Morning Notes

Sheriff Dana Lawhorne to receive Lifetime Valor Award — “In recognition of his retirement, we are pleased to honor Sheriff Dana Lawhorne with a Lifetime Valor Award at this year’s Valor Awards. Join us virtually, on June 22nd, to honor Sheriff Lawhorne’s 43 years of law enforcement service to Alexandria.” [Chamber ALX]

West End Business Association hosting 1 p.m. conversation with Mayor — “Take this opportunity to ask questions and connect with Mayor Justin Wilson about how he would continue to serve the city of Alexandria.” [WEBA]

Chinquapin Recreation Center closing for improvements June 26 — “The City of Alexandria’s Chinquapin Park Recreation Center and Aquatics Facility (3210 King St.) will close Saturday, June 26 through Monday, Sept. 6, for several planned facility improvements and annual cleaning.” [Zebra]

Vaccine Equity Clinic on Route 1 in Fairfax County offering free transportation — “The Health Department and Fairfax Connector have partnered to offer free transportation to those who want to get vaccinated at the clinic, located in the former Safeway site at 7451 Mount Vernon Square Center in Alexandria. Fairfax Connector’s Free Vaccine Shuttle will run along Fairfax Connector’s line in that region.” [Fairfax County]

Annual Waterfront Commission walk is today — “The walk will be in person starting at (5 p.m. at) the intersection of Oronoco and South Union Streets and will proceed south to Robinson Landing. The walk is anticipated to end at 6:30 p.m.” [City of Alexandria]

Fire Department conducting community meeting on restructuring today — “The Alexandria Fire Department (AFD) will implement an organizational restructure, effective Saturday, June 12, 2021. The goals of the changes are to improve service efficiency and response times across the City; reduce cost; increase safety on the roadways; and improve response preparedness for specialty teams such as the Technical Rescue, Hazardous Materials, and Inland Water Rescue teams. AFD Representatives will present the upcoming changes to the community and answer questions.” [City of Alexandria]

Today’s weather — “Rain showers in the morning with numerous thunderstorms developing in the afternoon. High 81F. Winds ENE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 90%… Thunderstorms in the evening, then variable clouds overnight with still a chance of showers. Low around 65F. Winds E at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 70%.” [Weather.com]

New job: Ghost tour guide — “US Ghost Adventures, a national tour operation is seeking energetic storytellers to lead 90-minute walking tour groups downtown. This part-time position is ideal for self-motivated candidates looking for a fun way to make extra income in the evenings.” [Indeed]

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A waterfront building at the very end of King Street could be getting a new rooftop restaurant.

The building at 101 N. Union Street, home to Vola’s Dockside Grill and Hi-Tide Lounge — and known more by locals as where Jamey Turner usually sets up his iconic glass harp — could soon be refitted to add an accessible roof with a new restaurant.

Staff first brought up the potential change at a Waterfront Commission meeting earlier this month. It’s just talk for now, staff said, as building owner Route 66 hasn’t filed an application yet. Staff said preliminary discussions have indicated there will also be some changes to the ground level.

The building is adjacent to the Torpedo Factory, but the city clarified that they are separate buildings. Any potential restaurant will also have to go through the Board of Architectural Review first.

“The owners of the building at 101 N. Union Street (a separate building from the Torpedo Factory) are contemplating a rooftop restaurant and ground-floor changes to this building,” said Alexandria communications officer Andrea Blackford. “The proposed changes will require a Special Use Permit, as well as BAR approval of a Permit to Demolish and Certificate of Appropriateness.  Staff anticipates a submission in the coming months.”

Photo via Google Maps

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You remember how we knew basically nothing about the proposed Waterfront Museum study? Turns out, many in the city doesn’t either.

At a Waterfront Commission meeting on Tuesday, the Commission took a second look at the Waterfront Museum study and the costs associated with it.

The museum, as suggested in the memo, would house some of the hulls of ships discovered on the waterfront and countless artifacts found in the area:

In addition, in FY 2022 $125,000 is requested to conduct a Waterfront Museum Feasibility Study to assess the viability of a history center as recommended in the Waterfront History Plan and the Waterfront Area Plan. If supported, the museum would house items such as the conserved ship timbers of an 18th century merchant ship and associated artifacts excavated as part of the Robinson Terminal South and Hotel Indigo construction projects.

“I have questions myself about this,” said Nathan Macek, the Planning Commission representative on the Waterfront Commission. “I don’t have any background on this and I don’t know what anybody on the Commission does. It would be helpful to flag this for discussion or even an update from city staff who could speak to what this is.”

Jack Browand, division chief of Parks and Cultural Activities, said the funding would help determine the feasibility of the museum, and later look at the design process and what the museum would cost, but cost was a major concern for members of the Waterfront Commission as the city looks at a budget heavily strained by the pandemic.

“I want to know how much this will cost and if this is the best use of our funds when we’re not certain how this whole pandemic ending will play out,” Commission member Christa Waters said. “You’re talking about $125,000, and City Council members would tell you that’s not a lot of money, but here and there it adds up.”

Waters noted that the Waterfront Commission has discussed the possibility of a museum for years, and most recently considered putting the boat on the roof of the Torpedo Factory, though there are concerns the roof isn’t fit to hold it.

“I think we need a little more precision in what we’re asking for and a little more direction,” Waters said. “I think this is not the year to do this.”

Waterfront Commission member Charlotte Hall reminded the others that there had previously been an effort to get a museum for the waterfront going and it failed.

“I’m quite alarmed that this is coming out in a letter that we’re supporting and that we know nothing about,” Hall said. “A friendly reminder that, while I’m in favor of a Waterfront Museum, we had a Waterfront Museum at the north end of the Canal Center and it failed, and it failed for a couple of reasons. I have a hard time supporting a study for something I know nothing about because I want to make sure it’s not another study that’s just going to go on the shelf.”

Commission members asked questions like where the museum would be, but Macek explained there were few answers with the study so early in the process.

“I don’t know anything more than what’s in this paragraph,” Macek said. “This feasibility study for the Waterfront Museum kind of came out of the blue.”

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It was quite a week in Alexandria.

Our top story this week was on a man who allegedly crashed his car headfirst into the Verizon store near Potomac Yard. The suspect was later arrested in North Carolina.

The week was full of big news. Former Mayor Allison Silberberg announced her candidacy against Mayor Justin Wilson for the June 8 Democratic primary, and ALXnow has learned that the Del Ray Business Association is planning a debate.

One of our favorite stories this week was on Tobi, the Alexandria dog without front legs who needed a new $2,350 wheelchair. Within a day of posting the story, Tobi’s GoFundMe goal was reached. The fundraiser has since raised $3,590, and Tobi’s owner says the excess funds will be donated to help another disabled pet get a wheelchair.

As of noon Friday, our unscientific poll on mayoral candidates had 1,111 votes, but only 537 views. Former Mayor Allison Silberberg trailed by a large percentage for the first several hours, but she later received a surge of votes that led to her getting 589 votes, or 53%, to Wilson’s 432 votes, or 39%. Republican candidate Annetta Catchings, who also announced her mayoral candidacy this week, got 90 votes, or 8%.

Other important stories:

ALXnow’s top stories:

  1. BREAKING: Man rams car into Verizon Store near Potomac Yard
  2. Waterfront Commission tries to avert ‘Disneyland-like’ development in Old Town
  3. Flight attendant Annetta Catchings running for Alexandria mayor as a Republican
  4. Chadwicks going double-decker on outdoor dining at upcoming BAR meeting
  5. BREAKING: Former Mayor Silberberg rematch as she enters democratic primary for mayor
  6. City Councilman Seifeldein quits meeting after argument with mayor
  7. Three men tied up and robbed in West End
  8. GoFundMe launched to get wheelchair for Tobi, an Alexandria dog with no front legs
  9. Just Sold in Alexandria: March 23, 2021
  10. Republican J.D. Maddox announces run for 45th District seat
  11. Al’s Steak House to endure under new management

Have a safe weekend!

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What a week in Alexandria.

Our top story this week was on a plan to install hanging gardens in the Carlyle neighborhood.

Still, a lot of other stuff happened. While Alexandria City Public Schools opened their doors to hybrid learning, City Council made headway on a collective bargaining ordinance and rejected the Braddock West development.

Here are some other important stories this week:

Here are this week’s top stories:

  1. The Caryle neighborhood could be getting its own Hanging Gardens
  2. Residential neighborhood with 139 townhomes approved for Victory Center site
  3. Police Chief updates Del Ray community on recent crime incidents
  4. City Council takes rare step and strips local business of special use permits
  5. City passes ordinance limiting large trucks from parking in business zones
  6. Just Sold in Alexandria: March 16, 2021
  7. Alexandria looking for feedback on proposed North Beauregard Street repaving
  8. Local vaccination efforts accelerated with new vaccine supply, city preps for phase 1c
  9. Waterfront Commission tries to avert ‘Disneyland-like’ development in Old Town
  10. Poll: Do you agree with the City Council’s rejection of the Braddock West project?
  11. Alexandria’s initial and continued unemployment claims just jumped by double percentage points

Have a safe weekend!

Image via City of Alexandria

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Interested in sailing to work? During last summer’s Metro Shutdown, Alexandria eased restrictions allowing for the Potomac Riverboat Company’s water taxi to ferry commuters from the city’s waterfront to the District Wharf.

Tonight, the city council will receive a report on extending the license agreement to allow for early morning water taxi commuting services to continue.

The agreement, which would allow for the water taxi to start running as early as 6:30 a.m., was “nearly unanimously” endorsed by the Waterfront Commission, according to a Dec. 31 letter submitted in the staff presentation to council.

The letter also said that there should be minimal parking impacts in Old Town.

Specifically, staff found that 85% of commuters surveyed said they either walked or biked to the water taxi, and 90% of these commuters were former Metrorail riders,” Waterfront Commission Chair Stephen Thayer wrote. “Staff noted these former Metrorail riders did not stop riding Metrorail altogether, but simply boarded Metrorail at L’Enfant Plaza, which is a short shuttle bus ride away from the District’s Wharf.”

The Commission is also asking the city to consider a water taxi user reimbursement program. During the summer shutdown the daily $10 commuter round trip was reduced 80% with the reimbursement.

Potomac Riverboat Company operates four water taxis, in addition to the Cherry Blossom, Matthew Hayes, and other named vessels.

The Council will decide on the matter at a public hearing on Feb. 22.

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Alexandria is seeking public input for what to do with a prime piece of waterfront property currently occupied by eight parking spaces.

The lot at 2 King Street is currently owned by the City of Alexandria, a byproduct of its acquisition of the Old Dominion Boat Club building that was once across the street. But the city received an unsolicited proposal from the owner of the adjacent development to develop the property.

If the sale is approved, the section of the Fitzgerald Warehouse building that currently houses Mai Thai would be torn down and replaced with a new building.

The Alexandria Waterfront Commission is scheduled to hold a meeting in City Hall on Thursday, Dec. 19, from 6:30-8 p.m. to discuss the future of the site. According to the city website:

The property to be discussed at the community meeting is not the park area, but the remaining portion with eight parking spaces located across Strand Street, which is currently leased for private parking. The City has not decided on the future use of these eight parking spaces and is interested in hearing from the public about what kinds of public or private uses would be desirable.

While the site will likely be sold to the adjacent property owner, City Councilman Mo Seifeldein said in an earlier meeting that he believed it could be put to better public use.

At a Waterfront Commission meeting, staff said whether the site is sold to a developer or stays with the city, some kind of change is likely. Waterfront Commission members said that public uses, like the inclusion of public restrooms, should be a requirement if the site is sold.

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As the City Council considers approving Alexandria’s e-scooter pilot program for another year, several of the city’s boards and commissions have written letters asking that scooters be prohibited from city sidewalks in one form or another.

A draft recommendation being presented to the City Council tomorrow (Tuesday) includes banning sidewalk riding in Old Town and along Mount Vernon Avenue, which runs through Arlandria and Del Ray.

Earlier versions of the Phase II Dockless Mobility Pilot Program would have allowed scooters to ride on sidewalks except in areas where bicycles are also not allowed to ride — like King Street east of West Street and Union Street between Cameron and Prince streets.

In a letter from the Waterfront Commission, chair Steve Thayer said the group was divided over whether to continue the pilot program at all.

“Some members noted the value the scooters provide as an additional transportation mode, while others emphasized the safety and parking issues as significant reasons to ban scooters in the City,” Thayer said. “The commission cannot support a program allowing scooters on public sidewalks within historic Old Town.”

The strongest condemnation of scooters on sidewalks came from the Alexandria Commission on Persons with Disabilities. According to a letter from chair Jeffrey Pool:

Regarding the proposal to permit scooters on sidewalks except where explicitly banned, it is the opinion of the [Alexandria Commission on Persons with Disabilities] that, in light of the inherent safety risks to people with sensory or mobility impairment posed by the use of dockless scooters on sidewalks, such use should be strictly prohibited. Recognizing the vulnerability of scooter riders who share the roadway with automobiles, the [commission] recommends that scooters be required to utilize bike lanes wherever they exist in the City of Alexandria and to share the roadway where they do not.

The Transportation Commission was more conflicted on the issue of scooters on sidewalks. A letter from acting chair Melissa McMahon said there was a proposal for the commission to recommend prohibiting scooters on all sidewalks. Ultimately, the commission did not support the proposal, noting that there are several streets that would be dangerous for a scooter rider and neighborhoods where pedestrian activity is sparse. The commission agreed with staff to prohibit scooters where bicycles are prohibited.

The Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee recommended not only prohibiting motorized scooters from high pedestrian traffic sidewalks but also said the city should require scooter companies to financially incentivize parking in designated corrals, according to a letter from chair Jim Durham. The committee also pushed for Alexandria to offer income-based discount programs and encourage wider geographic distribution, topics raised earlier by members of the City Council.

Nearby Arlington, meanwhile, voted on Nov. 16 to permanently codify its previously temporary scooter program, allowing scooters on most sidewalks where a protected bike line is not present, albeit at a reduced 6 mph top speed.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on the second phase of the plan at a Saturday, Dec. 14 hearing.

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The new art project coming to Waterfront Park (1 Prince Street) next year will feature a series of silhouettes representing the city’s history of slavery.

The concept renderings from artist Olalekan Jeyifous feature four three-dimensional silhouettes, each roughly 11 feet tall, with industrial imagery carved into the bodies. The figures will face out towards the river. The ground of the plaza will be covered with a pattern referencing African-American quilting — mixing traditional symbols with ones that represent industries from the city’s past — like an armory and rail tracks.

The art would replace the Mirror Mirror installation — which also reflected a piece of the city’s history. The displays are part of a series by different artists called Site See: New Views in Old Town.

Diane Ruggiero, director of the Office of the Arts, unveiled the designs to the Waterfront Commission yesterday (Tuesday) morning. The designs were approved at the Arts Commission meeting that evening.

Ruggiero said Jeyifous visited Alexandria in the spring and went on a tour around town. Jeyifous’ visit to the Freedom House (1315 Duke Street) — once the headquarters of the largest domestic slave trading firm in the United States — was one of the visits that ultimately helped shape the project, Ruggiero said.

The artwork is expected to be installed in March, according to Ruggiero.

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(Updated 11/20) This summer’s Metro shutdown could wind up netting the Potomac Riverboat Company a goal the company has been after for years: permanent early-morning service for its water taxi.

The company’s lease currently prohibits boats from coming in or out of docks before 9:30 a.m., which staff told the Waterfront Commission this morning (Tuesday) means the boats are usually used by tourists. But during the Metro shutdown, the city waived that restriction.

“The water taxi was well used,” staff said. “Most of the new users were Metro riders. They had up to 997 boardings a week [in June] and averaged 600 during the rest of the shutdown.”

During the shutdown, the city offered a reimbursement program that included $100 for a seasonal pass and $8 for round trip tickets. Current prices post Metro shutdown are notably pricier: $195 for an unlimited annual pass and $18 for a round trip pass.

The city previously required Potomac Riverboat Company to implement a parking plan for commuter parking, but 85 percent of the new riders biked or walked to the water taxi and the city reported there were no parking complaints or capacity issues related it.

Now, the staff said City Manager Mark Jinks has expressed interest in asking the council for an extension of the hours in the lease to allow operations to begin “before 6:30 a.m.” and to promote the water taxi as an alternative to driving.

“This is great,” said Waterfront Commission member Nathan Macek, also chair of the Planning Commission. “I’m happy to see it move forward. I think we’ve had an irrational fear [of utilizing the waterfront] and this pilot helped.”

The conversation also spurred discussion of a waterfront taxi that would connect with Prince William County and Fort Belvoir, along with locations further upriver like the Pentagon. Charlotte Hall, a member of the Waterfront Commission, said a company is looking at building a water taxi network up the western side of the Potomac River sometime in 2020 but would likely skip Alexandria in at least the first year of operation.

“Alexandria is not ready for this in 2020,” Hall said, “but others are.”

“We’re so restrictive on our lease covenants with when the boats can come and go,” said Macek. “I think the city contracts need to be less specific about that. Let boats come and go as they please, and I don’t think the city needs to regulate the boat spaces as strictly as they do.”

There was only one note of light dissent on the Waterfront Commission when Beth Gross, a representative on the Commission from the Founders Park Community Association, said the idea of boats coming and going from the docks like planes coming and going from the airport made her “a little worried.”

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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