Alexandria, VA

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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As Alexandria starts to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the city’s long term planning priorities are shifting to meet needs exposed by the health crisis.

In a presentation to the Planning Commission last week, city staff said some projects that were in the planning stage will be pushed back, including:

The Duke Street plan involves improvements to affordable housing, infrastructure and more along the Duke Street corridor. While the broader planning efforts had been scheduled to start this spring, staff said in a presentation that the planning effort will move to FY 2022. Some research currently underway on the proposed Duke Street Transitway will continue in the meantime.

“It’s especially important given this location and the transportation issues that are in this area that we go ahead and let Transportation and Environmental Services begin and get going on their work related to the transitway,” staff said at the meeting. “They have environmental concept work underway.”

Mount Vernon Avenue Plans, meanwhile, referred to conjoined planning efforts to make improvements to things like pedestrian infrastructure and housing affordability in Arlandria and Del Ray. Staff said at the Planning Commission that the interwoven Del Ray and Arlandria plans will be disentangled and improvements to Arlandria — which was particularly hard-hit by COVID-19 — will be prioritized.

“We are proposing to make a change to what we had originally planned with Mount Vernon Avenue plan,” staff said. “We’re recommending a focus just on Arlandria/Chirilagua with housing affordability in Arlandria first as a priority topic. Recommending continuing on late this year with housing recommendations and continuing on with housing topics.”

This summer and fall, the city will review housing affordability priorities, strategies and recommendations for Arlandria and continue with other aspects of plan development in the spring.

Staff said after the Arlandria/Chirilagua portion of the plan is put together, planning efforts will move on to Del Ray next fall.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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It was a busy week in Alexandria, and there is plenty to talk about.

The city is moving forward with phase three of reopening its economy on July 1, and the news comes as the death toll from the coronavirus moved up to 50 and the number of cases steadily rise.

It also looks like the upcoming Alexandria City Public School school year and city services will continue to be impacted until the virus is held at bay, and school and city staff are developing plans to stagger teleworking and in-person schedules for students and staff alike.

Restaurants are reopening like never before, which is to say that customers are cautiously welcomed as Health Department restrictions are slowly lifted and many establishments have expanded their outdoor seating.

Here are the top 11 most-read articles this week in Alexandria.

  1. Del Ray Pizza Restaurant Converts Parking Deck Into Tropical Oasis Themed Bar
  2. COVID-19 Cases Steadily Increase as Alexandria Releases Phase Three Reopening Guidelines
  3. Large Residential Development in Braddock Goes to Planning Commission Tomorrow
  4. Alexandria Now Has 50 COVID-19 Deaths, Cases Climbing by Double Digits Daily
  5. East Eisenhower Avenue Project Returns With A New Senior Living Component
  6. Students Likely to Rotate School Attendance When ACPS Reopens
  7. Alexandria Preps for Phase 3 Reopening on July 1
  8. Lights On: Two Nineteen Restaurant Reopening Today in Old Town
  9. Developers Take Another Crack at Converting North Old Town Office to Housing
  10. Housing Affordability and Cost of Living Get Low Rating in Community Livability Report
  11. Inova Alexandria Hospital Now Treating 20+ Coronavirus Patients

Feel free to discuss these or other topics in the comments. Have a safe weekend!

Staff photo by James Cullum

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After years of inaction, a new applicant is hoping to take a crack at converting the vacant Waterfront Center office building in Old Town at 801 N. Fairfax Street into a residential development.

“Interest in converting the nearly 50-year-old office building dates back to at least 2015, when the property owner for both office buildings approached the City about converting the 801 N. Fairfax Street building to residential,” said the applicant, A & A Limited Partnership. “The property owner demonstrated that floor area ratio (FAR), setbacks, parking and open space requirements could be satisfied in a ‘by-right’ conversion from office to multifamily residential.”

The project is scheduled to go to the Planning Commission on Thursday.

Converting the building to residential did require one Special Use Permit (SUP) for increased height to allow rooftop access — which would technically increase the height of the building by adding railings and dividing walls. An SUP was granted in 2017, but no action was taken and the permit expired.

“A contract purchaser of the 801 N. Fairfax Street building is the applicant for the current SUP and plans to convert the vacant office building to residential use,” the applicant said.

The plan is to convert the building into multi-family residential housing. While the building doesn’t comply with guidelines on height for that area, a staff report praised the proposal’s flexible use of an existing building footprint.

“Staff supports the SUP application for a building height increase that will provide additional flexibility for the adaptive reuse of the existing building at 801 N. Fairfax Street,” the staff report said. “The SUP increases the viability of converting the vacant office building into active residential use.”

Waterfront Center isn’t the only North Old Town office space getting a residential makeover: nearby office complex The Towngate has also requested permits to undergo a conversion to residential use.

Photo via Google Maps

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A local nonprofit is planning to renovate an office building in Old Town into a facility dedicated to helping individuals with special needs get access to job training.

The Joey Pizzano Memorial Fund (JPMF), an Alexandria based nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of children with special needs and their families, is planning to build a Community Integration Center — a facility aimed at providing adults with disabilities with training and resources for their personal and employment goals — at 919 Prince Street. The facility will also include two accessory dwelling units.

The JPMF was set up by Alexandria parents Robert and Paola Pizzano in 1998 after their six-year-old son Joey, a child with special needs, drowned.

“The proposed use will allow the JPMF, an Alexandria-based non-profit organization, to further advance its mission of improving the lives of the disable population in its own community,” the JPMF said. “There is an un-met and growing need in the city for day-programming and vocational skills training for individuals with disabilities and the proposed use will allow the JPMF to meet both of those needs.”

The program is planned to have 15-25 participants at any given time, who can be transported to local businesses and receive training in things like administrative tasks and supply management. Program participants would be paid for their work by the local business.

The location is also planned to include a small storefront, selling items like handmade soap, candles, greeting cards, and other items created by those in the program and from other local organizations specializing in help for people with disabilities.

“In addition to developing vocational skills, the proposed facility will offer its participants education in areas such as nutrition, computer skills and other life skills,” the applicant said. “The facility will take advantage of the property’s location in the heart of the city by providing trips to local shops, museums, parks and restaurants throughout Old Town.”

Regular programming is scheduled for 8 a.m.- 6 p.m., but the space could also be used on evenings or weekends for special gatherings.

The application is planned to be reviewed by the Planning Commission at its meeting on Tuesday, June 2.

Photo via Google Maps

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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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The Alexandria Planning Commission unanimously approved a new maritime center for the Tall Ship Providence on Tuesday night.

If passed by city council, the 18th-century replica ship will be docked at a new floating pier at Waterfront Park.

The proposed, L-shaped, 5,300 square-foot floating pier would be located in the center of the southern portion of the park. The pier would be home to two 17-foot-tall cottages, both 768 square feet, to accommodate visitors with a theater area for historical presentations, a gift shop, restrooms and a ticket office.

Additionally, a security gate would be installed where the gangway meets with the floating pier.

“We’re very excited to have a home for the Tall Ship Providence. That’s been in the works for quite some time now,” Cathy Puskar, an attorney for the Alexandria-based Tall Ship Providence Foundation, told the commission.

The ship sailed into Alexandria last summer and is still awaiting inspection approval by the U.S. Coast Guard before it can start welcoming visitors. It has been docked on the waterfront at a pier just north of the Torpedo Factory for several months, and plans call for it to open to the public as soon as that inspection is complete.

Speaking before the Planning Commission, Old Town resident Mike Budinski said he is concerned that the new pier and cottages will block the view of the Potomac.

“I think the so-called cottages, basically they’re quite large buildings, actually, their footprint is actually larger than my house in Old Town, and they’re tall, so they’re going to have a silhouette,” Budinski said. “I’m down there all the time, even at dawn almost every morning. What’s funny is that on Saturday, Sunday and even Monday mornings is how you see all the chairs lined up on the bulkhead, on the break wall aimed at the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. People really love that view of the southern corridor.”

The pier would be able to accommodate a maximum of 150 people at one time, and groups of 25 would rotate between the two cottages and the ship, according to a city staff report. The Tall Ship Providence Foundation also wants to serve beer, wine and mixed drinks on the new pier.

You might have also noticed that there is an existing pier at Waterfront Park. Under the proposal, the pier, which is used by the Alexandria Seaport Foundation, would be removed.

According to a filing, plans for the pier include:

  • Cottage #1 would include two single-occupancy restrooms and storage space
  • The sewage from the restrooms will be held in a storage tank under the structure
  • Cottage #2 would include a ticket office, gift shop and theater area to provide information on maritime history and the ship
  • The pier would extend 126 feet from the shoreline and into waters controlled by the District of Columbia
  • The shoreline for this area is part of the city’s future Flood Mitigation Implementation project and Waterfront Improvements plan. As such, the structures are proposed to be temporary until future flood mitigation efforts begin
  • The roof of the cottages will be covered with solar panels or solar roof tiles
  • Hours of operation would be from 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday, Sunday and holidays
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After months of gathering feedback, city staff have a better idea of what residents of Arlandria and Del Ray think their communities need.

The public feedback is the first step in an ongoing effort to update the plans for Del Ray and Arlandria made in the early 2000s.

Over the last fall, staff hosted 35 meetings, nine mobile pop-ups, two large community conversations, and received over 800 responses to an online questionnaire, according to a report filed to the Alexandria Planning Commission.

The top priorities identified in by the Del Ray and Arlandria communities are pedestrian safety, public transportation, and various neighborhood amenities. Staff did note that there were notable differences between the Spanish and English language questionnaire results.

The English language questionnaire priorities were:

  1. Restaurants and stores
  2. Pedestrian safety
  3. Neighborhood safety
  4. Community activities
  5. Parks and playgrounds

The top priorities from the Spanish language questionnaire were:

  1. Housing options and affordability
  2. Increasing the minimum wage
  3. Pedestrian safety
  4. Job opportunities
  5. Public transportation

With those responses in mind, staff said one of the priorities of the plan will be focusing on housing affordability in Arlandria as “the most urgent issue in the plan area based on pressing redevelopment interest… and pressure from redevelopment outside the plan area.”

The elephant in room, in that statement, is the arrival of Amazon and new development coming into Potomac Yard. Advocates in Northern Virginia have been concerned since the announcement of the new headquarters that the development would push out the area’s affordable housing options.

“Meetings in the spring will focus on developing a vision and supporting goals, as well as identifying specific issues, tools, and strategies for addressing housing affordability in Arlandria,” staff said in the report. “Staff will return to the Planning Commission and City Council in the early fall with recommendations for consideration.”

Subsequent phases of the plan will focus on other issues highlighted by the community like maintaining the neighborhood character and housing in Del Ray, pedestrian and bicycle safety, public transportation and supporting local retail.

City staff are scheduled to meet with the Planning Commission on Tuesday, Feb. 4, and the City Council later in February.

“The final plan will cover the entire Mount Vernon Avenue corridor with sections or chapters devoted to particular areas as appropriate,” the report said. “Draft options and recommendations will be introduced in spring 2021 for discussion and refinement before posting a final draft plan for consideration and adoption in fall 2021.

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The enormous power plant in North Old Town has been shut down for nearly a decade, but plans have finally emerged to break the property up into smaller parcels for redevelopment.

The Potomac River Generating Station, more commonly known around Alexandria by its former name GenOn — which still adorns the building’s signs — was decommissioned in 2012.

The property’s owner, the Potomac Energy Power Company (PEPCO), is scheduled to bring a plan forward at the March 3 Planning Commission meeting to divide the property into three parcels..

The first lot, by far the largest at 818,944-square-feet, would encompass the administrative building and the power plant itself. Two smaller lots, 121,285-square-feet and 164,734-square-feet respectively, would be located at the western end of the property. Lot three would run along E. Abingdon Drive.

Following years of cleaning up the property, plans approved in 2017 would see the power plant redeveloped and turned into a pedestrian-friendly, urban neighborhood, as reported by the Washington Business Journal. An arts district and a waterfront park are also included in city plans for the area.

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The Alexandria Planning Commission is scheduled to consider a plan update to increase the number of affordable housing units in Eisenhower East.

Under the proposal, 10% of additional residential rental development will be devoted to affordable rental units. At full buildout, the plan anticipates up to 400-450 affordable units in Eisenhower East, versus the 66 affordable housing units that currently exist in the area. 

“The plan supports the city’s Housing for All policy and objective to develop or preserve 2,000 affordable housing units through 2025, as well as the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments regional housing initiative to increase the production of affordable housing over the next decade in response to significant forecast shortages,” notes a staff report.

The Planning Commission meeting was set to take place tonight, but that may be delayed due to weather. It is not clear when the City Council will vote on the final plan update.

ICYMI: What’s Ahead for the Eisenhower Valley?
ARCHIVE: 
City Asks for Public Input on Eisenhower East Plan

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Starting a new business can be tricky, and the Alexandria City Council is working to make it easier for a number of establishments to open faster.

This spring, the Planning Commission and City Council will vote on a package of regulatory changes that will speed up the approval processes for a number of new businesses.

“Any new small business owner is taking an enormous risk,” Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson wrote in his January newsletter. “They are betting their resources on the future success of an idea. It’s a risk that our system relies on. It results in businesses that provide products and services that enrich our lives. As taxpayers, it supports tax revenue that eases the burden on residential taxpayers. For individuals, it provides careers.”

The regulatory changes would impact the following businesses:

  • Restaurants
  • Outdoor dining areas
  • Daycare centers
  • Outdoor food and crafts markets
  • Health and athletic clubs
  • Food and beverage production
  • Amusement enterprises
  • Convenience stores
  • Social Service uses
  • Home occupations

Bill Blackburn is a partner in the Homegrown Restaurant Group, which includes Holy Cow Del Ray, Pork Barrel BBQ, The Sushi Bar, Sweet Fire Donna’s, Whiskey & Oyster and Tequila & Taco. He said that the city’s special use permit process could use some work.

“Our group is certainly for anything that can be done in a common sense solution to streamline opening a business,” Blackburn said. “Certainly the [Special Use Permit] process is burdensome for small businesses, and making it faster and more efficient is going to help the mom and pop businesses that Alexandria prides itself on.”

Bill Reagan, executive director of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, said that the changes could shave off several months for new businesses looking to open their doors.

“Going through the approval process, going to the Board of Architectural Review, hiring an land use attorney and getting approvals through the Planning Commission and the City Council is a huge cost that businesses bear when they are getting ready to open,” Reagan said. “It takes away from their inventory, their ability to hire people and making investments in the build-out of properties. What the city selected are uses with very little controversy, and we should give these a try.”

Wilson said that the city has an obligation to provide a regulatory process that is not burdensome on businesses looking to establish themselves in Alexandria.

“Sometimes our existing practices fall short of that mark,” Wilson said.

“Every day of delay is money for a new business,” he added. “These new changes will help our small businesses be successful in Alexandria.”

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