Alexandria, VA

The Basilica School of Saint Mary (310 S Royal Street) in Old Town could grow by two new buildings if a new development application goes through.

The Catholic Diocese of Arlington is requesting permission to build a new library and media center at their 400 Green Street property.

“St. Mary’s has operated on the Property since 1948, and has grown and changed along with the needs of the student body and the community,” the diocese said in the application. “The proposed addition would connect two school buildings on the Property and allow students to safely travel between the two classroom buildings. Site improvements include reorienting the parking lot and student pick-up and drop-off area, adding one elevator for ADA accessibility, and other landscaping and playground improvements.

Even with the added buildings, the diocese said the floor area ratio (FAR) of 0.7 is still significantly below the permitted 1.5 FAR.

“The proposed addition connects the southeast corner of the Main Building with the northwest corner of Stephen’s Hall and contains approximately 19,298 square feet of floor area on the library level,” the diocese said.

The proposal will also add a new tower to the campus, described as “architecturally distinct from the existing cupola” but still borrowing from parts of the main design.

The new design also aims to cut down on the traffic from the school piling up on nearby streets.

“Currently, the existing pick-up and drop-off pattern involves significant queuing in surrounding streets and neighborhood,” the diocese said. “In order to internalize the pick-up and drop-off traffic, the Applicant proposes to reorient the pick-up and drop-off area to the rear of the school, behind the gym. Parents will enter the School from South Royal Street, drive under the proposed addition to the rear of the school, where faculty will direct the pick-up and drop-off process. To exit the School grounds, they will drive down a one-way alley along the western side of the Main Building and exit on to Green Street.”

The item is scheduled for review at the Thursday, April 8, Planning Commission meeting.

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M&B Auto Sales has reportedly been a difficult neighbor, and it could cost the used car dealership at 26 S. Dove Street its special use permit.

At an upcoming March 2 meeting, the Planning Commission will consider revoting the dealership’s automobile sales and repair special use permit after what staff called repeated violations.

The dealership has been repeatedly cited for violating its permits by parking in the public right of way, loading and unloading vehicles from delivery trucks, and exceeding the total number of cars permitted on the lot. Complains from neighbors resulted in an in-person meeting with the Department of Planning and Zoning on July 23, where staff said the dealership agreed to abide by conditions and take more action to ensure compliance.

But that didn’t happen. In the report, staff included a catalogue of seven warnings and notices filed against the dealership between June 2020 and this month, along with 37 calls for service to the police department.

An email from a neighboring business owner included in the report detailed some of the day-to-day problems at the site:

Yesterday afternoon, there were at least eight Alexandria Police officers responding to an out-of-control couple who felt cheated on an auto purchase. The street was essentially closed down for half an hour. Today at 4:30, I drove around the bend and almost hit one of the six cars that were illegally parked on both sides of the street. Those were in addition to the six or seven that remain parked for days and weeks on Dove Street south of their lot. Some have temporary tags and some don’t. I called for an parking enforcement officer today but usually by the time they arrive the scenario has totally changed.

Four of those notices resulted in penalties, which have culminated in $700 of unpaid fines as of January and a $500 notice of violation issued this month.

Now, staff is recommending the City Council revoke M&B Auto Sales’ permit.

“Staff recommends revocation of SUP#2020-00041 effective March 27, 2021,” staff said in the report. “Should City Council revoke the SUP, operation of the existing permitted automobile sales and repair business located at 26 Dove Street would no longer be authorized.”

Photo via Google Maps

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Old Town waterfront restaurant Virtue Feed and Grain could make a recent its outdoor dining expansion permanent if the closure of a nearby alleyway by the waterfront goes through.

At the Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday, March 2, the city is putting forward a proposal to close Wales Alley between S. Union and Strand streets to vehicle traffic.

According to the staff report, the closure would allow Virtue Feed and Grain at 106 S. Union Street to expand an outdoor dining accommodation granted last spring.

According to the report

In Spring 2020, the Virtue Feed and Grain submitted a request to use more of the alley for outdoor dining. Indoor dining was limited, and additional space was needed to meet social distancing requirements. To accommodate this request, the City temporarily closed the alley to vehicular traffic to allow the restaurant to expand further north into the alley, while maintaining pedestrian access along the north side. This expansion was approved through the City’s temporary outdoor dining program that was created to allow for additional dining space in the public right of way. The concept of closing this portion of Wales Alley had also been discussed prior to the pandemic as a way to provide additional pedestrian space and more connections to the Waterfront.

The report notes that the city would continue to own the alleyway, but would operate licensing agreements for its use with nearby business owners. Staff also said that, in addition to helping a local restaurant, the closing would help further advance plans to increase pedestrian access and circulation around the waterfront.

“This portion of the alley does not provide any significant benefit to traffic circulation,” the report said. “By eliminating vehicles from this area, more space is provided for pedestrians and reduces conflicts.”

Staff recommended approval of the closure in the report.

Photo via Virtue Feed and Grain/Facebook

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The North Ridge Citizens’ Association has launched a Change.org petition to save a 100-year old home in the neighborhood from development.

The home tucked away behind some trees at 506 N. Overlook Drive was built sometime in the late 19th century, although exactly when is a matter of some disagreement. The home was owned by Hampshire Fractious (page 12), a freed Black man who lived in the city sometime in the late 19th century.

It sold for $1.2 million late last year, according to real estate website Redfin. The new owner, JS Investment LLC, plans to subdivide the property and build two new homes.

The petition currently has 624 signatures with a goal of 1000.

“North Ridge is about to lose one of its most cherished and symbolic structures,” the North Ridge Citizens’ Association said in the petition. “The new owner of 506 N. Overlook Drive is proposing to demolish this historic Civil War era house, subdivide the property, and build 2 new houses in its place. This house was built in 1850, owned by a free African American man named Hampshire Fractious in the years immediately after the Civil War, and is said to have been used as a hospital during the war. It is listed as a Documented Historic Site in the 1992 Alexandria Master Plan for Historic Preservation.”

A Washington Post article from 1992 similarly cites the home as being pre-Civil War and repeats the story that it was used as a field hospital. The Alexandria Master Plan for Historic Preservation lists the house (PDF page 69) as having been built in 1878 — over a decade after the Civil War ended. In a report on the subdivision reapplication, staff recommended approval.

“In summary, proposed Lots 500 and 501 would adhere to all subdivision and R-8 zone requirements,” staff said. “The lots are substantially similar in character as other similarly situated lots within the original subdivision.”

Staff said in the report that the building is not on the city’s list of buildings over 100 years old, despite the building being at the top of the list on the Master Plan for Historic Preservation’s list of buildings constructed before 1900.

The item is scheduled for review at the Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday, March 2.

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What a news-filled week in Alexandria.

Things got off to a snowy start on Monday and Tuesday, as the city was under a winter weather advisory.

Our top post was a poll regarding the proposed Heritage Development in Old Town. Nearly 1,500 people voted, and 52% don’t have a problem with it. The development was approved unanimously by the Planning Commission and now goes to City Council for consideration.

One of the most important stories of the week was the decision announced Thursday to resume in-person classes at Alexandria City Public Schools on March 16.

On the coronavirus front, there has been an additional death since Monday’s weekly COVID-19 update. The death toll from the virus now stands at 105, and the number of cases is 9,630. That’s more than 500 cases since Monday. The city’s seven-day moving average is now at 41.1 cases, which is down 14 cases since Monday. Additionally, there are more than 30,000 city residents on the waiting list to get the vaccine.

This week, Alexandria Police mourned the loss of parking enforcement officer Edward Bonds to COVID-19. This is the department’s first death due to complications from the virus.

In case you missed them, here are some important stories from the week:

  1. Alexandria Boxer Troy Isley Goes Pro With Big Fight Next Week
  2. Psychologist Lauren Fisher Elected Del Ray Business Association President
  3. Overhaul of Eisenhower Baseball Field Up to Bat at Planning Commission
  4. From Layoff to Liquorice: West End Business Owner Creates Candy Store Amid Pandemic
  5. Just In: James Lewis Files Paperwork to Enter City Council Race

Here are our top stories this week in Alexandria:

  1. Poll: What Do You Think of the Proposed Heritage Development in Old Town
  2. New West End Residential Development Headed to Planning Commission
  3. Heritage Project Now Goes to City Council After Unanimous Planning Commission Approval
  4. BREAKING: Councilman Mo Seifeldein Running for Alexandria Mayor, Hatch Act Conflict in Question
  5. Poll: Should the City’s Taylor Run Stream Restoration Project Go Forward?
  6. Revamped ‘ESP’ on King Street Ditches Old Ownership and Controversies
  7. Stream Restoration in Alexandria Attracts a Deluge of Controversy
  8. ACPS: Community is Generally Opposed to Affordable Housing at T.C. Expansion
  9. Just In: ‘QAnon Shaman’ from Capitol Siege Transferred to Alexandria Jail
  10. Weather Alert: Up to Eight Inches of Snow Expected in Alexandria
  11. Photos: The Regal Potomac Yard Movie Theater is Being Torn Down

Have a safe weekend!

Image via City of Alexandria

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The Planning Commission unanimously approved the controversial Heritage Old Town project on Tuesday, clearing a path for it to go to City Council for a vote on Feb. 20.

The decision was made after hours of public comments from more than 40 people in support and opposition to the project.

The project was sent back to the developer last June and September for lacking an Old Town aesthetic. New York-based property owner Asland Capital Partners wants to replace the four-story 1970s-era urban renewal buildings in southeast Old Town along South Patrick and North Washington streets with three apartment buildings that will be up to seven stories in height. The plan preserves all existing 140 housing assistance units on-site and would add 57 units, according to a city staff report.

Alexandria is under an affordable housing crisis, and the city has pledged to produce or develop 2,000 affordable housing units by 2025. The city has also agreed to produce an additional 1,950 units by 2030 in order to meet its regional housing goal set by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, which aims for the region to produce 320,000 affordable housing units.

Like many of his neighbors, Old Town resident Stephen Sweeney opposes the project because it will add hundreds of cars to roadways and increase traffic.

“The affordable housing component of this is a Trojan horse to get more market rate units in there,” Sweeney told the Planning Commission.There’s gotta be a better plan. It’s got to be a compromise here to get a development in here that works with a community that doesn’t impact traffic as bad.”

Even former Mayor Allison Silberberg weighed in, and told a community group that the project has too much density.

“Just because you can do something does not mean you should,” Silberberg said. “If the developer can make a profit with a smaller number of market-rate units, then we as a city should look for that middle ground.”

Jim Simmons, a managing partner with Asland, said that his project is the victim of a disinformation campaign.

“I’ve been in a lot of different domiciles and cities, but I don’t think in any of them would characterize a seven story building as a high rise,” Simmons said.

Asland attorney Cathy Puskar said that it was the city that approached Asland for help with affordable housing, and that the plan has gone through community meetings for more than a year.

“My client did not come to the city,” Puskar said. “The city came to my client. The city encouraged my client to redevelop using a new tool that the city created in its small area plan to incentivize redevelopment or the provision of deeply subsidized housing, without any city funding. And so I would ask the Planning Commission to understand that we have done our best to work with the community, that there have been changes to this project, and that we understand that they wish that it was two stories lower, but that is just not possible.”

Image via City of Alexandria

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Alexandria’s Recreation, Parks, and Cultural Activities (RPCA) is planning an overhaul of recreational park on Eisenhower Avenue to add new sports fields and other amenities.

Joseph Hensley Park at 4194 Eisenhower Avenue — just west of the Animal Welfare League — is currently an open field mostly occupied by a central baseball diamond. The new design will feature two baseball diamonds and a soccer field with synthetic turf.

According to the project website:

The proposed design plan has a number of amendments to the endorsed 2014 Joseph Hensley Park Improvement Plan. The proposed design plan will maintain diamond and rectangular athletic uses on site and upgrade the facilities. The proposed design plan will address stormwater and site drainage issues, increase parking capacity, upgrade the sports lighting, upgrade the two natural turf diamond fields, convert the rectangular field to synthetic turf, and improve site circulation and ADA access. The project will replace the current restrooms, add a play space, add a second park shelter, and add a multi-use court/performance space.

The project will have a phased implementation, with the first phase including the lower baseball diamond and new parking, along with other stormwater and accessibility improvements, as well as replacement of the existing restrooms.

The project is scheduled to go to the Planning Commission for review on Tuesday, March 2.

Image via City of Alexandria

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A barge, new pier and cottages are still joining the Tall Ship Providence as part of the historical exhibit, but the pandemic has forced the ship operates to reduce the scope of their nautical ambitions.

The Tall Ship Providence Foundation is seeking city permission at a Planning Commission meeting on March 2 to amend earlier amendments to improve the planned design and layout of pier, cottages and barge. The Maritime Center section of the Tall Ship Providence was originally approved last March.

The plan remains to construct two cottages on a pier adjacent to the Providence, but the applicant said the pandemic forced them to adjust the scale of the project.

“However, while the proposed location of the improvements along the Waterfront remains the same, due to economic impacts associated with the pandemic and for engineering purposes, the proposed scope of the project, including the footprint and size of the barge and cottages, has been revised,” the Tall Ship Providence Foundation said.

Planned bathrooms and side-piers for other boats also didn’t make the cut.

In general, the application noted that the pandemic significantly hurt the planned launch of the exhibit.

“First, the pandemic has delayed the Tall Ship Providence Foundation’s Capital Campaign, which has, in turn, impacted the ability to move forward with the permitting process and the establishment of the Tall Ship Providence Maritime Heritage Center at Waterfront Park,” the applicant said. “In light of the ongoing severe economic conditions, the Applicant is reducing the scope of the proposed improvements to facilitate the opening of the Tall Ship Providence Maritime Heritage Center in the summer of 2021.”

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Old Town residents have banded together against what they say is overdevelopment with the planned construction of the 750-unit, seven-story Heritage apartment buildings.

Made up of more than 80 neighbors, the Citizens Association of the Southwest Quadrant (CASQ) launched a website, sent emails to news organizations and created an online petition against the development, which they say will result in hundreds of additional vehicles on area streets, affect property values and destroy the historic charm of the area.

“CASQ is launching an aggressive public information campaign to fight the City’s initiative in the Old and Historic Alexandria District which is the third oldest urban district in the United States after Charleston and New Orleans,” the group said in an email. “Specifically, we will urge the City to require the developer to redesign the project, and significantly scale down its building height.”

The project, which was sent back to the developer in June and September for lacking an Old Town aesthetic, is set to go before the Planning Commission once again on Tuesday, Feb. 2, followed by a City Council decision on Feb. 20. New York-based property owner Asland Capital Partners wants to replace the four-story 1970s-era buildings in southeast Old Town  along South Patrick and North Washington streets.

Mayor Justin Wilson said there is no question that the development is a tradeoff to increase density in exchange for furthering the city’s affordable housing goals. The plan preserves all existing 140 housing assistance units on-site and would add 48 units.

“Council will determine how to achieve our goals for the site,” Wilson told ALXnow. “The old Council adopted the master plan for this site back in 2018. This is committed affordable housing stock that is privately owned. The affordability commitment has expired and the Council approved a plan that traded density in exchange of preservation of the affordable housing. Without some agreement with the landowner, the site can be redeveloped by-right, with loss of all of the affordable housing.”

Alexandria is under an affordable housing crisis, and the city has pledged to produce or develop 2,000 affordable housing units by 2025. The city has also agreed to produce an additional 1,950 units by 2030 in order to meet its regional housing goal set by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, which aims for the region to produce 320,000 affordable housing units.

Image via Citizens Association of the Southwest Quadrant

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If you plan to stay at the new boarding facility at the intersection of N. Fayette Street and Queen Street, you’ll always have a convenient place to get your hair cut.

The planned affordable roominghouse for men above Heads Up Barbershop (300 N. Fayette Street) — and owned by the same family — is scheduled to go to the Planning Commission on Tuesday, Feb. 2. The four-bedroom unit will have individual bathrooms and a shared central kitchen and laundry facility. The application notes that most residents do not own cars and no off-street parking will be provided.

“There is only one occupant allowed per room,” the application said. “The occupants are employed or government assisted, low-income males.”

Rooms will be on the more affordable side for Old Town, typically rented at $650 per month according to the application.

“The plan is to offer short term (4th months) and long-term (1- year) leases,” the application said. “The lease includes a ‘Code of Conduct’ for each tenant to be signed with the lease. Because family owns the barbershop on first floor, the housekeeping and maintenance will be observed on a daily basis to ensure clean and safe conditions.”

Photo via Google Maps

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