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1225 and 1229 King Street (image via Google Maps)

In what’s become a trend in Alexandria, the owners of an office and retail building in Old Town are hoping to have the upstairs space converted to residential units.

The buildings in question are 1225 and 1229 King Street, the buildings containing American in Paris Boutique and the T-Mobile store on the street level in the middle of Old Town.

In a special use permit application, the building owners said the change to the building type would take advantage of ordinances codifying housing uses above retail space. The application said the residential use will be within the existing footprint of the building. Applicant King Street Apartments LLC said in the application it would convert the upstairs units into 12 condominium units.

Alexandria has become a capital for office-to-residential conversions, ranking fourth in the nation in conversions from office space to apartments or condominiums between 2020 and 2021. Office buildings throughout Old Town are in the process of being converted to residential spaces.

Still, City Manager Jim Parajon warned the City Council in a recent meeting not to be too hasty in abandoning office space, saying that the city could lose valuable office space in a rush to follow an economic trend. In nearby Vienna, the Town Council recently rejected a townhouse development replacing office space — partially on the basis of clinging to hopes that the office market will return.

“The conversion approach for outdated office makes a lot of sense, but I want to be careful that we don’t lose good office space to conversion,” Parajon said. “That’s really important, and that may mean we play out a cycle or two in the economy so we’re looking at a balance of commercial to residential.”

The conversion of 1225 and 1229 King Street is scheduled for review at the Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 3.

Image via Google Maps

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Field lighting proposal at Hammond Middle School (image via City of Alexandria)

Updated 5:45 p.m. — Field lighting supporters told ALXnow the interests of neighbors and soccer players aren’t necessarily competing and share some overlapping concerns management of the fields.

Earlier: A plan to bring new lights to athletic fields around Alexandria saw a clash of supporters — who say the lights are necessary for extending play hours — against homeowners concerned about the ramifications of new late-night activity next door.

Last week, the Planning Commission voted unanimously in favor of the plan for new lights, which will now go to the City Council on Saturday, Nov. 12.

The plan is to eventually install new outdoor lighting at five fields around the city, with those lights phased in as the budget and construction timetables allow. Three of the fields could be lighted as early as FY2023:

  • Francis C Hammond Middle School, 4646 Seminary Road
  • George Washington Middle School, 1005 Mt. Vernon Avenue
  • Jefferson Houston K-8 School, 1501 Cameron Street

The other two, Patrick Henry K-8 School and Recreation Center (4643 and 4653 Taney Avenue) and Eugene Simpson Stadium Park (426 East Monroe Avenue), can’t be lighted until 2024 and 2025 respectively. The aim of the lights is to extend the usable hours of some of the city’s more overcrowded fields.

There were around 20 speakers at the Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 1, with a fairly even split between parents and local soccer enthusiasts with the Alexandria Soccer Association (ASA) sharing their support for the lights and neighbors concerned that existing issues like littering and public urination will only get worse with the lights creating extended hours.

Those in favor of the lights said they will help relieve some of the problems around local teams fighting for a handful of evening spots.

“[The lights] provide more access for healthy places to play, thus positively impacting the community,” said Jim Hogan, a coach with the ASA. “As one of 200 volunteer coaches who supported over 180 teams this fall, location and times for mid-week practice are very hard for working parents when they are 4, 4:30, or 5 p.m. start times. Evening times are so popular we cannot provide every team and program with a 6 p.m. start time.”

Hogan said there are parents who want to help volunteer on local teams, but can’t because the practice times are too early.

Terry Androus, a manager with the ASA, said the lights are a matter of boosting public safety for local kids.

“I support the addition of lights to all of the fields being suggested,” Androus said. “Youth sports is a critical component of raising healthy and productive citizens. Kids will be somewhere after dark; it’s better to have them in a structured environment on a field rather than wandering around places where trouble may find them. Let’s provide a safe place to play after dark: it just makes sense.”

But neighbors abutting the fields where lighting is proposed said there are unresolved issues in the city’s plans. Carter Flemming, President of the Seminary Hill Association, said neighbors currently experience loud music, trash, and other nuisances from adults playing on nearby fields and are concerned that adding more hours will only make the problems worse.

“Hammond Middle School is in our boundaries and we are quite familiar with the issues surrounding this field, even without lights,” Flemming said. “while I know [Recreation, Parks & Cultural Activities] asserts approval tonight is only about putting up lights, I think it’s incumbent upon you to address the ramifications of such lights. To say this [special use permit] is only about constructing some 60-foot tall light poles is to ignore the reality of what those light poles will mean to surrounding residents.”

Flemming pointed to a memo from Recreation, Parks & Cultural Activities (RPCA) in October that acknowledged that there are important issues raised by neighbors near the Hammond Middle School, but said those are operational issues and not a result of field lighting.

“And yet, RPCA is asking to add lights without having any plans to address those known issues,” Flemming said. “No developer could come before PC and say ‘I have submitted a [special use permit] to build four walls, 60 feet high, but I do not have to address any other issues that might arise from my project.'”

Neighbors shared testimony at the meeting of trash left littered around fields after soccer games, sharing photos of debris-strewn sidelines despite assurances from city staff that the fields were checked and cleaned before every school day.

Others said that, during and after games, players at the fields use nearby yards and streets as public urinals. Jack Browand, division chief of Parks and Cultural Activities, acknowledged that while two of the fields are slated to get publicly accessible restrooms, the others do not have them.

“Restrooms have been a hot topic,” Browand said. “As part of capital improvement, we do assess where restroom use could be. Those are things that we’re looking at as we move forward and do improvements.”

Flemming and other neighbors said they would support the use of lights on the fields for youth sports only.

“Adult recreation creates an entirely different situation from youth sports and should be directed to [other fields] that do not abut residents,” Flemming said.

Another concern, one shared by some on the Planning Commission, was that the several organizations all connected to overseeing the fields could make it more difficult for residents to find any one department to connect to and hold responsible for maintenance issues.

After the public comment, Browand clarified that the fields would only but lit for pre-arranged sporting events scheduled by permit, giving the city some level of control over who plays on the fields and who is responsible if trash is left behind.

Planning Commissioner David Brown drilled down on issues of accountability for the fields, saying he sympathized with concerns that — when issues do occur on the fields — residents will find city departments all pointing the finger at each other.

“As I understand it, the city is responsible for trash collection,” Brown said. “The Recreation and Parks folks are responsible for monitoring use and making sure the lights are turned off. During the school day, Alexandria City Public Schools is responsible for monitoring the facilities, possibly with the assistance of the police. This is a lot of cooks in this stew. What I would like is reassurance that at least insofar as this process has been ongoing with a number of fields for quite some time: is it operating smoothly so that when something goes wrong, it is promptly fixed?”

Despite raising these concerns, Brown said that ultimately the Planning Commission vote is not about whether or not the lights are a good idea or whether the city is doing a good job of managing the parks currently: only whether the project meets the zoning requirements.

Others on the Commission said they recognized neighbor complaints, but saw the lights as achieving a greater good.

“While I’m sensitive to what sounds like adults being irresponsible neighbors, I think it’s important to not discount the need to provide for adult recreational activity,” said Planning Commissioner Melissa McMahon. “Adults tend to work more than they should and tend to have a lot of stress. We might not focus as much as adults on growing our own social skills and managing to get along with one another the way we teach our children those skills, and team sports are one of our best tools for that.”

Ultimately, the Planning Commission voted 6-0 in favor of the lights.

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It’s been a busy week in Alexandria, starting off with Halloween on Monday and continuing through to major changes for Potomac Yard and the former Landmark Mall site.

The city had not one, but two big Halloween celebrations: a parade in Del Ray on Sunday and trick-or-treating along Lee Street in Old Town on Monday.

At least one person may have gotten a little too carried away, however: a 61-year-old woman was arrested on Halloween for being a felon in possession of a stun gun and driving an unlicensed vehice.

  1. Man robbed while painting exterior of home in Old Town
  2. New city report says that the Seminary Road Diet is working
  3. Pentagon police officer accused of drug dealing is an Alexandria resident
  4. Major pieces of Landmark Mall redevelopment head to Planning Commission next month
  5. Metro’s Blue Line trains reopening in Alexandria on Sunday
  6. Old Town street closure planned ahead of trick-or-treating
  7. Two gunfire incidents in the West End over the weekend
  8. After decades of complaints, a new rail authority could be the key to fixing Alexandria’s railroad bridges
  9. PHOTOS: Thousands marched in the Del Ray Halloween Parade
  10. Construction of two apartment buildings in Potomac Yard put on hold
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The “West End” project is a lumbering titan, one of the most enormous of the development projects in progress. While projects of that scale can move slowly — this one first reared its head in late 2020 — the Landmark Mall redevelopment is building momentum as it moves toward Planning Commission review next month.

Four blocks of the sprawling development, Blocks E, G, I and K, are scheduled for review at the Planning Commission on Tuesday, Dec. 6. The blocks consist of a mix of multifamily residential, ground floor commercial space, and medical offices.

Those four blocks are some of the furthest along in the design process according to representatives of developer Foulger-Pratt at a meeting last month.

Blocks E and G are part of a new housing development called Aspect, featuring a total of 390 units and a bridge connecting them with 80,400 square feet of retail space. The buildings will also have 119,500 square feet of medical office space, part of the link to the separate Inova Hospital campus anchoring the development.

Block I, listed as “Block Eye” in other development documents, is planned as a project called The Brightly. Block I will also be a mixed-use building, with 390 apartments and 105,000 square feet of commercial space. Developers said in previous meetings the goal is to have a “big box ” occupant on the ground floor, with possibilities ranging from a gym to a traditional large retail store.

The last piece up for review in December is Block K, called Thrive in other developer documents. It sits at the heart of the new development and is described as having a more “neo-industiral” aesthetic. The docket item for the Planning Commission said Block K will have 337 apartments and 32,000 square feet of commercial space — smaller than the other blocks up for review.

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Witter Place (Community Housing Partners (CHP))

The Beyer Land Rover dealership at 2712 Duke Street could soon be replaced with a new 94-unit affordable housing development (item 9).

The project, Witter Place, is being put together by Community Housing Partners (CHP). The Virginia-based non-profit has worked in affordable housing development since 1975, but this is CHP’s first project in Alexandria.

“The proposal consists of a 94-unit, 136,087 gross square feet (GSF) multifamily building, with a two-level partially below grade parking garage,” a staff-report on the development said. “The building will range in height from four to five stories, with a maximum height of 60 feet. All units in the proposed building will be affordable to households at a variety of income levels ranging from 40% to 60% AMI.”

The new building will include a courtyard and rooftop terrace for residents.

In addition to the affordable housing component, Witter Place will also make some improvements to Duke Street.

“The project will reduce the number of existing curb cuts and will eliminate conflicts between vehicles and pedestrians along Duke Street by locating parking garage access to the south side of the property along Witter Drive,” the report said. “The project also proposes an enhanced streetscape along Duke Street, including a 10′ wide sidewalk with street trees.”

Ultimately, the staff report recommended approval of the project. The project is going to a Planning Commission hearing on Tuesday, Nov. 1, and to the City Council on Saturday, Nov. 12.

“Staff recommends approval of the Development Site Plan and associated Special Use Permit subject to compliance with all applicable codes and the following staff recommendations,” the report said.

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Unit block of King Street pedestrian zone (image via City of Alexandria)

Ten years after adopting a plan with suggestions for turning the Waterfront into a cultural hub, the City of Alexandria is poised to move forward with one of them: making the streets closest to the river pedestrian-only.

Ahead of a potential vote to close the unit block of King Street and part of The Strand to traffic, a new report suggests that these street closures are supported by the 2012 Waterfront Small Area Plan and are broadly popular among locals. The unit block of King Street, the block closest to the Waterfront, is a one-way street connected to the two-way street called The Strand that runs parallel to the Potomac River.

While the pandemic sped up discussions about the pedestrianization of King Street, the report said discussions about closing these blocks to vehicle traffic go back to when the plan was approved in 2012.

“Among many things, [the plan] recommends closing the unit block and the Strand north of the parking garage entrance to traffic (except EMS, fire, police, etc.) to make a pedestrian plaza,” the report said.

And 10 years later, pedestrianizing the Waterfront has gained traction among locals. Per the city report, more than 90% of 1,800 respondents supported the temporary street closure.

“Of resident respondents, 91% had a positive or very positive experience with the pedestrian zone, and 89% of residents responded that they wanted to see the closure continue into the future,” the report said. “Throughout the closure, businesses periodically expressed support for the closure. In addition, an advisory group made up of staff from various departments, APD, Fire and the Old Town Business Association recommended permanently maintaining the pedestrian zone.”

The plans to close the unit block to vehicle traffic follow a pilot program that started in May and was set to end Labor Day weekend, but was extended to November. Last year, the City Council approved an identical change to the 100 block of King Street.

The staff report said the change has been largely popular:

Following the closure of the 100 block of King Street, an observable decline in through traffic on the unit block resulted. This decline, and the popularity of the new Waterfront Park, has led to an increase in pedestrian volume on the unit block and the Strand. In addition, based on the success of the closure of the 100 block, staff has received requests from the businesses along the unit block to assess the feasibility of closing this block as well. The City conducted a pilot project between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend (and extended through November 20), which proved this closure successful.

The Waterfront Small Area Plan includes multiple recommendations for orienting the space toward pedestrians. It recommends that the waterfront should have continuous pedestrian access and provide an attractive visitor experience.

The plan also calls for improvement to vehicular and pedestrian circulation, which the staff report said pedestrianization would accomplish.

These blocks are particularly challenging for pedestrians given the limited sidewalk space, lack of traffic, and desire that by visitors to walk in the street. By eliminating vehicles from these blocks, the businesses can expand while also creating more space for pedestrians to move through the blocks along the sidewalks and down the center of the street. Additionally, the intersection of Union and King Street is often congested from vehicles and pedestrians moving through the area. While the closure does not completely eliminate conflicts, eliminating one of the vehicular travel directions does reduce potential conflicts between pedestrians and vehicles.

The report said that while the proposal doesn’t eliminate two metered parking spaces and two unmetered spaces, there are several public parking options nearby. Specifically, the report said those looking to park should be directed toward the nearby — and notably underused — parking garages.

Before the streets can be closed, however, the Planning Commission must review these changes, per the City’s Charter.

The item is on the consent calendar — meaning it is likely to be approved without discussion — for the upcoming Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 1.

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The Alexandria Planning Commission partially approved plans that will allow for a car dealership to keep operating on Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray.

Alexandria Hyundai has operated on two acres of land between the 1600 and 1800 blocks of Mount Vernon Avenue for more than 20 years. Owner Kevin Reilly says that his dealership needs to conform to industry changes by converting to electric vehicles in order to stay in business, and filed three special use permit (SUP) requests with the city.

The Planning Commission denied Reilly’s request to allow for the continued use of the parking and storage lots at 1605 and 1611 Mount Vernon Avenue, but approved two other SUP’s — with conditions — for the properties at 1707-1711 and 1801 Mount Vernon Avenue.

Reilly wants a 20 year extension on his special use permits, which currently allow his business to operate until 2025. His proposal includes a new service drive-thru lane, service reception areas and the installation of four electric vehicle chargers for community use — in exchange for allowing the dealership to continue operating until 2045.

“Hyundai has a global design initiative program, and as a dealer if I do not comply, the financial penalties basically make it not viable for me to continue,” Reilly told the Planning Commission on October 6.

Reilly’s plan includes a 770-square-foot canopy for a new 1,730-square-foot service reception addition, as well as a 1,500 square foot service reception area.

City staff, however, say that the dealership does not fall in line with the city’s master plan, which calls for more active and pedestrian-serving uses for the neighborhood. Staff presented rendering of other potential uses for the site, such as townhouses or a mixed-use building with a car dealership on the ground floor.

The efforts were ridiculed by Cathy Puskar, Reilly’s land use attorney. Puskar said that heigh restrictions in Del Ray prohibit such development, and that the building used by city staff as an example of residential units above an auto dealership is 60 feet tall — 15 more than what is allowed. She also said that a conceptual drawing with town homes lacked details.

The conditions approved by the commission stipulate that:

  • Alexandria Hyundai would need to build a four-foot-tall decorative fence or wall along the 1600 block of  Mount Vernon Avenue
  • The dealership will need to add trees in front of the properties in the 1600 block, as well as remove 21 parking spaces for community use
  • If approved by City Council, the SUPs for the properties in the 1700 and 1800 block will need to be reviewed in 2032, and expire in 2045

Gayle Reuter of the Del Ray Business Association said that Reilly should be allowed to stay on Mount Vernon Avenue.

“Why wouldn’t we want to keep such an outstanding business in our neighborhood?” Reuter said. “For those who think that the ownership distracts from new development and improvements to the community, tell that to the brand new townhouses directly behind the dealership that are now on the market for $1.5 million.”

Neighbor Maria Wasowski disagrees.

“Auto sales and parking lots really divide the two commercial ends of (Mount Vernon Avenue),” she said, adding that her position was not personal against Reilly. “We all like him and don’t wish him ill.”

All three special use permit requests now go to City Council for review.

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Former National Tire and Batter (image via Google Maps)

A former National Tire and Battery (NTB) in the West End could be transformed into a used car dealership if the repair shop next door can get approval.

Koons of Alexandria has filed an application for a special use permit to establish a used car dealership at the former NTB building at 5800 Edsall Road, just off S. Van Dorn Street.

Koons of Alexandria also operates the repair center and car rental agency next door, which will remain there under the new proposal.

The application said the project would come with extensive interior and exterior renovations to the NTB building. The dealership would have around 50-100 cars at any given time, with some light repairs ongoing inside the building.

“With this proposal, the Applicant proposes interior and exterior renovations of the existing building to upgrade the building’s appearance, as shown in the enclosed plans,” the application said. “A total of 359 parking spaces are located on the Property and the neighboring 5800 Edsall Road site and are shared between the two buildings. The provided parking is more than sufficient to meet the needs of both buildings.”

The NTB building was built in 1995 and mostly stayed as a tire sale facility until December 2020, when NTB relocated elsewhere in the West End. In 2017 there were plans to turn it into a Land Rover/Jaguar dealership, but those ultimately fell through.

The project is scheduled for review at the Nov. 1 Planning Commission meeting.

Image via Google Maps

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A Planning Commission endorsement of Vola’s Dockside Grill’s (101 N. Union) expansion plans came with two notes: the city should loosen up on its Torpedo Factory-adjacent noise restrictions and there’s a regrettable dearth of vegetarian options in Old Town.

The Planning Commission voted 6-0 with one recusal in favor of Vola’s plans to permanently convert the former Riverside Taco area into more outdoor seating.

In the meeting, Planning Commission chair Nathan Macek said the city should do more to simplify conditions and be a little less prudish when it comes to noise on the waterfront.

“We need to simplify conditions where possible so we’re not making the same statement over and over about the noise ordinance with three or four different conditions that do that,” Macek said.
“We need to be straightforward and precise and do that once.”

The change also allows more outdoor entertainment at the site, like removing restrictions on live entertainment prior to Torpedo Factory closing hours.

“I think we were too restrictive in our original recommendations at the taco site,” Macek said. “I’m less concerned with whether this penetrates the walls of the Torpedo Factory. It’s not a hospital. It’s not a senior citizen home. It is something we’re trying to make vibrant and I think these conditions would allow for what we’re really after… to make our waterfront a lively place.”

Commissioner David Brown also expressed support for the application, saying the expansion is a positive sign of the restaurant’s stability.

“We’re going through a time when many restaurants have been going through a real economic wringer,” Brown said. “This is a sure sign of a restaurant that is succeeding. As someone who had the pleasure for all too brief a time of knowing and working with Vola Lawson, I think she’d be really pleased that her namesake restaurant is succeeding.”

The one lament Planning Commissioners had was that the application marked the final nail in the coffin of hopes that Riverside Taco would return.

“It was a sad day when that taco truck stopped serving tacos,” Macek said. “I wish Vola’s had as many vegetarian options as the taco truck did.”

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Hensley Park concept plan (image via City of Alexandria)

Joseph Hensley Park (4200 Eisenhower Avenue) is slated to get some major upgrades to the athletic fields benefitting not only park users, but neighboring car windows.

The park is set to get a ring of 30-foot netting and fencing around the park alongside a renovation of the park. Those plans are headed to the Planning Commission for review on Tuesday, Sept. 6.

According to the staff report:

The applicant proposes to install safety netting and fencing around the three athletic fields at Hensley Park in order to protect adjacent roadways from errant soccer balls, softballs and baseballs, and similar sporting projectiles that typically travel through the air during sports games and practices. The request involves two proposals. The first proposal is to install 20-foot tall netting on the east side of the multi-purpose field, 20-foot tall backstop fencing behind the two softball field home plates, and 20-foot netting along the first and third line for the two softball fields.

The report said the netting and fencing are already covered in the funding for the park renovation.

The staff report said the park is slated to have its three softball diamond fields replaced with two regulation-sized adult softball fields along with the replacement of a synthetic turf multi-purpose field. During that planning, though, it became apparent that heavy vehicle traffic around the site warranted netting higher than the city’s 15-foot height limit.

“Due to Hensley Park’s location near heavy vehicle traffic at its borders, special accommodations are needed to protect traffic from athletic balls that may leave the athletic fields,” the report said. “The proposed SUP application request and updates on the Park’s renovation were shared at the July 21, 2022, Parks and Recreation Commission meeting, with no comments or issues raised.”

The permit application says fencing of up to 30 feet could be required as the project goes through development, though that extra height hasn’t been accounted for in the project budget.

“Staff supports the request to install new safety netting and fencing at the Hensley Recreational Fields, which requires SUP approval given that its height would exceed 15 feet,” the report said. “The proposal includes common recreational accessories found around recreational fields that will reduce the likelihood for damage to adjacent roadways and parking areas due to athletic projectiles.”

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