Welcome to Spring, even if it certainly doesn’t feel like Spring has arrived to stay quite yet.
As usual, we have several items of interest to highlight. First, our Seminary Hill Association Board meeting will be Thursday, April 8th at 7:00 pm. We will have a presentation by the city on the proposed cohousing initiative which seems to have come out of nowhere and is on a fast track for Council approval. Cohousing allows unrelated individuals to live together in a home, in what we might refer to as a boarding house. The City believes this is another way to increase the stock of affordable housing. The city recommends that we all go to the project website at: https://www.alexandriava.gov/planning/info/default.aspx?id=120969 and watch the 15-minute video about what cohousing means, and then take the survey asking what we think of the concept. The City’s presentation to SHA will be the first item on our agenda on the 8th.
Various city departments are joining together to offer an onsite “walkthrough” of the area where the Taylor Run stream “restoration” will take place in Chinquapin Park. The walk will be between 5-7 pm on Monday, April 12th. I would recommend that you read The Alexandria Times’ extensive article on this project that is in this week’s edition (April 1) of the paper at alextimes.com. It gives a good summary of the opposition to this project as expressed in the City’s Environmental Policy Commission’s strong letter to City Council. You can also visit the city’s website page at: https://www.alexandriava.gov/tes/stormwater/info/default.aspx?id=117629 for the project to learn why city staff believes this is a viable project.
The Environmental Council of Alexandria just released the report from an outside river science expert, Dr. John Field, who states that, “The City’s plan to re-engineer Taylor Run will fail to achieve the project’s stated environmental and infrastructure goals. Instead, it will produce an impoverished ecosystem and, ultimately cause more harm to the Chesapeake Bay than the status quo, all at a tremendous cost to local residents and taxpayers statewide.” He goes on to state that the city’s plan to remove 260 mature trees will “further unravel the riparian ecosystem and eliminate the powerful CO2 absorption that only mature trees provide.” In response to the city’s plan to replace the mature trees by planting thousands of trees and shrubs, Dr. Field states that, “Canopy recovery would take two to five generations, at least, and is not guaranteed.” His report closes with the statement that, “As an expert with nearly 40 years of experience in river science, I unequivocally conclude that the current plan will not reduce sediment reaching the Chesapeake Bay nor protect the sanitary sewer infrastructure over the long run; and will decimate stream and forest habitat for no practical benefit.”
At tomorrow night's City Council meeting on Tuesday, April 6th, item 24 will be a work session on proposed changes to the city’s Noise Ordinance. As you may remember, changes to the Noise Ordinance which include raising the noise level allowed throughout the city, were proposed a year ago. The proposal was withdrawn for further study after opposition from citizens. At a recent Council meeting, Mayor Wilson expressed displeasure that the changes had not been brought forward to Council. In response to that direction, city staff is bringing the changes forward on the 6th. As is often the case, this item, which is of interest to many residents since it can affect quality of life, has been placed at the end of the docket when most of us will have turned off the meeting and turned in for the night.
Finally, the attorney for Inova Hospital has reached out and indicates they are in the process of scheduling a final community meeting before their rezoning application goes before the Planning Commission and the City Council. They are looking at the last week of April or the first week of May. I will let you know when they announce the date.
Here is the information for the Zoom link to our SHA meeting on Thursday, the 8th at 7:00. I hope you will join us to hear about cohousing and also hear from City Council candidates Alyia Gaskins and James Lewis. The agenda for the meeting will be posted on our website today.
Topic: Seminary Hill Zoom Meeting
Time: Apr 8, 2021 07:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
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Meeting ID: 879 2766 2768
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Thank you again for your interest in Seminary Hill Association. Please do not hesitate to contact SHA with any issues of concern to you.
Carter Flemming, President, Seminary Hill Association
Happy Super Bowl weekend to all! I want to provide a couple of updates and reminders of upcoming meetings of interest to Seminary Hill residents.
Our monthly SHA meeting will be Thursday, February 11th at 7:00 on Zoom. Here is the link to sign on to the meeting:
Topic: Seminary Hill Zoom Meeting
Time: Feb 11, 2021 07:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
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Meeting ID: 821 4915 8217
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The agenda for the meeting will be posted on this website. We will have a city staff presentation on the proposal to lower the speed limit on the western portion of Seminary Road to 25 MPH. In addition, Councilmember Amy Jackson will be speaking to us as she begins her campaign for re-election. We will also provide updates on the rezoning plans for the Inova Seminary Road campus, the AHDC plans for affordable housing next to Fire Station 206 on Seminary Road, the Alexandria Mobility Plan, and the Taylor Run Stream “restoration” project. We hope you will join us for this meeting.
I want to highlight a Zoom community meeting that Inova will host on Wednesday, February 17th from 7:00 – 8:00 p.m. They will discuss their plans for rezoning the site for residential use and answer questions. As you may remember, Inova’s initial proposal is to change the current single-family zoning to the RA zone. This zone allows single-family homes, townhomes, and multi-family buildings. SHA has asked that Inova instead select the RB zone, which does not permit the multi-family buildings that the RA zone allows. We look forward to an update on their decision. Here is the Zoom link for that meeting:
* Zoom Webinar Link: https://thelandlawyers.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_bcx3YfkTSGyZSe0HAZ49SQ
* Dial-in option: 312.626.6799
* Webinar ID: 975 8004 5285
* Passcode: 676138
As a brief update on Council’s approval on January 23rd of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), SHA spoke against the adoption of the amendment to allow ADUs as it was written. SHA, and other residents and civic associations, had concerns about the very small setbacks allowed for such structures and the fact that they could be used as short-term rental units, rather than providing the long-term affordable housing options that were the basis for allowing ADUs. Councilman Mo Seifeldein proposed some changes to the amendment regarding the “exclusive” use of ADUs as short-term rentals (such as Airbnb). Staff also agreed to modify the setbacks of the ADUs depending upon their height. Council adopted the ADU amendment, but it is our understanding that staff will come back next month with the exact language of the ordinance, so until then we don’t know the parameters of what “exclusive” use actually means. Councilwoman Amy Jackson voted against the adoption of the amendment.
It is now budget season in our city. At the upcoming City Council meeting on Tuesday the 9th, Council will receive a report on our real estate assessments for 2021. While the tax rate has not been set, the numbers regarding appreciation from January 2020 to January 2021 are now public. Some highlights are that our combined local real property assessments increased 2.7% to $1.14 billion. The residential tax base increased 6.02% overall, while the commercial tax base decreased 1.96%. The average condominium assessed value is $375,070, which represents a 3.98% increase. The average single-family home assessed value is $839,961, which represents a 4.54% increase.
For years, the City has had a stated goal of achieving a better balance between the percentage of distribution between commercial and residential properties. The City includes multi-family rental properties in the commercial category, despite the fact they are residential. In this calculation, commercial properties account for 40% of our tax base, while residential properties account for 59%. If, however, you include multi-family residential properties in the residential category, the balance shifts dramatically. In this case, commercial properties account for only 21% of the tax base, while residential properties account for 78%. This continues to be of concern to residential property owners, as they must shoulder an increasing percentage of the tax distribution, while the demand for commercial properties continues to decline, especially in light of the changes brought about by Covid.
Also on the agenda for the Council meeting Tuesday February 9th is the introduction and first reading of a change in the RT/Townhouse zone. Under this proposal, the setback for the end lot which is considered as a side yard in a group of townhomes is changed from a minimum of 20 feet to 12 feet. The setback for the rear yard of townhomes is changed from a minimum of 35 feet to 12 feet. These changes will allow for more density in townhome communities, resulting in less public open space and more units in a development.
Finally, the City Manager will present his proposed FY 2022 budget at 7:00 p.m. at the City Council meeting on Tuesday, February 16th. Two nights later, there will be a Public Hearing on this proposed FY 2022 budget on Thursday, February 18th at 7:00 p.m.
I hope this provides you with some dates to keep in mind, and information on some of the issues that the SHA board has been working on in the last month or so. I hope to “see” many of you at our board meeting this Thursday night. Please do not hesitate to contact me or the SHA board with any issues of concern to you. Thank you for your interest in our community and our city.
Carter Flemming, President, Seminary Hill Association
Happy New Year from the Seminary Hill Association, Inc. I hope you had a safe and happy holiday season despite the challenges that the pandemic is creating for all of us. While we might assume that things would slow down a bit over the holidays in our city, that is certainly not the case. I want to alert you to several important meetings that are coming up in the immediate future.
As I wrote in my December article, just 3 days before Christmas, the City and Inova Alexandria Hospital announced a deal in partnership with development partners Foulger-Pratt and Seritage, to move the hospital campus to Landmark as part of the revitalization of that abandoned site. While the actual move is a number of years off, the first step in the process will be to rezone the existing Seminary Road site in order to maximize the value of the land to Inova, who will use the proceeds to help fund their move to Landmark. Inova, therefore, is seeking a rezoning to allow for more dense development to increase the value of the property. Inova has indicated that they intend for the site to be residential with a mix of single-family and townhomes. It is important to understand that Inova will not be the developer of this land, and so the zoning change will dictate what is able to be built there, and Inova's wishes will not have any legal standing with the future developer. Since this 30-acre site is a major property within the boundaries of SHA, we will be closely involved in this process in order to protect residents whose properties adjoin the site, as well as ensure that future uses will be compatible with the character of this neighborhood.
The City and Inova are wasting no time in jump-starting the rezoning process. There are 3 upcoming meetings that will be relevant to this process. The first meeting will be Monday, January 4th from 7:00 - 8:30 p.m. This meeting will be to discuss the Landmark site only. The format for this information-only meeting is not the standard webinar format. The information from the City regarding this meeting is pasted below:
Landmark Redevelopment - Monday, January 4, 2021, 7-8:30 p.m.
Hosted by Foulger-Pratt, Inova Health System, City of Alexandria
The second meeting will be held on Wednesday, January 6th from 6:00-7:00 p.m. This meeting will discuss the Seminary Road site. Here is the information for this important meeting:
The final meeting will be the SHA Board meeting on Thursday, January 14th at 7:00 p.m. It will be a Zoom meeting. Cathy Puskar, the land use attorney for Inova Alexandria Hospital, will give a presentation on the Seminary Road site and answer questions. I am sure that the presentation will be very similar to the January 6th meeting, but we want everyone to have an opportunity to understand what rezoning the hospital is requesting and what impacts it will have on our community. It is important to note that approximately 16 acres of the 30-acre hospital site are currently protected by a scenic easement. That easement will end when the property is sold. Ms. Puskar will be the first presentation on our agenda following the Police and Sheriff reports, which usually take just a few moments. Here is the information for the SHA Board meeting:
Meeting ID: 812 6466 8058
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There is one final topic that I want to bring to your attention. As you know, the City has been holding meetings regarding the Zoning Amendment to allow Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) throughout the city. SHA has had concerns about some of the aspects of this proposal, including the one-foot setback from neighboring property lines. We felt, however, that the requirement that either the main residence or the ADU had to be occupied by the owner of the property would ensure that renters, whether long-term or short-term Airbnb, would be held accountable for maintaining the property in good condition with respect for neighbors' quality of life. Within the last 10 days, over the holiday season, the staff reversed their position on this very important safeguard and removed the owner occupancy requirement. Residents and civic associations raised questions in the last week after learning of this change, but no satisfactory answers have been provided, other than a vague reference to potential legal issues if the requirement was maintained. Other jurisdictions like Arlington, Washington, D.C., Charlottesville, and Norfolk have this restriction in their ordinances and we are not aware of any legal challenge that has happened. SHA will, therefore, speak in opposition to the Zoning Amendment allowing ADUs, at the Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday, January 5th. City Council will vote on this matter on Saturday, January 23rd. SHA believes that this last minute change to eliminate one of the major protections for neighbors without any public notice or opportunity for input is a serious violation of the public trust and the City's stated commitment to transparency. There needs to be a full public discussion of this issue before this amendment is adopted.
As you may remember, at our December meeting, SHA had a presentation on the High School Project at Minnie Howard. One of controversial issues is the consideration of the colocation of other city services on school sites, including adult housing. SHA recently learned that the School Board will be giving direction to the architects for the Minnie Howard project in mid-January and this will include a decision about the addition of housing to that campus. SHA will continue to follow this issue and speak out against the concept of allowing adult housing on our school sites.
As you can see, the City took no holiday break and continues to bring issue after issue to a vote during this pandemic, and we are committed to staying on top of all of them and keeping our residents informed so that you have the opportunity to contact the SHA board and your elected officials to express your views. I hope to "see" many of you at the upcoming virtual meetings. Let's hope that 2021 will allow us to meet again in person at some point. Thank you very much for your interest in civic affairs and the Seminary Hill Association.
Today we received news confirming the move of Inova Alexandria Hospital to Landmark. This marks the end of a long period of speculation about the future of the hospital. This plan appears to be very similar to what was planned with the Howard Hughes Corporation in 2017-2018, but that did not materialize. Perhaps the addition of Foulger-Pratt to the team of The Howard Hughes Corporation and Seritage Growth Properties made the difference. The city will use $54 million in public bonds to acquire the land at Landmark and will lease the property to Inova. In addition, the city will use $76 million in public bonds for site preparation and infrastructure at Landmark and the adjacent Duke and Van Dorn Street corridors. The city projects that these investments will generate $778 million in city tax revenue over the 30-year life of the bonds. This sum will cover the principal and interest on the bonds, as well as contribute to the city's general fund.
Inova expects to invest $1 billion to create its new medical campus. The campus will contain a larger emergency room, private patient rooms, the Schar Cancer Institute, and a medical office building. The new hospital would be one of only three Level II trauma centers in Northern Virginia.
All of us want Inova to be able to build a first-class hospital facility in our city, and we look forward to working with Inova to achieve that goal. Inova’s attorney has reached out to the Seminary Hill Association (SHA) to explain what steps will be taken in the coming months. There will be two upcoming public meetings about this project. The first will be January 4th from 7:00-8:30 p.m.to discuss the Landmark site. The second meeting will be January 6th from 6:00 – 7:00 p.m. to discuss the Seminary Road site. Inova's attorney, Cathy Puskar, will speak at the January 14th SHA meeting at 7:00 pm. Zoom links will be provided for these meetings at a later date. Inova will be seeking a rezoning of the Seminary Road site from R-20 and R-8 to the RA zone. This will allow for greater density on the site in order to maximize the value of their land so they can construct their new Landmark facility. It is their intention to work with a purchaser to build a mix of detached single-family homes and townhomes on the Seminary Road site. Once the rezoning is decided however, Inova will not be the developer, so this project will require careful attention as it moves forward.
I can assure everyone that SHA will be involved in this entire process with Inova and the future developer to ensure that any new community built on the site is in keeping with the character of the Seminary Hill neighborhood. While the project won’t be complete for a number of years, SHA extends congratulations to Inova for bringing their vision to reality for our community.
I wish all of you a happy holiday season and a brighter 2021. Obviously, the year ahead will be a busy one for SHA with new projects happening rapidly. I hope to see many of you on our virtual SHA meeting on January 14th.
Carter Flemming, President, Seminary Hill Association
I hope all of you enjoyed a safe Thanksgiving holiday. I know for many of us it was not the holiday we traditionally have, but we all need to do our part to keep our community as safe as we can during this increase in the pandemic.
SHA will hold its December meeting on Thursday, December 10th at 7:00 p.m. The meeting will be virtual and the Zoom link will be pasted below this letter and all are welcome to participate in our meeting. Our agenda is posted on this website under the Minutes and Agenda tab on the Home page. We will be having a presentation on the High School Project at Minnie Howard, and then will discuss other city issues of interest and concern. For those of you who have not followed the High School Project, the current Minnie Howard campus will be redeveloped to accommodate the increased number of high school students. It will no longer be just the 9th Grade Center. Final details of what educational programs will be offered at the TC Williams site and the new Minnie Howard site will be decided upon by the School Board. The new building will be constructed on the current field space at Minnie Howard, and then when the new building is complete, the old building will be torn down and new sports fields will be constructed there. In addition, the construction proposal also includes the possibility of an aquatic center there, and affordable housing on the site as well. Placing adult housing on school sites is something that has elicited a great deal of interest and concern by residents, and SHA will continue to follow this process very closely.
In other school news, the removal of the current Douglas MacArthur school building is expected to begin this month. As you may be aware, ACPS has purchased the house immediately to the west of the playground area, and that home will be torn down, and that land will be part of the new, much larger, MacArthur School.
In January, the Planning Commission and City. Council will also approve a final plan to allow Accessory Dwelling Units to be constructed in the city. Staff recommendations for these units were recently released to the public. Staff is recommending that the units be allowed to become temporary rentals, e.g. Airbnb. The setbacks for these units will be only one foot from the property line if the structure has no windows facing another property, or 3 feet if it does have windows. Staff had initially supported a requirement that either the main dwelling unit, or the accessory dwelling unit, be occupied by the owner. SHA has recently learned that the City Attorney has questioned the legality of such a requirement, so this may not be a part of the staff report to City Council. The Board of SHA has not taken a position on ADUs at this time, so if you wish to share your thoughts, please do so this month.
Another matter of concern to SHA is the proposal by the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation to tear down two single-family homes adjacent to Firehouse 206 on Seminary Road and replace them with an affordable housing multi-family apartment building of 52 units and an additional 15 townhomes. The development will also make use of the vacant land next to the Fire Station that is owned by the City. This project will require a zoning change from Single Family Zoning to the new Residential Multi-Family Zone that the City recently created. Aside from the many concerns SHA has about the terrain and the stormwater issues on this site, we do not want to see this parcel within our association boundaries become the precedent to overturn single-family zoning and permit multi-family buildings all across the city.
Finally, the City will begin the process of community engagement in 2021 for the planning of the Duke Street Transitway. This will involve either widening Duke Street between Landmark and Telegraph Road, or taking away car travel or access roadways along this stretch of Duke Street. This is a plan that was created a number of years ago and the City has now received $87 million to create a bus corridor here. Many residents have questioned the need for such a bus lane, when the true bottleneck of this road is the ramp to Telegraph Road and I-495. No funding in this Transitway Plan will address that major choke point for drivers, as the Transitway route is designed to connect Landmark with the King Street Metro station. SHA will participate in all opportunities to discuss this plan that can have a negative affect on car travel on Duke Street.
These are just a few of the issues that SHA will be involved in during 2021. Please do not hesitate to communicate with your SHA board to let us know your thoughts and concerns about any issues. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that SHA can now accept donations via PayPal on this website. SHA no longer charges dues, as all residents living within our boundaries are represented by SHA. We do reply upon contributions to defray costs of website development and maintenance, to fund FOIA requests to obtain needed information from the City, and to support our communications with residents. You can click on the "Donate" icon on our website homepage, and make a contribution via PayPal, or by check if you prefer.
The SHA board wishes all of you a safe and happy holiday season. We all hope we can meet together in person again sometime in 2021. For now, we want to remain safe so we can enjoy a healthy 2021. Here is the Zoom link for our meeting on December 10th:
Topic: Seminary Hill Association Board Meeting
Time: Dec 10, 2020 07:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Meeting ID: 890 6955 4090
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Carter Flemming, President, Seminary Hill Association