The plan focuses on incremental changes in zoning policy that weren’t quite as ambitious as some hoped and others feared.
The zoning changes could create more housing in industrial zones, reduce parking requirements for housing, and allow multiple residences to be built in single-family zoning.
While a similar change sparked widespread community discussion in Arlington, in Alexandria, city staff noted that the plan does not include recommendations to change lot frontage, square footage, or other restrictions to construction — making the change likely to have a less dramatic impact than might initially be supposed.
City leaders offered tepid support for the proposals and praise for the effort that went into the project. At the same time, Planning Commission Vice Chair Melissa McMahon and others expressed concern that the changes didn’t go far enough.
“I’m a tiny bit underwhelmed,” said 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.”
McMahon wasn’t alone. Advocacy group YIMBYs of Northern Virginia released a statement sharing concerns that the incremental changes would be insufficient to address the city’s housing shortage.
“While our grassroots organization’s members welcome the recommendations discussed tonight, they also share the concern expressed by multiple City Council members and Planning Commissioners that these incremental proposed changes would be insufficient to address the scale of our city’s housing shortage and affordability crisis,” the organization said in a release. “We look forward to advocating for their expansion.”
At the same time, the group said they supported the reforms as a critical first step.
“Alexandria is a wonderful city, but it has become prohibitively expensive as demand for living here outpaces the supply of homes available,” said Peter Sutherland, an Alexandria Lead for
YIMBYs of Northern Virginia. “These reforms are a critical first step toward ensuring Alexandria’s future as an affordable, sustainable, and welcoming community.”
But while some advocated for the city to go further, others had previously shared concerns that the planned zoning changes could go too far. Last Tuesday, a rally led by a group called The Coalition for a Livable Alexandria gathered a crowd of supporters outside City Hall to argue against potential increases in density.
“Residents who have a different viewpoint, residents who have concerns, residents who ask tough questions are not the enemy,” said Coalition Chair Roy Byrd at the rally. “We just want to make sure we do it in the best way possible and that we work together.”
The Coalition for a Livable Alexandria could not be reached for comment.
Some at the meeting last night said the proposals struck the right balance between the status quo for zoning and significant changes.
“I have a naturally conservative attitude to fixing what isn’t broken,” said Planning Commissioner David 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.”
This week, leaders on both sides of the Torpedo Factory discussion raised the issue of the city’s plans once more ahead of the center’s 50th anniversary.
The Torpedo Factory is celebrating 50 years as an arts center next year, but questions linger about what the long-term future of the building looks like.
The history behind the back and forth over the Torpedo Factory is long. The oversimplified version is: maintaining the Torpedo Factory, much less improving it, is a costly investment and if the city is signing that check, it wants more for its investment than what the Torpedo Factory currently offers.
Back in 2016, the City of Alexandria stepped in to oversee the operation of the Torpedo Factory Art Center. Since then, the city has worked through a process to develop plans to revitalize the Torpedo Factory. Controversially, some of those plans include reducing artist studio space to make way for other uses on the ground floor, like a cafe or maker-space.
Cindy Lowther, President of the Torpedo Factory Artists’ Association (TFAA), said one of the recent flashpoints has been the frequency of artist leases. Last month, the city selected 29 artists to receive three-year studio leases at the Torpedo Factory. The TFAA advocated for a five-year lease for artists, saying three-year leases are too short and the need to prepare for the jury ing process cuts down on the amount of time working on creating new art.
The leasing and space usage all tie into a broader question of whether the city’s plans to make the Torpedo Factory more vibrant will destroy what made the space special or enhance it.
“The TFAA is concerned that the effort to make the Art Center more ‘vibrant’ could result in a significant reduction in rental space available to visual artists,” Lowther wrote. “This would change the character of the Art Center and risk damaging its hard-earned reputation.”
Mayor Justin Wilson, meanwhile, said in his August newsletter that the city’s plans for the Torpedo Factory will make the facility more diverse, financially sustainable, and an overall more successful arts destination.
Wilson also said the Torpedo Factory’s future has been “studied to death” and that controversy around any changes to the facility paralyzed decision-making.
“It has now been seven years since the City took steps to provide stability by assuming caretaker leadership for the Factory,” Wilson wrote. “Since that time, the City provided leases to the existing artist tenants, and has been providing day to day management. I am pleased we are now making decisions and creating a sustainable structure for the governance of the Factory so that it can flourish in the future.”
While some expressed excitement for the plan, many commenters on Facebook said the rink seemed like a waste of money — though it should be noted that the rink would be built by the developer as an amenity, not by the City of Alexandria.
How do you feel about the rink? Would you have preferred something else?
Yesterday, around the region, residents of Arlington and Fairfax lit off fireworks to celebrate the Fourth of July. Meanwhile, in Alexandria, fireworks remain illegal.
The Alexandria Fire Department cited safety as a major factor, noting a 25% increase in fireworks injuries in the U.S. between 2006 and 2021. Currently, fireworks are only allowed at city-led events like the birthday celebration on July 8.
According to the fire department:
In 2021, an estimated 11,500 people required emergency room treatment in U.S. hospitals due to accidents involving fireworks. More than 70% of those injuries occurred in the weeks before and after the Fourth of July holiday. Chief Deputy Fire Marshal Russell Furr explained that using fireworks can also threaten businesses and residential property. In 2022, AFD responded to a balcony fire that was a result of fireworks landing on balcony furniture.
In recent years, the impact on animals has also been noted as a concern of fireworks, with impacts from animals startled by the noise to microplastics entering the water system.
Should Alexandria change its laws to allow locals to use fireworks?
Eugene Simpson Stadium Park is going from natural turf to artificial turf, and feelings in the community seem decidedly mixed.
At a meeting this past Saturday, the City Council voted unanimously in favor of a new plan that will replace the field with synthetic turf. Sentiment in the public hearing was mixed, with some concerned about issues like creating a heat island and others saying the synthetic turf will make the fields more usable.
“I specifically want to call out the need for synthetic turf at big Simpson Field,” said Alexandria Little League President Sherry Reilly. “The lack of big fields in the city means the entire Alexandria baseball community uses the two current fields almost non-stop. Having only two big fields shared by all the baseball organizations as well as the collegiate team means that we use the fields constantly during spring, summer and fall baseball seasons. It is a crazy game of Tetris trying to fit all of these organizations onto our two big fields.”
But others said they were concerned that the artificial turf, which often gets hotter than regular grass fields, may make sports unplayable for more of the year than current weather problems do.
“I’m not sure how many of you have been on the fields during the summer but they exceed 120 degrees,” said nearby resident Brian Collins. “I’ve heard the proposal increases playability, but I haven’t heard any mention of loss due to heat.”
Even on the City Council, feelings were mixed about the artificial turf. City Council Kirk McPike said that while artificial turf isn’t ideal, he was of the belief that it was better than leaving the fields inaccessible due to rain.
Alexandria resident Jeremy Flachs noted in the comments that there are concerning signs that artificial turf may have been at least partially responsible for cancers developed by athletes in Philadelphia.
The tragic killing was, however, just part of a string of violent events that have occurred in the shopping center. There have been multiple shootings at the Bradlee Shopping Center in recent years as well as brawls.
Still, some shop owners say an increased police presence since the murder has helped calm some of the crime in the shopping center. Just this week, WUSA9 reported that Alexandria Police will be increasing their presence at the Bradlee Shopping Center after school lets out.
In the mood for love? Alexandria just ranked as the 12th alternative romantic destination in America by the travel blog Honeymoon Always.
Honeymoon Always conducted a survey of 3,000 people this month with the goal of finding out which “lesser-known” romantic destinations they want to visit in 2023. There are 175 cities listed in their results, and three cities in Virginia made the list — Alexandria at number 12, Fredericksburg at 54 and Hampton at 101.
“Maui, Napa Valley, New Orleans… America boasts an abundance of fabulous destinations for couples seeking romantic experiences,” Honeymoon Always said in a release. “While these well-known destinations continue to dominate the market, the quest for truly unique and unforgettable experiences leads couples to explore lesser-known, yet equally enchanting, romantic getaways.”
A list of the top “alternative” romantic cities is below.
- St. Augustine, Florida
- Paia, Hawaii
- Hilo, Hawaii
- Asheville, North Carolina
- Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
- Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
- Durham, North Carolina
- Mackinac Island, Michigan
- Flagstaff, Arizona
- Manchester, Vermont
- Lewisburg, West Virginia
- Alexandria, Virginia
Visit Alexandria has a list of romantic getaway ideas in the city.
“Just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., you’ll find al fresco dining options with stunning views, Instagram-worthy spots for the perfect couple shot, drinks destinations to raise a glass and more,” Visit Alexandria said on its website.
Alexandria was also listed as the most romantic city in the U.S. in 2016 by Amazon.
City, state and federal officials gathered with workers who had labored on the station for years for a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday.
Last year, Metro ridership was slow to climb back from the low levels of ridership during the pandemic. New reports earlier this year showed the Metro system hit a post-pandemic peak in March, though general ridership numbers remain at around half where it was pre-pandemic.
Last week, Richmond-based historic preservation non-profit Preservation Virginia called for the Town of Potomac — today part of the Del Ray neighborhood — to receive greater protection from demolition and redevelopment.
According to the group, redevelopment is bringing larger residential developments to the neighborhood and demolishing older homes:
The popularity of the neighborhood’s architecture, scale and walkability is jeopardizing the very characteristics that have attracted people to it for years. Many recent residents and developers in need of larger living space are demolishing the historic, mid-sized houses to build new, often outsized and out-of-character houses in their place. Approximately 75 houses in the Town of Potomac Historic District have been demolished in recent years, and the rate of loss is accelerating.
The solution, according to Preservation Virginia, would be to put the Town of Potomac into the same kind of architectural review board that currently oversees construction or alterations in Old Town and Parker Gray.
More broadly, Preservation Virginia noted that there are few protections for historic buildings if those aren’t under the purview of the Board of Architectural Review or on the city’s list of buildings over 100 years old — a list that’s had some notable omissions in recent years.
According to the group:
Even though the Town of Potomac Historic District is on the Virginia Landmarks Register and National Register of Historic Places, there is no local process to review, slow down, or prevent the demolition of the district’ contributing buildings. Implementing a local overlay district with guidelines and review by an architectural review board, such as in Old Town Alexandria and the Parker-Gray Historic District, could be a way to help stem tear-downs in the Town of Potomac Historic District.
Implementing a local overlay district would create a process in which the public could participate. A review process would not necessarily preclude demolition of historic buildings, but it would provide a thorough, transparent, and public process.
But even in areas like Parker-Gray and Old Town, the Board of Architectural Review has been sometimes scrutinized for being onerous. Last December, a homeowner was forced — at great expense — to remove external piping to a historic home.
The question about historic preservation also comes as the city is working through a massive overhaul to its housing zoning, called Zoning for Housing/Housing for All, that aims to change housing codes to boost housing affordability city-wide.
And so, the perhaps overly simplistic question:
The big announcement this week was the return of the Yellow Line.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) announced this week that the Yellow Line will open again on Sunday, May 7.
The line had been out of service since September as WMATA worked on repairs to the Potomac River tunnel and bridge. The reopening of the Yellow Line will provide another connection to D.C. after months of riders forced to take the Blue Line.
The reopening is another step forward for Metro in Alexandria, coming after the city was completely cut off from the Metro network for two months last year.
There’s still one major advance on the horizon, though: WMATA confirmed to ALXnow this week that the Potomac Yard station is still on track to open sometime in May.