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
I hope everyone has been enjoying the beautiful fall weather we have experienced in the last few weeks. I know we are all savoring the ability to be outside for as long as we can before cold weather closes in.
There are a couple of things I want to bring to your attention at this time. First, the City is asking residents to participate in a survey to give feedback on their draft strategies for the update to the 2008 Transportation Master Plan. This update is entitled the Alexandria Mobility Plan (AMP). While this may not sound like the most exciting thing on which to spend time, I want to encourage all of you to go to the city's AMP webpage at www.alexandriava.gov/MobilityPlan and read the Draft Strategies. Then click the link to take the survey. It is plans and documents like this AMP that govern transportation decisions in the years ahead. Concepts such as Complete Streets have been introduced and codified in such plans and then they are applied in situations throughout the city. If residents don't pay attention to these plans and offer input, then we have no role in shaping our city's transportation future. The draft strategies in this plan are Transit, Smart Mobility, Streets, Supporting Travel Options, and Curb Space and Parking. I think you will perhaps note, as I did, the preponderance of attention to mass transit, and the minimal attention to travel by car, despite the fact that cars remain the overwhelming method of transportation within our city.
The survey contains a number of unexplained phrases like "criteria based traffic mitigation" and incorporating "current design practices" to our street design guidelines so respondents have little or no idea what they are potentially agreeing to. Fortunately, there are comment boxes after each strategy where respondents can add our own comments, whether or not they exactly correlate to the draft strategy. This is your opportunity to agree or disagree with the assumptions and conclusions staff has brought forward. I encourage you to use this opportunity to comment on the City's overall traffic plans for you in the years ahead. We have seen regional emails from lobby groups urging members to take this survey in order to influence and direct policies that affect the residents of our city, and city staff welcomes such non-city participation. The deadline to respond to this survey is November 8th, so please find time to engage in this survey before it closes.
Seminary Hill Association will hold its Annual Meeting on Thursday, November 12th at 7:00 p.m. Unfortunately, we are still in a virtual meeting mode, so we cannot gather together. Here is the Zoom information for the meeting.
Topic: Seminary Hill Association Annual Zoom Meeting
Time: Nov 12, 2020 07:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Meeting ID: 894 8795 5820
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Meeting ID: 894 8795 5820
Find your local number: https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kgQdEmNCJ
We have made the decision not to invite a speaker for this meeting, so it will be a business meeting with several items on the agenda. We will receive the Treasurer's Report, approve the Minutes of the 2019 Annual meeting, and approve an addition to our bylaws that allows for virtual meetings. The SHA Board approved this language to our bylaws in June and the membership will be asked to ratify that action at the Annual Meeting. This language will be inserted in Article V, Section 2:
In the event that the local, state, or federal government has declared a state of emergency that bans or limits in-person group meetings, the Seminary Hill Association may hold virtual meetings on a media platform that allows public participation during open session meetings. In the absence of a declared state of emergency, the President of the Seminary Hill Association may request that a virtual meeting be held if circumstances warrant. A majority vote of the Board will be necessary to approve such a virtual meeting if there is not a government-imposed ban in place. Minutes will be taken during all virtual meetings. Any votes taken require that a quorum of the Board be present electronically. The results of all votes will be recorded in the minutes.
In addition, a member of the Seminary Hill board may request that the President grant permission for virtual/telephonic participation at an in-person board meeting if they are unable to physically attend due to circumstances determined to be justified by the President.
The Election Committee will present the following slate of officers and area representatives for approval by the membership.
President: Carter Flemming, Vice President: Tom Fulton, Secretary: Kathy McAfee, Treasurer: Nancy Jennings, Area 1: Frances Terrell, Area 2: Bill Goff, Area 3: Bill Rossello, Area 4: Richard Hunt, Area 5: Jack Sullivan, Area 6: Babette Smith, Area 7: Jim Rowley, Area 8: Frank Putzu, Area 9: Paul Judge. The At-Large positions will be voted upon by the board at our December meeting. There will be brief remarks summarizing the activities of SHA during the past year. As always, we encourage residents to participate in the Annual Meeting.
SHA continues to follow up and be active in efforts to modify the city's plans for the Taylor Run and Strawberry Run Stream Restoration Projects. Both projects will use the same "natural channel design" and will involve the removal of hundreds of mature trees, to be replaced by planting several thousand tiny tree "saplings" and native plants. Many concerned residents and environmentalists are urging the city to use a less drastic approach to achieve its goals for pollution reduction in the Chesapeake Bay.
Finally, there will be a Virtual Open House put on by ACPS for The High School Project (the rebuilding of Minnie Howard) on Thursday, November 19th from 6-8 p.m. I would urge you to go to the ACPS website and sign up to participate in this meeting. One of the issues on the agenda is the colocation of other facilities on the school site.
Thank you for your interest in Seminary Hill Association. I hope to see you at our virtual Annual Meeting on November 12th.
Carter Flemming, President, Seminary Hill Association