Alexandria, VA

It’s the end of a busy week in Alexandria!

Our top story was the Del Ray car crash on Mount Vernon Avenue, and there’s some good news to report. The driver, who crashed her car due to a medical emergency, was sent home without any injuries the following day.

The city also experienced flooding after Thursday’s rainstorms, prompting the City Council to get an oral report on hundreds of millions of dollars worth of stormwater management improvements. As reported, there have been more than a half dozen flood events in Alexandria this summer.

Council also received a report on the establishment of a community police review board, and sent it back for some additions. Namely, Council asked staff to include an option that would give the review board independent investigative authority, an action that prompted a police union to call the idea of the review board “superfluous.” Incidentally, crime stories are among the top articles read every week on ALXnow.

This was also the first week of the historic 2020-2021 school year, and with classes starting virtually it will be an altogether different experience than years past.

What stories impacted you this week? Let us know in the comments.

Here are our top stories this week in Alexandria.

  1. Driver Suffers Life Threatening Injuries in Del Ray Car Crash
  2. UPDATED: Flooding Reported in Parts of City After Heavy Rain
  3. Planning Commission Approves Density Compromise Despite Outrage from Civic Associations
  4. Video: Protestors Perform ‘Die-In’ Outside Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf’s Alexandria Home
  5. Arrest Made After Shots Fired in Old Town
  6. Police Investigating Public Indecency Incidents in Del Ray
  7. Police: Three Alexandria ABC Stores Broken Into, High-End Liquor Stolen
  8. Council to Vote on Requiring Face Masks in Alexandria
  9. Just Listed in Alexandria
  10. Hundreds in ‘Trumptilla’ Boat Parade Sail Past Alexandria
  11. Alexandria Woman Uninjured in Tuesday Carjacking at Gunpoint in Potomac Yard

Have a safe weekend!

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Not long after approving a new school zoning change, the Alexandria Planning Commission unanimously approved the design for the new Douglas MacArthur Elementary School.

Much of the discussion and debate about added density was focused around the density concerns at the start of the meeting, but several neighbors spoke up with concerns raised throughout the process about how the larger school and facilities could impact the surrounding neighborhoods.

Lisa Porter, a nearby resident, pushed for Alexandria to require the installation of a traffic light at a nearby intersection that will turn from sleepy residential crossing to a junction leading towards the redeveloped school. The city agreed to return within six-12 months of classes starting at the school to evaluate the traffic patterns and determine whether a new traffic signal needs to be added.

Other nearby residents said they were concerned about increased recreational use of a nearby field.

Jack Browand, director division chief of the Department of Parks and Recreation, said the use should be mostly consistent with current use of the park. The field will be no larger and is designed with use for those 10 and under only.

“Community use there today will continue,” Browand said. “We expect it to be similar to what we saw with improvements at Jefferson-Houston.”

Browand said that could mean some increase in drop and play activity, but there was no lighting on the field for extended evening use.

The main fight among Planning Commissioners was the lack of a net-zero energy policy that had been touted earlier in the building’s development, and the Planning Commission mostly backed Planning Commissioner Stephen Koenig in requiring the net-zero policy be worked back into the project.

Ultimately, the Planning Commission unanimously approved the project before headed to the City Council later this month.

Image via ACPS

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It’s the end of another work week in Alexandria!

There was a lot of crime this week, as police responded to multiple shots fired incidents in the Parker Gray area on September 2. There was also another carjacking in the West End — the latest in a recent uptick that prompted Mayor Justin Wilson to ask the public for help in reducing the number of vehicle-related thefts.

But there is also some good news to report, as businesses are opening in the city despite the daily pressures of the pandemic. This week we took a look inside The Company Of Books used book store in Del Ray, and we covered the city’s new Wellness District, which is providing a number of free programs and discounts for the recently expanded Wellness Month.

Also this week, Alexandria City Public Schools cut down a 150-year-old tree to make way for a concession stand. The move was criticized by activists and former Mayor Allison Silberberg. With the destruction of the tree, the renovation project for the Parker-Gray Stadium has now officially begun.

What stories impacted you this week? Let us know in the comments.

Here are our top stories this week in Alexandria.

  1. Alexandria Woman Uninjured in Tuesday Carjacking at Gunpoint in Potomac Yard
  2. Beatley Central Library Closed Until Further Notice Due to ‘Emergency Conditions’
  3. Police: Three Alexandria ABC Stores Broken Into, High-End Liquor Stolen
  4. Police Investigating Multiple Gunshots Fired in Parker Gray/Braddock
  5. Alexandria’s COVID Positive Testing Rate Lowest in Region
  6. Halal Slaughterhouse Construction Begins, Opening Reset to Mid-November
  7. Update: Chalk Graffiti Decrying Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf Sprayed In Front of Wrong House
  8. Braddock ‘Elizabeth’s Counter’ Last of Regional Chain After Bankruptcy Filing
  9. Police: Three Alexandria ABC Stores Broken Into, High-End Liquor Stolen
  10. North Potomac Yard Plans Going to Planning Commission, Board of Architectural Review
  11. ACPS Cuts Down 150-Year Old Tree to Make Way for Concession Stand

Have a safe weekend!

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Alexandria’s civic associations came out in force to speak against a loosening of zoning restrictions at public school properties. While the Planning Commission ultimately pushed forward a modified version of the zoning change, there was widespread agreement that the public outreach could have been handled better.

The change had been proposed in 2019 and was docketed for meetings earlier this year, but had disappeared as the pandemic led to those meetings being cancelled until it quietly resurfaced for the Sept. 1 meeting.

The change originally would have allowed Alexandria City Public Schools to build schools up to 0.6 Floor Area Ratio (FAR) by right, meaning without needing public approval, or higher without a set restriction. The version approved at the Planning Commission still allows proposed schools to exceed the density restrictions, but only with a Special Use Permit (SUP) and by no greater than 0.75 FAR.

The proposal had been criticized by the North Ridge Citizens’ Association in the lead-up to the meeting, but was joined by others who protested that the city was quietly pushing the change through without public input.

“When we first learned about this proposal, we had to ask ourselves why our city would be contemplating such sweeping changes to our code without more public notice,” said Kay Stimson, representing the North Ridge Citizen’s Association. “This truly threatens to create a trust deficit between this commission and our residents.”

Stimson said she recognized that schools need greater capacity, but also said the city was pursuing an “increased density” agenda on residents throughout the city.

“If approved, this amendment would be a glaring example of arbitrary, capricious, and unsupportive administrative action by this city with detrimental impacts particularly on low density residential neighborhoods that don’t have the infrastructure to support the massive new buildings you’re proposing,” Stimson said. “The existing baseline should remain the prevailing density of the neighborhood. If someone wants to build something larger, the point of our zoning process is that they must talk to the public and gain permission. There is no justification whatsoever to allow for unlimited density in a school building. This actually calls into question why we would have a zoning code at all.”

Other residents similarly expressed frustrations that ACPS would be seemingly shielded from density requirements local homeowners face. Pete Benavage, representing the Federation of Civic Associations, said the federation had unanimously voted to oppose the change.

“We fell anything that is reducing the public input; the meaningful and timely public input, is deleterious to the benefit of the citizens of Alexandria,” Benavage said. “This amendment has not been properly vetted by the public and we would urge it either not be adopted or at least be tabled until such time as public vetting can be obtained. ” Read More

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(Updated 10:50 p.m.) When the City of Alexandria builds new schools, a new ordinance change (Item 9) could mean they’re a little larger than they used to be.

A new ordinance proposed for the Tuesday (September 1) Planning Commission meeting would “streamline and modernize the zoning regulations,” according to a staff report.

“School enrollment has been growing significantly over the last couple of years and is expected to continue to grow in the foreseeable future,” staff said in the report. “Since 2007, ACPS has faced rapid increases in enrollment and projects continued growth in its student population through FY 2029 — reaching over 18,000 students by that time.”

The update coincides with ACPS’ modernization plan to address capacity issues and aging facilities, including potential rebuilds like the Douglas MacArthur Elementary redevelopment up for review at the same meeting. The proposed MacArthur redevelopment is planned for 0.6 Floor Area Ratio (FAR). The new ordinance allows that level of density by-right — meaning no special permits are required — and an increase above 0.6 FAR with a special use permit (SUP). Building height remains unchanged, however, at a 60 foot limit. Read More

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A new convenience shop called Old Town Mini Mart is working through the city’s approval process to open in the heart of Old Town.

According to documents filed with the city, Old Town Mini Mart is planned to open at 822 King Street, once home to Old Town Pack & Ship. That store is still open, staff there said, it just moved around the corner. One of the co-owners of the new Old Town Mini Mart is Rodrigo Restrepo, who is listed as the owner of Old Town Shoe & Luggage Repair next door to the proposed market.

According to the application, Old Town Mini Mart will be:

Small convenience store offering coffee/tea, water, sodas, beer & wine, sandwiches and snacks, chips, candy and few household sundries. There will be a small sections where one can pull food/drinks from refrigerated displays and or serve coffee/tea. to take with. Will also offer Virginia Lottery

The application notes that the market will also serve alcohol.

If approved, location will be open Monday-Friday from 5 a.m. to midnight, and from 6 a.m. to midnight on Saturday and Sunday.

The proposed market is scheduled to go to the Planning Commission for a hearing on Oct. 6.

Photo via Google Maps

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An unnamed alleyway through a Braddock neighborhood could soon be named after recently-retired Alexandria Judge Nolan Dawkins, the first Black judge in the city’s history.

The alley runs between the 400 blocks of N. West and N. Peyton streets, where Dawkins grew up. Kimberly Dawkins, Judge Nolan Dawkins’ daughter, said the renaming was originally intended to be a surprise (sorry) celebration for the retired judge.

“Our neighbor said it would be nice to honor dad, because he’s been in this house all his adult life,” Kimberly Dawkins said. “It would be a nice way to commemorate that the Dawkins have lived on this street, and were the second black family to live on this street in the 60s.”

“Judge Dawkins was born in Alexandria, grew up in this Peyton Street home, attended Parker-Gray High School in 1963, and was among the first African Americans to integrate George Washington High School graduating in 1965,” the application said. “In 1989, following his mother’s death, he moved back into his Peyton Street boyhood home.”

The application to rename the street is scheduled to go to the Planning Commission in October.

After working as an assistant city attorney, in 1994 Dawkins became the first African American judge in Alexandria when he was appointed to the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. In 2008 he was appointed to the 18th Judicial Circuit Court and became Alexandria’s first Black Circuit Court judge.

“The retirement of The Honorable Nolan B. Dawkins, former presiding Circuit Court Judge for the City of Alexandria, on June 26, 2020, represents the culmination of a lifetime of dedicated service, professionalism, and judicial excellence,” the application said. “He is a true son of the city and has devoted his entire legal career to justice and to the community of Alexandria, Virginia. It would be a fitting honor and tribute to have his name represented on this alley.”

Kimberly Dawkins said the City of Alexandria has been a welcoming home for the Dawkins family and has been a part of their lives for generations.

“Alexandria is a great city,” Kimberly Dawkins said. “My sisters and I grew up here and went through ACPS. It’s a wonderful place to raise a family. The diversity and opportunities are endless.”

Top photo via Google Maps, map via City of Alexandria

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A series of new improvements to Alexandria’s Union Station — a Virginia Railway Express stop — proposed late last year are moving forward toward city approval.

The plan is to create new Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant access with a grade-separated pedestrian tunnel and elevator access. The expansion will also allow the station to take two trains at any given time, with one at each platform. The change is part of a regional effort to reduce the system’s bottleneck around the D.C. area.

According to the VRE website:

The project will provide an ADA-compliant, grade-separated pedestrian tunnel and elevator access between the two platforms at the VRE/Amtrak station in Alexandria and modify and extend the east platform at the station to accommodate eight-car trains and enable the platform to service two trains simultaneously, from a track on each side of the platform. The west platform adjacent to the station building will also be modified to raise its height relative to the top of rail as part of the project. Project funding sources include state SmartScale and Federal funds (through VDOT) to eliminate railroad grade crossings. Currently the project schedule is slightly ahead of the final year of funding allocation, which must be addressed with VRE’s funding partners through either reprogramming of funds or short-term borrowing.

The project is scheduled to go to the Planning Commission on September 1. The project was originally scheduled to be presented to the City Council in May, according to the VRE website, but the pandemic limited the scope of council meetings.

Construction on the project is estimated to start in 2022.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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The coronavirus pandemic has put some of Alexandria City Public Schools’ plans on hold — like the redevelopment of T.C. Williams High School — but the fully developed plans for the modernization of Douglas MacArthur Elementary School are still moving full-steam ahead.

In the new plans, the current building from 1943 will be demolished and replaced with a new elementary school. The new school will be three stories with a synthetic playing field and outdoor play areas.

“The proposed school will allow for up to 850 students, faculty and staff, community meeting space to replace the existing school building for approximately 650 students,” ACPS said in its application. “Currently, up to 100 faculty/staff members are planned at this school.”

At the Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday, September 1, ACPS is scheduled to request a special use permit to demolish the existing building and construct a new school — requiring permits for additional density for a public elementary school, a permit to exceed the maximum number of parking spaces permitted, and an indoor and outdoor recreation facility and community center, and a modification to the rear yard setback.

If approved, the new school is currently scheduled to open January 2023.

Images via ACPS

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Morning Notes

Beyer Doubles Down on Trump Stance on School Reopenings — “Trump has again overruled the nation’s leading public health officials for political reasons, this time on guidance for reopening schools. He is intentionally endangering American children because he believes it will help him get reelected.” [Twitter]

Planning Commission to Evaluate Increasing School Density — The Planning Commission’s September 2 docket has been posted to the city’s website, and it includes a discussion to allow for an increase in density for public school sites. Since last fall, the city and administrators have been coordinating on a plan to co-locate affordable housing on school grounds. [City of Alexandria]

ACPS Reopening Survey Available Until July 12 — “Today, I am encouraging you to take part in what is surely one of the most important surveys ACPS has ever conducted. Your answers will guide us as we decide how and when to open school buildings, how and when virtual learning becomes necessary and preferable, and how we strike an acceptable balance between the two. As you know, there are no easy answers to the situation we find ourselves in and with the ever-changing landscape we must remain flexible to last-minute pivots. Please complete this survey by July 12 to allow us the time we need to properly prepare our path forward.” [ACPS]

ALIVE! Food Distributions on Saturday — “This Saturday, July 11, ALIVE! will be offering a “Truck-to-Trunk” distribution of food for residents who continue to be impacted financially by the COVID-19 pandemic. Shelf-stable groceries will be handed out at the John Adams Elementary School and Cora Kelly Elementary School parking lots, from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m., or until supplies run out.” [City of Alexandria]

Lyceum Reopening on Friday — “The Alexandria History Museum at the Lyceum will reopen to the public this Friday, July 10, at 11 a.m., with modified hours and new safety protocols. Exhibit galleries will be open Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. To promote physical distancing of at least 6 feet between parties of no more than 10 people per party, visitors will be required to obtain timed-entry tickets through the Historic Alexandria online store.” [City of Alexandria]

New Job: Temporary Unarmed Security Officer — “We specialize in commercial, private, and government security, offering both armed and unarmed contract services. Please take the time to read this advertisement carefully as this posting is for TEMPORARY Unarmed Security Officers in Alexandria, Virginia.” [Indeed]

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The Old Dominion Boat Club’s (ODBC) plans to reform the waterfront portion of its Old Town headquarters last fall, but after being lost at sea amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the plans are finally headed back to harbor at the Planning Commission in September.

The ODBC has used its various waterfront headquarters since 1880 as launching points for aquatic activities. The pier outside the current location — which the ODBC was more-or-less forced into in 2014 under threat of eminent domain — is a ramshackle bundle of pillars that only vaguely resembles the L-shaped pier that local commercial vessel The Dandy was docked at for a number of years.

The ODBC plan is to replace this pier with a combination fixed pier jutting eastward and a floating pier extending south. Smaller transient boats will be moored at the floating pier while the larger ships will be docked on the opposite side of the new pier.

The new dock would also keep less debris trapped along the shoreline — a frequent problem along Alexandria’s waterfront.

“The proposed new floating wharf at the site would encourage increased recreation use of the site and support ODBC water-dependent uses,” the ODBC said in its application. “The Prince Street site will be configured to support transient boat mooring and other daily marine uses.”

While the new pier would be private, the ODBC offers the use of its facilities for activities like programs for children with special needs and Christmas events that would benefit from the new pier.

Staff photo by Vernon Miles

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Catholic University of America (CUA) is planning to open up a new branch in Alexandria’s Carlyle neighborhood.

According to an application headed to the Planning Commission in September, CUA is hoping to renovate the second floor of 2050 Ballenger Avenue to create a new location specifically for students in Alexandria, Arlington, and other Northern Virginia locations.

The building is currently home to the Carlyle Club and Atlantic Union Bank on the ground floor.

“The premises will be renovated into a space including six classrooms that can each accommodate between 15 to 30 students, a computer laboratory and ancillary breakout rooms,” CUA said in its application. “The space will also include offices for a small number of staff and faculty to meet with students or prepare for class. The space will not include any laboratory, research or library facilities.”

According to the application, most programs would be offered on weekday evenings and occasional daytime events, such as small academic conferences.

“Courses would be taugtht by part-time, adjunct faculty members from the community, who would not have a full=time presence at the subject site outside of class meeting times,” CUA said.

The application is scheduled to be reviewed at the Sept. 1 Planning Commission meeting.

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