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Alexandria Natural Resources Manager Rod Simmons (courtesy photo)

Alexandria Natural Resources Manager Rod Simmons has been a prominent voice for environmental concerns around the city in recent years, but Simmons told ALXnow that battles behind the scenes have led him to retire after 27 years in city government.

Simmons, a city employee with the Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs, was at the center of controversies related to Taylor Run and other projects.

He was among the earliest voices warning the Taylor Run Stream Restoration project could do more harm than good. Simmons and critics of the project got into a back-and-forth over soil samples and other concerns about the project.

The city spent $1.8 million on the project and ended up with very little to show for it after the City Council said the plan needed further study and was eventually scaled back.

But those objections came with considerable backlash within city government, Simmons said, and he said it’s made it difficult to fulfill his role advocating for Alexandria’s natural resources.

“In the last two years, the workplace culture and conditions have become intolerable, from my perspective,” Simmons told ALXnow. “The problem is continual. I’ve been in opposition to the city’s agendas for increasing high-density development. All these projects, really over the last seven years, have come online and descended on the landscape of the city.”

While Simmons said many of those projects have been built in industrial zones or haven’t directly replaced natural resources, they’ve still put an increasing strain on the city’s natural resources.

“Development has a huge impact on waterways,” Simmons said. “We’ve got these edge cities, like the Hoffman Town Center area and Carlyle area, that put a huge burden on the little natural landscape like Hoof’s Run and African American Heritage Park, for instance. It stresses those areas and the wildlife that remains there. It contributes a significant amount of pollution to those streams and the Potomac River.”

Just this year, a lawsuit is forcing Alexandria to take a somewhat unconventional approach to combat its Potomac River pollution. Simmons said the increasing density is putting more cars on the road, eventually leading to more pollutants in Alexandria’s creeks and rivers.

Simmons also said usage of artificial turf, as was approved earlier this year at Eugene Simpson Park, is fundamentally at odds with the goals of protecting natural resources.

“Things like artificial turf and the forever plastics that come from that, those toxic chemicals that come from the rubberized pellets,” Simmons said. “Add the fact that you have to lay down enormous beds of gravel; it’s impervious surface because all the water goes into the already burdened storm drains is rushing into streams.”

Once those fields need replacing, too, Simmons said the city will be left with another pollution problem.

“There’s no recycling for those artificial fields; they end up being dumped in natural areas or wetlands,” Simmons said. “There’s no recycling for that, just like we realized there’s no recycling for anything else: it was a big lie by the plastics industry.”

While developments in Alexandria frequently cite LEED certification and energy efficiency, Simmons said that doesn’t matter much in terms of mitigating climate change.

“[The concern is] impervious surface, heat island index, the concrete jungle, all that sort of thing,” Simmons said. “We still have all the cars on the road. It’s too little, too late. I think the intentions are good, but they’re trying to make lemonade with something that’s not going to work. Smart Growth is an oxymoron.” Read More

Gunfire was reported in the 2800 block of Nob Hill Court next to Bishop Ireton High School, on Nov. 6, 2023 (via Google Maps)

The Alexandria Police Department is investigating reports of gunfire approximately 100 feet from Bishop Ireton High School on Monday night.

Five gunshots were reported in the 2800 block of Nob Hill Court at around 6:23 p.m. on Nov. 6, according to the APD scanner. No injuries were reported, and APD discovered that one bullet smashed through an apartment window 350 feet away in the 2900 block of Seay Street, according to scanner traffic.

Anyone with information on this incident can contact the APD non-emergency number at 701-746-4444. Callers can remain anonymous.

Map via Google Maps

Taylor Run (Photo via City of Alexandria)

The City of Alexandria spent $1.8 million on its Taylor Run and Strawberry Run restoration projects and, at a meeting earlier this week, Mayor Justin Wilson said the city has virtually nothing to show for it.

That $1.8 million went into the project before shovels ever hit the dirt. The plan was to combat erosion and improve the flow of the waterway, but the city’s design attracted considerable pushback from some local environmental activists and city watchdogs who said the plans could do more harm than good to the stream. Critics also noted that pollution levels in the stream were being calculated based on modeling rather than testing in the actual waterways.

Over months of community engagement, city staff and critics of the project went back and forth on the projects. When the project finally went to City Council, the Council voted to send the project back for further study and analysis.

When those plans for the stream restoration returned earlier this year, city leaders were frustrated that the projects had been scaled back considerably. To add insult to injury: the city was forced to return $3 million in grant funding it had received for the project.

Now, the full bill of the aborted Taylor Run and Strawberry Run stream restoration projects has come due to the tune of $1.8 million.

“That’s $1.8 million that we spent on these two projects and we essentially have nothing for that,” Wilson said at a City Council meeting. “We had a lot of planning, a lot of meetings, a lot of discussion with the community, and that’s great, but we don’t have a lot else.”

Wilson said that bill is a reminder of the expense that goes into public engagement, something he said the City should be more aware of when approaching future projects.

“I note that as we think about how we design public processes in the future, as we think about how we approach engagement, that these things have a cost,” Wilson said. “In this case, they had a very significant cost to our taxpayers. This is in addition to grants that we returned and other things. There is a significant opportunity cost.”

The new plans for Strawberry Run mostly focus on spot stabilization of erosion rather than a comprehensive project.

“We ended up in an okay place, but we could have ended up in a better place,” Wilson said. “Nevertheless, that’s where we are.”

Witter Place (Community Housing Partners (CHP))

Plans to convert a West End auto dealership into an affordable apartment complex are expected to be finished by late 2025, nonprofit Community Housing Partners tells ALXnow.

It’s been more than a year since plans were first released for Witter Place, the current location of Lindsay Cadillac at 2712 Duke Street. Once built, the four-to-five story building will be home to 94 units affordable for households earning 40% to 60% area median income.

“Witter Place is moving forward,” Kimberly Strahm, CHP’s vice president for strategic operations, told ALXnow. “We have begun working on site planning and are interviewing [general contractors] next week. However, we expect site plan approval could take up to a year and then we’ll need building permit approval before construction can start. The earliest we anticipate being done is late 2025.”

The new building will include a courtyard and rooftop terrace for residents.

City Council approved the project last November, and it includes enhanced 10-foot-wide tree-lined sidewalks and new bus shelter on the property frontage.

This is CHP’s first project in Alexandria.

Taylor Run (photo via City of Alexandria)

The first time the Taylor Run and Strawberry Run restoration projects went to City Council, some in the community were angry. The second time around, it’s city leaders that are angry.

The core of the problem seems that, in an effort to appease everyone involved, Alexandria ended up with a solution that accomplishes virtually nothing when it comes to Strawberry Run.

Years after the controversy first reared up about plans to make changes to Taylor Run and Strawberry Run, with the aim of reducing erosion, those plans came back to Alexandria’s City Council earlier this week and the elected officials were less than pleased with the results.

The stream restoration projects were paused after concerns were raised about the reliability of the data behind the project. The City Council voted to send the projects back for more study and to build more consensus. But, more than a year after the project was scheduled to come back to the City Council for further review, Mayor Justin Wilson criticized the new version of the stream restoration for being scaled down into irrelevance and still not gathering the needed consensus.

The main criticism was focused on plans for Strawberry Run, which involve spending $1.2 million on spot improvements rather than any significant, long-term improvements.

Wilson also criticized the report for saying the city should work with fluvial systems and stream restoration expert John Field on future stream projects, saying it is inappropriate for a report to write a private company into a city policy recommendation.

“What is the recommendation at Strawberry Run, besides ‘don’t cut down trees, don’t have roads, don’t remove the trash that is put in there unless we absolutely have to?'” Wilson said. “The recommendation seems to be that whatever we do, which hasn’t yet been determined, we hire this guy to do it.”

Jesse Maines, stormwater division chief, fielded most of the questions and criticism about the project.

“I think there’s some ambiguity there,” Maines said. “A lot of this is getting a designer onboard and starting to design ‘this is how it would look and this is the impacts.'”

“Is there not a consensus on what we’re going to do?” Wilson said. “I have to say I’m a little bit incredulous we spent two years building consensus and the recommendations appear to be: in the future we should run a bunch of things by a committee and hire a guy that everyone likes. What is the recommendation? What are we doing?”

City Council member Sarah Bagley and Wilson both expressed concern that the policy recommendation pushing the city toward contracting a private party skirted around the city’s typical procurement process.

“I have been involved or adjacent to public procurement for over two decades and I have never heard of anything like this; where a policy recommendation is approved specifically calling for a private firm,” Wilson said. “I’ve never heard anything like that and I’d love to be the one negotiating on behalf of Dr. Field after we would adopt that.”

Maines said the spot stabilization could help prevent further erosion on Strawberry Run, but the admittedly diminished scope of the project left Wilson and others on the Council wondering whether the cost justified the lackluster benefits.

“When we went into this process we were achieving a significant amount of public amenities,” Wilson said. “Excise that from the project, there isn’t the same [significance]… Why would we do anything here? Why is there any reason we would do anything on Strawberry Run? Reading these recommendations, my conclusion is we should do absolutely nothing on Strawberry Run. Period. Someone explain to me why that shouldn’t be the conclusion I draw here.”

Maines said a “no-build” option was presented to the consensus-building group

What’s more, for all the work around building consensus, Bagley said she still had concerns that the improvements are reliant on access to the easements with no clear evidence that the City of Alexandria could get the access it needs.

“It’s absolutely a fair concern,” Deputy Director for Infrastructure and Environmental Quality Bill Skrabak said.

City Council member Kirk McPike suggested tabling any further consideration of improvements to Strawberry Run until that can be compared with other projects. With some help from retiring City Attorney Joanna Anderson, City Council member Kirk McPike moved to accept recommendations on Taylor Run — with an amendment to use the standard procurement policies — and tabling any further work on Strawberry Run.

Taylor Run (Photo via City of Alexandria)

Alexandria is sending $3 million in grant funding back to the state after controversial stream restoration projects fell through.

When the stream restoration projects return later this year, city leadership made it candidly clear that Alexandria taxpayers will likely shoulder more of the cost thanks to the lost grant funding.

Mayor Justin Wilson noted that an ordinance approved in the City Council meeting last night (Tuesday) starts the process of rescinding two grants received for the Taylor Run and Strawberry Run stream restoration projects, totaling $2.2 million and $800,000 respectively.

Back in 2021, the City of Alexandria was in the final stages of a plan to replace the existing Taylor Run stream with a “natural channel design” that would make the creek more shallow and cut back on erosion.

But the project faced opposition from a wide array of sources across the local political spectrum, from groups like Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria to the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia.

Some local activists criticized the plan for clearing out existing foliage and noted that the city relied on pollution estimates rather than taking measurements, but city staff likewise said activists were using inaccurate data and, in trying to preserve some foliage rather than improving the local environment, were missing the forest for the trees.

The City Council ultimately voted to send the projects back for more study, but Wilson said the decision to return the funding to the state caught him off guard.

“I will say: when we had that discussion last time, I will be honest, I did not expect this to take as long as it did and I did not expect that was a final decision to forego the grants and I did not see it as that at the time,” Wilson said. “I’m a little concerned from a process perspective that we essentially made a decision to return the grants without making a decision to return the grants.”

Wilson said one source of frustration is that the city deferring the project to build consensus resulted in the project — as it had been developed up to that point — being quietly killed off.

“From the overall process perspective here… the concern I have is one that this is ultimately not just a $3 million decision, it’s potentially [much] more,” Wilson said. “This is a significant decision that we kind of made by happenstance, if you will.”

Beyond just being improvements to Taylor Run and Strawberry Run, the stream restoration projects were designed to help fulfill the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) cleanup mandates — a requirement to decrease the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous Alexandria is putting into the Chesapeake Bay.

Per the City’s Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Permit, the city is still on the hook for decreasing those pollutants somehow. City staff earlier warned various alternatives to stream restoration could be more expensive, and now the city could have to handle that without state support.

“Nevertheless, we’ve made that decision and we’re returning $3 million worth of grants and that whatever ends up coming out of the process that we’ve had underway now, as it relates to these two sites, is probably going to entirely fall on the taxpayers of the City of Alexandria,” Wilson said. “I think that’s an important point and one that should be abundantly transparent to the residents.”

Jesse Mains, stormwater division chief, said city staff will head back to the City Council in June with more plans about what’s next for Taylor Run and Strawberry Run.

“We would need to go get a designer,” Mains said. “We need to go through the procurement process, which will take six to nine months. [Add] another seven to nine months to procure construction services, and about seven months to build it, roughly.”

Mains said the city is looking at Fall/Winter 2026 for a new stream restoration project to be finalized. Mains said that project would likely be in next year’s Capital Improvement Program.

“We’re pretty positive it would not be eligible for any kind of further grants,” Mains said.


Over a year after City Council paused its controversial stream rehabilitation projects, the City of Alexandria is hosting community meetings next week to restart that process.

The City Council paused stream rehabilitation projects for Taylor Run and Strawberry Run after local civic and environmental activists argued the projects could end up damaging the quality of the streams they were trying to help. City staff reviewed the concerns and said many were unfounded, but the debate raised sufficient uncertainty that the City Council sent the projects back to the drawing board for review.

One of the main criticisms of the city’s projects was that there was no water quality testing in the streams. The project was based on state models, and environmental activists estimated the model’s numbers were different from the actual situation on the ground.

In a newsletter, Mayor Justin Wilson said those activists were correct:

The measurements were conducted and were received by the City and our Environmental Policy Commission at the end of last year. These measurements show that the default formula provided by the Commonwealth’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to estimate pollutant reductions, over-estimates the pollutant reduction for these three projects, as expected. In the case of Taylor Run, our estimated pollutant reduction rate of $15,000 per pound, will rise to $50,000 per pound. For Lucky Run, it goes from $7,000 per pound to $72,000 and for Strawberry Run it goes from $5,000 to $20,000. If the City seeks to claim to obtain the same pollution credits, using this method, it will now cost more.

Now, a city release said the public is invited to a “consensus-building workshop” to discuss alternative approaches for the stream projects.

“The workshop will be held at Alexandria Renew Education Center & Meeting Space, 1800 Limerick Street on Saturday, Sept. 10 from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and a hybrid option is also available via Zoom link,” the city said in a release. “The workshop format will include presentations in the morning on the different alternatives, a lunch break and breakout discussions around community goals on improving the two streams.”

The workshop will be led by the Institute for Engagement and Negotiation (IEN) at the University of Virginia and co-hosted by the City of Alexandria’s Transportation and Environmental Services, Stormwater Management Division, and the Department of Project Implementation.

The release said the workshop will give the public a space to weigh in on the project.

“This workshop and subsequent meetings are an opportunity for stakeholders to provide feedback and comments on alternative approaches to restore and improve the health of the streams,” the release said. “It’s one of the multiple workshops set up with the goal of reaching a consensus. “

A report prepared by IEN is scheduled to be presented to the City Council in December.

Wilson said the city brought in IEN to serve as a neutral third party to help facilitate further discussion.

“The City has important obligations to improve the quality of the water in the waterways of our region,” Wilson wrote. “These investments are intended to maintain our commitment to the future of the Chesapeake Bay and address human-caused damage in these natural areas. We will continue to work to determine the best approach as we move forward.”


A 23-year-old Prince William County man was arrested on July 23 (Saturday) after police found him asleep in his car on the wrong side of the road on Yale Drive.

The incident occurred at around 4:15 p.m. The investigating officer found a silver Toyota facing the wrong way on Yale Drive in the oncoming traffic lane. The driver was unconscious but breathing in the driver’s seat, police said in a search warrant affidavit.

“The vehicle was in drive, the engine running, with lights on, and (the suspect’s) foot (was) on the break and the break lights illuminated,” police said in a search warrant affidavit. “While at the window, I observed the driver with a light blue circular pill on his lap, a dollar bill and a credit/debit card. There also appeared to be a white powdery substance sprinkled on his lap.”

The officer activated a personal red/blue emergency light on his uniform and announced himself.

The officer reported that the driver woke up in a panic and lethargically grabbed at items in the vehicle. The driver refused commands to lower the window or unlock the car door.

“He then grabbed a phone and yelled, ‘I need to call my mom,'” police reported in the search warrant affidavit. “I announced ‘Police,’ several times and ordered him to open the door. He continued to refuse all commands given to him and never opened his door. I then informed him he was under arrest for obstruction and he continued to refuse commands.”

The rear driver’s side door to the suspect’s car was broken, and back-up officers popped the lock on the door. The suspect refused to get out of the car and was removed by multiple officers.

The driver was released on $2500 unsecured bond the same day. He was charged with driving while intoxicated, resisting arrest, possession of Schedule I drugs and possession of Schedule IV drugs.

Via Google Maps

West Taylor Run Parkway and Janneys Lane (image via Google Maps)

A woman was critically injured after being struck by a driver this morning in Taylor Run.

The call for a pedestrian struck went out around 6:40 a.m. this morning (Wednesday). Alexandria Police spokesman Marcel Bassett said a female pedestrian was struck by a vehicle at the intersection of West Taylor Run Parkway and Janneys Lane. She suffered a serious but non-life-threatening injury.

Bassett said the car driver remained on the scene and the victim was transported to the hospital.

The intersection and the stretch of West Taylor Run Parkway just south of the intersection have had several serious collisions in recent with local residents frequently expressing concerns about safety.

Taylor Run (photo via City of Alexandria)

One of the biggest points of contention in the stream restoration debate was that models, and not actual testing of the streams in question, were being considered in policy discussions. Next week, the city is moving to rectify that.

The city announced in a press release that a consultant will be performing soil collection, sampling, and analysis tests at Taylor Run, Strawberry Run and Lucky Run — three streams being considered for restoration work.

“The field work for all three steams is anticipated to take place the week of July 25, 2021,” the city said in the release. “Additionally, a consultant will be inspecting the previous stream project completed on the downstream portion of Strawberry Run during the Taft Avenue development to document issues that have occurred.”

The city’s plans to reshape the three streams were derailed in April when criticism from civic groups and some environmental experts compelled the City Council to take the plans back to the drawing board and do more testing to get a better idea of pollutant levels in the streams. The outcry centered primarily on Taylor Run, where some like Natural Resources Manager Rod Simmons said preliminary testing of the stream indicated that the phosphate levels in the water were likely significantly lower than models based on out-of-state data.

“The work that will be performed is consistent with direction received from City Council at the April 27, 2021 legislative meeting for staff to perform soil sampling and analysis and collaborate with the Environmental Policy Commission (EPC) on alternatives to natural channel design,” the city said. ”Council instructed staff to pause the planned stream restoration projects at Taylor Run and Strawberry Run for further evaluation, but proceed with Lucky Run while the soil sampling and analysis occurs. This process includes collection and analysis of soil samples to determine soil nutrient concentrations (total nitrogen and total phosphorus) and the bulk density and development of a report describing the effort and potentially recalculating the nutrient reductions using these data.”

The tests are slated to be completed between October and December. Once the information is finalized as a report, the city said that will be available on the city website.


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