Newsletter

It was another week full of news in Alexandria. Here are the top headlines of the week.

Our top story was on the 34-year-old Arlington man charged with distributing methamphetamine after reporting to police that he was the victim of an armed robbery in his fifth floor room at the Embassy Suites in Old Town. The investigating officer asked if there was anything illegal in the man’s room, and he reportedly said, “There is some meth in the room, but it’s for personal use.”

In local restaurant news, two pizza businesses filed special use permits to operate in the city. Stracci Pizza wants to operate at former Nectar Coffee & Wine Bistro in Del Ray and &pizza wants to open near the Hoffman Town Center in Alexandria’s Carlyle neighborhood.

This week, we asked residents about a proposal for a new Waterfront Museum. Out of 207 votes, 37% think it would be great; 35% don’t think the city should go through with it; and 28% like the idea of the museum but that now is the wrong time to do it.

Important stories

Election stories

Top stories

  1. Alexandria Police find meth, thousands in cash in hotel robbery investigation
  2. Alexandria City Council unanimously adopts collective bargaining ordinance
  3. Mayor Justin Wilson says 2021 Democratic primary is about the future, not a rerun of 2018
  4. D.C. man arrested for pharmacy burglaries in Del Ray and West End
  5. Southern Towers residents nervous as landlord steps up eviction proceedings
  6. Stracci Pizza files special use permit to operate at former Nectar Coffee & Wine Bistro in Del Ray
  7. JUST IN: Alexandria Police investigate suspicious package in Carlyle
  8. Alexandria City Council approves creation of Community Policing Review Board
  9. Recently reduced properties in Alexandria
  10. Here’s the order that City Council candidates will appear on the ballot for the June 8 democratic primary
  11. ‘Dogs Of Del Ray’ mural to be finished next month

Have a safe weekend!

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To go along with a recent increase in the stormwater utility fee, Alexandria’s City Council is broadening the scope of what that can be covered by that fee.

At a City Council meeting on Saturday, the Council voted unanimously in favor of expanding the uses of the fee to help combat some of the rampant flooding that’s plagued the city over the last few years.

The ordinance added “to mitigate surface and subsurface flooding from precipitation events” to the description of the fee. The new ordinance also adds specific examples to the types of stormwater infrastructure the project can fund, “including the enlargement or improvement of dams, levees, floodwalls, and pump stations.”

The fee is scheduled to increase from $140 this year to $210 starting in June, up to $280 by November.

The new language will also allow the city to use the funds for stormwater management contracts with private businesses.

“[Funding may be used for] contracts related to stormwater management, including contracts for the financing, construction, operation, or maintenance of stormwater management facilities,” the ordinance says, “regardless of whether such facilities are located on public or private property and, in the case of private property locations, whether the contract is entered into pursuant to a stormwater management private property program under Section 15.2-2114(J) of the Virginia Code or otherwise.”

The expansion comes along with plans to double the stormwater utility fee. That increased fee faced some pushback, including from Councilwoman Amy Jackson and retiring Sheriff Dana Lawhorne.

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In the middle of the ongoing budget season, the City Council is looking back at the dramatic drop-off in tax revenue over the last year, yet another reflection of the dramatic toll of the coronavirus pandemic.

A financial report to the City Council includes a summary of the $17.4 million consumptive tax revenue — taxable revenue from the sale of goods or services, like sales taxes — lost since March 2020.

The chart shows a 25% decline in consumer spending in 2020 compared to 2019, with taxes on admissions being particularly hard hit with an 84.3% decline, from $562,660 collected in taxes on admissions in 2019 and only $88,548 in 2020. Last April, tax revenue showed that only four people in the entire city purchased movie theater tickets.

Transient lodging (hotels) took a similar hit, down 69.5% from 2019 to 2020. Some of the city’s hotels may not survive the pandemic, and the city and the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership (AEDP) are currently looking into converting closing hotels into affordable housing units.

The decline in consumer spending accounted for part of the budget’s initial $41 million budget gap that was eventually resolved into the proposed FY 2022 budget. City Manager Mark Jinks proposed a 2 cent real estate tax rate reduction, though some in the city have noted that taxes are still likely to go up for local residents as they shoulder the burden of the decline in commercial revenue.

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City Manager Mark Jinks has proposed a budget this year that includes a real estate tax rate decrease of 2 cents.

The announcement came as welcome news to local property owners, from residents to business owners who faced a particularly difficult year as a result of COVID-19. The announcement was conjoined with a budget that belt tightening that trims down some of the city’s larger ambitions and won’t fill some currently vacant positions.

The budget also faced some detractors who argue that the city should take more steps to ease the burden on local residents and commercial property owners. In a recent Agenda Alexandria meeting, City Council candidate Bill Rossello said the narrative of a lightened burden on local residents doesn’t match the reality of an overall tax increase.

“I look at the budget the way it’s been presented and something that always seems to concern me is when we lead with a narrative around the tax rate,” Rossello said. “The tax rate is only one part of the equation for the actual taxes that people pay… While we’re looking at a proposed 2 cent tax rate decrease, when you do the math, for the average household it comes out to be almost a 6% tax increase in real dollars and that’s what really matters to residents: how much more or how much less am I going to pay?”

On the other side, some of the city’s transit and infrastructure ambitions are being scaled back as a result of the tax rate decrease. For instance, City Manager Mark Jinks said in the meeting that DASH will be forced to choose between density and coverage in a budget that will not allow it to keep all current lines operational and move forward with its planned higher-frequency service in areas of greater density.

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In the latest Agenda Alexandria conversation, local business and civic leaders came together to discuss the highs and lows of the recently proposed City Manager’s budget.

The budget included a proposed tax rate reduction, but City Council candidate Bill Rosssello challenged the overly sunny narrative about the reduction.

“I look at the budget the way it’s been presented and something that always seems to concern me is when we lead with a narrative around the tax rate,” Rossello said. “The tax rate is only one part of the equation for the actual taxes that people pay… While we’re looking at a proposed 2 cent tax rate decrease, when you do the math, for the average household it comes out to be almost a 6% tax increase in real dollars and that’s what really matters to residents: how much more or how much less am I going to pay?”

Rossello was joined on the panel by Rob Krupicka, former City Council member and Delegate and owner of Elizabeth’s Counter, and Janet Blair Fleetwood, Secretary of the Budget & Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee and the Mayor’s representative on Budget and Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee (BFAAC).

The group discussed the current imbalance between the residential and commercial tax bases, which has only gotten worse during the pandemic.

“Back in 2009, we used to get 30.5% of revenue from commercial, said Fleetwood. “It is now 21.3%. We have a good situation here, with Virginia Tech’s Innovation area coming in, Amazon, the Patent office, the National Science Foundation, and Landmark. We should start looking to grow businesses that will come in and bring good jobs and use commercial real estate.”

Fleetwood said there has been talk that post-pandemic, companies may not want to use commercial real estate as they did before, but Fleetwood said she has also heard from companies that they will still need physical footprints for team projects.

“I don’t think commercial footprint is going away,” Fleetwood said.

Krupicka noted that questions about the balance between residential revenue and commercial revenue may fundamentally change post-pandemic.

“The balance between residential revenues and commercial revenue… there are fundamental shifts happening right now that make that an old debate,” Krupicka said. “People are working from home now, and you’re going to see a lot of businesses that don’t go back to commercial office when COVID ends.”

Krupicka said one of the larger concerns is that small business have to compete against larger companies like Amazon and pay taxes those companies don’t.

“Small businesses are competing against Amazon and large internet companies,” Krupicka said. “There is big international competition that pays a lot less taxes than small mom and pop. Small mom and pop has to pay BPOL tax… small businesses like mine are writing checks to government, but doing it in the hole. If you broke even on COVID, you’re paying on gross receipts, not profits.”

Krupicka said Amazon pays retail taxes, which benefits the city, but in general pays less on taxes per transaction than small restaurants or retailers.

“We need to have conversation about if we want small businesses to be at a disadvantage tax wise,” Krupicka said.

On the other side, Rossello said the burden on residential taxpayers has grown considerably and is pushing people out of Alexandria.

“We’ve taxed out so many middle class folks, who can afford to pay decent mortgage or rent, but find it more affordable to leave,” Rossello said. “We’ve seen whole neighborhoods turn over from diverse middle class neighborhoods to gentrified neighborhoods where houses on very small lots are $1.5 million dollars.”

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City staff said at a meeting earlier this week that, for the local real estate market, it is both the best of times and the worst of times.

While Alexandria’s taxable property value continued to increase dramatically, on the ground property owners face very different realities in the city based on whether that property is residential or commercial.

“This year is very different; it’s a tale of two markets, a very mixed experience,” said Kendel Taylor, the director of finance for the City of Alexandria. “In the past couple years, no matter what you owned, you were going up around the same rate. This year if you owned a home vs a hotel, your experience is vastly different in this year’s assessment report.”

City reports noted that the residential tax base increased by 6% overall, which a press release said reflected a strong residential market in Alexandria combined with low mortgage interest rates.

“This is the largest increase in the residential category since 2006,” the city said. “The average assessment for all residential property types, including single-family homes, townhomes and condominiums increased by 5.7%, to $615,858. The average single-family home value increased by 5%, to $839,961. The average condominium value increased by 7.7%, to $375,070. The increase in the total tax base for condominiums is only 3.98% due to the addition of luxury condos near the waterfront to the 2020 tax base during the year.”

But on the commercial side, the city’s markets have been devastated by closures from COVID-19, particularly in the hospitality and retail sectors.

“The value of commercial properties decreased $342.5 million as of January 1, 2021, compared to January 1, 2020,” the city said. “The commercial tax base decreased 1.96%, compared to an increase of 2.8% in 2020. A significant decline was offset by an increase of 3.53% in the multifamily rental sector, which included $110.1 million in new growth. COVID-19 pandemic conditions resulted in substantial decreases in the hospitality and retail market sectors, with declines of 29.64% and 10.72%, respectively. Commercial properties, including multifamily apartments, comprise 40.6% of the tax base.”

Taylor said that, despite this past year’s decline, it’s likely that commercial property values will rebound — though full long-term economic recovery could still be years away.

“We are an attractive place to live and still an attractive investment,” Taylor said. “We look at COVID and we hear stories about delinquencies in rent and things like that: investors look long term and COVID is temporary. You make real estate investments in multi-family properties thinking long-term.”

The property assessments will now be used in the city manager’s proposed budget presentation scheduled for Feb. 16, and ultimately for a rate adopted by City Council on May 5.

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Morning Notes

Polk Elementary Crossing Guard Dies — “It is with a heavy heart that we share that our beloved Charlotte Mills Ross, passed away peacefully January 31, 2021 at the age of 95. Mrs. Ross served for 50 years as our school crossing guard. She welcomed and protected generations of Polk Owls at the same corner, rain or shine. How blessed we are to have been able to have her for 50 years as a treasured legend of our community. The walkway from our gym to our fifth grade wing was named ‘Ross Walk’ in her honor, upon her retirement.” [Facebook]

Beyer Thanks 11 Republicans for Voting to Remove Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from Committees — “My thanks to the 11 Republicans who joined us tonight to hold Marjorie Taylor Greene responsible for encouraging political violence against our colleagues. There should have been more. The resolution just passed with bipartisan support.” [Twitter]

City Real Property Tax Assessments Increase 2.7% — “On Tuesday evening, City Council will be receiving our 2021 Property Assessments. We will be seeing two very divergent stories: a residential tax base growing at the healthiest rate in some time and the commercial tax base shrinking quicker than we have seen in quite a while.” [Twitter]

Bishop Ireton Collects Donations Supporting Catholic Charities — “Thanks to the generous support of students, families and faculty, moms and babies will be receiving items through The Baby Closet, Mary’s Shelter and Birthright. These organizations serve the poorest of the poor and affirm the Catholic belief that life should be supported from conception to natural death. Thank you to everyone who donated!” [Facebook]

Today’s Weather — “Cloudy early with partial sunshine expected late. High 54F. Winds WSW at 10 to 15 mph… Partly cloudy skies (in the evening). Low near 30F. Winds WSW at 10 to 15 mph.” [Weather.com]

New Job:  Campagna Center Head Start Teacher — “The Teacher creates, maintains, and manages an attractive, warm, and challenging learning environment for young children, incorporating developmentally appropriate learning activities that meet the needs of the group as well as those of individual children. The Teacher collaborates with all staff to facilitate the utilization of needed services to the children and their families. The Teacher is responsible for keeping accurate reports and records for each child and ensuring that all of the necessary forms are completed and properly maintained.” [Indeed]

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Morning Notes

Beyer Praises Biden’s Economic Relief Plan — “Soon we will have a president in the White House, and Democratic leaders controlling Congress, who understand what economists have told us from the beginning–that in order to recover and rebuild from this pandemic you must first control the coronavirus and that rent and food are not going to trickle down to millions of unemployed Americans.” [Beyer.house.gov]

COVID-19 Self-Testing Kiosks Closed Today — “Stay safe on January 20. To ensure the safety of the community and Curative employees, COVID-19 testing kiosks in Alexandria will be closed on Inauguration Day. Pre-register for testing on Tues, Jan 19 or Thurs, Jan 21.” [Twitter]

Polk Elementary Principal Announces Retirement — “James K. Polk Elementary School Principal PreeAnn Johnson will retire July 1, 2021… Johnson was honored last year by Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) Superintendent Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings Jr. as ACPS Principal of the Year.”[Zebra]

ACPS Minority and Special Needs Students Struggle With Virtual Learning — “The report, compiled by ACPS’ Department of Accountability and Research, shows that middle and high school students earned D’s and F’s in greater numbers across all demographic groups in the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year compared to first quarter of the 2019-20 school year.” [Alex Times]

Accessory Dwelling Unit Decision Coming Up In Alexandria — “Accessory dwelling units, defined as small apartment-style residences sharing a lot with a larger house, would be allowed citywide under the proposal from the Department of Planning and Zoning and Office of Housing. Units are considered accessory dwellings when they provide a separate kitchen, bathroom and bedroom from the main house. They could be located in an addition of an existing home or a within separate on a lot, such as a detached garage.” [Patch]

Former Mayor Recounts Taking Iconic Photo of Coretta Scott King — “Silberberg’s photo has been published extensively by many publications. The most memorable was after Mrs. King passed away in 2006, when the photo was used by Target for full-page ads the company took out in The Washington PostThe New York Times and other major metropolitan newspapers to commemorate King’s service to the country.” [Alexandria Living]

Today’s Weather — “A few clouds from time to time (during the day). High 44F. Winds NW at 15 to 25 mph… Clear skies (in the evening). Low 24F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Experienced Tax Preparer — “The ideal candidate will have A MINIMUM of 5 years of Public Accounting experience, working in a tax environment. The ability to accurately prepare and review tax returns for various types of entities is a must! A desire to assist in expanding business growth and efficiency with fresh ideas is also highly desired.” [Indeed]

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Morning Notes

Local Democrats Divided Over Expunging Criminal Records — “House Democrats and Senate Democrats are deadlocked over how people accused of minor crimes should be able to clear their records, a clash that has stalled action for now on one of the most important criminal-justice reform efforts on the agenda for Democrats now that they have seized control of the General Assembly.” [Alexandria Gazette]

Personal Property Taxes Due Next Week — “The City of Alexandria reminds taxpayers that 2020 Vehicle and Business Personal Property Taxes are due December 15. City Council extended the Personal Property Tax due dates until December 15, 2020 to provide vehicle and business owners with additional time to pay.” [Patch]

Port City Founder Warns Excise Tax Rate Increases Could be Final Blow to Small Breweries — “I talked to the founder of Port City Brewing Company in Alexandria, Virginia, and he told me he used his tax cut savings to start offering retirement benefits to his full-time employees. If his taxes go up, he’s going to have to start cutting back on those benefits.” [Yahoo]

Zebra Compiles List of Restaurants With Outdoor Heating — “Don’t let winter cold stop you from your favorite restaurant around town. Many restaurants have installed heaters to make your outdoor dining more comfortable.” [Zebra]

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What a week full of news in Alexandria.

With city offices closed due to Veterans Day on Wednesday, there were still a number of big stories.

For the second week in a row, our top story was on a fraudulent mailer that was sent out to a number of residents before election day. In the story, households with Joe Biden signs posted in front yards were sent letters with a Northern Virginia postage mark stating that Biden is a pedophile.

On Monday, we reported the third murder in the city this year. Yousef Tarek Omar, a 23-year-old Texas man, was shot to death in the West End on the afternoon of Saturday, Nov. 7. Police have released few details of the incident, except the victim’s name, the general time of the incident and that it occurred in the 4800 block of W. Braddock Road.

City Councilwoman Del Pepper announced on Tuesday that she will not seek reelection. Pepper has been on the Alexandria City Council since 1985.

“There’s really not much to say,” Pepper told ALXnow. “There’s a time for everything, and I just felt this was my time. I have enjoyed every minute that I’ve served on the City Council.”

We also covered the city’s recovery plan for parts of the city devastated by the pandemic, and it lists a number of programs and strategies for impacted residents and businesses.

On the coronavirus front, Alexandria surpassed 4,500 cases since the beginning of the pandemic in March. The number of fatalities is still 76, and Latino residents have the highest number of infections.

Additionally, our weekly poll got a lot of attention this week. This week we asked about Thanksgiving plans, and 60% of respondents said they were eating at home with their household, 30% are planning a small gathering with at least one guest, and 10% are planning a large gathering of family/friends.

  1. Alexandrians with Joe Biden Yard Signs Get Anonymous Letters Saying Biden is a Pedophile
  2. BREAKING: 23-Year-Old Shot to Death in City’s Third Murder of the Year
  3. ‘Clyde’s at Mark Center’ and Other Businesses for Sale in Alexandria
  4. Del Ray Staple Al’s Steak House for Sale After Owner’s Death
  5. The Waypoint at Fairlington to Break Ground Next Month
  6. Councilwoman Del Pepper Announces She’s Not Running for Reelection
  7. City Council to Consider Publishing Names of Delinquent Real Estate Taxpayers
  8. Upcoming Signage Plan Could Subtly Shape New Potomac Yard Skyline
  9. One Person Injured in West End Carjacking
  10. Alexandria Parents Start #OpenACPS Sign Campaign as School System Begins Partial Reopening
  11. Alexandria Surpasses 4,500 Cases of COVID-19, Counts Now Rising at Summer Pace

Have a safe weekend!

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