Back in 2017, some local business leaders and the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership (AEDP) spearheaded an effort to get a BID approved for Old Town, but they struggled to gain traction with business owners along King Street who balked at the idea of an additional tax for already struggling businesses.

The upcoming City Council meeting won’t be to approve the creation of any such BID, but will entail looking again at the guidelines for how a businesses in a commercial area can petition to create one.

“Groups of businesses in the City have expressed interest in exploring this tool as part of recovery efforts, and in recent years, the City has encouraged or required the formation of BIDs in new development areas,” the docket said. “The guidelines provide the framework and instructions for these groups to request BID formation — with the ultimate decision on formation determined by City Council on an application-by-application basis.”

The guidelines include a ten-step process, from informing the City that a BID is being considered through to tax ordinances and BID operations.

The item is scheduled just before “2022 City Council Priorities, Housing and COVID-19 Recovery Business Plans” on the docket, which at time of writing consist of blank placeholder pages.

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A proposal that could push the city’s skyline even higher in exchange for more affordable housing is headed to the Planning Commission this week ahead of City Council review early next month.

Leveraging additional height and density in exchange for affordable housing is one of the city’s main tools for getting the private sector to supply more affordable housing. Currently, however, that trade is limited to areas of the city where the maximum height is set upwards of 50 feet.

“The existing Bonus Height regulations allow for a maximum of 25 feet of Bonus Height to be granted to projects providing low- and moderate-income housing units at a number equivalent to at least one-third of the total increase achieved by the bonus, or a contribution to the City’s Housing Trust Fund in an amount equivalent to the value of the units that would have been provided,” the staff report said, “but only in zones or Height Districts with a height maximum of more than 50 feet.”

The report said there are several zones where additional height would be architecturally appropriate, but where the bonus height trade is prohibited because the maximum height is set at 50 feet or below.

A staff report said three options were considered, but the one ultimately are recommending that achievable height bonus stay capped at 25 feet of bonus height, but lowering the height maximum of zones for which it could be applied. In layman’s terms: the overall height won’t go up, but that trade will be applicable to more parts of the city.

The report includes some public feedback, including concerns about how the height change could negatively impact Alexandria’s historic neighborhoods.

“The primary activity of this commission is to acquire easements on open spaces, historic interiors and facades as well as, to protect the fabric of historic structures in general,” the Alexandria Historical Restoration and Preservation Committee wrote in a letter. “We feel that a blanket change of zoning areas presently limited to 50′ and 45′ heights would be harmful to the work of this commission and ultimately to our historic heritage.”

The letter said concerns about the new change include taller buildings reducing the perception of privacy in residential yards, the possibility that the change could drive further development on the open spaces of historic properties, and that it would add more traffic.

“This zoning change has the potential to increase traffic and noise that could encourage owners to further alter historic properties in an attempt to moderate these effects, reducing their likelihood of considering historic easements,” the letter said. “Most importantly, larger buildings will visually dominate our small historic structures and change the character of the area to such an extent that the historic value of preserving the history of our surviving buildings and open spaces may be lost on an already reluctant applicant.”

The letter said the overall concern is that the change would dramatically change the character of historic districts like Old Town.

“Towering buildings that transform our streetscape will be alien to our residents and make it harder for visitors to visually and mentally transport themselves back in time,” the letter said. “The authenticity of the historic districts of Alexandria make our city a uniquely desirable place to live, work and visit. Let’s not destroy our precious heritage. We urge the members of City Council to protect our historic districts by maintaining current height limits in the historic districts.”

Danny Smith, chair of the Historic Alexandria Resources Commission, wrote a four-page letter pointing out areas of the proposed policy that are vague or ambiguous and listed the historic sites that could neighbor sites with increased height.

“All of these historic resources, and their collective importance to Alexandria’s heritage, its character, its economy and its attraction of visitors from across the nation and worldwide would be jeopardized by the adoption of a 70-75′ height limit in and near the Historic Districts,” Smith wrote, “such a proposal should not be countenanced.”

Smith wrote that while affordable housing was a priority, the city shouldn’t neglect the role of tourism to the city’s economy.

“Based on public briefings to date, we must convey our strong concerns about allowing buildings in and near our historic districts and other historic resources to exceed the current, established limits for any reason,” Smith wrote.

The new regulations would only change that maximum height zone by five feet, taking that from 50 feet down to 45 feet, but that opens up large swaths of the city to that trade — including much of Old Town.  A map in a city report showed the areas covered under the new ordinance and ranked the likelihood that the additional height could be applied.

Despite most of Old Town being theoretically covered, the city report said it was unlikely to be applied to most of Old Town, but was likely to be applied to development along King Street and the Waterfront.

A map of where in Alexandria additional height is likely to be traded for affordable housing units, image via City of Alexandria

There are additional regulations at play that might keep the bonus height trade from being utilized in some development. For example, according to the report:

The current proposal would also formally prohibit Bonus Height from being used in relation to single-family, two-family, or townhouse dwelling types. In doing so, staff aims to further prevent the use of Bonus Height in areas of the City and in building typologies where additional height would not be appropriate.

The change is scheduled to go to the Planning Commission for review on Thursday, June 23, then to the City Council on Tuesday, July 5.

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Music, local food and beer is on tap this weekend for the Portside in Old Town Summer Festival at Waterfront Park.

This year, the event is merging with the 44th Annual Alexandria Jazz Fest, and the free events will be held on Friday (June 17) from 6 to 9 p.m. and Saturday from 1 to 9 p.m.

The Portside Festival is organized by Visit Alexandria and the City’s Office of the Arts.

“New this year, the event merges with the  on Friday evening to showcase jazz performances and readings by Alexandria poets,” Visit Alexandria said on its website. “Saturday the festival continues with an eclectic musical lineup, local food, hands-on art and history activities and more.”

Food will be provided by Borinquen Lunch Box, Chalkboard Wings & BBQ, Dolci Gelati and The Italian Place.

Additionally, Port City Brewing Company will provide these beers:

  • Optimal Wit (Belgian-style white ale, 4.9%)
  • Beach Drive (Golden ale, 4%)
  • Downright Pilsner (Bohemian style pilsner)
  • 4.8%; Monumental (IPA, India pale ale, 6.7%)

Friday schedule

  • 6 to 6:15 p.m. — Opening remarks
  • 6:15 to 7 p.m. — Cubano Groove
  • 7:15 to 8 p.m. — VERONNEAU
  • 8:15 to 9 p.m. — Eric Byrd Trio

There will be poetry read between sets by:

  • Zeina Azzam, Alexandria’s Poet Laureate
  • KaNikki Jakarta, Alexandria’s former Poet Laureate
  • An up-and-coming Alexandria youth poet

Saturday Schedule

  • 1 to 1:15 p.m. — Opening remarks
  • 1:15 to 2 p.m. — Eli Lev (folk rock)
  • 2:30 to 3:15 p.m. — La Unica (Irish Latin rock)
  • 3:45 to 4:30 p.m. — ilyAIMY (folk rock)
  • 5 to 5:45 p.m. — Rob Curto’s Forró for All (Brazilian forró)
  • 6:15 to 7:15 p.m. — Ras Band (Ethiopian reggae, jazz and funk)
  • 7:45 to 9:00 p.m. — Pablo Antonio y La Firma (salsa, merengue and bachata)

Via Facebook

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Updated at 4 p.m. A 29-year-old man was seriously injured after being shot in the Braddock area on Thursday night.

Police responded to the incident in the 700 block of North Fayette Street at 12:36 a.m., and it was reported by Alexandria Police via Twitter at 1:23 a.m.

The victim was shot outdoors, according to police.

A resident who lives in the area said that she heard five gunshots.

“I ran to my child’s room to get her onto the floor and off her bed that is directly next to a window,” the resident said. “Today we will be rearranging her bedroom.”

Police tweeted that there was a heavy police presence due to the incident, which occurred near Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority property.

No arrests have been made in connection with the incident, which remains under investigation, police said.

Via Google Maps

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The long-awaited Freedom House Museum had a preview event today (Thursday) ahead of the museum’s full opening tomorrow (Friday, May 27).

The museum turns the Franklin and Armfield Office, once a complex devoted to trafficking thousands of Black men, women and children between 1828 and 1861, into a three-floor set of exhibits dedicated to exploring the lives and legacies of the enslaved people who passed through the city.

The building had been home to the Northern Virginia chapter of the Urban League with the bottom floor set aside as an exhibit about slavery, but the city purchased the building in early 2020 and decided on a new museum that would shift the tone of the museum to focus more on the enslaved people than on the lives of the slavers.

The new museum is divided into three floors. The ground floor tells the story of enslaved people trafficked through the building. Some of those are personal narratives, like stories from newspaper clippings or memoirs. One of the stories in the exhibit is about Lewis Henry Bailey, a man freed from slavery in Texas who walked back to Alexandria to reunite with his family. Gretchen Bulova, director of the Office of Historic Alexandria, emphasized that Bailey’s experience was the outlier: most of those who came through the offices in Alexandria were never reunited with their families.

The Franklin and Armfield Office was required to keep a manifest showing names and ages of enslaved people leaving Alexandria by boat. A replica of the manifest is on display in the main hallway, surrounded by names and ages from the list. The ages run from 27 and 28 down to children one or two years old.

Tracy Revis, exhibit designer for the firm Howard+Revis Design, said the manifest was a “Rosetta Stone” for gathering information on people trafficked through the facility, providing names and ages for victims even when no other documentation for them exists.

While the majority of those trafficked through the building were sent away on a ship, less documentation exists for an overland route that went west. Bulova said that’s the next frontier for the museum’s research. While there is no manifest like for those who were sent off by ship, Bulova said there are still other notes or references in other documents, like papers from a business partner in Richmond.

A room in the back of the ground floor highlights archeological evidence from the site, from a diorama of the complex’s layout to items recovered from the ground — including a coin from Ch’ing dynasty China, a small cameo, and a tin enamel cup used for dining. Benjamin Skolnik, city archeologist and fresh off re-sinking historic ships in Ben Brenman Pond, described the archeology at the site as a kind of sleuthing — requiring some puzzle solving and historical detective work to put the pieces together.

The second floor of the building is dedicated to stories of Black Americans from slavery through modern Civil Rights fights. The preview day featured visits by Shirley Lee, recognized as the world’s first certified Black female scuba diver, and jass music innovator and educator Arthur Dawkins.

The second floor also includes exhibits dedicated to both Civil Rights fights in Alexandria during the 20th century and today, with a note about backtracking on Civil Rights legislation highlighting the Shelby County v. Holder which struck down portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

“It’s challenging in part because history is still being made,” said Karen Sherry, determined exhibition curator at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture. “We usually plan exhibits years in advance and the big curatorial challenge is: who do you focus on? That problem is magnified with a 400-year sweep.”

Part of the museum’s solution, Sherry said, is an interactive portion of the exhibit that allows visitors to write the names of Civil Rights activists on cards to add to the story.

The third-floor exhibit has paintings by Sherry Zvares Sanabria, part of a series called “Sites of Conscience” that depict buildings related to slavery, worship and education for Black Americans — many of which are or were threatened with being destroyed or altered.

Audrey Davis, director of the Alexandria Black History Museum, said the goal is for Freedom House to be a continually evolving and growing museum. The current museum will remain open for around three years, then Davis said it will temporarily close again for another expansion. Part of that expansion may include access to the lower floor, where the original museum was located. The area is currently closed to the public and turning this space into a new exhibit comes with a few challenges.

For one, Davis and Skolnik said the lower floor is currently only accessible via stairs, meaning it isn’t Americans with Disabilities Act accessible unless the elevator is adjusted to run to the basement level.

Another challenge, and a more daunting one from a curatorial perspective, is the basement represents one of the darkest parts of the site: a punishment area Skolnik described as a dungeon. The basement was notorious even when the site was in operation as a trafficking hub. Skolnik said visitors, many of them abolitionists, would ask about the basement only to be lied to by the building owners that there was no basement.

“That’s the hardest part of the building to adapt,” Skolnik said. “It’s hard for people coming through to see that.”

Davis said more research also needs to be done on what took place in the basement to be able to fully tell that story.

“In everything we do, we want to put the humanity of the enslaved first,” Davis said. “We’re trying to follow best practices… There’s so much we want to do.”

The grand opening for the museum is scheduled for June 20, the Monday after Juneteenth, but the exhibit will be open to the public starting on Friday, May 27.

“Research is ongoing all the time,” Davis said. “It’s not only about the tragedy and horror, but about the resilience of African Americans.”

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Tea served at Lady Camellia (photo via Lady Camellia/Facebook)

Six months after Lady Camellia Pastry and Tea Room first announced it was looking to move into Alexandria, the owners seem to have found their new waterfront home.

According to a special use permit, Macaron Bee is applying to move into 225 Strand Street. Restaurant owner Deborah Kim said while the name on the special use permit is Macaron Bee, the location will be Lady Camellia Pastry and Tea Room.

The tea room, once described by Washington City Paper as “a six-year-old’s tea party fantasy“, had been located in Georgetown before it closed last year.

Kim said plan is to open late this year.

“[We’re opening] towards the end of the year; sometime in the fall,” Kim said. “We’re trying to serve British-style afternoon tea and high tea dinner.”

Image via Lady Camellia/Facebook

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After its annual winter and spring hiatus, Goodie’s Frozen Custard & Treats is officially reopening its doors in Old Town on Thursday (May 26).

Owner Brandon Byrd says that most of his costs have increased by more than 100% due to inflation, but he isn’t raising prices.

“I’m not raising prices,” Byrd told ALXnow. “Eggs, heavy cream, sugar — the cost has gone up, but we’re not making our treats any less affordable.”

Goodies officially opened its doors to the public in the the 1930s-era ice house at 200 Commerce Street over Memorial Day weekend last year. The shop sells one flavor — vanilla — and customers choose from a myriad of toppings. Snacks include rum cake, cinnamon rolls and doughnuts.

The shop will be open Thursday through Sunday from noon to 6 p.m., or whenever they sell out. Byrd says that the public should follow the latest for the frozen custard shop on its Instagram page.

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Thousands of visitors strolled through Old Town on Sunday (May 22) to check out dozens of classic cars.

The third annual Old Town Festival of Speed & Style took up the 200-to-400 blocks of King Street and the 100 blocks of North Royal and North Fairfax Streets.

The event, which features some rare and unusual supercars, was sponsored by Burke & Herbert Bank.

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