I hope this message finds all of you safe and relatively cool during this hot and stormy July.  Despite the fact that SHA, like all other organizations, has not been able to meet in person for several months, I want to assure you that your Seminary Hill Association board has been working hard on several issues of concern to our board and membership. SHA held its first virtual board meeting last month. I think it went well, and it seems likely that will be our platform for upcoming meetings once we resume our monthly meetings in September. We will keep you informed as we get closer to our meeting date of September 10th.

Our guest speaker for our June meeting was Rod Simmons, the Natural Resources Manager for the City of Alexandria. As you might remember, we had a presentation from Jesse Maines of the Stormwater Division at our February meeting, and board members wanted to learn more about the Taylor Run stream restoration project from Mr. Simmons. Mr. Simmons gave a much different evaluation of this project and focused on the damage to the environment, especially around the Chinquapin Park area, where a very rare acidic seepage swamp exists. He informed us that both the Taylor Run and Strawberry Run stream projects will require the removal of large numbers of trees from our tree canopy and will forever change the ecology of these forested wetlands. In response to this presentation, SHA voted to send a letter to City Council asking that these projects be placed on hold until further environmental studies could be done and Mr. Simmons’ city department could be consulted, which has not been the case. That letter was sent on Friday the 17th of July. Mayor Wilson replied that other inquiries have been made and provided us with a memo the city had prepared last week on this project. You can read the city’s justification for the Taylor Run project at this link - https://www.alexandriava.gov/budget/info/default.aspx?id=114448. We will study this document and offer further comments as necessary and are hopeful that the City Council will take another look at the way this project is being engineered.

On another matter, earlier in July SHA sent a letter to City Council regarding the lack of transparency for applications to city boards and commissions. When the Council docket is posted regarding the board vacancies to be voted upon by Council, the public can only see the names of the applicants, not the application form that is filled out indicating your experience and interest in serving on a public body. This form clearly states that it is public information, but it has not been part of the public docket, so residents cannot weigh in with Council members about the candidates. Ten other civic associations joined SHA in asking Council to change this process and allow the public to see the applications when they are provided to Council.  This conforms to the Virginia State Code requirement for such disclosure.  We have received favorable responses from several members of Council. We are hopeful that a change will be made in the coming months so the public can learn and evaluate applications to important city boards and commissions that recommend policies that affect all of us. 

In case you did not see the city press release about the Duke Street Transitway Project, I wanted to bring it to your attention. Last week, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority awarded the city $75 million for construction of the first phase of the Duke Street Project. The goal of this project is to increase mass transit along the Duke Street corridor between Landmark and the King Street Metro Station. The first phase of this project will be funding for additional buses, bus shelters and some “roadway design improvements.” Other separate grant funding was awarded to improve safety and traffic congestion at the intersection of Duke Street and West Taylor Run Parkway.

Seminary Hill Association will continue to study this project and work with other civic associations whose neighborhoods will be directly impacted by changes in the roadway. This plan was part of the city’s 2008 Transportation Master Plan, and at that time, it was envisioned that Landmark Mall would be completely redeveloped into a mixed-use community. While that may still happen, with the recent decision by the Howard Hughes Corporation to step away from projects like Landmark and likely place the property up for sale, we are a long way from having commuters seeking mass transit along Duke Street to and from Landmark. In addition, questions have asked about why commuters would traverse Duke Street to arrive at the King Street Metro, when the Van Dorn Metro station is closer to Landmark. Finally, most of us realize that the real gridlock on Duke Street occurs at the ramp at Telegraph Road to access the Beltway. Nothing in this Transitway Project addresses that bottleneck in order to relieve the horrendous congestion all of us experience when traveling that corridor at rush hour. For more information, you can go to the Duke Street Transitway’s webpage at: https://www.alexandriava.gov/tes/info/default.aspx?id=116707.

SHA continues to follow the plans for the rebuild of MacArthur School. The project is on a very tight timeline and the School Board will choose a final design for the school later this summer. The community committee working on this matter with the school system has voiced concerns about the design of the school, as its modernistic design doesn't seem to meet the community's goal of having the school fit into the existing neighborhood.

Residents have an opportunity to provide feedback on the city's plan to "develop an ADU policy to help expand housing options, affordability and accessibility in neighborhoods throughout Alexandria" by going to the project webpage at https://www.alexandriava.gov/planning/info/default.aspx?id=113872. You can read the initial community feedback and find answers to some questions about ADUs. There is a link on that page to the recorded presentation and the online feedback form on which you can offer your comments.  The online feedback form is open until August 10th.

It is anticipated that there will be a large number of development projects coming before City Council in September since staff has been working with applicants all summer to advance their plans. SHA will monitor these projects along with other matters of interest and concern to our community.

Please enjoy the remainder of your summer and stay safe and healthy.