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.
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.
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.
Last night was a rout for a vocal contingent of Alexandrians pushing for a change in city leadership, but both top dogs in the local Democratic party and their opposition say the fight isn’t over.
At Los Tios Grill in Del Ray, former Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg told enthusiastic supporters that conversations over issues like the Seminary Road Diet and Taylor Run Stream restoration project would continue, although the candidates who put those issues at the forefronts of their campaigns lost.
Silberberg said that her supporters should join boards and commissions and join their civic associations, continue speaking out and working on changing the city from within.
“This is a democracy,” Silberberg said. “All voices need to be heard. I remain dedicated to those causes and getting things done, and I encourage people to stay involved.”
On the Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria Facebook group, a page that had been a social gathering place for locals frustrated with city leadership, the reaction was dour, with members calling the results “depressing” or blaming the outcome on outside influences in local politics.
In terms of voting precincts, Silberberg won City Hall and a handful of the more residential areas in the center of the city, like around Seminary Hill, but Wilson won the more densely urban West End, Old Town, and Del Ray.
The election saw 23% of registered voters show up to the polls — a relatively high voter turnout rate for a non-Presidential election year.
Clarence Tong, chair of the Alexandria Democratic Committee, said the high number of candidates — 13 candidates in the Democratic primary for six seats — was likely one of the reasons for the high turnout, and that last night’s results were an endorsement for the leadership of Wilson and the incumbent City Council.
“Yesterday we experienced high primary turnout in Alexandria. this was a reflection of the high quality of the democratic statewide and local candidates on the ballot, likely the largest number in our history,” Tong said. “The great thing about the Democratic Party is the broad range of experiences and perspective from our candidates.”
Tong said that many of the issues debated during the campaign will likely continue to be debated after the election.
“I would fully expect the policy issues that were debated during the Council primary to continue in other public forums,” he said.
Photo via Alexandria Democratic Committee/Facebook
Last year, T.C. Williams High School senior Nikki Harris broke an exclusive, significant story. Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. was sending one of his children to an in-person private school at a time when ACPS was heavily in the midst of hybrid learning.
It was a shining example of the kind of independent, investigative journalism at Theogony, the high school’s student newspaper.
Harris and a team of five other student journalists will be taking the lead at the news organization next school year — a transitional period both for the newspaper and the school it covers.
The school’s name will change from T.C. Williams High School to Alexandria City High School. While the name change has been getting headlines, Theogony editors — like their peers at the renamed Washington-Liberty High School in Arlington — say the issue has been a bigger deal for adults than the student body.
“At least among people I talk to, very few people interested,” Harris said. “More were [interested] in June 2020, but [now] it’s kind of a distraction from structural issues.”
Ethan Gotsch, an incoming editor of Theogony whose column Titan Underground profiled local musicians, said the name change is just one of the big changes coming to the school.
“We’re also going to have our first Friday night lights and we’re going back to in-person instruction,” he said.
Editors at Theogony said the bigger issues within the student body — more than the name of the school — is the ongoing struggle to close the achievement gaps and the push for punishment reform within the school.
“[Outgoing editor] Bridgette [Adu-Wadier] wrote a lot about the suspension to prison pipeline, especially for students of color, and about whether teachers reflect student body,” Harris said.
Harris said while there was a relatively proportionate number of Black teachers to Black students, that was not at all the case for Latino or Hispanic students, who comprise around 40% of the student body.
Harris said the torch will be passed to the new class of editors to follow up on that and other issues of school equity.
Jacqueline Lutz, another incoming editor for Theogony, said that T.C. students are also frequently tuned in to city-wide issues.
“A lot of times what I’ve found is the issues that T.C. students face are basically local issues as well,” Lutz said. “We always try to find our T.C. angle, but also the local angle as well.”
Last November, Theogony wrote about the Taylor Run controversy, which has since become one of the talking points in the 2021 Mayoral and City Council elections. Gotsch said the local primary is another issue that’s been talked about within the school.
“As students, there is probably a limited amount of things we can do to tackle these issues,” Gotsch said, “but we do write about the Democratic primary.”
Beyond the changes coming to the school, there are also changes incoming for Theogony. The student news organization’s main readership has traditionally been its print edition, distributed through the school, but with the school shut down Theogony had to transition this past year to a more online-focused model. Now, the student news group is looking at how that balance carries over into the 2021-2022 school year.
“We’ve been thinking a lot about how we transitioned entirely to online,” said Harris. “Previously, print was our main source of readership. Now, we’re thinking a lot about how to balance that out or whether we should keep online as our main thing.” Read More
With no more mayoral debates, now it all boils down to the Democratic primary on June 8.
Like the main event at a boxing match, Mayor Justin Wilson and former Mayor Allison Silberberg on Thursday night maneuvered through a series of questions in the final of four Seminary Ridge Civic Association candidate forums.
This is the final debate or forum for the two candidates until the June 8 Democratic primary.
Wilson is leading in fundraising and endorsements, while underdog Silberberg has gotten support from groups like the Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria Facebook page for agreeing on a number of its pet issues, including government transparency, reversing the Seminary Road Diet, and curbing developments.
Fifteen City Council candidates participated in the Seminary Ridge conversations, opining on density, affordable housing, government transparency, flooding, and, their opinions on making changes to the controversial Seminary Road Diet.
After a 4-3 Council vote in 2019, the road, which is next to Inova Alexandria Hospital, was reduced from four to two lanes in exchange for a center turn lane, bike lanes and sidewalks on both sides of the street, crosswalks and medians. A majority of Council candidates are now in favor of taking a look at bringing travel lanes back from two to four lanes on the 0.9 mile stretch of roadway between N. Quaker Lane and Howard Street.
Wilson said that he is in favor of tweaking the plan, although has been accused of ignoring the opposition of 13 civic associations.
“It’s unfortunately we couldn’t get everyone in the community on the same page on this issue,” Wilson said. “I believe the improvements that we made were good ones. I’m hopeful that in the future we can continue to tweak as necessary.”
Silberberg said she would restore the four lanes.
“This is a major arterial road that leads to our only hospital,” she said. “I’ve seen it and many residents have seen it and told me about it that they’ve seen ambulances stuck. I think we have a chance to right this wrong, and, of course, keep the pedestrian improvements, but I wouldn’t have voted for it and I will restore the travel lanes if I can get everyone together on that.”
Silberberg said she’s been saddened to hear reports of residents not trusting their government, and defended recently pledging herself to an accountability pledge labeled the Alexandria Constituents’ Bill of Rights. Silberberg lost to Wilson in the Democratic primary in 2018, and says that she worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week during her single term.
“I think they [City staff] should sign the pledge as well,” she said.
Silberberg also criticized the performance and six-figure salary of City Manager Mark Jinks.
“It is a lot of money, frankly. I brought this up (when mayor) but nobody agreed with me, but for the City Manager to have a car allowance. It sounds minor, but I don’t think we should have that for him. I think we should revise that.”
Wilson said that Jinks’ salary was in the middle of the pack when compared to the salaries of neighboring jurisdictions, and that he is appropriately paid given the organization that he runs.
Colocation of affordable housing
Wilson said he does not want to colocate affordable housing on the grounds of Alexandria City Public Schools, a position echoed by Silberberg on another controversial issue.
“I don’t support putting affordable housing on our existing school properties,” he said. “We need more instructional space.”
Silberberg said that the school system is bursting at the seams as it is.
“I would certainly support an ordinance to say no to putting housing on our limited school properties,” she said.
Wilson said that the city’s Environmental Policy Commission is full of “good science minds” that can look into the city’s stream restoration projects, including at Taylor Run, Strawberry Run and Lucky Run. Last month, Council opted to send aspects of the projects back to the drawing board in light of widespread public criticism.
Silberberg says that Alexandria has few forests left, and that she has long been opposed to the plans, as well as Wilson’s “unending pursuit of overbuilding”.
Transit lanes on Duke Street
Speaking of road diets, Wilson and Silberberg agreed that the Duke Street Transitway project should not result in fewer traffic lanes between Landmark Mall and the King Street-Old Town Metro station.
“I personally don’t think the volumes on Duke street would allow us to remove any traffic lanes on Duke Street,” Wilson said. “We’re gonna have a lot of community engagement to figure out the best alignment, as well as looking at the intersections to try to reduce some of the cut-through traffic that we see in a lot of our neighborhoods.”
The city is embarking on the public engagement part of the project next month.
On $60 million in federal COVID funding
Silberberg said that the nearly $60 million in COVID relief funds coming to the city should be handled carefully, and after all of last year’s flooding that the funds should be spent on stormwater infrastructure.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime investment from the federal government, and we need to be extremely careful and good stewards of this money,” she said. “Think about what is mission critical. First and foremost, I think we clearly have to focus like a laser beam on this flooding, the sewage and stormwater flooding that’s attacking, and stalking, really, our residents every time it rains.”
Wilson said he’s proud to have led the city through the most significant public health crisis in a century, and that the city needs to invest more in the social, emotional and academic losses experienced by Alexandria children.
“We have an opportunity to make generational investments in our community around our infrastructure, around our facilities, around some of the systems around workforce development and things that are going to ultimately benefit our community for generations,” he said. “We got 1,300 suggestions from the community, and we’re going to be working in June and July to apply those suggestions in figuring out how to use that first tranche of money.”
Image via Seminary Ridge Civic Association/Zoom
Stark differences were on full display Saturday night, as Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson and former Mayor Allison Silberberg sparred in a contentious debate on local issues.
Wilson defended his record since taking the mayorship from Silberberg in 2018. Silberberg, however, said she wants to restore the public trust, and that the city is at an inflection point.
“We’ve seen in the last couple of years certain decisions and policies that have been decided that really put our city at risk in many ways,” Silberberg said. “Our visions for the city are different. And our city is at an inflection point… It saddens me to hear so many residents express a profound loss of confidence and trust in our local government. As your mayor, I would certainly be very focused on transparency, and rebuilding the public trust.”
The hour-long debate was hosted by the Alexandria Democratic Committee, and moderated by Robert McCartney, a senior regional correspondent for The Washington Post. Wilson currently leads in fundraising and endorsements, and the debate comes on the heels of Wilsons’ endorsement by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam.
Silberberg presented herself as an environmentalist in favor of “smart growth,” while Wilson said that the city needs to match growth with transportation infrastructure.
“I’m inspired to turn what I’ve learned about our city’s resilience over the last year into a mission for our city’s future,” Wilson said. “I know that by investing in our kids, investing in our basic infrastructure, and making sure that we have an economy that can support the services that our residents expect and demand, Alexandria cannot only survive in the aftermath of this pandemic, but we can thrive.”
Silberberg’s tenure as mayor was plagued by lone 6-1 votes, and Wilson said that she voted against a number of important issues, including a controversial 5.7 cent tax hike in 2017 that resulted in significant capital improvement funding.
“I speak out for the people and I listen to our residents,” Silberberg said. “I’m certainly in favor of transit oriented development, that has been what we’ve all supported across the many years. But what I’m really for is smart growth. And what that means really, is that you don’t have unabashed out of scale overbuilding on every square inch, that you do keep some open space, which helps with the flooding.”
Silberberg criticized Wilson’s handling of COVID-19, and said that the city’s face mask ordinance needed to be passed sooner that the fall of 2020.
“It’s been a harrowing year for all of us,” she said. “I know a number of folks who have had COVID, and I’ve lost some friends. I don’t think we should have waited till October 1 with the outdoor mask order. Cities all across the country were helping restaurants, but the restaurants in the Bradley Center in the middle of the city and on the West End weren’t helped as much as other places, so we need to look at that across the board.”
Wilson said that the mask ordinance was the first adopted in Virginia, and was replicated by Northam in his statewide executive order. He also said that the city’s vaccination rate for Latinos is higher than for white residents, a result of “aggressive outreach” to the city’s nonprofits.
“I’m very proud of that ordinance,” he said. “Alexandria led the way in providing new small business flexibility using outdoor spaces, sidewalks, closing streets, parking lots and everything to help keep our businesses afloat. I worked with the mayor of Richmond to go down to the General Assembly and ultimately get the governor to include an executive order that allowed carry-out cocktails, which has helped keep our restaurants a floating all around our city. We spent millions of dollars a small business assistance again leading the way in the region, and helping our small businesses providing grants to small businesses all around our city.”
Silberberg also said that she would reverse the Seminary Road Diet, which she said is a transparency issue.
Near the end of a nearly eight-hour meeting, the City Council opted last night to send aspects of the city’s controversial stream restoration projects back to the drawing board in light of widespread public criticism.
Stream restoration became something of a surprise Seminary Road-like issue last year. Many recurring public complaints — namely over a lack of communication from staff and concerns regarding city studies — resurfaced during the Taylor Run and Strawberry Run stream restoration debates.
But in other ways, the coalition uniting against the city’s plans for Taylor Run and Strawberry Run looked different from the Seminary Road debate. While the same elements that composed to Seminary Road diet opposition were present in the stream restoration debates — local civic associations and the Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria! group — they were joined by more unexpected sources of dissent, like Audubon Society of Northern Virginia and the Alexandria Environmental Policy Commission (EPC).
“This has evolved into a political issue, but I’m here to voice my opinion on the science,” said EPC member Marta Schantz. “We’re concerned that many questions about current approach and good faith exploration of alternatives remains unanswered.”
At the City Council meeting, the EPC laid out several concerns that had been repeated by some environmentalists throughout the process — with staff reiterating many earlier responses.
It’s a muddy, tangled issue with branching concerns over the efficiency of natural channel design, the impact on wildlife in the area and the impacts of erosion — but one of the fundamental issues considered by City Council at the meeting was whether or not the stream is as polluted as the city’s modeling indicates.
Critics of the project, including the city’s Natural Resource Manager Rod Simmons, say the city is calculating pollution levels in the stream not based on first hand evidence gathering, but rather on state-approved models based on studies done in Pennsylvania. A study by Simmons found significantly lower levels of phosphates in Taylor Run, though Simmons’ study was criticized by the city as not providing a complete view of total phosphate levels in the water.
Complicating matters is the city’s plans to have the stream restoration work count towards the city’s required pollution reduction credits. Staff reiterated that alternatives to stream restoration could be more expensive, less beneficial to the city — like paying credits for an equivalent amount of pollution reduction — and result in fees passed on to tax payers.
Even then, staff said the city will likely eventually need to take some form of action to prevent homes new Strawberry Run and Taylor Run from being threatened by erosion.
“If we take approach that we don’t need to do anything, we risk losing grants, we pay for credits, and we’ll eventually need to do something to protect neighboring homes from erosion,” said Matt Landes, project director for the Department of Project Implementation.
City staff said there’s a looming deadline to meet pollution reduction guidelines laid out by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. Staff said that to meet a June 2022 deadline, the stream restoration projects need to move into final design in the May/June timeframe and the project needs to move into procurement by December this year.
Testing Taylor Run’s water for phosphates, staff said, could take two-to-three months to get reliable results. But the city council — led by urging from members Amy Jackson and John Chapman — agreed to take that time to do the studies and get a better picture of the pollutant levels in Taylor Run and Strawberry Run.
“It’s disconcerting to a lot of community members tonight,” said Jackson. “We usually don’t have public comment except for public hearings. They’ve been here pretty much every time signing in to discuss what they think is important… to be continually, what I feel: shoved aside.”
The Environmental Council of Alexandria, which is led by former Vice Mayor Andrew Macdonald, has been the city’s main opponent to the project.
“Staff reports and responses from City staff indicate that they want to proceed with this destructive and ineffective project despite all the scientific evidence against doing so,” ECA wrote on Facebook on April 23. “This may be our last chance to stop this environmentally unsound project.”
Chapman said the city should also take those months to get a better look at alternatives to current stream restoration plans.
“We need to take a good look at alternatives,” Chapman said, “and not just the ones presented here.”
While Strawberry Run and Taylor Run took the lion’s share of the conversation, Mayor Justin Wilson said it would be willful ignorance on the city’s part to go forward with testing those without getting a more accurate idea about pollutant levels in Lucky Run, also slated for restoration work.
“I have a hard time justifying how Lucky Run is okay but Taylor Run and Strawberry Run aren’t,” Wilson said. “[We’re] not sampling Lucky Run… because we don’t want to know what the answer is.”
In response, the Council agreed to also loop Lucky Run in with planned testing of the other stream sites. The City Council directed staff to come back at a later date to lay out more community engagement and a timeline for further study of the streams.
Photo via City of Alexandria
After touring the area and meeting with residents, Alexandria City Councilman John Taylor Chapman will ask his colleagues tonight to stop the Taylor Run Stream Restoration Project.
The move is a decisive blow against the project, which city staff defend as the most cost effective alternative to keep up with its Chesapeake Bay Watershed credit requirements. Last month, Chapman and Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker requested a legislative meeting to discuss the Taylor Run and Strawberry Run stream restoration projects, which critics say disrupt natural habitats.
“I look forward to asking questions of staff tonight, but I intend to ask my colleagues to support stopping this (Taylor Run) project, and in turn, directing both staff and our Environmental Policy Commission to work together to bring back to council an update on the capture of environmental credits, with potential credits that we can receive and updated cost estimates and a strategy on future capture of credits,” Chapman said.
Staff plans to clear the Taylor Run waterway near T.C. Williams High School and Chinquapin Park will result in the removal of 269 trees, of which they say 22% are dead.
Mayor Justin Wilson said he’s happy to consider alternative approaches to meeting the city’s clean water obligations and addressing the environmental damage and future risk to Taylor Run.
“Ultimately, whatever we decide must be based in the science, in compliance with the law and affordable,” Wilson said.
Opposition has been led by the Environmental Council of Alexandria, which also says that the city’s soil tests at Taylor Run are not accurate. City Councilwoman Amy Jackson has also moved against the Taylor Run project after the EPC advised Council to step back.
Chapman will also ask Council to support an annual report from the Environmental Policy Commission and staff on the city’s environmental credit progress. He said that such an update would allow for the city to find additional projects.
“(I)t will give the community and City Council a firm understanding of our current status, real opportunities, and the cost, without the stream restoration projects that our advisory policy commission and our community are against,” Chapman said.
Photo via City of Alexandria