I hope you had a Happy Halloween! It has been fun to drive around and see the various decorations people have put up in our various neighborhoods. I hope many of you supported the Pumpkin Sale at Immanuel Church, as the proceeds go to numerous local charities. And Immanuel has been very generous to Seminary Hill Association by allowing us to meet in their Parish Hall, so we all should support this major fundraising effort.
Not to be alarmist, but I want to be sure you saw the warnings issued by area police departments, including Alexandria, that there were threats of some sort of terrorist violence last weekend in public places like shopping malls. The police are taking these threats seriously and asking all of us to be cautious and report any suspicious activity you might see, even though the immediate timeline has passed.
Noise Ordinance Changes
I participated in a webinar last week regarding the proposed changes to the city’s Noise Ordinance. I hope many of you participated in the city survey regarding staff’s proposal. It was interesting to learn how residents answered the questions, though some of the questions made some answers unclear. City staff reiterated that Council will make the final decision on these changes, but assured us that our responses would be taken into account. 359 people responded to the survey, which staff said was a very good rate of response. If you are not interested in noise, just skip the next few paragraphs that discuss the proposal in more detail.
To summarize some of the take-aways from the responses, the top noise issues identified by residents were construction noise, power lawn equipment, train and metro horns, construction from neighbors doing projects, loud noise/music from neighbors, barking dogs, and loud car and motorcycles. On the question of whether a noise limit should be changed to be based upon the “predominant use” in the area, 66% answered yes, and 33% answered no. This means that if a restaurant is currently located in a residential area, their noise limit now is the residential decibel limit, not the commercial limit. Under the new proposal, this practice would end and if a business is a commercial activity, it would have the higher commercial noise limit no matter where it is located. This is seen as an equity issue to treat all commercial properties equally.
Another interesting question was whether the city should adopt a “plainly audible” standard for noise in the night time (after 11 p.m. as defined by the city). This would allow the police to come to a residence and if the noise is plainly audible to them, it would be considered a violation. 81% of respondents favored adopting this standard. This would allow the police to actually cite violators without the use of noise meters, which APD currently does not have. As the discussion of this question continued, it was clear that the police do not have the authority to cite noise violations without working noise meters that they do not have. Nonetheless, APD is listed in the presentation as the enforcer of noise violations after normal working hours, so it was not clear to anyone how any noise violations are handled after T%ES employees go home. In addition, we learned that the position of Noise Administrator in T&ES has been vacant for some time, so this also hampers any enforcement. As part of the discussion with Council about these revised noise standards, T&ES will be asking for increased funding to hire staff to respond to noise complaints.
Another question dealt with whether the city should stop attempting to enforce any decibel limit on power lawn equipment. 41% of respondents said Yes, while 60% said No. The city says all power lawn equipment exceeds the 75db limit at the property line, so enforcement is impossible. We learned that the city will be seeking legislative authority to regulate/ban the use of gas leaf blowers in the coming General Assembly session.
Finally, the most confusing question was whether the city should expand the noise limit that is in place in public spaces in the Central Business District (CBD) to the entire city. These limits in the CBD are currently 75db at 10 feet away from the property line until 11:00 p.m. and then 65db after 11:00 p.m. Currently, staff said that no noise limits apply to public spaces outside of the CBD, though some parks have rules and restrictions of their own, e.g. no amplified music can be played in some locations, and most parks close at dusk. 59% of respondents said Yes to expanding the area, while 40% said No.
There will be a work session with City Council on these proposed changes on November 9th. Then the revised ordinance will be introduced at Council’s legislative meeting on December 14th and voted upon by Council at the December 18th public hearing.
Duke Street Proposed Pilot for Congestion Relief at Telegraph Road
Seminary Hill Association and Clover College Park Civic Association have had discussions and briefings with Hillary Orr, Deputy Director of Transportation for T&ES. Staff is responding to many resident comments regarding the proposed Duke Street bus Transitway. Residents have made it clear that the ramp to Telegraph Road and 495 is their primary concern and frustration, and this daily gridlock must be addressed. As you might remember, Yon Lambert, Director of T&ES, had previously stated that the city had no plans to address this ramp because the city was investing in transit, not roadway increases. City staff also reports that VDOT has said that widening the ramp to Telegraph at this location is not feasible or safe, so they will not consider it for any funding.
We learned that the city has now applied for grant funding to study the possibility of creating a second ramp to Telegraph by creating a left turn option further east on Duke Street. This would allow drivers to turn left and enter the ramp on the eastbound side of Duke that is not jammed up each afternoon. This project would take several years to plan and build, so in the interim, T&ES is proposing 2 short-term pilot projects to help ease cut-through traffic in the neighborhoods surrounding this area of Duke Street. We have made it very clear that city pilots tend to be permanent changes and we are not in favor of doing that, as we have never seen a pilot that failed and wasn’t permanent. Ms. Orr is aware of this and has assured us that they are talking about short-term test periods that will end.
The first phase of this Pilot will be to increase the wait time for those motorists traveling toward Duke Street who cut through the neighborhood streets to exit at Cambridge Road during the hours of 4 p.m to 7 p.m. The lights along Duke Street will be given a longer green signal, and the light at Quaker and Duke will be timed to allow traffic to flow for a longer period onto Duke. Temporary signage will be put in place ahead of this pilot alerting drivers of the changes that will be coming. Drivers and driving apps will discover that cutting through neighborhood streets will result in a longer wait time and the new light timing will encourage them to stay on Quaker Lane where the green signal will be increased and the eastbound lights on Duke to Telegraph would be synchronized to move traffic more efficiently. This pilot will run between January-March 2022. It will end on March 31st. Staff and the community will then determine what we liked about the pilot and whether it should be considered on a more permanent basis.
The second phase of this pilot will be from March-June 2022. This will prohibit left turns from West Taylor Run onto the Telegraph ramp. Motorists on Taylor Run will still be able to turn left onto Duke Street, but barriers will prohibit them from accessing the ramp. The reason for this is that the red light at Taylor Run is a major factor contributing to the restriction of traffic flow onto Telegraph. In addition, residents of West Taylor Run endure daily back-ups on their street that restrict their ability to get in and out of their driveways. Again, this pilot will be for 3 months and we will meet with staff to discuss how to measure the success or failure of Phase 1 and Phase 2.
City staff has presented this to the Traffic and Parking Board who reportedly were pleased that staff was working closely with residents through the Civic Associations to reach some agreement on possible solutions to a problem that affects the quality of all our lives every afternoon. Staff will present the plan to the Transportation Commission in November.
Another change that is not part of this pilot, but will be proposed on a permanent basis, is to prohibit all left turns from Yale Drive onto Duke at all hours. Staff and residents believe that this is a very dangerous intersection when people attempt to make a left onto Duke. City Staff will bring this proposal to the Transportation Commission later this year.
Survey on the ways you move around the city
The city has posted a survey that will be open until November 20th asking residents how we choose to get around in the city. The link for this survey is: https://polco.us/alex2021. In this survey, you will be required to provide an email address and a zip code as the city is attempting to limit the responses to actual Alexandria residents. As with all city surveys, I urge you to participate so our voices can be heard on future decisions.
Federation of Civic Associations Questionnaire for Council Candidates
The Alexandria Federation of Civic Associations (AFCA) recently asked all Council candidates to respond to a questionnaire. The results of this questionnaire are posted on the AFCA website at: alexafca.org. If you haven’t voted early, I urge you to take a look at the answers provided by almost all of the local Council candidates.
AHDC Housing Project on Seminary Road
The affordable housing project proposed by the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation (AHDC) has received its approval from the Department of Planning and Zoning for the Development Special Use Permit (DSUP) to move the project forward. It will be heard by the Planning Commission on Tuesday, December 7th and will then go to City Council. As I have mentioned in previous emails, AHDC has held 3 community meetings and met with nearby neighbors to work through issues of concern. We are pleased that we have been able to work with AHDC to create a project that meets their needs, but responds to community concerns, while retaining the residential zoning designation.
Seminary Hill Association Annual Meeting November 18th with Acting Police Chief Hayes
Finally, I want to remind everyone that Seminary Hill Association will have our Annual Meeting on Thursday, November 18th at 7:00 p.m. Our meeting will return to in-person at the Parish Hall of Immanuel Church on the Hill at 3606 Seminary Road (where the pumpkin patch currently is). We also intend to offer a virtual Zoom option and the link is below. We will enjoy a few minutes of meeting and greeting at 7:00, and then at 7:30, Acting Police Chief Don Hayes will speak to us and take questions. I know many of us have questions that we would like the Chief to answer, so I encourage you to put this date on your calendar. At this meeting, we will also elect new Officers and Area Representatives to our SHA Board. If you would like to serve, or to nominate someone to serve, please contact me as soon as possible, as our Nominating Committee is at work now to nominate a slate of officers. We also welcome donations to SHA through our website, www.seminaryhillassn.org, or in person at the Annual Meeting. All residents living in our boundaries are members of SHA and no dues are charged, but we do appreciate contributions to help us pay for our yearly expenses in order to communicate with you.
Topic: Seminary Hill Zoom Meeting
Time: Nov 18, 2021 07:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
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Meeting ID: 854 4872 7744
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+1 301 715 8592 US (Washington DC)
A reminder that Daylight Savings Time will end this Sunday, November 7th. Thank you for your attention and interest in Seminary Hill Association. I hope to see many of you in person at our Annual Meeting, and I urge you to stay in touch with SHA and let us know any concerns or issues you would like us to address. Your board is always interested in knowing what our members would like SHA to address.
Carter Flemming, President, Seminary Hill Association