Last Friday, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) announced that the Potomac Yard Metro station would not be opening this fall, as they’d been insisting it would for months.
The new opening date is set as sometime in 2023. The announcement also came with an update that the shutdown cutting Alexandria off from the rest of the Metro station would be extended into November.
The delay is the latest in a long series of screw-ups connected to the Potomac Yard project, from a delay earlier this year to Metro and city officials concealing information about the station losing a southern entrance back in 2018.
Beyond Potomac Yard, the announcement came on the heels of a new report casting serious doubts about the safety on the rail line after the Metro system reportedly failed to fully address the issues that caused a train derailment last year.
The final community meeting about a proposal to add lights to multiple athletic fields is coming up later this month.
The City Council has approved funding for lighting of two athletic fields, pending the permit approval process, with other locations open for consideration down the road.
The fields being considered are:
- Francis C Hammond Middle School, 4646 Seminary Road
- Patrick Henry K-8 School & Recreation Center, 4643 & 4653 Taney Avenue
- Jefferson Houston K-8 School, 1501 Cameron Street
- George Washington Middle School, 1005 Mt. Vernon Avenue
- Eugene Simpson Stadium Park, 426 East Monroe Avenue
Feedback to the proposal has been mixed, with some saying the lights would add extra hours for fields that are in great demand. Some neighbors at the fields have shared concerns, though, that lights at the field could create noisy activity late into the evenings.
The meeting will be held virtually on Wednesday, Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. The project is scheduled to go to the Planning Commission on October 6 and City Council on October 15.
The worst of it for Alexandrians will be the stretch from Sept. 10 through Oct. 22 as WMATA works to bring the new Potomac Yard Metro station in line with the rest of the system. After that, the Yellow Line Tunnel connecting the Pentagon station to L’Enfant Plaza will be closed for repairs until spring 2023.
While city staff have said Metro ridership is still only around 30% of what it was pre-pandemic, those who do make use of the Metro will have to find other ways of getting around.
The most obvious replacement is the bus. WMATA has said that multiple shuttle buses will be running along the Yellow and Blue Line routes through Alexandria, with additional shuttles connecting into D.C.
The next closest replacement is the Virginia Railway Express (VRE), a train system that stops at King Street adjacent to the Metro station and continues up to Union Station in D.C. The VRE will be offering free rides all along the route in September and free passage between the Alexandria and D.C. locations in October.
But the city has also been looking at other alternatives to boost to help get commuters to and from Alexandria.
Capital Bikeshare will be offering free rides to anyone going to or from Alexandria, or riding inside of Alexandria, with use of a special code at checkout.
City staff also said in a recent meeting that they are working with the Potomac Water Taxi to get earlier service in Alexandria, shifting the boat’s role from tourism to a commuter focus.
Developer Stonebridge has filed for plans to demolish the Victory Center (5001 Eisenhower Avenue) but is facing pushback from city staff that would rather see the existing building converted.
The Stonebridge proposal would see the long-vacant office building replaced with townhouses, similar to the new development just west of the building.
“This 17-year vacancy demonstrates that a different approach must be taken to revitalize Eisenhower West,” land use attorney Kenneth Wire wrote. “The City and the region have a housing supply crisis not an office supply crisis. This project will provide both rental and home ownership housing units in close proximity to the Metro Station and an affordable housing building.”
But city staff wrote in response to the Stonebridge proposal saying that townhouses don’t meet the level of density the city is hoping for at a side that’s near a metro and an arterial road.
Instead, staff recommended the existing Victory Center building be overhauled once again: this time as a residential conversion.
“Staff recommends retaining the existing office building,” staff wrote in response to Stonebridge’s plans. “The approximate footprint of the existing Victory Center office building (350′ x 142′) compares similarly with other office-to-residential conversions that have been constructed in the city. Continue to work with Alexandria Economic Development Partnership (AEDP) to locate potential users, which may include non-profit housing developers and senior living facilities.”
Several vacancies have popped up across a dozen of Alexandria’ various boards and commissions — bodies that ultimately help to shape the future of the city.
Some of those boards have more sway than others, like the Board of Architectural Review or the Waterfront Commission.
Applications for those boards are due by Sept. 2, with the City Council voting to fill them on Sept. 13. Applicants can also only apply for one committee at a time.
One of the very first stories on ALXnow discussed — maybe too snarkily in hindsight — the distinction between the City of Alexandria and the areas of Fairfax south of Cameron Run sometimes referred to as Alexandria.
This past week, two businesses opening this month — a cannabis dispensary and a metal supermarket — identified themselves as “Alexandria” branches of their respective chains despite the fact that both are opening in Fairfax.
The root of the issue is that the Post Office’s broad zones identify neighborhoods like Fort Hunt or Mount Vernon as “Alexandria” despite the fact that they fall outside of the city’s borders. Critics say the misnomer has created several problems, from misunderstandings about where a crime or fire took place to a Target accidentally sending $1 million in tax revenue to the wrong locality. But defenders of “Alexandria, Fairfax” have repeatedly chimed in saying the name is a point of pride for many south of Cameron Run.
At any rate, it’s a slow news week and we’re trying to fill story slots in the rundown, so chime in below with your thoughts:
The pandemic brought on several temporary changes to make life easier on locals, from individuals to businesses, but with things somewhat normalizing the city is starting to put some of those cats back into the bag.
In 2020, the city relaxed its restrictions on King Street restaurants utilizing the sidewalks for outdoor dining. The move was part of an effort to try and mitigate the health and economic impacts of the pandemic by giving customers space to distance themselves from one another.
Earlier this week the city announced that, starting in October, restaurants along King Street will have to file a permit if they want to operate on the city sidewalks and will have to check for eligibility.
“As a result, the City will resume its King Street Outdoor Dining (KSOD) program for outdoor dining on sidewalks for restaurant properties which abut King Street (from the Waterfront to the King Street Metro Station) and one block north and south of King Street,” the release said.
The City of Alexandria said the results from traffic changes piloted on Duke Street earlier this year were promising, with the city starting to plan out Phase 2 next month.
The pilot changed signal timing, adding green time on Duke Street and Quaker Lane from 4-6 p.m. to encourage drivers to stay on the arterial roads.
“While staff is still waiting on data for April, the initial findings showed that 66% of traffic is staying on Quaker Lane (up from 39%),” the report said.
The goal of the project was to keep drivers from using residential side streets to bypass the main roads.
Phase 2 of the pilot program will entail removing vehicle access from West Taylor Run Parkway to Telegraph Road.
Alexandria’s birthday celebration was this past weekend, and the annual holiday wouldn’t be complete without a somewhat petty post noting that the City of Alexandria predates the United States.
It was the city’s 273rd birthday, recognized as July 10, with the country’s more obscure 246th birthday being placed around July 4.
I have genuine and perpetual affection for my city’s unceasing pettiness about being older than America. https://t.co/PhS6GiyUIy
— Jesse O'Connell (@jesseocnl) July 9, 2022
Celebrations had been planned for Saturday, July 8, but were delayed to Sunday, July 9, due to rain.
Earlier this week, Alexandria’s City Council approved two major steps forward for plans to redevelop an abandoned power plant at the north end of Old Town’s waterfront.
The project faced some pushback from tenants and worker unions and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), but ultimately the city voted to approve a master plan amendment for the site and a coordinated development district (CDD) to encompass the project. The master plan amendment was unanimously approved, but the CDD was approved in a 6-1 vote with Council Member Alyia Gaskins voting against it.
The plan is to convert the site into a new mixed-use neighborhood with commercial and artistic spaces on the ground floors and residential units above. The project plans also include plans to prioritize pedestrian and cyclist traffic through the site.
Local workers said they were concerned the project would create more low-paying jobs that wouldn’t pay enough for the workers to live in Alexandria, while MWAA expressed concerns that the heights allowed in the redevelopment plans could interfere with traffic to and from National Airport. The MWAA later clarified that while those concerns still exist, they didn’t believe the project needed to be deferred.
Gaskins said at the meeting that her main concerns were around the public-private partnership that much of the site’s affordable housing hinges on. If the partnership falls through later in development, the city could be left with less housing than currently planned.
For others on the City Council, the potential benefits from the development outweighed that risk. Mayor Justin Wilson said the main benefit of the redevelopment is the extensive environmental rehabilitation required for the former industrial site.