This week in Alexandria, some long-planned changes around town started to take shape.
The biggest is that the Victory Center’s days may well be numbered, with developer Stonebridge and city staff currently in back-and-forth discussions over whether the building should be entirely demolished or not.
- Stonebridge submits plans for Victory Center demolition and redevelopment
- Suspects chased by police, ditch stolen car in Old Town
- Alexandria rolls out speed camera plans ahead of implementation next year
- Spicy chicken chain Hangry Joe’s opens in Alexandria Commons
- No arrests after commercial robbery across street from City Hall in Old Town
- Two more Covid deaths in Alexandria, cases surpass 40,000
- What is cut-through traffic and how does your phone help Alexandria track it?
- Alexandria rolls out new design for bus stops
- These restaurants, salons and other businesses are for sale in Alexandria
- The Torpedo Factory Art Center needs volunteers, and so do a lot of organizations in Alexandria
The aim of the change is to make parking in garages more appealing. Currently, many Old Town garages sit empty while drivers circle blocks looking for on-street parking.
“One change was to allow these blocks to have higher rates than the meter blocks,” Katye North, division chief for mobility services said in an email. “We’ve identified blocks that seem to have higher numbers of paid parking transactions, meaning there are more non-residents paying to park on these blocks than other residential pay by phone blocks.”
North said the price of parking on those blocks will nearly double.
“To encourage people to park elsewhere, we’ll be increasing the hourly parking rate from $1.75 (current meter rate) to $3,” North said. “The hours of restrictions and the two hour time limit remain unchanged and guests can still park for free if they have a guest permit.”
The second part of the change is incentivizing garage parking.
“In coordination with this increase, we are also reducing the hourly rate at the Courthouse Garage on nights and weekends to $1/hour (currently $2.50/hour),” North said. “We are hoping these changes will encourage people to use the cheaper off-street parking. Over the next few months, we’ll continue to monitor the data for these blocks and the garage to see if it’s making an impact and adjust as needed.”
The City of Alexandria is planning to build a new sidewalk on the north side of Polk Avenue, but the city’s plans have some neighbors concerned about the construction’s impact on the nearby park and the neighborhood’s parking situation.
The city is planning to build a new sidewalk that connects two dead-end stretches of sidewalk that cut off abruptly into dense underbrush. The city said the sidewalk construction will help students in the neighborhood walk to Polk Elementary and Hammond Middle School — though students will have to cross the street anyway to get to Polk.
The sidewalk will bump right up against Polk Park’s steep hillside and remove the street parking on the north side of the street. Around 80% of the sidewalk will be built on the street, but some of that remaining 20% will cut into the forested part of the park.
“The purpose of this project is to fill a sidewalk gap on Polk Avenue near Pelham Street,” the city said on its website. “Currently, the existing sidewalk on Polk Avenue ends, forcing people to either walk in the street or cross Polk Avenue to continue along their route. Filling this sidewalk gap would provide a more continuous path for people walking to the park, to Polk Elementary, and to Hammond Middle School.”
The concerns from some of the neighbors are twofold:
- The new sidewalk will remove nine parking spots from a neighborhood where parking can already be scarce.
- The new sidewalk potentially cuts into the toe slope of the hill, which concerns neighbors who worry about how it could affect the stability of the Polk Park hillside.
Carol James, a resident near Polk Avenue, said there’s already a parking scarcity in the neighborhood but acknowledged that where the cars are currently parked on Polk Avenue is city property.
James wrote testimony for a meeting scheduled tonight:
The proposed sidewalk at 5325 Polk Avenue is entirely within the City’s street right of way. So, it’s [Transportation & Environmental Services’] call. That does not make it right. Removing parking is not without cost. A friend of mine sold her parking place for $50,000 a decade ago. A condo development is asking $10,000 to buy a space. Granted, Polk Ave. parking is public not private. But land is land and it is not without value to those who share its space and place, no matter what sleight-of-hand accounting method you use. Our community values 9 parking spaces. T&ES obviously doesn’t.
James also pushed back against the sidewalk plans in a letter to the editor published by the Alexandria Times in April.
The environmental side of the neighborhood pushback concerns the 20% of the sidewalk build in the underbrush. The project will cut into the toe slope — the bottom of the soil mass comprising the slope. It’s an ecological argument reminiscent of discussions in 2021 about the restoration of Taylor Run.
Rod Simmons, City Natural Resource Manager and one of the vocal opponents to the Taylor Run restoration plans, pointed to the Alexandria Geologic Atlas which identified potential issues with construction on the slope of Polk Park.
The hillside next to the sidewalk construction is marked in red on the city’s slope stability map, indicating that the slope contains high levels of expandable clay materials and, more importantly from a development perspective, is already prone to landslides.
Paying to park your car in Alexandria by phone could be getting more expensive soon.
Alexandria’s City Council voted unanimously on Saturday to enable staff to up the cost of pay-by-phone parking.
The current rate in those zones is $1.75 per hour, but the new ordinance would allow the Director of Transportation and Environmental Services to set a rate of up to $5 per hour.
The goal of the change is to push drivers parking in Old Town towards the city’s underused garages, though several members of the City Council noted that’s unlikely to happen without more wayfinding toward those garages.
Council member Sarah Bagley said it might be worth looking into adding additional signs, either as standalone A-frame signs or onto the existing parking signs, highlighting where the nearest parking garage is. Another suggestion from City Council member Kirk McPike was allowing local restaurants to validate parking. City staff said both options would be examined.
One possibility raised to alleviate parking woes of residents of Old Town residents unable to park near their homes was to set more zones as residential-only, but city staff said there are several problems with this option.
“The conversation about resident-only parking has been recurring,” said Yon Lambert, director of the city’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Services. “It was considered in previous iterations of the Old Town Parking Study. Something we need to consider: if we’re going to dig our teeth into resident-only parking, we’re looking at reconvening the Old Town Parking Study to make sure we have all stakeholders represented.”
But City Attorney Joanna Anderson said there legal issues with residential-only parking.
“There are some constitutional issues with completely residential only parking,” Anderson said. “We are looking at it, but it is more difficult for fully resident-only parking than it is to allow some outside users like we are now.”
The ordinance was unanimously approved by the City Council.
Auxiliary housing hasn’t taken off like the City of Alexandria hoped, but city staff are hopeful loosening some restrictions — including parking — could kick the housing type into gear.
The goal is to provide a boost to market-rate affordable housing which has been in freefall in Alexandria for years. While auxiliary housing hasn’t been as widespread as city officials might have hoped, a staff report prepared for an upcoming Planning Commission indicated that city staff are hopeful that eliminating parking requirements for auxiliary housing in “enhanced transit areas” could incentivize more commercial property owners to add residential units.
According to a map in that report, “enhanced transit areas” cover nearly all of the city except some of the more residential areas in central Alexandria like Seminary Hill and Rosemont.
The City of Alexandria is considering increasing the number of auxiliary dwellings allowed in commercial buildings and nixing the parking requirements for most of them.
One of the biggest behind-the-scenes projects at City Hall has been an effort to make auxiliary dwellings — formerly accessory dwellings, we’ll get into that later — more viable in Alexandria.
The goal is to provide a boost to market-rate affordable housing which has been in freefall in Alexandria for years. A staff report indicated that there were areas for greater flexibility within the zoning ordinance, including changes to parking requirements for the units.
“Currently, the Zoning Ordinance prescribes a very limited number of ‘Accessory apartments’ in each commercial zone,” the report said, “however; staff believes a slight increase in the number of those units and the location of those units within a structure could lead to a greater number of units and housing options for residents.”
The city has been working on codifying residential dwellings in commercial spaces — one of the oldest housing types in the city — and adjusting that language to “auxiliary dwelling” rather than “accessory dwelling” to avoid confusing overlap with other “accessory” zoning uses.
One of the obstacles to creating auxiliary units has been parking requirements, which the staff report are said on ratios meant for fully-residential developments.
“Currently, parking requirements for ‘accessory apartments’ are based on multi-family parking ratios,” the report said. “In many areas of the city, multi-family parking requirements disincentivize the creation of ‘Auxiliary dwelling units’ due to a lack of available land to meet the parking ratios. Additionally, parking increases the cost of housing, leading to higher housing costs. “
The staff report said many of the auxiliary apartments are located on dense commercial corridors, like along King Street, which have frequent transit services. The staff report proposed that auxiliary dwellings that are within places classified as “enhanced transit areas” will not require parking.
According to a map in the staff report, though, areas of the city listed as an “enhanced transit area” covers much of the city. Commercial zoning is marked in red, meaning auxiliary dwellings in the red blocks within the larger grey zones are the ones that would have no parking requirement.
“Because most of the ‘Auxiliary dwellings’ will be located within the Enhanced Transit Area and require two or less parking spaces, parking would often not be required,” the report said. “Given this, staff is proposing to not require parking for any square footage dedicated to ‘Auxiliary dwellings’ within the Enhanced Transit Area.”
The report said eliminating the parking requirement would both reduce the cost of creating the unit and would, in theory, draw residents that do not own cars and would rely on transit, walking and other modes of transportation.
The changes are scheduled for review at the Planning Commission (item 2) on Thursday, June 23.
(Updated 5 p.m.) Next week, the City Council will review a set of new parking rates (Item 19) for Old Town that aim to push drivers off the street and into the city’s underutilized garages.
The new ordinance would expand the area of Old Town where drivers who don’t have residential or guest permits must pay by phone to park. The current rate in those zones is currently $1.75 per hour, but the new ordinance would allow the Director of Transportation and Environmental Services to set a rate of up to $5 per hour.
One of the changes being considered would adjust rates based on times of day or day of the week. Rates would also be higher in the pay-by-phone zones to push drivers to meters or the garages. At the same time, garages could be changed to an hourly rate less than the rate at the meter — still $1.75 — with different rates at different garages.
The core issue behind the change is that the city’s parking garages are largely underutilized. The average occupancy sits at around half the garage capacity.
The spike in December is the Scottish Walk and Boat Parade, with before and after for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
A city report said that the Courthouse Garage, in particular, has “a lot of capacity” on evenings and weekends.
The item is scheduled for first reading at the Tuesday, June 14 meeting, followed by a public hearing and a vote on Saturday, June 18.
The Potomac Greens neighborhood has voted overwhelmingly in favor of new parking restrictions aimed at keeping the residential streets from being overrun by commuters.
The proposed parking district, which would encompass the Potomac Greens neighborhood, is scheduled for review at a City Council meeting (item 17) on Tuesday, June 14.
A new Residential Permit Parking District 14 for the Potomac Greens neighborhood is headed to the City Council after a survey of the neighborhood came back with 95% of survey respondents expressing support for new parking restrictions. The survey had a roughly 68% response rate — 155 of the 227 mailed surveys.
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. A ballot about the parking restrictions said the district would limit on-street parking to two or three hours unless the vehicle has a residential parking permit.
“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 staff report said.
The Metro station is currently scheduled to open sometime this fall.
Image via Google Maps
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.
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.