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Parking garage for 116 South Henry Street, image via City of Alexandria

Two years after plans to convert 116 South Henry Street into an automated parking garage first went to city review, the garage is going to the Board of Architectural Review again on Thursday (May 5) with some changes in mind.

The plan remains to build a 50-foot garage just off King Street, but the entrance is going through something of a redesign after the earlier designs were considered too “monolithic” at earlier hearings.

“The lower levels of the garage will be clad in black brick and the levels above will be clad in EIFS/Dryvit synthetic stucco,” the staff report said. “Entries on the first level will consist of two overhead rolling garage doors, an aluminum and glass storefront door system, and two pedestrian doors. Large backlit letters spelling ‘PARKING’ will be at the west end of the north elevation, above the entrances.”

The report comes with some potential changes to the visuals of the front of the building along with options for different lighting, though to the untrained eye they all still pretty much look the same.

Construction was approved in April for the three buildings on the site. The parking structure will be neighbored by a four-story residential building and a four-story mixed-use building.

Staff is recommending approval of the parking garage design, with a preference expressed for the fourth option.

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A Potomac Yard neighborhood could be getting its own residential permit parking district ahead of the opening of the nearby Potomac Yard Metro station.

At a Traffic and Parking Board meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. tonight (Monday), the board will review a staff recommendation that a new parkin district be created in the Potomac Greens neighborhood.

What form that district takes isn’t defined yet, but most respondents to a city survey said they supported the standard parkin restrictions: 2-hour parking 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Saturday except for permit holders.

“The responses received met the Code requirements for creating a new district,” the staff report said. “Staff received 155 responses from a total of 227 ballot letters sent, for a 68% response rate, exceeding the required 50% response threshold. Of these, 95% indicated they support the creation of the new district, exceeding the 60% required support threshold to proceed.

The staff report said the goal of the project is to protect the neighborhood from the impact of commuters looking for parking before boarding the Metro.

“The intent of this proposed RPP District is to mitigate the impact of commuter parking in the neighborhood that may arise due to its proximity to the future Potomac Yard Metro Station, which is anticipated to open in fall 2022,” the report said.

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Rendering of AHDC public park and courtyard, photo via AHDC

A surface parking lot in Arlandria could be converted into a park and playground for a new affordable housing development in the area.

At a meeting tonight, Alexandria’s City Council is scheduled to vote on an ordinance to sell the property at 3700 Mount Vernon Avenue, a surface parking lot in Arlandria. The property is part of a larger redevelopment project by the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation (AHDC) that will add 475 deeply affordable units and 38,000 square feet of commercial space.

Plans presented to the City Council show that the open courtyard will be a mix of open space, a play space for children, and a garden walk.

Conceptual plan for AHDC public park and courtyard, photo via AHDC
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A local working group has been making its way through plans to update and improve Fort Ward Park, and last week the project got a timeline for when the public could see some of those changes.

Following the Civil War, the fort was home to a sizable Black community that was later pushed out by the City of Alexandria in the name of obtaining park space and historical preservation of the Civil War-era fort.

Susan Cumbey, director for the Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site, said two of the changes coming to the park’s historical side are new exhibit panels and a new exhibit in the museum that tells the story of both the fort and the community that called it home in the years after the war.

There will be two new park exhibit panels that Cumbey said will help introduce visitors to the fort’s Civil War history and post-Civil War community. One will be located at the east side of the park near the museum and another will be on the west side.

“We’re planning on submitting draft details to the community sometime in the spring so fabrication and installation can take place in late summer and the fall,” Cumbey said.

Cumbey said the museum will also get a new exhibit and short film about the site’s history during and after the Civil War. The city is currently working through a grant process to try and secure additional funding for the exhibit.

“It will be more detailed than the exhibit panels in the park,” Cumbey said. “We will use the thematic framework of ‘bastions of freedom.’ The exhibit will be an important step toward equity.”

Cumbey said work will begin on the exhibit this year with installation targeted for late 2023 or early 2024.

A larger, more complex project, Cumbey said, is a planned interpretive trail that will run through the park.

“[The trail]¬†will include sites of homesteads, schoolhouse chapel site, burial areas,” Cumbey said. “A budget request [will be] be submitted for the fiscal year 2023 to get the ball rolling on that larger project.”

In addition to funding, Cumbey said the trail project will require additional public outreach.

In addition to changes to the historical presentation of the site, the park will be undergoing changes to bring it into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A city report noted that key locations in violation of ADA provisions include:

  • Vehicular parking areas
  • Picnic shelter
  • Playground

Part of the trail improvements will also include changes to the park layout that aim to make it more accessible, though additional archeological work will need to be done to ensure some planned changes like a playground relocation don’t end up damaging burial sites.

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One of the weird byproducts of the pandemic has been some rapid changes in zoning that were given widespread, impromptu pilot programs over the last year. One of those, the conversion of on-street parking to “parklets“, is being considered as a permanent zoning change.

A city presentation defined a parklet as the “conversion of an on-street parking space into an extension of the sidewalk, to be used for open space, public seating, or the use of an adjacent business for dining or retail.” Examples shown from other cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles show permanent features installed in former parking spaces.

Parklets went from non-existence to a common feature at many restaurants and businesses across the city over the last year. In some ways, the closure of the 100 block of King Street incorporates some parklet elements, like dining in what had previously been parking spaces. The outdoor space allowed for more social distancing while shopping. The city said a survey with around 2,700 responses found broad support for parklets.

According to the survey:

  • 91% of residents/visitors more likely to visit a restaurant with outdoor seating
  • 67% of residents/visitors have positive/very positive views of parklets
  • 74% of residents/visitors want to see parklet dining continue permanently
  • 66% of businesses want to see parklet dining continue permanently

Under the new ordinance, parklets would become a permitted encroachment, meaning a business, restaurant, or other development would apply to have on-street parking converted into some form of open space. Temporary parklets around the city, the report said, may be gradually converted into permanent ones.

The proposal to add parklets to city zoning is headed to the City Council tomorrow (Tuesday) for first reading, but the ordinance will still need to go back to the Traffic and Parking Board to get more details on guidelines like buffer space and Americans with Disabilities Act access.

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In a crowded City Council election, the Alexandria Democratic Committee split the candidates into two groups for moderated debates, which posted Tuesday night.

Alexandria journalist Michael Lee Pope moderated the discussion, which touched on critical talking issues in city races over the last few years, from parking to broadband to — of course — Seminary Road. Interestingly, the coronavirus pandemic was not a main topic of discussion.

ALXnow featured the first debate on Wednesday.

This debate featured candidates John Taylor Chapman, Sarah Bagley, Amy Jackson, Kevin Harris, Patrick Moran, Bill Campbell and Kirk McPike. Answers are summarized.

The Democratic primary is June 8.

Seminary Road

A number of candidates support reversing the  Seminary Road diet, which has been a controversial issue for years.

Chapman voted against the proposal in 2019, and said he would vote to reverse it.

Moran — “I think a lot of the framework in which these conversations are made are so permanent,” Moran said. “I would spend the money to undo it.”

Campbell — “I absolutely would not spend any additional money to change that unless there was some new information that came up with regards to safety,” Campbell said. “And then you have to be responsible to take a look at that.”

Jackson would also vote to undo it, although she said that future road diets would have to be considered on a case by case basis.

“This became a ‘he said, she said’ in a lot of ways that I don’t think anyone on council was prepared for when city staff brought it to us,” Jackson said. “That just means that we have to do our own sleuthing and know the questions to ask after we’ve done our homework.”

McPike said he would not undo the road diet.

“I would not initially in this next council session, vote to revert the road back to what it was,” McPike said. “The intersection at Howard and Seminary is going to change in the near future when Inova Hospital relocates to Landmark Mall, and we don’t know what the needs are going to be along that stretch of road once that has occurred.”

Harris — “It’s one of those things that we ought to wait and see how it plays out before we try to change anything,” Harris said. “Because we’ve already wasted too much money creating the road diet. I think that we could use this money in other places.”

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Dave Dolton moved to Potomac Yard last month, and with his new garage full of unpacked boxes has been parking on the street. One of his neighbors wasn’t too happy about his extended street parking, and left a strongly worded note on his windshield.

“Please don’t park and take up space on a street where you don’t live,” the note says. “Alexandria has parking rules — and your vehicle has been reported. Thank you.”

Dolton said that the note is hilarious.

“No idea which neighbor left the note,” Dolton wrote to ALXnow. “We moved here in early March, and I still can’t fit my car into our garage, due to all the boxes. We live in Potomac Yard, and while there are no posted signs, there is a rumor of not leaving your car here (if you don’t live here) for longer than 72 hours.”

In fact, it turns out that Potomac Yard is not in a residential permit parking district, and only general parking rules apply, such as no commercial vehicles can park in a residential area, no parking within 15 feet of a fire hydrant and the city’s 72-hour rule. There are few parking signs throughout Potomac Yard along and around Main Line Boulevard, which neighborhood residents say leads to rampant fraudulent parkers.

“It happens all the time,” said a Potomac Yard resident. “They come park here and they take an Uber and go to Reagan National Airport for a trip and leave their car parked here and nothing happens. Sometimes they will just park and take an Uber to the Metro. Imagine how it’s going to look at this new Potomac Yard Metro station they’re building.”

Alexandria does not enforce parking on private streets, according to the city. Accordingly, many of the streets on the garage side of homes are private streets owned by the Potomac Yard Homeowners Association.

“Transportation & Environmental Services staff are working with the Potomac Yard HOA to consider creating a residential permit parking district,” Alexandria Senior Communications Officer Andrea Jones Blackford told ALXnow. “This will be a public process that involves petitioning the residents and going to the Traffic and Parking Board and City Council for approval if there is neighborhood support.”

Blackford said that there are no current plans to install new signs and that the City does not install parking signs on private property.

Photo via Dave Dolton/Twitter

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Worried about driving and parking with expired tags? Alexandria is suspending its vehicle registration, safety inspection and emissions inspection requirements through October 31, and any parking tickets issued after July 19 will be voided and payments will be refunded.

“This follows the City’s prior suspension of enforcement, from mid-March through July 19, of the requirement to display a valid state safety inspection sticker while parked,” notes a city release. “Any parking tickets that were issued by the City for safety inspection violations after July 19 will be automatically voided, and any payments will be automatically refunded by October 16.”

Vehicle registrations can also be renewed online.

Virginia Department of Motor Vehicle locations throughout the state were closed from March 18 to May 18 due to coronavirus, prompting action from Governor Ralph Northam to extend the deadline on license renewals. That deadline has also been extended to October 31.

Alexandria’s DMV at 2681 Mill Road reopened on June 22. It is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon.

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After weeks of laissez-faire parking enforcement during the pandemic, Alexandrians may want to start being more careful about where they park later this month.

“The City of Alexandria will resume enforcement of residential¬†parking¬†zones, weekend meters, and other¬†parking¬†regulations beginning Monday, July 20,” the city said in a news release. “Enforcement has been temporarily suspended since March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

While residents could still be ticketed or towed for parking in restricted areas, the city went months without enforcing meter times. The city said regulations will start going back to their old enforcement at the end of the month, however, including:

  • Time restrictions for the general public in residential¬†parking¬†permit zones (signs in these zones include the language “residential permit-exempt”).
  • Saturday time restrictions and meter fees on blocks with pay stations (time restrictions and meter fees on blocks with pay stations will continue to be enforced on weekdays).
  • Time restrictions for street sweeping (signs pertaining to these restrictions prohibit¬†parking¬†during a one-hour window on a particular day of the week).
  • The prohibition against¬†parking¬†on the street for more than 72 hours.
  • The requirement to display a valid state inspection sticker.
  • The City suspended enforcement of these¬†parking¬†regulations to assist vehicle owners who were working from home, caring for others, or trying to ensure the flow of goods and services. As Virginia continues to reopen and state COVID-19 related restrictions are being lifted, the City has determined that it is now appropriate to resume normal¬†parking¬†enforcement.

There will be some form of grace period implemented to get people readjusted to the regulations, the city said.

“To give residents, visitors, and workers adequate time to adjust their¬†parking¬†routines, the City is giving advance notice before¬†parking¬†tickets are issued to cars in violation of posted restrictions,” the city said. “Residents who are still unable to move their vehicles on a regular basis may apply for an¬†exemption of the City’s 72-hour rule. To encourage continued physical distancing, temporary signed curbside pickup zones will remain in place at this time.”

File photo

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(Updated on May 16 at 12:00 p.m.) The director of Feed the Fight Alexandria was picking up 300 cupcakes from Alexandria Cupcake to donate to three Inova hospitals on May 6, when she found an unexpected surprise waiting on her windshield — a $40 parking ticket.

The ticket was later paid for by an Alexandria Police officer.

Ali De Jongh Whitley asked Mayor Justin Wilson for help after receiving the ticket by posting her grievance on the Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria! End Seminary Rd Diet & Other Bad Ideas Facebook page.

Whitley said she was parked outside Alexandria Cupcake at 1022 King Street in Old Town with the rear trunk door of her SUV left open, and was inside picking up the cupcakes for National Nurses Day.

“There were 3-4 large white bags in there as I was carrying bags filled with 25 cupcakes per bag into the car. I had 300 cupcakes to pick up to deliver to 3 INOVA hospitals for National Nurse’s Day,” Whitley wrote. “While I realized there was no parking on that side of the street, I was loading the car and there were NO other cars on King Street that morning. (ZERO!) I had my hazards on, and the parking police saw me walking back and forth loading the bags. I WAS STILL GIVEN A $40 ticket. I was shocked.”

Whitley added, “In the last 5 weeks, we have delivered over 4,000 meals to the frontline heroes in Alexandria. I am not asking for a pat on the back or a trophy, but what I am asking for is that this ticket be rescinded. I am asking¬†Justin Wilson¬†to speak with the Old Town Parking Enforcement officials who clearly made a rude call. Can I afford to pay the ticket, yes…Should I get a break, YES!!”

As Mayor, however, Wilson legally has no ability to direct staff to do anything. The city manager is the individual who runs the government, while the mayor and council direct the city manager with their votes and requests at various official council meetings and work sessions.

“Ali De Jongh Whitley, thanks for the important work that you are doing,” Wilson wrote Whitley in response. “I do not have the authority to cancel tickets, but if you drop me a line ([email protected]), I can help you navigate the process to contest the ticket.”

Whitley responded by saying that being given a ticket was wrong.

“Thank you for your prompt response. I will reach out to you,” she wrote. “We have been trying to keep the restaurants in… Alexandria afloat by supporting local and donating local to our INOVA partners. Most of the time, the restaurants deliver for me, but we¬†had to deliver to 3 separate hospitals that day, and it was impossible. I have such a bad taste in my mouth about the whole episode that I could no longer stew about it at home. It was wrong.”

When ALXnow spoke with Whitley, she said that the ticket had been paid for anonymously.

“I don’t know who paid for it,” Whitley said, and joked that “except for parking enforcement,” her organization wants to partner with the fire department and other city departments with uniformed officers.

It turned out later that the ticket was paid for by an Alexandria Police officer. One of the residents monitoring the Facebook page asked City Attorney Joanna Anderson for help on the issue.

“She looked into it and felt she could not legally intervene but got the word out and one of the police officers, Captain Fard took it upon himself to pay the ticket because his wife is a nurse and he wanted to thank Ali for her caring kindness!” resident Baraba Beach wrote. “So although I don’t believe a ticket should have been legally or morally issued in the first place, I do want to recognize the City staff who tried to right a wrong. Thank you again Ali and am so very sorry this happened to you!”

Staff photo by James Cullum

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