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Fire Department recruits training on Feb. 14, 2020 (Staff photo by James Cullum)

The Alexandria Fire Department wants to replace a 42-year-old burn building used for training in Old Town.

AFD’s proposal to demolish the three-story, 4,600-square-foot building with a new four-story, 6,400-square-foot building goes before the Planning Commission on Tuesday, Oct. 3 and City Council on October 14.

According to the special use permit application:

The building does not have HVAC systems, interior lighting, domestic plumbing, nor a dedicated sprinkler system. Defined as a ‘prop’ by the State of Virginia Department of Fire Programs, the purpose of the structure is to replicate built conditions and spatial arrangements fire fighters encounter in real life, local, fire fighting scenarios. This structure is intended for use solely by supervised training exercises of professional fire fighters and AFD trainees and is closed to the general public…

The frequency of training and the level of disturbance (smoke, sound, visibility) on the surrounding area are not expected to increase in the new facility. The additional fourth story will not host live fire drills and the added height should not incur an increased line of sight to the surrounding area.

Most training sessions are for up to 10 trainees, however there are instances where they can include up to 100 firefighting personnel, according to a special use permit application

AFD reports there have been no complaints from residents or neighboring AlexRenew for more than 40 years.

City Council and Planning Commission members reviewing Zoning for Housing/Housing for All proposal (staff photo by Vernon Miles)

The Zoning for Housing/Housing for All project turned out to be less of a revolution in Alexandria’s zoning and — for better or worse — more of a gradual evolution.

After extensive build-up and public discussion, Director of Planning Karl Moritz debuted zoning changes to a mixed response from city leaders.

The core gist of Zoning for Housing/Housing for All is a ground-up effort to rework city zoning to be more affordable, accessible and available. While there was praise around the work that went into the project, several city leaders said they were underwhelmed by the project’s scope.

Zoning for Housing/Housing for All touches on some of the same topics as neighboring Arlington’s similar Missing Middle zoning changes, including expanding housing options in single-family zones, but it became clear during the City Council and Planning Commission discussion that existing zoning limitations might blunt the impact of that change.

The staff recommendation is to add the opportunity to construct two to four-unit dwellings in single-family residential zones. The estimated result would be 66 new residential buildings developed over 10 years and 178 total new units.

An optional alternative is a more conservative two-unit dwelling in some zones and three or four multi-unit dwellings in others.

However, what seems like a significant change is watered down by the fact that the additional units would need to exist within the current limits for lot coverage and height as current single-family dwelling units.

According to the presentation:

To preserve neighborhood compatibility, the proposed new residential dwelling types would have to follow the same limitations for lot coverage and height as any new single family dwelling would. Setbacks, lot frontage, floor area ratio and height requirements would be equally applied to any new residential dwellings constructed in a zone.

City staff also recommended moving to no minimum parking requirements for dwellings with up to four units in the enhanced transit areas along Duke Street, Old Town/Del Ray and the West End.

Housing outside of those areas would have a minimum 0.5 parking spaces per unit for dwellings — with a note from Moritz later that the city rounds those half-space requirements up if there’s an odd number of units proposed.

Other changes included replacing the “family” requirement in zoning ordinance with a simple occupancy limit.

Moritz said changes to lot coverage requirements could be addressed later, but that city staff didn’t want to change too many elements of zoning at once.

“We thought it was important to hang on to the overall amount of building that is permitted when taking this particular step,” Moritz said. “In terms of single-family zoning… the size of the container limits what you can have there.”

Moritz said not touching things like setback requirements was a conscious decision by staff.

“There’s no way to fit more units in there in a way we thought the market would adopt,” Moritz said. “We have chosen to limit ourselves to the development envelope that currently exists.”

Multiple City Council and Planning Commission members said that caution was disappointing.

“I’m a tiny bit underwhelmed,” said Planning Commission Vice Chair Melissa McMahon. “That’s not a criticism, it’s more a sense of existential disappointment that the challenges we face are so large… we’re still barely moving the needle. I want to put that on the table because that’s my heartfelt reaction.”

Elsewhere, the report also put a nail in the coffin of plans to add more density and height to more areas of the city. One of the city’s main tools for getting affordable housing units from developers is trading those units for additional height and density allowances.

The city had considered expanding that trade to areas with lower height limits — between 45-50 feet — but ultimately found that other limits like square footage and setback requirements would likely keep that from being utilized.

Unexpectedly, some of the most substantial changes were proposed for Alexandria’s fairly limited number of industrial zones. Moritz pointed to Eisenhower West as an example of an area of industrially zoned buildings with retail, exercise, performance spaces and church uses compatible with housing.

Zoning for Housing/Housing for All aims to turn these industrial zones into areas with better housing and transit options.

“Most of these industrial buildings are built in an anti-urban way,” Moritz explained. “Our proposal is to regulate new industrial buildings in our industrial zones with some urban design criteria.”

Mayor Justin Wilson said the earlier chicken kerfuffle revealed to many on City Council that industrial zoning was fairly laissez-faire about nearly everything except having residential units.

“You can do literally almost anything in industrial zones except sleep there,” Wilson said. “While single-family zoning gets all the attention in this discussion, I imagine other parts of the proposal will be far more productive.”

But these changes for industrial areas only seemed to rub salt in the wound for those disappointed with the conservative changes to single-family zoning.

“By the time we get to single-family zoning, staff are saying the only thing we’re changing are the number of units; we’re not changing any of the things that create those constraints,” McMahon said. “That didn’t resonate very well for me; that in one part of town, we’re talking about freeing up things, making buildings more dense, in another part of town, we’re retaining it all except for the number of units.”

Commissioner David Brown said he understood McMahon’s concerns but said he appreciated the proposal as an incremental change.

“I have a naturally conservative attitude to fixing what isn’t broken,” Brown said. “This is not a radical proposal, and they would tell you maybe it’s not radical enough. My sense is this is an incremental proposal… The work is not done. There’s going to be more to do. Your approach here has been oriented toward the nuts and bolts and I think it will be fairly easy to put together the statutory language to implement this.”

The proposal will go through an extensive public review process over the next few months before ultimately heading back to the City Council for a vote on Nov. 28.


(Updated 12:30 p.m.) The massive WestEnd Alexandria project is taking shape, as the Planning Commission tonight will weigh in on a number of proposals by site development partner Foulger-Pratt.

Nearly half the 52-acre West End Alexandria development is devoted to the Inova at Landmark (the eventual home of Alexandria Hospital), and the rest of the property has been divvied into a multi-block town center. The redevelopment will include new apartment buildings, pavilions, restaurants, rooftop open space and more.

In December, City Council approved Foulger-Pratt’s plan to build three new apartment buildings with 1,117 total units, and tonight’s meeting will focus on the following proposals:

  • A development special use permit to build a central plaza (on blocks F and N), a paseo (on block R) and a terrace park (on block P)
  • Plans to build two retail/restaurant pavilions with outdoor dining, a playground, seasonal ice-skating rink, and areas for passive recreation
  • Plans to extend commercial space and add new rooftop open space to block E
  • Plans to modify the layout of the block E residential building by infilling the ground floor courtyard with a one-story commercial space
  • Development of 4.4 acres of open space on four blocks, including a tennis/pickleball court, basketball court

The first pavilion, a two-story 4,610-square-foot structure, would be located in a central plaza on block F. The second pavilion, a two-story 978-square-foot building on block N, would include a 270-square-foot seasonal ice-skating shop and a public restroom.

The development for the WestEnd Alexandria project (via City of Alexandria)

The Planning Commission meeting starts at 7 p.m.


Almost two months after The Art League filed permits for a Slaters Lane studio, that proposal is heading to the Planning Commission next month with city staff’s blessing.

The Art League is a nonprofit dedicated to bringing art to the community. The nonprofit’s offices and art supply shop, along with a few of their classrooms, are located in the Torpedo Factory, but the larger commercial school is located in the Montgomery Center.

The Montgomery Center is slated for redevelopment, meaning the local businesses and the Art Center are forced to find a new home. Fortunately, The Art League isn’t going far, and it could be moving into an old print shop at 800 Slaters Lane.

The building, constructed in 1951, was a laboratory and a warehouse before it became a print shop in 1996. It kept that use until 2021 when Nordic Press vacated the building.

In the Special Use Permit, The Art League Executive Director Suzanne Bethel said the new facility would be a hub for classes from clay animation to silk screening:

At 800 Slaters Lane, the applicant would provide classroom education and workshops in the fine arts and outreach programs for the local community. Students of all ages and skill levels would be offered courses such as drawing, painting, watercolor painting, fiber art, ceramics, sculpture, printmaking, photography, jewelry making, clay animation, silk screening, and stained glass.

The application said The Art League has almost 7,000 students per year and hopes to open 17 studios in the building.

The staff analysis supported the new use for the print shop.

“Staff supports the applicant’s request to operate the private commercial school use,” the report said. “This property is an opportunity to keep a revered cultural establishment within the City limits and one proven to harmonize within its surrounding community.”

The staff analysis noted that the studio would also activate a vacant building and maintain a unique educational experience for the immediate and broader community without overwhelming the local street system.

Image via Google Maps


The developer for the massive Samuel Madden redevelopment in Old Town deferred submission of a final site plan this week, after the Board of Architectural Review warned failure over design guidelines.

For one thing, the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority project needs to be designed without vinyl windows, unlike the current design.

“The applicant is proposing to use VPI Vinyl Windows for all windows that are not aluminum storefront,” City staff said in a report. “This means that most windows above the ground floor will be vinyl windows. As shown in the submitted product data, the vinyl windows will have muntins applied to the interior and exterior faces of the glass but will not include spacer bars between the glass.”

ARHA wants to demolish the existing 66 units of public housing in 13 two-story apartment buildings at 899 and 999 N. Henry Street and replace them with two new six-story apartment buildings (75 feet maximum height) containing 532 residential units. Of those, 326 units would be affordable and workforce housing for a period of 40 years, in order for ARHA to qualify for federal tax credits.

City Council and the Planning Commission unanimously approved the development in February, although final site plans still have to go through an approval process. ARHA expects construction to take two years and is also applying for special use permit approvals for a potential restaurant with outdoor dining, an athletic club/fitness studio and a medical care facility.

The property will be home to home to 13,800 square feet of ground floor retail space, as well as a 13,540 square-foot Hopkins House early childhood center and a 500-square-foot Alive! food hub.

BAR Member Nastaran Zandian recommended fiberglass windows and Board Chair James Spencer recommended deferral.

“I don’t think you’re gonna get anyone on this board to sign off on vinyl windows,” Spencer said.

The current public housing units were built for defense workers during World War II in 1945. The 65 families currently living on the properties will be provided temporary housing, their moving expenses will be paid and they will have the option to move back to the property once construction is finished, according to a city staff report.

Board Member Andrew Scott said he likes the project overall.

“In general I think it’s a really nice project,” Scott said. “If it just comes down to the windows and we’re fine with everything else what I will recommend is conditional approval of the project, on the condition that you find another window, and then it puts this decision in the hands of the City Council about how they want to weigh the design guidelines against their other competing priorities.”

City staff also found fault in a proposed cantilevered sunshade on the roof of the gateway building at 999 N. Henry Street.

“This is meant to create a top to the building as a sort of cornice,” city staff wrote. “Staff finds this element to be a distraction to the simple form and notes that since this is on the north elevation of the building, it serves no functional purpose. Staff recommends that the applicant explore brick detailing options to create a terminus to the curved form that is more simple than the proposed sun shade.”

Proposed ice rink in Landmark Mall redevelopment plans (image via Oculus/City of Alexandria)

Development plans for the mixed-use development replacing Landmark Mall have been pretty standard so far — commercial tenants on the ground floor, residential and some office above — but a new feature could be a major draw.

The project, confusingly called West End development, is a massive project attached to the construction of a new Inova Hospital campus.

Plans for the site, drawn up by landscape architect Oculus for developer Foulger-Pratt Development, in a Special Use Permit indicate the development could include a seasonal ice skating rink.

Plans show the new rink filling up part of a section of a park, along with a pavilion and public seating — though the application notes that the illustration is “for illustrative purposes only.” The final design and layout of the ice rink is still “to be finalized.”

The project’s website indicated that construction could start on the infrastructure by the end of this year. The developer said last year that vertical construction could start next year and the first buildings could be completed sometime in late 2025.


The Art League is one of several Old Town North tenants being displaced by new development at Montgomery Center (300 Montgomery Street), but a permit filed with the City of Alexandria indicated the arts-focused non-profit could be moving to the former ABC Imaging location at 800 Slaters Lane.

A Special Use Permit has been filed to open new studio spaces in the former printing shop. The Art League also said classes will be held inside the building.

The Art League was founded in 1964 and is a non-profit that promotes arts and art education.

According to the permit:

The Art League provides gallery exhibits and work spaces for artists, offers classroom education and workshops in the fine arts, and provides outreach programs for the local [community]. Students of all ages and skill levels are able to take courses in drawing, painting, watercolor painting, fiber art, ceramics, sculpture, printmaking, photography, jewelry making, clay animation, silk screening, stained glass and more. With an enrollment of almost 7,000 students per year, The Art League intends to establish 11 enclosed and 5 open studio spaces for artists and education opportunities in the existing building located at 800 Slaters Lane.

The project is heading to the Planning Commission on Sept. 5.

Plans for 800 Slaters Lane (image via City of Alexandria)

Image via Google Maps

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What two additional stories looks like on a 45-foot-tall structure. (Via City of Alexandria)

After considerable pushback, the city is rethinking its bonus height provision as a way to build affordable housing in Alexandria.

The city’s controversial zoning for housing plan proposes to upend a number of zoning ordinances. One of them is a bonus height amendment that would incentivize developers to add affordable housing to projects in exchange for two additional stories of construction in areas where height limits are 45 feet or more.

“I would just encourage us that, as we’re thinking about how to prioritize, that we’re not just thinking of it in terms of where can we get the most height or not, but we’re also looking at maybe some of the unintended consequences,” said Council Member Alyia Gaskins in a joint meeting with the Planning Commission on Monday.

On Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray, that would mean 70-foot-tall apartment buildings, and residents say the move would ruin the small town feel of the neighborhood. The bonus height provision would also impact properties along Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray, as well as in Arlandria, Alexandria West, the Beauregard area, the Landmark area, Eisenhower West, Old Town North and Carlyle.

“What we are finding in our initial analysis is that in most cases, the opportunity for additional height may not be particularly valuable than setting new constraints like setbacks and limit what’s possible on the site much more than height does,” said Nancy Williams, the assistant director of the Department of Planning and Zoning.

The negative effect would be the displacement of more families than are being added back into affordable housing.

“If we do a redevelopment and we’re only getting 30% of that additional height in affordability and the rest of it’s not affordable, that might be totally negated by tearing down a garden style apartment building,” Planning Commission Vice Chair Melissa McMahon said, adding that the policy would generate a bunch of unintended consequences and development won’t work citywide.

The Planning Commission deferred a vote on the bonus height proposal last summer after protests from Del Ray residents.

“Part of the reason we’re here, quite honestly, is because of some of the pushback the Commission offered to the to the bonus height provision and I think it prompted a conversation around how we look at the entirety of this process,” Mayor Justin Wilson said.

Areas of the city that would be impacted by the proposed change to height restrictions. (Via City of Alexandria)

While Del Ray could see negative consequences from adding height in exchange for affordable housing, Williams said there are specific situations where height would be useful and asked whether the bonus height provision should be focused on limited locations.

City Council Member John Taylor Chapman said that the Eisenhower Valley is a prime spot for implementation of the provision.

“I think of places like Eisenhower valley where, whether it’s the eastern part where we started to really grow and frankly message to the community that we don’t mind getting taller there,” Chapman said.

If the proposal is approved as-is, developers would still have to go through an intensive special use permit (SUP) process, which could limit developers wanting to come into Del Ray.

Council Member Kirk McPike said that argument is “not compelling” and that the city shouldn’t inadvertently induce counterproductive redevelopment.

The proposal went through a community engagement phase in the spring, and City staff recommendations will be made in July and August. More community engagement sessions are expected in September and October and then public hearings with the Planning Commission and City Council will be held in November and December.

The proposed zoning for housing initiative is below the jump. Read More


Tropical Smoothie Cafe could soon be coming to Alexandria’s West End.

Owner Oubab Khalil filed a special use permit (SUP) on June 12 to run the restaurant at the space at 424 S. Pickett Street. The final day for public comments is July 6 before it goes to the Planning Commission and then City Council.

The 1,300 square-foot property is located on the ground level of the Cameron Square apartment complex. Submitted plans call for a 20-seat restaurant with smoothie and food prep areas, a kitchen and a single bathroom.

Khalil isn’t new to the business and opened his first Tropical Smoothie Cafe in D.C. in 2016.

If approved, the hours of operation would be 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday and from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

There are two other Tropical Smoothie Cafes in Alexandria, at 3610-G King Street in the Bradlee Shopping Center and at 1556 Potomac Greens Drive.

Image via Facebook, map via Google Maps


(Updated 9:55 p.m.) Alexandria’s Planning Commission voted to recommend eliminating outdoor music at Hops N’ Shine (3410 Mount Vernon Avenue) and the restaurant owners faced some withering rebukes from Planning Commissioners.

The bar failed to get a recommendation for the outdoor live entertainment or outdoor cooking conditions, two of the major components of the special use permit (SUP) application.

Arlandria bar Hops N’ Shine has accrued a devoted local following for its live music and trivia events, but the bar has also drawn the ire of some neighbors when the noise of those events go beyond the confines of the bar. The staff report noted that there have been “17 valid complaints related to violations of SUP conditions”

Owners of Hops N’ Shine noted during the public discussion that the complaints are being challenged in court and asked that the bar be considered “innocent until proven guilty”. Some of the complaints, they said, were the result of misunderstandings as the restaurant struggled to adapt to the pandemic and a post-pandemic environment.

“We have tried to be a good corporate citizen, to live by the rules and abide by the rules,” said Abe Hadjiesmaeiloo, one of the bar’s owners. “I know we have lots of complaints tonight with major issues. Some of the issues with complaints were a misinterpretation on our part.”

Abe said many of those complaints stemmed from one particular neighbor who told him from the outset they aimed to have the restaurant shut down and regularly harassed both customers and staff at the restaurant. Paymon Hadjiesmaeiloo, Abe’s son, said he was concerned about the precedent that could be created if a group of individuals were able to use the complaint system to shut down a local business.

Some on the Planning Commission weren’t buying it.

“There were several violations that were reported here that you were told that outdoor live trivia shows were problematic for the neighborhood and not repeated, yet they continued even after [that],” said Planning Commission Chair Nathan Macek. “We have a record from staff that shows there have been repeated reports of outdoor trivia noise from business after repeated notices of violation and requests to cease the activity. Why did it continue?”

Another owner, C.J. Cross, explained that there was confusion from the city on what was or wasn’t allowed.

“Initially, when we had a complaint about trivia being outside, spoke with the inspector… and he told us we were within what we were able to do with having amplification of trivia outside,” Cross said. “So we were under the belief that we were good to go… Since then, after having conversation with city staff and them saying ‘you know what, that might have been told in the past, but that’s not what we now deem as allowed.’ Since that conversation in fall of last year, we have stopped amplification of trivia outside.”

Matt Rofougaran, another owner of the bar, said the outdoor activities have been generally innocuous.

“We sell custom made grilled cheese sandwiches and beer,” Rofougaran said. “We have toys for kids and a whole coloring book page. We do fundraisers for the community. We’re not a nightclub, we’re not ‘throw massive party’ types. We want acoustic music, someone singing ‘Friends in Low Places’… When we got a violation for outdoor cooking, you know what we had? Little smore kits for kids to make s’mores.”

But neighbors said granting the requests from Hops N’ Shine would reward bad behavior from the restaurant.

“It has been fairly problematic with respect to the amount of noise that travels over their area,” said Steve Harris from the Mount Vernon Court Community Associations. “One question we would have is: while we appreciate the staff recommendations, they did still reward them by expanding their hours from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.”

Other neighbors said Hops N’ Shine has been disruptive for neighbors. One nearby homeowner said they could smell the cigar smoke from Monday cigar nights, hear the trivia hosts on Wednesday nights, and that their children struggle to sleep with the sounds of bar patrons just 15 feet from their bedroom.

Ultimately, the Planning Commission voted to mostly stick with the staff recommendation — approval on paper, but with much of the requested improvements gutted.

Under staff’s recommendation, all windows and doors must remained closed during indoor live entertainment, and outdoor cooking and outdoor live entertainment permissions as denied — though permits can still be obtained for individual events.

Addressing the restaurant owner’s claims that what constituted live outdoor entertainment was unclear, the staff report lists “live music, game/trivia nights, movie nights, classes/workshops/meetings fundraising events and any such similar events.”

“I think, if there has been misinterpretation of the standards and expectations of the city, tonight they stop,” said Planning Commissioner Mindy Lyle. “It should be very clear what our expectations are for a business. Mr. Macek and I have been two of the most supportive for expanding restaurant hours and expanding restaurant opportunities. I remember voting in favor of your expansion last time. I want to say: I think that might have been an incorrect decision.”

Lyle said, despite Hops N’ Shine owners protesting that the complaints were miscommunications or neighbors with a vendetta, the number of violations are still concerning for Planning Commission members.

“[There are] 17 violations, whether they’re proven in court or not,” Lyle said. “Don’t tell me that staff is 100% wrong in issuing them. Staff is very careful in issuing violations and many times they err on caution and don’t jump the gun, because they know there are consequence to those actions.”

Macek said the approval still offers some flexibility to the business, but didn’t mince words regarding the Planning Commission’s frustrations.

“I think there has been egregious behavior by this applicant with respect to the operation of their business,” Macek said. “This is highly unusual that we’d have a business with 17 violations documented…  The egregious performance here justifies revoking their right to have outdoor amplified sound.”

While owners of the restaurant said many supporters in the community signed their endorsement of the bar’s plans, Planning Commissioner Melissa McMahon said those voices don’t necessarily weigh as heavily in this matter as neighbors’ do.

“Your best friend doesn’t make your best roommate,” McMahon said. “What I’m hearing tonight is that living compatibility, this restaurant’s living room backs up to a bunch of other people’s living rooms… The hundreds, potentially thousands of people who would write in support of you as a business, as a member of the wider community: legit perspective, but those are the people that love you because they don’t have to live with you… The people you do have to live with, you have to find a way to live side by side.”

The application heads to the City Council for review on Saturday, June 17.


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