Alexandria, VA

When the Victory Center parking lot does eventually get turned into a housing development, locals won’t have to go far to get their car checked out.

The Planing Commission is scheduled to review an application by Vijay Laxmi LLC to open a light automotive repair shop at 4936 Eisenhower Avenue, directly across from the Victory Center.

“The applicant anticipates serving five customers daily and would operate with two employees,” staff said in a report. “The hours of operation would be 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday.”

City staff expressed support for the development in the report. The area’s flexible zoning is part of what’s allowed some unique small businesses nearby to thrive.

“This small-scale automobile repair shop is not expected to produce neighborhood impacts,” staff said, “as there are several automobile repair shops in the surrounding area and in the same industrial/flex space complex.”

Photo via Google Maps

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It was another busy week in Alexandria. Here are some of the highlights.

This week, ALXnow profiled Mayor Justin Wilson and his opponent, former Mayor Allison Silberberg. The pair are facing off in the June 8 Democratic primary, and have vastly different ideas on city governance.

Alexandria Police released its 2020 crime data this week, revealing a 19% increase in Part 1 crime and 15% reduction in Nuisance crimes. ALXnow also reported a number of noteworthy crime stories, including the release of a video showing a chase suspect who died after his arrest in D.C. on April 12, and the indictment of a West End murder suspect.

This week also brought the unbelievable story of locals chasing down suspected shoplifters in Del Ray.

On the vaccine front, the Alexandria Health Department paused Johnson & Johnson vaccinations, following new concerns about potential side effects.

In school news, Alexandria City Public Schools will shift to three feet distancing in classrooms on April 26. Additionally, the School Board has started a conversation on reducing the number of members from nine to six.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. BREAKING: ‘Alexandria City High School’ chosen as replacement name for T.C. Williams High School
  2. JUST IN: Dr. Stephen Haering suddenly retires as director of Alexandria Health Department
  3. Southern Towers residents nervous as landlord steps up eviction proceedings
  4. Man stabbed at Old Town intersection
  5. NEW: Locals chase down suspected shoplifters in Del Ray
  6. JUST IN: T.C. Williams JV football team walks off field after alleged racial slur, spitting incident
  7. Man faces 10 years for DWI in horrific West End crash in Safeway parking lot
  8. Planning Commission approves controversial subdivision, plants potential loophole for future denial
  9. JUST IN: Video released of police arresting chase suspect who died in D.C.
  10. JUST IN: Six Alexandria Police officers put on administrative duties after chase suspect dies
  11. JUST IN: West End murder suspect faces life plus 13 years in prison

Have a safe weekend!

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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It was a historic week in Alexandria. Here are some of the highlights.

President Joe Biden visited the Neighborhood Health COVID-19 vaccine site at Virginia Theological Seminary on Tuesday, just before announcing that the date for adults to get access to the vaccine has been moved to April 19.

The Alexandria School Board, on Thursday night, voted to change the name of T.C. Williams High School to Alexandria City High School.

The School Board also voted unanimously to reduce the distancing requirement in ACPS schools from six feet to three feet, all the while community support is growing to expand in-person instruction to more than the current two days a week. Summer school is currently planned to begin in July and will be four days a week, and ACPS is planning on reopening to five days a week at the beginning of the next school year.

Our top story was on the T.C. Williams Titans junior varsity football team walking off the field after an incident with the Robinson Rams on Monday night. Robinson Rams players allegedly spit at and made a racial slur against T.C. players. The incident has prompted Fairfax County Public Schools to announce a “stand-down” meeting for all athletic teams and coaches to discuss “appropriate behaviors required to play sports in FCPS.”

Additionally, six Alexandria Police officers were placed on administrative duties after a chase suspect died while in custody. Police responded to a call for shots fired in the 800 block of North Patrick Street, and multiple buildings and vehicles were struck. The driver of the vehicle crashed on Interstate 295, and then jumped over an overpass barrier and fell more than 20 feet and was tased by police, arrested and later died.

Important Stories

Top Stories

  1. JUST IN: T.C. Williams JV football team walks off field after alleged racial slur, spitting incident
  2. BREAKING: Shots fired in Old Town leads to chase that ends in D.C.
  3. JUST IN: President Biden set to visit Alexandria vaccination site Tuesday
  4. National Park Service announces George Washington Parkway to go on a diet
  5. Neighborhood Health vaccinating thousands at sites in Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax County
  6. JUST IN: Woman arrested after fight on King Street Metro station platform
  7. UPDATE: $8,500 reported stolen in terrifying West End robbery
  8. JUST IN: President Biden visits COVID-19 vaccine site at Virginia Theological Seminary
  9. COVID-19 update: Alexandria moves into vaccination phase 1C
  10. JUST IN: Six Alexandria Police officers put on administrative duties after chase suspect dies
  11. Fairfax County man arrested for three burglaries, released three days later

Have a safe weekend!

Photo via T.C. Williams Football Boosters/Facebook

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A subdivision that could lead to the demolition of a 19th century Alexandria home got its recommendation of approval from the Planning Commission Thursday night, but included a Death Star exhaust port-type hole that could blow up the process down the road.

The owner of the house at 506 N. Overlook Drive is seeking a permit to adjust the property lines for two parcels on the site, the first steps toward what will eventually involve tearing down the house on the property.

The home was built in 1878 by Hampshire Fractious, a freed Black man who lived in the city sometime in the late 19th century. Not a lot is known about Fractious, and much of the historical legends that came up about the home over the last few months have little basis in reality (Walt Whitman has no known connection to the house, for instance).

The house is not listed on the city’s register of properties over 100 years old, but staff said that was in large part due to a timing issue several years ago when one of the pervious owners had attempted to go through the paperwork to have that designation applied, but it was never finalized.

The applicant noted in the meeting that much of the interior of the house had been gutted and overhauled within the last ten years.

“The interior been completely gutted and redone about 10 years ago,” said Zachary Williams, an attorney for the applicant. “There’s nothing original inside the house. If there was any historical significance it was erased long prior to our owning the property.”

But neighbors said all they’re asking is to see whether or not the house is as historic as is claimed before plans for demolition move forward.

“This house may be one of the only post-Bellum residents built by Black residents still standing,” said Charles Kent, past President of the North Ridge Citizens’ Association. “We’re asking for city staff to access before irreversible changes are made.”

The discussion at the Planning Commission meeting for the subdivision last night showed a division between the more strict-interpretation, by-the-book interpretation of the city’s authority from staff and a city attorney and the more leeway Planning Commission members found in interpreting some of the city’s conditions for approval.

While staff argued that the historical aspect of the house couldn’t be considered as part of the subdivision request, Planning Commission member Dave Brown led the ultimately successful push to include a requirement in approval that historical analysis experts in city staff be given access to the property to make an assessment and determine the historic value.

Brown’s core argument was that subdivision requests can be denied if there’s potential to harm neighbors, and approving a subdivision without knowing more about the historic value of the house could be a detriment to the neighborhood.

“At this point, in the absence of a historical analysis, we don’t have adequate information to make a judgement about one of the fundamental criteria we have to make a judgement about to vote on the subdivision,” Stephen Koenig summarized. “I think I follow that and have a sympathy for that.”

Brown included access to the house as condition for approval, saying that if the analysis by staff found that there was little left to preserve then there weren’t any grounds for deny the subdivision request when it reached City Council. But if the analysis came back saying there was historical value, then it was an issue the City Council could address with more awareness and understanding of what was being discussed.

Brown’s motion, and the recommendation of approval with his condition added, were both unanimously approved by the Planning Commission.

Image via North Ridge Citizens’ Association

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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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