The Seminary Road Diet took center stage Tuesday night, as City Council candidates met in the first of three West End forums.
City Council candidates Canek Aguirre (incumbent), Alyia Gaskins, Kirk McPike, Patrick Moran and Sarah Bagley were the first batch of candidates to speak at the Seminary Ridge Civic Association candidate forum.
The group was first questioned on the role of civic associations in policymaking discussions, since 13 civic associations were opposed to the road diet, which was approved in a 4-3 Council vote in 2019.
Aguirre voted for the road diet, and said that the opinions of the civic associations were taken into consideration at the time.
“I don’t think that the civic associations were ignored,” Aguirre said. “We listened, we disagreed and that showed in our vote… I want us to be able to get back to a place where we can be able to disagree in a civil way.”
All the candidates said that civic associations are important, as are the recommendations from the city’s board and commissions.
McPike said that, if elected, he intends to conduct regular town halls across the city, and to work with civic associations to participate.
“It’s important that we’re hearing from a wide range of opinions and the civic associations can be channels by which to bring that input into our policymaking process,” McPike said. “The next council has to be ready to help the city fully recover from the effects of this difficult year. And I believe in my time working on city Commission’s and my legislative skills from Capitol Hill will enable me to hit the ground running on day one, to help the city do exactly that.”
Moran previously said that he would vote to reverse the road diet if elected, while Gaskins said that she would not reverse it and that funds could be better spent elsewhere.
Most candidates were opposed to the idea of colocating affordable housing on the grounds of Alexandria City Public Schools, but none want to back an ordinance preventing it from happening.
“We have to look at everything that’s on the table,” Aguirre said. “If it’s an argument around safety, then I fundamentally reject that argument, because when you look at the schools that we have today in Alexandria, you literally have schools that are across the street from million dollar homes and from public housing. If you don’t believe me, come take a trip with me. I’ll take you around the different schools and show you.”
Bagley, who runs an affordable housing nonprofit in D.C., said that schools need to be left alone.
“We have a shortage of capacity for schools themselves and for classrooms and recreational spaces and pools and all those issues,” Bagley said. “While I think we have many other more pressing ways to use our city on spaces, I would not push for a permanent bar to consider it in an architectural consideration.”
Moran only wants colocation of housing for teachers at ACPS.
“Alexandria’s average starting pay for teachers is $56,000,” Moran said. “That’s not enough to live in our city…. I don’t think we ought to be looking at housing for any other types of scenarios to meet our housing goals. I think that we can find solutions alternatively for that, but for teachers, yes.”
The second forum will air at 7:15 p.m. on Thursday, May 20, and feature candidates Bill Campbell, John Taylor Chapman, Darryl Nirenberg, Bill Rossello and Meronne Teklu; followed by the final Council candidate forum on Monday, May 24, with Kevin Harris, Amy Jackson, Jim Lewis, Florence King and Mark Shiffer.
The mayoral forum between Mayor Justin Wilson and former Mayor Allison Silberberg is at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 27.
Hot off the heels of announcing a new affordable housing development for Arlandria, the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation (AHDC) is headed to public outreach for a proposed affordable housing development in the Seminary Hill neighborhood.
The plan is to build 37 units — 31 townhomes and 6 condominiums — at 4547, 4555 and 4575 Seminary Road, next to the existing fire station and across from Hammond Middle School.
The development will include two garage spaces per townhome, plus 18 surface parking spaces. The development will preserve approximately 51% of the site’s current open space, AHDC said, and improve pedestrian access to city-owned park land.
AHDC said in an FAQ that all of the units at the site will be affordable at up to 80% of area median income, a standard measurement for housing affordability.
In the FAQ, AHDC said that housing at that level of affordability is very much in demand.
“For a lot of families, even though this is ‘affordable’ housing and 80% AMI income is defined as ‘low-income’ by HUD, the reality is that these units are still out of reach for many,” AHDC said. “The solutions to this problem are complex, and financing for building units that serve even lower income levels is scarce. That said, 80% AMI units — often referred to as workforce housing units — are still in demand in Alexandria. It’s a part of the “missing middle” of housing and can support workers who provide critical services to Alexandria. Using wages from recent job postings, a household that consisted of an entry-level firefighter and a cook for a senior living facility, with one or two children, would qualify for this development.”
The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, May 25, at 7 p.m. via Zoom.
(Updated 4 p.m.) Shortly after the first community meeting on plans for Landmark Mall, Inova is planning to host a second meeting tomorrow to discuss potential rezoning of Inova Alexandria Hospital’s current Seminary Hill site.
Current plans for the hospital are to be rezoned and redeveloped as residential properties, a move that has drawn some praise from local civic associations, according to Alexandria Living Magazine.
Still, the final vision for what new development looks like at the current Seminary Hill location is unclear. The City clarified that no permits or plans have been approved so far.
According to a news release from the City of Alexandria:
On December 22, Inova, in partnership with Foulger-Pratt and the City, announced a redevelopment proposal to construct a new hospital and mixed-use district at the former Landmark Mall site. In order to facilitate the relocation of the hospital from its current location to Landmark Mall, Inova plans to work with the community as it moves forward with a request to rezone the existing hospital site at Seminary Road for a variety of residential uses.
Staff photo by James Cullum
St. Andrews United Methodist Church (845 N Howard Street) on Seminary Hill is seeking Planning Commission approval to demolish and rebuild its church on a smaller lot.
The church is headed to the Planning Commission on Tuesday, Jan. 5, seeking permission subdivide its current lot to reconstruct the church on one part of the property closer to the street and sell the rest to St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School.
The church requires city review for the subdivision and an exception to build the church closer to N. Howard Street than the currently mandated 60 feet.
A pastor at St. Andrews wrote on the church’s Facebook page in October 2019:
Yesterday St. Andrew’s UMC received approval to sell a portion of our property to St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes school. The sale includes our current church building. Upon approval by the City of Alexandria (a long, laborious process) we will construct a new facility on the portion of property we are retaining.
This is one of two pieces of a major restart for the St. Andrew’s family. There truly is New Life at St. Andrew’s. Stay tuned for further details to be announced soon. Bottom line-God is up to something good here, and we just want to avoid getting in His way.
Episcopal High School, a private boarding school tucked away on Seminary Hill at 1200 N Quaker Lane, could be undergoing a significant expansion soon with a new fitness center and dorms.
The proposed health and wellness center would replace the existing 90-year-old facility. The new building will be 17,000 square feet — roughly twice the size of the current structure — and if approved construction could begin next year. The facility would also have a classroom, a meditation room, a counseling center and more.
The school is also proposing to construct two 36-40 bed dorms. The new dorms would help the school work towards its target student-to-faculty ratio in its dorms towards the target 15:1. Currently, there are 23 students for every faculty member in the dorms.
The plans are scheduled to go to the Planning Commission on Jan. 5.
Renderings via Episcopal High School
As The Waypoint at Fairlington moves forward, some old traffic concerns and misconceptions about the project have resurfaced.
The Waypoint, and 81-unit affordable housing development at Fairlington Presbyterian Church (3846 King Street) was approved in 2018, but old criticisms of the project’s added density flooded the comment sections when the city applied for federal funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development HOME Investment Partnerships.
Some nearby communities are supportive of the project. The Fairlington Citizens Association, which represents roughly 7,500 residents near the project, was generally supportive of the project.
“While the FCA Board takes no position on the specific design of the pending proposal — though we have heard no complaints about it from any of our residents — we believe it aligns well with the church’s history and mission,” the FCA said in a statement to city staff. “The FCA also supports the effort to provide affordable housing, which is essential to the sustainable growth of our community, and believes that the proposal would make an important contribution to expanding affordable housing in this part of Alexandria.”
Others like Carter Flemming, president of the Seminary Hill Association, which represents many of the neighbors nearest to the church, said the lingering discontent is a result of residents both feeling like they were ignored during the civic process and a general fear that the project will only exacerbate problems at the intersection of Van Dorn Street and Menokin Drive.
“It’s a tricky intersection at best,” Flemming said. “Adding this many cars coming out from a garage, people are concerned about that.”
A traffic study by contractor Wells and Associates looked specifically at that intersection, and found that traffic levels were within acceptable parameters, although there were some delays at the site.
It was quite a year in Alexandria. It’s safe to say that 202o will be just as busy, but in the meantime let’s take a look at the top stories from the last year.
1. The Seminary Road Diet
Few local transportation stories have gotten as much attention as City Council’s 4-3 decision on the Seminary Road diet. The move seems simple enough — consolidating from four to two lanes in both directions between N. Quaker Lane and Howard Street with a turn lane in the middle and bike lanes on both sides. Public discord over the change prompted the creation of a Facebook page, which has dramatically turned up the temperature on the issue, even leading to City Councilwoman Amy Jackson to publicly call for a complete reversal on the decision and restart of the process.
See: More Work on Seminary Road This Spring If the State Will Pony Up the Cash
More: Virginia Theological Seminary Weighs In Favor of Seminary Road Diet
2. Legendary Titans Pass Away
Alexandria lost a number of inspiring figures in 2019, including members of the state championship-winning 1971 T.C. Williams High School football team. The team, who were immortalized in the 2000 film “Remember The Titans” starring Denzel Washington, lost coach Herman Boone, assistant coach Bill Yoast and players Petey Jones and Julius Campbell.
3. ACPS fully Accredited for First Time in 20 Years
It took two decades, and in September Alexandria City Public Schools system announced that all of the city’s public schools reached their state mandated benchmarks to be fully accredited for the 2019-2020 academic year. Superintendent Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings said that the success didn’t come by chance and that it took six superintendents and a lot of “planning, preparation and dedication for all students to experience success regardless of their life circumstances” to get ACPS where it is today.
All ACPS Schools Fully Accredited for First Time in 20 Years – ACPS Express https://t.co/mjsBbdCHM9
— Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr. (@DrHutchings) September 30, 2019
4. Ground Broken at Potomac Yard Metro Station
After decades of finalizing plans and making deals, ground was finally broken in December for the construction of the Potomac Yard Metro station. The plan is to open the $320 million station by spring 2022, and while development will result in the demolition of the Regal Potomac Yard movie theater, the area will positively be booming with the eventual addition of the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus, a new mixed-use redevelopment, Amazon HQ2 in Crystal City and much more.
“This has been a quarter-century in the making,” Mayor Justin Wilson said at the groundbreaking. “This is a big… deal.”
5. Alexandria’s Summer Metro Shutdown
Did you have to get creative in your commute over the summer? You weren’t alone. Thousands of commuters in the area were forced to make alternate plans so that Metro could make crucial improvements to all of the station platforms south of the Reagan National Airport station. The shutdown meant expanded Metro and DASH bus routes, morning trolley rides from the King Street station, Potomac Riverboat Company Water Taxi ferries from the Alexandria Waterfront into the District and more. The renovation is part of a $300-$400 million project to rebuild 20 outdoor platforms throughout the Metro system. Once reopened, commuters were introduced to new speakers for clearer public announcements and emergency notifications, stainless-steel platform shelters, passenger information display screens and energy-efficient LED lighting.
— The Zebra (@ZebraAlexandria) September 9, 2019
When it comes to Alexandria’s transportation network, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.
A new route, N12, will replace the current AT-2 route on Seminary Road and Janneys Lane. The route connects the Mark Center in the West End to the King Street Metro station. According to the new vision plan, the route will run every 30 minutes on weekdays and will be discontinued on weekends.
AT-2 was originally cut from DASH’s vision plan, which favored moving the system towards frequent service in densely populated parts of the city at the cost of routes through more spread-out neighborhoods in the heart of Alexandria. The change was met with outcry from residents along the route who said they rely on the bus to take them to the hospital and down to Old Town.
“The N12 service is a result of input received during the outreach process and is subject to a board-adopted ridership benchmark over the next five years,” the report said.
The city’s website elaborated that DASH will set benchmarks and monitor ridership on the route to evaluate, further down the road, if the route should be maintained.
The overall aim of the new plan is to shift towards high-frequency service with buses running every 15 minutes all day, every day in areas like the West End, Potomac Yard and Old Town. DASH said the new plan will offer useful, frequent transit for 120,000, compared to the 40,000 currently served. The high-frequency lines are also designed to go through neighborhoods with a high concentration of low-income residents and minority residents.
Though approved by the DASH board, the new plan will still need to be adopted by the City Council and WMATA. If adopted, the new route would be scheduled for launch in summer 2021, with phases of the plan being implemented through 2030.
Staff photo by Jay Westcott
(Updated 1:30 p.m.) A chase by the Virginia State Police ended with a crash at the intersection of Fort Williams Parkway and Seminary Road
The car being chased wrecked shortly after noon and Virginia State Police took the suspect into custody “without incident,” according to Lt. Courtney Ballantine, a spokesman for the Alexandria Police Department.
— Jill Hoffman (@JHoffman_DC) November 27, 2019
State Police on the scene on Seminary Road indicated that they were in high-speed pursuit of a vehicle from I-395 that ended on Seminary Road just east of Fort Williams Pkwy. You can see a new sign from a pedestrian median refuge island on the front of the car. pic.twitter.com/X67zFzrTqy
— Jim Durham (@JimLDurham) November 27, 2019
The intersection was closed as of 1 p.m., but Ballantine said it should reopen shortly.
Police said Virginia State Police involvement meant the pursuit almost certainly started on one of the nearby interstates — the intersection is a mile away from I-395 — but the details on where and how the chase began were unclear.
NOTIFICATION :: The Alexandria Police Department is assisting the Virginia State Police in the intersection of Fort Williams Parkway and Seminary Road. The intersection closed. Expect police activity in the area.
— Alexandria Police (@AlexandriaVAPD) November 27, 2019
Photo via Google Maps
The squeaky wheel on the bus may get the grease, as the Alexandria Transit Company Board of Directors has directed staff to find a way of restoring or replacing a bus line through Seminary Road cut from current plans to overhaul the bus network.
DASH, the city’s bus system, is preparing to shift its bus service from a model focused on widespread coverage of the city to one that focuses on high-frequency service in densely populated corridors.
One of the casualties of this change would be the AT2 bus line. The bus line starts in Lincolnia and works up through the West End to the Mark Center before running down through the heart of Seminary Hill and into Old Town.
Steve Sindiong, an urban planner for the City of Alexandria, said that the DASH Board of Directors told staff at an earlier meeting that they need to go back and restore service in that corridor.
“That’s what we’re working on right now,” Sindiong said. “We’re looking at different approaches to service on Seminary [Road] and Janneys [Lane].”
The removal of the lines caused outrage at a meeting at the Burke Branch Library in October, where a packed room of local residents said they were concerned that they would lose access to the city’s bus service.
DASH tweeted that AT2 riders would be able to reach Old Town through a transfer at Landmark Mall or Southern Towers, but plans for the bus routes by 2022 eliminate service east of Inova Alexandria Hospital (4320 Seminary Road).
Hey West End! With the proposed ATV Plan, AT2 riders will be able to reach Old Town faster through a transfer at Landmark Mall or Southern Towers/Mark Center. Learn more & take our online survey at https://t.co/j7arcEZPWR. HURRY! The survey ends tomorrow! pic.twitter.com/bfDvHnmIbY
— DASH Bus (@DASHBus) November 21, 2019
Sindiong said the replacement bus line would have, at a minimum, some weekday service.
The city is also currently in discussions with the Department of Defense, which funds the AT2x route that runs directly from the King Street Metro station to the Mark Center. It is currently an express bus, meaning it makes no stops on Seminary Road, but staff said in the October meeting that they were cautiously hopeful that it could be opened up to local residents.
Staff photo by Jay Westcott