Alexandria, VA

As part of a plan to revitalize Fort Ward Park, the City of Alexandria is planning to build a new playground at the site in a more publicly accessible area.

Moving the playground to the southern portion of the site was initially proposed in 2015. An initial design for the new park was released today (Monday) with design expected to continue through the spring and summer. Construction of the new playground is scheduled for Spring 2021.

Some equipment from the existing playground is planned to be carried over to the new site, which is just east of St. Stephens and St. Agnes Middle School. Some of the exterior portions of the site will include play-walls that are an homage to the fort’s bastions.

“In addition to the existing and new playground equipment, we are asked with including ADA compliant seating, picnic tables, a drinking fountain, and accessible parking in this design,” staff said.

The site was also the location of several homes in a black community from the early 20th century before the homes were condemned by the City of Alexandria or purchased for next to nothing to convert the land into the current park, according to the Washington Post. Staff said the playground will mostly be built above-grade so the ground beneath is preserved for future archeological study, though some areas where equipment has to be deeply anchored will be excavated.

“Community members have expressed concern that family cemeteries may be located on the proposed site of the playground,” staff said. “In response, Alexandria Archeology conducted extensive research and found no evidence… that the lots were used to bury deceased family members.”

The public review is scheduled to run until Friday, June 26. Feedback on the project can be submitted via email to [email protected]

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Morning Notes

City Leaders Participating in Town Hall to Discuss Race Relations — “Tuesday’s town hall (at 7 p.m.) will feature a range of speakers including Councilman John Chapman and School Superintendent Gregory C. Hutchings Jr, Chief of Police Michael Brown and the City’s Race and Social Equity Officer, Jaqueline Tucker. There will also be opportunities for small group conversations and for participants to weigh in on the topics for future town halls.” [ALX Community]

Local Company Sees Strong Sales After May 1 ‘Shark Tank’ Appearance — “It really was a huge blessing because we just can’t be in stores right now, and we understand that, so we’re really grateful for the ‘Shark Tank’ episode to give us that push on e-commerce.” [Washington Business Journal]

Emergency Rent Assistance Applications Available Until Friday — “Funds in the amount of $600/month for up to three months will be provided directly to property owners on behalf of eligible tenants. Financial assistance will be provided regardless of citizenship status. Applications received through Friday, May 29 will be reviewed as part of the first application cycle, with priority given to applicants in the Tier 1 income range. Applications received after May 29 will be reviewed on a rolling basis contingent on funding availability.” [Facebook]

Councilman Chapman Decries Racist Emails from Public — “I wish someone would FOIA the city council for all of the racist emails and messages we get and post them publicly. Hell, if you don’t live in Alexandria, you should do that for your elected officials of color… cause we all have them.” [Facebook]

Alexandria to Distantly Honor of Class of 2020 Graduates — “On Saturday, June 13, 2020, residents of the most wonderful City of Alexandria will light up their homes in red, white and blue to support the graduating Class of 2020 from T.C. Williams High School. The George Washington Masonic Temple will be illuminated in red, white and blue on June 13 in recognition of our graduates. Let’s light up the whole city! Do your part, as best you can, to light up your home in red, white and blue to honor our graduates!” [Facebook]

AWLA Gives Away 5,000 Pounds of Pet Supplies — “The Animal Welfare League of Alexandria stepped up for pet parents in need, providing more than 5,000 lbs. of pet supplies to Alexandria residents in need since mid-March.” [Alexandria Living]

ACPS Provides Updates on Food Distribution — “ACPS has multiple distribution meal site locations throughout Alexandria for all ACPS students and children over the age of two.” [ACPS]

Parking Lots, Restrooms Reopening at Parks Along GW Parkway — “Parking lots and restrooms at parks along the George Washington Parkway in Virginia will reopen on Wednesday, June 3, after being closed to help slow the spread of coronavirus.” [WTOP]

City Advises Preparedness as Hurricane Season Begins — “June 1 marks the start of Hurricane season. Alexandria can be impacted by strong winds, heavy rain and flooding from tropical storms and hurricanes. Be Prepared: visit ready.gov/Hurricanes to learn how, sign up at alexandriava.gov/eNews for notifications and be #WeatherAware.” [Twitter]

Old Town Crier Prints June Issue on Wrong Paper — “Well….when it rains it pours! Just picked up the June issue at the printer and they printed the entire issue on the WRONG DAMN PAPER! No time to have it reprinted soooo….this issue is a throw back to the late 90’s!!” [Facebook]

New Job: Contact Tracer — “The Contact Tracer is an entry level public health professional responsible for identifying and contacting individuals who may have come in contact with persons recently diagnosed with an infectious disease associated with an outbreak or pandemic.” [Indeed]

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A suite of new improvements could be coming to the Schuyler Hamilton Skate Park and Luckett Field just off Duke Street at 3540 Wheeler Avenue.

The Planning Commission is docketed to review the new safety improvements at the park at the June 2 meeting.

Among improvements planned is new lighting for the skate park.

“Although the skate park is currently not lighted, many young skateboarders use the park after dark, particularly during late fall and winter months,” the parks department said in its application. “Other areas of the park, including the ball fields, are lighted through 10 p.m. The lighting from those areas does not reach the skate park.”

The application says the new lights would be user-activated by pressing a button and would stay lit for one hour unless activated again. The lights would not be able to turn on past 10 p.m.

There are seven new lights planned, each at a maximum of 25 feet up.

Planned improvements also include a new netting system around the ballfield, which would extend above the six-foot fence surrounding the facility.

“The netting provides additional safety to users, spectators and vehicles in the adjacent parking lots from balls topping the existing fence,” the application said.

Two new batting cages are also proposed for the baseball field.

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Two Alexandria men are in custody after a stabbing incident at Dora Kelley Nature Park in the West End on March 15 that left two victims in the hospital with serious injuries.

Edgardo Roman Guevara, 20, was arrested on March 31, and 19-year-old Cesar Loza Castillo was arrested on March 27. Both have been charged with malicious wounding and assault by mob, and are being held without bail in the Alexandria Jail.

Police interviewed the victims on the evening of March 15 at Inova Alexandria Hospital. They admitted to meeting at the park at night to smoke marijuana with the suspects in a secluded wooded area. Once there, however, things took a dark turn.

“At this time, [one victim] saw a hand come across his face and felt his neck being cut. [He] then fled the park heading back towards his vehicle,” notes the affidavit.

The victim pushed away the knife, and was then stabbed in the back. The other victim was then allegedly pinned against a tree by both suspects and stabbed repeatedly. The victims escaped from the scene and were driven to the hospital by another friend.

Police located Guevara’s cell phone at the scene of the crime, and the suspects were positively identified by the victims in a police lineup.

Image via Google Maps

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(Updated at 5:45 p.m.) — Alexandria Police have determined that the dead man found in the Potomac River on April 5 was a 51-year-old resident of Washington, D.C.

The body of an adult male, whose identity has not been released, was recovered from the Potomac River by the Alexandria Police and Fire Departments in the 300 block of North Union Street.

The man was not out boating, and no boat was recovered, according to police. It is also not clear if the death was accidental or self-inflicted, and how long the body was in the water.

“He was floating through the river against the rocks on the shore and that’s where he was recovered,” police spokesman Lt. Courtney Ballantine told ALXnow. “There is no threat to the public.”

An autopsy is underway, and the investigation is ongoing, Ballantine said.

Photo via Visit Alexandria/Facebook

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The developers behind the Oakville Triangle redevelopment say the project has been dramatically reshaped by the decline of brick-and-mortar retail.

Early designs for the project were of a predominately retail district set up across several blocks near Mount Jefferson Park, but Doug Firstenberg, a principal with development investment firm Stonebridge, said in a video that the 13-acre project near Potomac Yard is being reshaped.

“The original design for the Oakville Project was going to include exclusive retail near Mount Jefferson Park,” Fistenberg said. “So what’s changed? The retail world changed a few years ago and it’s, unfortunately, changing again.”

Firstenberg said the idea of a predominately retail district isn’t economically feasible. Now, neighborhood-serving retail will be focused on the new buildings facing Richmond Highway. A hotel that was also planned for the site has also been scrapped.

Instead, a large section of the development at the western end of the site will be replaced with townhouses and the area will be the site of a new Inova HealthPlex.

“The HealthPlex is a standalone emergency room with other complementary standalone services,” said Dr. Rina Bansal, President and CEO of Inova Alexandria.

Bansal said the HealthPlex will feature a full-service emergency room, surgery center, and medical office space. The site is designed for outpatient care only, meaning patients cannot stay for more than 23 hours.

One of the local benefits of the change is a 34,000 square-foot expansion of Mount Jefferson Park. Firstenberg said early community feedback indicated that the park was viewed as a crucial community resource and expansion of that was prioritized.

Firstenberg said the developer is targeting Planning Commission and City Council review in November for the small area plan and the first quarter of next year for a special use permit. Firstenberg said that timeline is important to keep the project on track for summer 2021 construction and opening in the third and fourth quarters of 2023.

A press release noted that feedback can be submitted through the project website.

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Morning Notes

Alexandria Hospital Suspends Visitation — “Exceptions to Inova Health System’s Visitation Guidance can be made in extenuating circumstances and with prior approval from a care site’s administration.” [Zebra]

Man Convicted for 2016 Rape — “[P]olice in Alexandria — for the first time — ran DNA through public genealogical databases and developed a family tree based on known DNA profiles, which pointed to Bjerke as a suspect. After Bjerke was arrested, a buccal swab of his DNA matched DNA found on the victim.” [WTOP]

Major COVID-19 Budget Impact, Mayor Says — “In FY 2010 (Great Recession), we adopted a budget that dropped spending by 2.2%. It would now appear the projected impact of COVID-19 on OUR CURRENT FISCAL year (now through June 30th) will be almost 5% down. Next year will be much worse.” [Facebook]

City Facilities Closed or Open by Appointment Only — “To promote social distancing during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, all City of Alexandria facilities are now either closed to the public or open by appointment only, until further notice.” [City of Alexandria]

City Closes Rec. Centers, Parks, Playgrounds — “The Alexandria Health Department (AHD) has recommended these changes because public play areas have continued to attract groups of more than 10 people despite earlier warnings against this practice.” [Alexandria Living]

Eateries Support Employees During Pandemic — “With five of their six restaurants closed, ARP is using Lena’s kitchen to prepare meals for four, distributed to employees three times a week along with boxes packed with food, toilet paper and small cash stipends.” [Zebra]

Old Town Books Doing All Business Online — “Thank you for staying connected, for the tweets, the shares, the kind words of encouragement. We need them. We love them + you + books + we’re not giving up. No matter how bleak things get a book can do some good, for someone, somehow. We’re determined to keep on with our virtual book clubs, $1 shipping, NEW forthcoming virtual writing classes. As long as you keep ordering we’ll keep on keeping on. Thank you. LONG LIVE THE BOOKSHOP.” [Facebook]

Online Ordering Only at Pork Barrel BBQ, Holy Cow, Sushi Bar — “We greatly appreciate the support and know that every order keeps our doors open and most importantly KEEPS JOBS!” [Facebook]

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Morning Notes

Presidential Primary Day in Alexandria — Today is Super Tuesday, the presidential primary day in Virginia and 13 other states across the U.S. Here in Alexandria, polls are open from 6 a.m.-7 p.m. [City of Alexandria]

New Development Near Braddock Road Metro — “CRC Cos. LLC is pitching a plan to redevelop several single-family homes across from the Braddock Road Metro station into a new mixed-use building. The Arlington-based real estate firm submitted plans to Alexandria officials last week for a seven-story, 177-unit building along North West Street, bounded by Madison Street and Wythe Street. The proposal also calls for a small space set aside for ground-floor retail.” [Washington Business Journal]

Meeting Planned for Tot Lot Renovations — Alexandria’s parks department “will renovate Woodbine Tot Lot  in partnership with the Make-A-Wish Foundation mid-March through mid-April. A community pre-construction meeting with City staff and the contractor is scheduled for Saturday, March 7 at 10 a.m. at Woodbine Tot Lot (1509 Woodbine St.). Make-A-Wish Foundation America approached the City of Alexandria with a wish from Whitaker, a local four-year-old undergoing cancer treatment.” [City of Alexandria]

A Tale of Two Kindnesses — A man who stopped to help a family in need in Alexandria was, soon thereafter, helped by the same family when it turned out that he was in need of assistance, too. [Alexandria Living]

Trampoline Park Opens in West End — “Get Air, an indoor trampoline park with a variety of activities, has opened at 340 South Pickett Street in Alexandria. The venue has thousands of square feet of trampolines, including vertical trampolines, a trampoline dodgeball area, trampoline lanes for slamball, tightrope walking challenge, and a foam pit.” [Patch, Alexandria Living]

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After more than eight years of planning, Alexandria will soon begin revamping its pocket parks.

In April, renovations at two of the city’s 25 pocket parks — parks less than a half-acre in size — are slated to begin with the Woodbine Tot Lot at 1509 Woodbine Street and the 48 South Early Street Park.

“We’re excited to start making an impact to some of the smaller parks that mean a lot to their communities,” Dana Wedeles, a principal planner with the city’s Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities, told ALXnow.

The Park and Recreation Commission received a draft plan on the renovation of the parks last month, and the final Pocket Parks Improvement Plan will be the subject of a Feb.  20 public hearing before the commission at Mount Vernon Community School (2701 Commonwealth Avenue).

The plan will then go to the city council for their endorsement, and the parks will be be slotted in the city’s Capital Improvement Program for renovation over the next decade.

Renovations at the Woodbine Tot Lot are estimated to cost $80,000. Much of that amount has been cut down due to a contribution from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which has contributed $25,000 toward the project through the city’s Community Matching Fund. Through the fund, the city provides a one-to-one matching contribution and the funds will be available at the start of the fiscal year on July 1. The renovation was made possible by the wish of a child living in the neighborhood, according to the city.

Rebuilding Together DC – Alexandria, which renovates homes and properties throughout the region, is partnering with the city on the pocket park at 48 South Early Street. The park is located in the city’s Society Hill neighborhood between Duke Street and Wheeler Avenue, and it has been adopted by the neighborhood homeowners’ association. Planned improvements include adding signage and natural play features like boulders, logs and stepping stones.

Most of the projects are stand-alone, and city staff are currently working on getting cost estimates.

Here is the city’s full list from the Pocket Parks Improvement Plan:

  1. 48 South Early Street Park
  2. 1301 Powhatan Park
  3. 2304 East Randolph Avenue Park
  4. Armory Tot Lot Park 
  5. Braddock & Commonwealth Dog Area
  6. Charles Hill Park
  7. Chetworth Place Park
  8. Elbert Triangle Park
  9. Gentry Park
  10. Hillside Park
  11. Hunter Miller Park
  12. Interior Park
  13. Lake Cook Pocket Park
  14. Le Bosquet at Sunnyside Park
  15. Lynhaven Gateway Park
  16. Lynhaven Park
  17. Mason Avenue Mini Park
  18. Pendleton Park
  19. Portner Park
  20. Potomac Triangle Park
  21. Ruby Tucker Park
  22. St. Asaph Park
  23. Sunset Mini Park
  24. Washington Way
  25. Woodbine Tot Lot
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Alexandria needs your help determining the best name for a park at 3550 Commonwealth Ave.

Should it be named Unity Park to reflect a place of connection, or Shirley Tyler Park after the first female African American to serve as chair of the Alexandria School Board?

Officials are asking the public to weigh in on the naming of the park in this online survey.

The city bought the half acre site in the Arlandria neighborhood in 2009. After neighborhood volunteers installed two gardens, a walking path and park benches, landscape architect Rhodeside and Harwell developed a site plan for a park that’s mostly trees and open green space, with some interactive features like game tables and a tricycle track.

The survey will remain open through March 3.

Image (top) via Google Maps (bottomw) via City of Alexandria

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