Happy November to everyone! As I look around our Seminary Hill neighborhoods with their profusion of colorful trees at this time of the year, I am reminded how fortunate we are to live in such a beautiful part of our city. It also reinforces the importance of the Seminary Hill Association as we work together to protect and preserve the special character of our neighborhood.
On November 1st, I, and several other Seminary Hill residents, spoke at the Planning Commission meeting as they considered the Special Use Permits (SUP) from the Department of Recreation, Parks, and Cultural Activities (RPCA) to light 5 athletic fields. One of those fields is at Hammond Middle School. Our neighbors surrounding that field have experienced instances of unruly behavior by groups of adults using the Hammond field on evenings and weekends. One of the major problems has been which city agency has responsibility for the monitoring and security of this field. Residents have been caught in a bureaucratic quagmire as RPCA, ACPS, and APD all referred neighbors back and forth between these bodies, stating that they are not responsible.
In our testimony, we brought up this issue and provided written emails from each of the three agencies demonstrating the lack of coordination and responsibility between them. RPCA assured the Planning Commission that these issues were now resolved and these problems would not happen going forward. Based upon reports from residents, we are not convinced that promises alone will solve the problems that have been experienced at Hammond. We believe residents need written protection from potential situations that lights may bring.
RPCA took the unique position that these Special Use Permits only involve the construction of 60-foot light poles, and so operational issues on the field should not be considered by the Planning Commission. Mr. Browand, Deputy Director of RPCA, acknowledged in a memo to the Planning Commission that the complaints around Hammond “are important issues to be addressed, they are related to operational issues and not field lighting,” since there is no field lighting. While Mr. Browand asserted that there are procedures in place to deal with unauthorized use of the field and other issues, I stated that these procedures are NOT in place for residents including a clear chain of command for responses.
These SUPs come with no conditions at all, other than a review in 5 years. This is highly unusual for any SUP. Seminary Hill board member, Frank Putzu, and I spoke forcefully about the need for conditions to give residents some written assurance that the fields would be properly managed in the future. Residents living near these fields will have lights on until 10 p.m. every night. RPCA assured the Planning Commission that these lights would be strictly controlled, and if a permitted use was not taking place on the field, the lights would not be on. Mr. Browand also asserted that RPCA has staff who monitor the fields, though residents have not encountered them. It is important to note that Hammond is designated by RPCA as one of 6 fields that are available for what is termed “Community Open Play.” These “open play” groups are with whom our Hammond neighbors have had issues. The Use Guidelines for Community Open Play state that the use is for Alexandria residents only, no structured games allowed, and no pets, smoking, alcohol or music will be allowed at the fields. All of these are violations that Hammond neighbors have repeatedly experienced for years, and no RPCA field “monitors” have been present to enforce the use guidelines. While the Hammond neighbors have no issues with youth sports playing under lights, they are very worried about what will happen when adults and Community Open Play groups increase with the construction of the lights.
As would be expected, the Planning Commission voted 6-0 to approve the lights for all locations. One Planning Commissioner reminded residents that the Planning Commission does not have the ability to decide what is good or bad, as their only job is to see if the SUP complies with city code. He encouraged residents to sign up to speak at the City Council public hearing on Saturday, November 12th because Council has much more latitude to impose conditions. I, and others, will go speak on behalf of Seminary Hill Association to urge Council to impose some conditions and controls on the use of the lighted fields.
As we were preparing for the Planning Commission hearing, the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services released its report on the “Seminary Road Complete Streets Project.” If you would like to take a look at the report, you will find it at: https://www.alexandriava.gov/sites/default/files/2022-10/Seminary%20Road%20Complete%20Streets%20Project%20%287%29.pdf. It will take us some time to carefully study these numbers, but our first look at it points out how statistics can be manipulated to achieve the results one wants. Using percentage increases on such a small sample distorts the fact that the number of crashes before and after is very, very low. There have been no fatal crashes on this stretch of Seminary Road during the period from 2000-2021, which is an example of why this was one of the safest streets in Alexandria before the road diet was imposed. The report cites one severe crash in the five pre-2020 years, and none in the two later years of their analysis, yet we know nothing about that one severe crash and whether it had anything to do with road conditions, or was it the result of a medical emergency involving one driver? Claiming a 100% reduction in severe crashes based upon a sample of one is statistically insignificant.
Moreover, in the chart that compares the average number of crashes pre-road diet and post-road diet, the pre-road diet took the average from 5 previous years, while the post-diet statistics were for 2 years. It seems very illogical to use a different number of years in each time period for a direct comparison, but this is how the report is able to conclude that there was a 41% decrease in reported crashes. The note accompanying this states that the data does not include the 6 reported crashes that occurred during project “implementation”. If you honestly add those 6 crashes into the post-diet total, you come out with a far different statistic.
In a broader sense, we do not know what crashes T&ES decided to include in their data. They state that the crash data was retrieved from Virginia DMV, which compiles crashes reported to law enforcement. We know that many crashes are not reported to the police when drivers agree to simply exchange information. As an example, we have all seen the aftermath of the crashes that have destroyed two of the pedestrian medians 7 times, which were placed in the middle of the roadway as part of the new “safer” road design on Seminary Road. These crashes into the medians include one car that was launched airborne into a neighbor’s yard. Were these 7 crashes considered crashes for the purpose of this report, or was a decision made that crashes involving only property damage would not be included? This exclusion would certainly alter the statistics. Perhaps most interesting is the reduction in pedestrian volumes, and the “remarkable” increase of afternoon bike users from 1 to 14, which the city says accounts for a 92% increase in bike traffic. It is not clear from the written explanation if this data was collected on one day, or was the accumulation of many days. I think those of us who regularly travel Seminary Road on a daily basis would surmise that there must have been a planned bike gathering on the appointed location on the day of the survey, as none of us have ever seen 14 bikers on Seminary Road during the evening rush hour, or at any time. The Seminary Hill Association will be pursuing and analyzing much more information on these results in the coming weeks.
I am sure by now most of you have seen the city press release announcing the new speed limit reductions on the West End. According to the Fiscal Year 2023 Vision Zero Work Plan, the city has committed to enhancing road safety by reducing vehicle speeds. When T&ES Director Yon Lambert was asked repeatedly at a Federation of Civic Associations meeting recently whether residents had any input into this decision, he referred only to the 2023 Vision Zero Work Plan as the justification for these changes - a plan of which most residents have never been aware. Among the changes will be: North Beauregard Street speed limit will be reduced from 35 to 25 miles per hour, and the school zones will be reduced from 25 to 15 miles per hour; West Braddock Road from Beauregard Street to Quaker Lane will be reduced from 35 to 25 miles per hour and the school zone will be reduced to 15 miles per hour; and 15 mile per hour in the school zones on North Howard Street, Seminary Road around Hammond, and King Street around Alexandria City High School. At the meeting cited above, Mr. Lambert stated that further changes will be coming and some areas of the city may have the speed limit reduced to 20 miles per hour.
I want to mention a few meetings that are coming up that may be on interest to you. The first meeting will be a Community Meeting on the Duke Street at West Taylor Run Intersection. This project will redesign the intersection of Duke and West Taylor Run in conjunction with the design of a new ramp to Telegraph Road. The meeting will be held on Tuesday, November 15th at the Bishop Ireton Auditorium from 7:00 – 8:30 p.m.
Also on Tuesday, November 15th at 7:00 p.m. there will be a virtual meeting to kick off the 18-Month Alexandria West Planning Process. According to the city press release, “This planning process will engage the community to create a vision for the area’s long-term future and explore topics such as housing affordability, equity, culture, land use, mobility, pedestrian and cyclist safety and accessibility, and connecting existing and future open spaces.” As with all city plans, this plan will ultimately increase density along the corridor. To register for this webinar go to: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_xyOATpwPSIC3W6Cm0LTGEA
On Wednesday, November 16th, at 7:00 p.m. there will be a community meeting hosted by the Foulger Pratt Company to inform residents of their development plans for Blocks E,G, I, and K at the former Landmark Mall site, now called the West End. This proposal will go to the Planning Commission on December 6th. These blocks will contain a combination of over 1,000 residential units and numerous commercial spaces. The meeting will be held at the Patrick Henry Recreation Center at 4653 Taney Avenue. It will also be streamed via Zoom at: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/89174270493 or join by phone: 1 301 715 8592. Should you be prompted for it, the Webinar ID is 891 7427 0493.
On Thursday, November 17th at 6:30 – 8:30 p.m., the Duke Street in Motion Advisory Committee will meet at APD Headquarters at 3600 Wheeler Avenue. The meeting will also be streamed virtually and you must register for the Zoom at: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_mXAnVFaXSxO1qzc8G0cJWw . This is a major project and the city is pushing it forward as quickly as possible. Potential changes to Duke Street could include “repurposing” the access roads along Duke Street to become travel lanes, or the forced purchase of private property in order to accommodate dedicated bus lanes. It is very important that all of us have a voice in determining the design that will forever alter Duke Street.
Finally, last but certainly not least, Seminary Hill Association will have its Annual Meeting on Thursday, November 10th at 7:00 p.m. at the Parish Hall of Immanuel Church on the Hill. We will be celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the founding of SHA with libations and snacks. We will hold our election for a new slate of officers for 2022-2023, and will present the first-ever Seminary Hill Association Community Engagement Award to a city resident who has helped educate and involve residents in community issues. This recognition is the idea of Tom Fulton, our Vice President, and he has generously donated the prize that will be given to our winner. All residents are invited to attend the meeting and enjoy learning more about SHA while celebrating a remarkable milestone for our civic association.
This will be my last update as President of SHA, as my term will end at our Annual Meeting. It has been a privilege to serve as your President and to work with an engaged board and community to bring attention and voices to important issues in our city. It has been a very busy 4 years, and there will be no let-up in sight as the city continues its plans to further urbanize our community with zoning changes to allow for much greater density. The Alexandria Vision Plan – 2049 will be commencing early next year and I would urge all residents to commit to being involved in this process. As we have learned over these last years, plans that are adopted by “community engagement,” which often has very few community members aware of, or participating in, the process, are used in the years ahead to enact changes with which current residents may or not agree. I am confident that the new leaders of SHA will continue to provide you information about city plans and advocate for the voices of residents of SHA and all of Alexandria to be heard. Thank you for allowing me to lead SHA and I look forward to continuing to work together on issues that affect our community and our city.
Carter Flemming, President, Seminary Hill Association
Welcome to Fall in Seminary Hill. We are enjoying some nice crisp days now. And the sight of all the orange pumpkins at Immanuel Church on-the-Hill brightens even the dreariest day. Please stop by and patronize the church sale, as the proceeds go to benefit many local non-profits. The church is very generous to allow SHA to hold our meetings in their Parish Hall each month, and so we want to encourage everyone to purchase some pumpkins and baked goods from them this month.
Several issues continue to demand our attention. I will highlight some of them and hope you will become engaged in the conversations surrounding these matters.
First is the Duke Street in Motion project that I have discussed previously. The city is moving forward quickly with plans and meetings regarding the plan to create a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor down Duke Street from the former Landmark Mall to the King Street Metro. By now, you have probably seen the signs all over our area promoting the Duke Street in Motion project. This transit corridor was first conceived in 2008, and has been reaffirmed in subsequent city plans. If you want to see a BRT in action, you can see it running in the middle of Route 1 by Potomac Yard. Despite rosy forecasts of the usage of that BRT, its ridership has fallen far short of predictions. The city has now been allocated $87 million from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to create a transit corridor along Duke Street, with the overwhelming majority of emphasis on bus transit. Earlier this year when this project was re-invigorated, city staff stated that it was time to take a fresh look at the project and that nothing was set in stone. While the BRT was anticipated to be part of this project, we were told that this might not be the case along the entire length of the corridor, due to the varying road conditions in different sections of Duke Street. In actual practice, this turned out not to be true, and all staff discussions of the project have included a BRT along the entire route. What is under discussion now is where those dedicated bus lanes will be located and how many car travel lanes will be eliminated, and how many service roads will also be eliminated in order to create the bus lanes.
As you may remember, the city conducted a survey in June 2021 asking residents to prioritize their concerns and aspirations for Duke Street. When the results came in, congestion was a top concern among respondents. City staff did not agree with this conclusion as far as the Transitway goes, and so they have proceeded forward with plans that will almost inevitably lead to greater congestion along the route by reducing car travel lanes. The city has taken steps with the Phase I and Phase II Pilots to reduce cut through traffic in our neighborhoods, but these pilots are not part of the Duke Street Transitway project. Duke Street carries up to 55,000 cars per week day depending upon the location where you take counts. DASH, now free, reports only 2,500 boardings per weekday on their Line 30 that traverses Duke Street. And yet, this project is based upon the fact that if we build a dedicated bus lane, ridership will soar, and drivers, even those from other jurisdictions, will give up their cars. This, despite the fact that there are no major employment centers along the Duke Street corridor, though Inova Hospital medical complex will be located at the Landmark site in the years to come. You need only look at the full parking lots at the current Inova location and their medical building on Kenmore Avenue to know that the vast majority of their employees and visitors do not arrive at the hospital by bus, so reducing bus travel time by a few minutes is not likely to change that equation.
The city has yet to provide data that residents and employees on the Landmark site would want to traverse the length of Duke Street to get to the King Street Metro, when they could take an express bus from the new Landmark transit center and go directly to the Pentagon Metro station on the express lanes on 395. It seems illogical to think commuters would go several miles east in order to go to their ultimate destination north to a major Metro transfer station, or vice versa. City staff has stated that it is impossible at this point to predict future travel on Duke Street, though we will be spending $87 million of taxpayer money to find out the answer, without any data to back up their assumptions.
I would urge you to go to the city website, www.alexandriava.gov/DukeInMotion and see the alternatives the city and their consultants are putting forward. If they select their preferred option, the bus lanes would go down the middle of Duke Street and will impede residents’ ability to make left turns except at intersections with traffic lights. In addition, if the access and frontage roads are eliminated, parking for homeowners and safe boarding of school buses from the frontage roads would be eliminated. In addition, bike lanes are now considered an important part of this project, despite the fact that Eisenhower Avenue has been viewed as an ideal east-west bike route to connect to the Holmes Run Trail. The addition of bike lanes will obviously take more road space. There is much to learn about the Duke Street Transitway, and I urge you to speak up, as this plan will alter this major east-west arterial road forever.
The city is hosting a series of informational meetings to review the alternative designs proposed by the consultants. They have broken the corridor into 3 segments, so each meeting will focus on a different segment of the corridor. SHA is most affected by Segments 2 and 3. The meetings are as follows:
Segment 3 from Roth Street to King Street Metro: Wednesday, October 12th from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. at the Bishop Ireton Auditorium.
Segment 2 from Jordan Street to Roth Street: Monday, October 17th from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. at the Bishop Ireton Auditorium.
Segment 1 from West End Alexandria (formerly Landmark Mall) to Jordan Street: Thursday, October 20th from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. at Patrick Henry Rec Center.
Corridor-wide Open House – no staff presentations at this meeting – just come and look at the plans: Wednesday, October 26th 5:30 – 8:30 p.m. at Patrick Henry Rec Center.
In addition, the city is holding what they call “pop up” meetings at various locations like laundromats and apartments. You can find information on these events on the website, as they are too numerous to list here. You are also encouraged to take the survey/feedback form that you will find on the project’s website to express your thoughts on the Transitway. The deadline to submit comments is October 28th.
The next meeting of the Duke Street Transitway Advisory Committee will be held on Thursday, November 17th at 6:30 p.m. Further information about the location of this meeting will be available later, though the meetings are usually held at the Alexandria Police Department headquarters building on Wheeler Avenue.
The next issue facing SHA residents is the Special Use Permit (SUP) application to install stadium lights on the field at Hammond Middle School. SHA has been very involved in this proposal and has sent two letters to city officials asking questions about the application and expressing concern over the supervision of this field. As many of you know, this has been an issue with trash, noise, illegal use of the field, etc. for a number of years. Adding lights for night time use will make these problems worse for the neighbors. Hammond is one of 5 fields that is part of an application being submitted to the Planning Commission and City Council this month. SHA submitted a letter to Planning Director, Karl Moritz, in advance of the Planning Commission meeting that raises serious concerns about the legality of this SUP application. In response to our letter, Director Moritz asked the Planning Commission to defer consideration of this matter until these questions can be addressed. The Planning Commission hearing is now scheduled for November 1st.
The applications for these lights contain no conditions about usage, nor information about setbacks, zoning requirements, nor responsibility for supervision of the fields. The fields are proposed to be lit until 10:00 p.m. every night. While this may be appropriate in some locations in the city that are not in close proximity to residential areas, such as Whitter and Hensley Parks, SHA agrees with adjacent neighbors that these hours are not reasonable for school fields that are adjacent to homes. We will continue to pursue issues regarding the lights at Hammond and hope that we can come to some reasonable solution to protect our neighbors from such potential disruption to their quality of life.
We have received a request from the PTA President at Patrick Henry School requesting that we let our members know of a need for tutors at Patrick Henry School through the Alexandria Tutoring Consortium. Here is the message about the program:
Seminary Hill resident, Glenn Eugster, has been a staunch advocate for Ft. Ward Park. He monitors conditions at the park on an almost daily basis. He has noticed a group of cyclists gathering on grassy areas in the park with their bikes and has reported it to the Recreation and Parks Department. That department is now monitoring this usage much more closely and informing visitors of areas that should be off limits to bikes. We appreciate Glenn’s work to protect the history and natural resources of this important park.
Following up on issues at Ft. Ward Park, our next SHA meeting will feature Judy Lo, Acting Principal Planner for the Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities, who will give us an overview on current and future natural resources management park projects including the playground project, the picnic shelter improvements, the memorialization of the Adams and Jackson family sites, tree maintenance, and general park maintenance. Many of our residents use this park and have questions about the level of maintenance occurring there, as well as the protection of the African American sites that existed within the Fort community there., so I encourage you to join our meeting, either in person at Immanuel Church on the Hill Parish Hall, or via Zoom. The Zoom link information is included at the end of this message.
There are several other city meetings to bring to your attention. Unfortunately, the next meeting regarding Inova Hospital’s project at Landmark Mall conflicts with the meeting on the Duke Street Transitway segment between Jordan and Roth Streets, so we will have to decide which meeting to attend on the 17th. Here is the information about the Inova meeting:
October 17, 2022: Inova Hospital virtual community meeting #2 on Landmark Mall at 6:00 PM. Link to Register: https://thelandlawyers.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_tMB7CAAjSDWeCvfQd_ZWdAWebinar ID: 894 6389 3829. Dial-in: 301.715.8592. Passcode: 776943. For more information, go to: https://www.alexandriava.gov/Landmark.
On November 5th, the city calendar lists that City Council will hold a Retreat from 9:00 a.m.- 11:00 a.m. There is no location listed, so we will have to learn further details about it in the coming weeks, if it is actually happening.
Finally, a reminder that the General Election for the U.S. House of Representatives will be on Tuesday, November 8th. The deadline for early voting is Saturday, November 5th.
Here is the Zoom link for our SHA meeting Thursday night, the 10th at 7:00 p.m. Hope to see many of you there or on Zoom! Have a nice holiday weekend.
Topic: Seminary Hill Zoom Meeting
Time: Oct 13, 2022 07:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 869 6517 5092
Dial by your location
+1 301 715 8592 US (Washington DC)
I hope this finds everyone enjoying the last days of summer. As a reminder, Alexandria Public Schools are now in session, so let’s all be careful when we are driving to make sure our students stay safe on their way to and from school.
This article will be lengthy, especially as it relates to Duke Street. I think it is important for all of us in this area of the city to fully understand the multiple projects that are in process right now which will change the streetscape of Duke Street. As you may have seen on the new flashing directional signs, Phase II of the Duke Street traffic mitigation project will begin on September 12th. This is the second part of the pilot program that ran earlier this year. Phase II will incorporate the same traffic light timing sequence that Phase I initiated. The results of Phase I were very positive in terms of reducing regional cut-through traffic in our neighborhoods by making light timing changes that encourage drivers and driving apps to direct commuters to stay on the major arterial roads like Quaker and Duke, rather than taking shortcuts through smaller residential streets.
Phase II of the pilot will now cut off access from West Taylor Run Parkway onto the west-facing ramp to Telegraph Road that is directly across Duke Street from Taylor Run. Instead, drivers on West Taylor Run who want to access Telegraph Road to the Beltway will be allowed to turn left only onto Duke Street. Barriers will prevent drivers from getting on the ramp to Telegraph at this location. Drivers will proceed east to the “jug handle loop” traffic signal at Dove Street. From there, they will take a left back onto Duke Street and enter the westbound ramp to Telegraph Road. The timing of the light at Dove Street will be adjusted during the pilot based upon the level of use.
The rationale for this change is that it will allow the gridlocked traffic that we see every afternoon on eastbound Duke Street to flow directly onto the Telegraph Ramp without having to stop at the traffic light at West Taylor Run Parkway. Other traffic lights on Duke Street will give preference to Duke Street traffic and require slightly longer wait times at cross streets such as Cambridge Road, as was the case with Phase I. Phase II will run until March 31, 2023, pending approval by the Traffic and Parking Board in late September. That approval is required to have Phase II run for 6 months. The long-term plan for this corridor is to create a left turn lane from Duke onto the west-facing Telegraph ramp, so drivers can avoid the Dove Street U-turn in the future. If you wish to learn more about this project, please go to the city website at: https://www.alexandriava.gov/sites/default/files/2022-08/Duke%20Street%20Traffic%20Mitigation%20-%208.11.22_0.pdf.
The project to create another access point to Telegraph Road will be part of the West Taylor Run Interchange Project that will involve the redesign of the entire Taylor Run-Duke Street intersection. The community outreach for that Interchange project will begin sometime this fall, and the results of this Phase II Duke Street project will help inform decisions and solutions. The city has received a $5.7 million grant from the Virginia Smart Scale Program to redesign the Taylor Run intersection in conjunction with additional access to Telegraph Road. It is important to remember that VDOT has informed the city that no additional lanes can be added to the existing east-facing Telegraph ramp, due to the proximity of the exits for Mill Road/Eisenhower Avenue and the Beltway, so adding lanes there is not a possible solution to ease the gridlock.
Before we move away from Duke Street issues, I want to remind you that the Duke Street Transitway, a.k.a. Duke Street in Motion, is well underway with the planning process. The city appointed a Duke Street Transitway Advisory Committee, which has had several meetings. I attended the most recent meeting where the paid consultants began to present their scenarios for changes on Duke Street from Landmark Mall to the King Street Metro. In my opinion, despite the fact that city staff had said at the outset of this process that nothing was set in stone and everything would be up for discussion during this process, the 2012 plan that called for a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lane was rapidly adopted by the committee with almost no public outreach, other than to announce the dates of the committee meetings. It was clear to me that the consultants have been instructed to come up with designs that incorporate a dedicated Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lane, similar to what you see on Route 1 near Potomac Yard, as well as dedicated bike lanes. Bike lanes were not endorsed in the 2012 Duke Street Plan and elected officials had previously indicated that Eisenhower Avenue would be a much safer route for bike lanes. That has now changed, and the Duke Street designs project the inclusion of protected bike lanes.
You might ask yourselves, as I did, how is all this going to fit onto Duke Street and still allow car traffic, which is obviously the huge majority of movement on Duke Street, to travel the corridor without increasing delays for vehicles? The answer appears to be the removal of the access roads along Duke Street in order to create the BRT and the protected dual “cycle tracks” as they are now called. Some advisory committee members have stated that the access roads are not needed and their removal will help create the vibrant urban corridor that the city envisions for Duke Street. There was very little consideration at the meeting I attended for the role these access roads play for residents and businesses, as the focus was on BRT and bikes. When it was pointed out that parts of the access roads are at a much higher elevation, which would make it extremely difficult to incorporate them onto a level with Duke Street, the Planning Commission representative on the committee stated that would not present a problem and “that is what earth moving equipment is for”, therefore, such concerns were not relevant.
The overwhelming majority of the dozen or so public speakers at the meeting I attended were bike and transit advocates who had received emails from their various lobbying groups to sign up to speak in favor of any and all transit options, other than cars. While some residents have testified at previous meetings about the need to preserve car travel, this is not something that most residents have focused on at this point in time. Thus, the majority of the voices the city hears are activist voices who believe that “if you build it, they will come” to ride buses and bikes, and abandon their cars. When the city staff member in charge of the project was asked by one committee member about the projections for vehicle traffic on Duke Street if lanes are taken away, the response was, “It is very hard to talk about future traffic on Duke Street now.”
After listening to the meeting, it became even more clear to me that this is much more than a transit project – it is a redevelopment project for Duke Street. That is why one of the members of the Advisory Committee was appointed to represent the development community, and he and his law firm represent the owners of the property where the Land Rover dealership used to be on Duke Street that will now be redeveloped into a large affordable housing project, as well as representing Inova Alexandria Hospital at the Landmark site. This is not viewed as any conflict of interest in serving on the Advisory Committee, which will recommend the ultimate design of the roadway to City Council.
The city has made it very clear that this project is a transit project and the $87 million the city has received for it will be spent on mass transit upgrades. Unfortunately, it appears that none of those upgrades consider any impact on existing homes and businesses or vehicular traffic. Nor is there any data to show that current or future residents want to travel from Landmark to King Street Metro in order to, as some officials have stated is a reason for the Transitway, get on the Metro to travel to the Pentagon, and then transfer to other Metrorail lines to reach the final location of their jobs. No one has yet explained why commuters would want to take the time to travel all the way east along Duke Street to King Street, instead of boarding an Express Bus at Landmark to travel north on 395, which is immediately adjacent to Landmark, in order to get to the Pentagon. It is also relevant to note that the BRT buses will not be DASH buses, and will, at this point, not be free. If you wish to learn more about Duke Street in Motion, the website is: https://www.alexandriava.gov/DukeInMotion.
We are still awaiting the results of the city’s data on crash information on Seminary Road since the road diet was implemented. As many of you observed, another accident demolishing one of the center medians happened a few weeks ago. Residents indicate this is the 5th time one of the center medians has been damaged or destroyed in car accidents.
Moving away from transportation issues, I received a troubling report from the President of the nearby Battery Heights Homeowners Association. He would like all of us to be aware of an experience that happened to him. In July, he placed some bill payments in the outside blue mail boxes at the Seminary Post Office on Seminary Road. Weeks later, he received notices from the companies he had paid saying his bills were overdue. While dealing with these companies, he received a call from his bank informing him that the bank had stopped a fraudulent check from withdrawing money from his account. Apparently, the perpetrator who broke into the blue boxes at the Seminary created fake checks using the original checks they found in his correspondence and then used the checks to make mobile transfers from his account into a fraudulent account created by the thieves. Fortunately, the bank caught this suspicious activity and has restored all funds to his bank account.
The recent rash of thefts from postal carriers is related to this new form of crime when thieves gain access to the master keys used to lock outside post boxes. To be on the safe side, it is suggested that we use mail slots inside post offices, rather than the outside drop boxes. We appreciate being notified about this crime happening with boxes that I am sure many Seminary Hill residents use to drop off their mail.
On August 8th, SHA sent a letter to the Alexandria School Board and the City Manager asking a number of questions regarding cost estimates, infrastructure, ownership, maintenance, and supervision of the Hammond Middle School field, as the city seeks to add lights to this field. We are awaiting responses to those questions as the city moves forward for approval from the Planning Commission on October 6th.
On Saturday, September 10th, the city and the IEN mediation group hired by the city, will host an all-day meeting regarding the Stream Health Improvement Projects at Taylor and Strawberry Runs. The meeting is open to the public and will be held in the Board Room of the Alex Renew office building at 1800 Limerick Street. Speakers from the city, their consultants, and members of the public will speak on various aspects of these two natural resource areas. The meeting is the first public outreach since the mediation team was hired and introduces the Consensus Building Group (CBG), comprised of residents who have been involved in the discussions about these two projects. The meeting will run from 8:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. Members of the CBG will hold subsequent meetings about these two projects. To learn more about stream restoration you can go to the city’s website at: https://www.alexandriava.gov/stormwater-management/stream-restoration. At this time, I do not see any information on that site about this upcoming meeting.
The city is now accepting applications for the various City Academies that offer residents an opportunity to gain in-depth knowledge about the operations of various departments and services in the city. Academies include the Alexandria City Academy, the Senior Academy, the Fire, Police, and Sheriff’s Academies, and others. To learn more about each academy and their meeting schedules, visit www.alexandriava.gov/Academies.
The appeal by some Brookville-Seminary Valley residents of the Traffic and Parking Board’s decision to remove 9 parking places on Polk Avenue in order to add a sidewalk in the city right of way will be heard at City Council’s Public Hearing on Saturday, September 17th. The docket for this meeting will be posted approximately 5 days before the meeting if you wish to learn where on the agenda this item will be heard. This has been a contentious issue for neighbors, who, in their deliberations and discussions, have tried to balance pedestrian safety, protection of the Polk Park open space immediately adjacent to this proposed sidewalk, and the need for resident parking. The Council hearing is the final step in the process to determine if the sidewalk will be constructed.
Coming up this fall will be several initiatives in which Seminary Hill Association will be participating. The “Zoning for Housing” initiative that has resulted in the adoption of ADUs, co-living, and other “soft density” (as Mayor Wilson calls them) zoning changes will be brought forward, as per Mayor Wilson’s instruction to staff, as a bundled group of zoning changes intended to create more affordable housing in the city. Mayor Wilson writes that this comprehensive “Zoning for Housing” proposal will be “more substantial” and “make an impact in improving affordability” in our city. It can be anticipated that some of these changes will relate to the zoning for single-family homes.
In addition, this fall the city will start community engagement for an Alexandria “Vision Plan”, which appears to be the new term for a Strategic Plan. Mayor Wilson writes that this plan “will craft an updated community vision for our city’s future.” This vision will ultimately update our Master Plan, future Small Area Plans, and our zoning ordinance. I would urge all of us to participate in this process to the fullest extent possible. As someone who participated in the previous city Strategic Plan, I can state that without the input of a group of engaged and dedicated residents, the word “neighborhood” would not have had more than a passing reference in that plan. Through their efforts, respect for various neighborhoods became a part of the plan. SHA will pay close attention to any information about this “Vision Plan” and let residents know how and when to let their voices be heard in this very important discussion.
I have been contacted by the city’s Planning and Zoning Department to alert SHA to the new Alexandria West Planning Process, which will “update the long-term vision for the 1992 Alexandria West Plan and integrate the 2012 Beauregard Plan.” Again, Seminary Hill will be an active participant in this process and we will have a representative from the Planning Department speak about this process at our October 13th meeting. More information can be found about this project at: https://www.alexandriava.gov/AlexandriaWest.
Finally, we are still awaiting the city’s decision on the relocation of the playground at Ft. Ward Park. We expect to hear next month. It is not clear whether a public meeting will be held to entertain more discussion on this matter, or to inform us of the decision that has been made by the city. Several Seminary Hill residents have been very involved and active in this matter and will continue to keep us informed as the decision is made.
I congratulate you if you have read this far in this message. Again, I apologize for the length of this message, but I think it is important for our residents to see the volume of information that is coming at us from the city, even during our summer “recess.” Our next SHA meeting will be in person on Thursday, September 8th at 7:00 p.m. at Immanuel Church on the Hill Parish Hall at 3606 Seminary Road. We are finalizing the agenda for that meeting and it is now posted on this website under the tab for Agenda on the home page. We will offer a Zoom link for those who cannot attend in person and it is found below:
Topic: Seminary Hill Association Zoom Meeting
Time: Sep 8, 2022 07:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Meeting ID: 892 7243 5966
Dial by your location
+1 301 715 8592 US (Washington DC)
As always, thank you for your interest in Seminary Hill Association. Please do not hesitate to contact me or any board members with questions or concerns you have. Happy Labor Day to all!
As we turn the calendar to August, we are surely in the dog days of a Washington, DC summer now with the recent heat and humidity! Today has brought some relief, but next week promises to bring increased temperatures and humidity back. Normally, civic matters would be taking a summer recess, but it seems there is now no real break from the need to stay on top of city issues.
I mentioned in my last email that Tuesday, August 2nd is the National Night Out event throughout Alexandria. This is an event to recognize our first responders and thank them for their service. The Clover College Park Civic Association (CCPCA) is hosting their event at Bishop Ireton High School at 201 Cambridge Road from 6:00- 9:00 p.m. on Tuesday night. They have graciously invited residents of other areas to join their celebration. There will be visits from the Alexandria Police Department Motorcycle Unit, Canine Unit, and the Mobile Crime Lab. Units from the Alexandria Fire Department and Sheriff’s Department will also be on hand. A food truck, Himalayan Soul Food, will be on hand, and the CCPCA is providing water, lemonade, and tea. No pets are permitted, other than service animals, and there is no smoking or alcohol permitted on the site. This is a great opportunity to interact with our first responders, and meet nearby neighbors. We appreciate CCPCA including us in their event.
An item of great interest to our area is the status of the two Duke Street Traffic Pilots. As you remember, Phase 1 of the pilot involved redoing the timing of the traffic lights along Duke Street and the side streets in order to reduce cut-through traffic. I have received a report from Hillary Orr of T&ES regarding the results of Phase 1. Here are some highlights from her report:
At the August 10th meeting, Ms. Orr will not only give the results of Phase 1, but will discuss the implementation of Phase 2 of the Duke Street pilot. This phase will involve closing off access to the Telegraph Road ramp at West Taylor Run by placing barriers along the ramp. This will allow Duke Street traffic to move more quickly through that area to get to the Beltway because there will no longer be a traffic signal stopping Duke Street traffic at West Taylor Run. Cars wishing to go south on Telegraph Road from West Taylor Run will proceed east on Duke Street to Dove Street, where they will exit and circle back to the existing ramp for westbound Duke Street traffic. The long-range plan is to create a designated left turn lane from eastbound Duke Street onto the west-facing Telegraph Road ramp. While some residents on East Taylor Run Parkway have heard a rumor that there will be an additional traffic signal placed on their street, this is not part of the plan. What is part of the plan is that the traffic timing signals from Phase 1 will be put back into place when Phase 2 begins, so the city can get a complete picture of how the 2 pilots will work in tandem. As with the Phase 1 pilot, this pilot will run for a designated period of time and then be re-evaluated with the community. The start date and timing of Phase 2 will be discussed at the August 10th Zoom meeting. I will keep you informed as we learn more.
I have followed up with Nancy Williams of the Planning Department to learn more about the status of the text amendment to increase the height limit in certain areas to allow for the creation of affordable housing. As I reported in my last email, the Planning Commission deferred approval of this proposal and asked staff to come back with further analysis. Mayor Wilson then instructed staff to come back with a more comprehensive proposal including other future zoning changes envisioned in the Housing for All plan. Ms. Williams indicated in her reply to me that they are following that directive and reviewing the Housing for All plan before bringing the matter back to the Planning Commission. She assured me that any proposals will include a “strong community engagement process.” We will continue to stay on top of this issue in the coming months.
On the matter of the playground relocation in Ft. Ward Park, we are awaiting a decision by Parks and Rec on their choice of location. The sites that were preferred by the community in meetings were Site B and Site D, so these are being studied in more detail now. Site B is immediately above the current location of the playground, and Site D is on the other side of the park adjacent to St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes Middle School campus. City staff expects to hold another community meeting on this matter in September or October. We are relieved that Site E appears not be under consideration any longer due to the possibility of gravesites on that land where African American homes were located.
Another informational item to bring to your attention was the decision by the Traffic and Parking Board on June 25th to remove 9 parking places along Polk Avenue near Polk School so a sidewalk can be constructed as a result of a survey done for Safe Routes to School. This was also noted as one of the “missing link” sidewalks that was referenced in the Seminary Road diet debate. Several Polk Avenue neighbors argued that this sidewalk is not necessary, as there is a sidewalk on the other side of Polk Avenue. The proposed sidewalk abuts a public open space area called Polk Park, so to avoid encroaching on the parkland, the sidewalk will be built in the public right of way, which means that the 9 parking spaces in this stretch of the street will be eliminated. Residents have stated their intention to appeal the decision. The Brookville Seminary Valley Civic Association and the Seminary Hill Association did not take formal positions on this matter. I did go to the site several times when meetings with city officials were held, including with City Manager Jim Parajon. The option of a crosswalk was proposed by some residents, but city staff indicated that was not a safe alternative. During the discussion by the Traffic Board, one board member cited the sidewalk put in on Seminary Road (the portion along the VTS grounds that is out in the street) and stated that it was amazing how many people are using that sidewalk that never did before. Based upon personal observation and numerous reports from other residents, I am not convinced that his comment is a very accurate assessment about the use of that sidewalk, which did not receive the state funding the city asserted would be forthcoming to create a more permanent sidewalk.
Finally, the plan to add lights at Hammond Middle School continues to move forward. The city did hold another public meeting on July 21st and reiterated their plan to go before Planning and Council this fall to get a Special Use Permit to begin this work. Seminary Hill Association is very aware of the concerns of residents who are neighbors to Hammond, who continue to deal with the non-permitted uses of the Hammond field now, and know that adding lights will only increase the noise and nuisances that are prevalent today. SHA was very involved in the previous attempt in 2012 to light the Hammond field, which resulted in lawsuits from the neighbors, the discovery of flooding issues that residents had warned ACPS about to no avail, and enormous cost overruns with the new turf field, and ACPS’ withdrawal of the plan to light the field at that time.
One of the main issues regarding the lighting of Hammond and the other fields that are part of this plan is the lack of any oversight and enforcement of conditions that are placed on the use of the field. Residents have observed this at Hammond and at Parker Gray Stadium. When violations occur, residents attempt to reach out to ACPS who states that they have no staff to monitor the use and to call the Alexandria Police Department. If residents contact Parks and Rec, they are told it is an ACPS problem and to call the Alexandria Police. When the police are called, they now tell residents this is not part of their responsibility and they do not respond to such calls. The bottom line is that no one takes responsibility or responds to residents’ complaints. The same lack of response is now given for noise complaints in general throughout the city. It seems unfair to consider adding more opportunities for conflicts with nearby neighbors regarding noise and nuisances until a reliable system is put in place with additional staff assigned to monitor and respond to the issues that are happening right now without placing lights on additional fields. While all of us want our Alexandria youth to have sufficient opportunities for outdoor activities, there are many questions remaining about who will actually use these fields at night. SHA will consider this issue and take a position after our board votes on the matter. Please do not hesitate to contact me or any board member about any thoughts you have on this, or any other matter.
Please enjoy the rest of your summer. SHA will resume its monthly board meetings on September 8th at 7:00 p.m. Further information about that meeting will be provided next month. Thank you again for being a part of the Seminary Hill Association and I hope to see some of you at National Night Out this Tuesday.
President, Seminary Hill Association
We will have our regular SHA board meeting on Thursday, June 9th at 7:00 p.m. As we did last month, it will be a hybrid meeting - both in person at Immanuel Church on the Hill Parish Hall and via Zoom for those who cannot attend. Our first guest speaker will be Jack Browand, the Deputy Director of Parks and Rec. His department is putting forward a proposal to light 5 athletic fields in the city. Funding has been provided for 2 fields, but the Department seeks to light 5 with additional funding. One of these 5 fields is Hammond Middle School. As many may remember, lighting this field was proposed some years ago, but was withdrawn when studies showed glare into the nearby yards, in addition to sewer line issues under the field. I can only surmise that with the new lighting technology, the city has figured they can avoid the glare issue as they bring back this proposal again. In addition to our SHA meeting, Mr. Browand will hold two community meetings on this proposal. The first is Wednesday, June 8th at 7:00 p.m. It is a webinar and you must register in advance for this community meeting. The link is: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_UvUcHSBfRMCvuGF6E-MjkA. The second meeting will be Tuesday, June 21st at 7:00 p.m. The link for this webinar is: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_75TTvoNKS9annrnMVLkEew. If you wish to attend a community meeting, I would suggest that you attend the webinar on the 8th, due to the following additional meeting SHA will have on June 21st. The field lighting proposal will go before Planning Commission and City Council in September and October, so with summer arriving now, there will be little time to get organized.
In addition, Police Chief Don Hayes has asked to join our meeting on Thursday night to discuss recent changes to police responses to calls. Chief Hayes will be joining us at 7:45 via the Zoom link you will find below. If you have questions or concerns about the new policy, this will be an opportunity to hear the Chief and ask him questions you may have.
Again, our SHA regular board meeting will be held on Thursday, June 9th at 7:00 p.m. As indicated above, the meeting will be in person and via Zoom. The Zoom link for our SHA board meeting is:
Seminary Hill Association Zoom Meeting
Time: Jun 9, 2022 07:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Meeting ID: 851 3554 5415 Passcode: 831725
Dial by your location 301 715 8592 US (Washington DC)
Mayor Justin Wilson has accepted our invitation to attend a special SHA meeting on Tuesday, June 21st at 7:00 p.m to discuss the proposed zoning text amendment which would change the minimum height standard for developers to receive a height bonus for providing some affordable housing. Many civic associations, including SHA, have pushed back on this proposal and the city now states it will not apply to single family home and townhome zones. We need to better understand the strength of this commitment, as this language could be changed with a separate zoning text amendment at a later date once this initial change takes place. It is also unclear at this point how much of Old Town would be eligible for this 25-foot height bonus. The Mayor will appear in person at the Immanuel Church Parish Hall. The Zoom link for this meeting with the Mayor is:
Topic: Seminary Hill Association Special Meeting
Time: Jun 21, 2022 07:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 812 7903 4613
Dial by your location
301 715 8592 US (Washington DC)
Several SHA members attended the informational walk at Ft. Ward Park on May 21st. There are several sites under consideration for the relocation of the playground. For those who could not attend the walk, there is supposed to be a Zoom meeting on June 23rd to review these options. There is no information yet about this meeting on the city website for this project, so we will have to check back to see if they schedule it. The location of the playground is complicated by the need to respect the sites of the African American community that made their homes in the park for many years, and the need to protect the existing tree canopy from injury or destruction during the construction process.
Thank you for your interest in Seminary Hill. There are numerous Zoom links contained in this message, so please be sure you use the correct link for each meeting. Please do not hesitate to let me, or any board member, know your questions or concerns on any matters of interest to our community.