Welcome to fall! I hope everyone had a safe summer during this very strange time. Seminary Hill Association has been busy with numerous issues throughout the summer. Our September board meeting will be virtual on Zoom. Below is the information for this meeting if you wish to join.
Topic: Seminary Hill Association Board Zoom Meeting
Time: Sep 10, 2020 07:30 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Meeting ID: 840 0112 8685
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Meeting ID: 840 0112 8685
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I am also pasting the agenda for this meeting below. You can also find the agenda on the Agenda and Minutes tab on this website.
Seminary Hill Association, Inc.
Monthly Board of Directors Meeting
Thursday, September 10, 2020, 7:30 p.m.
Virtual Meeting held electronically
Program: Seminary Hill Association Priorities and Goals 2020 and Beyond. Presented by Tom Fulton, Vice President, SHA
Minutes from July 2020
MacArthur School Rebuild Project – Density Text Amendment
Joint Civic Association Letter regarding applicants to city boards
Trinity Drive Speed Bumps
Seminary Road Affordable Housing Proposal
Upper King Street Multimodal Improvement Project Grant
Duke Street Transitway Funding
Taylor Run Stream Restoration letter – Tour of location
FOIA Go Fund Me
Clover College Park Meeting August 13
2020 Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan Progress Report
TC Williams Re-Naming Effort/Stadium Improvements
3120 Colvin Street Development
September 12th City Council Public Hearing 9:30 a.m
September 19th West End Coalition Virtual Meeting 10:00-11:30
September 30th Alexandria Federation of Civic Associations Virtual Meeting 7:00 p.m.
As you will note in the Upcoming Meetings above, there is a tour of the Taylor Run stream project area being offered on Saturday, September 12th. Below is a description of the event. The earlier slots are basically full, so try and request a later tour if possible.
ALEXANDRIA IS PLANNING TO RECONSTRUCT TAYLOR RUN: COME OUT TO CHINQUAPIN PARK ON SATURDAY SEPT. 12 TO SEE WHAT COULD BE LOST
Alexandria is proposing to redesign the 1900 feet of Taylor Run between the entrance of Chinquapin Park next to the Chinquapin Aquatic Center to the southern end of First Baptist Church.
The park contains a globally rare seepage swamp, old-age canopy trees and forest stands, and perhaps the greatest concentration of Alexandria rare species in the City. The project as currently designed includes the removal of more than 250 native trees (many large and old age) and is likely to markedly adversely affect the wetlands and flora.
We suggest parking in the lot next to the tennis courts and walking down to the park entrance on the King Street side of the Aquatic Center. The path in the forest is very flat. On the way out you will need to walk up several steps, but they are broad and gradual. The exit will put you up on Chinquapin Circle near the parking lot. Boots or sturdy shoes, long pants, and long-sleeved shirts recommended. Masks are required.
Thank you for your interest in Seminary Hill Association. Please don't hesitate to contact Seminary Hill Association if you have any questions or concerns.
Despite the fact that these are supposed to be the dog days of August, various issues are coming forward in the City, and there are a few updates I want to pass along.
There will be a virtual ACPS Community meeting regarding the DSUP for the construction of the new MacArthur School. This meeting will be held on Thursday, August 27th from 6-7 p.m. The Zoom information for this meeting is: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81786497994?pwd=aFJCc2h6bk1CWnRNcEpIem9jTmxSUT09
The reason for the virtual Community meeting regarding MacArthur is that the DSUP for this project is scheduled to be heard by the Planning Commission on September 1st. I think it is accurate to say that representatives to the Advisory Committee have not been fully satisfied with the process ACPS and its architects have used as far as transparency for this effort. Committee members did not see the final plans for the school until they were released to the public as part of the Planning Commission docket, and had struggled to obtain information on plans to modify the building footprint, the massing, and the exterior design elements, but were not informed about the final details and design until it was released to the public by means of the Planning Commission docket. Members have voiced concerns about the lack of appropriate and robust engagement of both the public and the Advisory Committee, and I assume we will hear that voiced in testimony before the Planning Commission. If you would like to see the DSUP, here is the link: http://alexandria.legistar.com/gateway.aspx?M=F&ID=a6539c67-5fc3-4b8e-9588-3c260932cc8f.pdf.
At the same Planning Commission meeting on September 1st, the Commission will consider a zoning text amendment being put forward by city staff that will increase the by-right Floor Area Ratio (FAR) of city schools to .60, instead of the FAR requirements governing the residential zone in which schools are located, which are substantially lower than .60. For example, MacArthur is in the R-20 zone, which has a maximum FAR of .25. The R-12 zone has a maximum FAR of .30, and the R-8 zone has a maximum of .35. This amendment would thus allow a school in the R-20 zone, such as MacArthur, to exceed the FAR otherwise required in the R-20 zone by more than 100%, without any review under the SUP process. In the R-12 zone, the increase would be 100%, and in the R-8 zone, the allowed increase would be 70%, both without any SUP requirement. As a point of reference, the FAR for the new Patrick Henry School is .26. FAR ratios higher than .60 (as will be the case at MacArthur) would still require an SUP process, but residents should be concerned that there is no maximum FAR limit that could be requested with an SUP. Experience has taught us that the vast majority of SUPs are approved by the City, so the lack of a maximum FAR in this text amendment does not seem reasonable and will likely be opposed by a number of civic associations. Height limits will remain capped at 60 feet.
The city's justification for such a zoning amendment is to allow ACPS to build larger schools for our increased population without having to go through the more thorough process of applying for a spot rezoning of their properties. One effect of this proposed change is to lessen the requirement for public input into the design and building of such substantially larger school buildings. We need to recognize that this amendment represents major deviations from the density and scale currently allowed in the city's residential neighborhoods, and residents will lose the protections afforded by the SUP process on a case-by-case basis. Other civic associations, such as North Ridge, are taking the lead to oppose this change, and the board of SHA will study this issue and make a decision about our position. The board welcomes the input from all our residents about this proposed zoning text amendment, so please let us know if you have any comments about this proposal.
You may have been aware of an effort to request that the School Board reconsider the site plan for the Parker-Gray Stadium renovation in order to save an oak tree that has been estimated to be over 100 years old. The tree is the last tree remaining on the site from when an African-American community owned the property before the City took the land to build the new TC Williams High School. A petition containing more than 2,500 signatures of Alexandria residents was presented, but in a virtual meeting on August 17th, ACPS officials stated that their plans for the concession stand, bathroom, and equipment storage facility require the removal of this tree, and so it will not be saved. Residents asked if the building could be broken apart and spread out in order to save the tree, but school officials stated that was not possible due to the very tight site upon which TC Williams is built. Construction is anticipated to begin at the end of this month and continue for the next several months. Due to pending litigation, the poles for the stadium lights will not be constructed at this time.
Our next SHA board meeting will be a virtual meeting on Thursday, September 10th at 7:30 p.m. Information about the Zoom link will be posted closer to the date. It is very unfortunate that the City decided to bring this text amendment forward so quickly when they are aware that many civic associations do not meet in August. The amendment will be voted on by the Planning Commission on September 1st prior to the consideration of the DSUP for MacArthur since MacArthur needs the greatly increased FAR for the approval of their site plan. I think we can thus predict the result of the Planning Commission's vote on the text amendment since the approval of the MacArthur plan is scheduled just minutes later on their agenda.
I hope you are enjoying the last of your Covid summer "vacations" and have remained healthy. I look forward to hearing from you regarding your views on the Zoning Text Amendment to increase density for ACPS. I encourage you to participate in the virtual meetings of the Planning Commission and City Council if possible in order to learn more about the zoning text amendment and the MacArthur School site plan approval. Thank you for your interest in SHA.
Carter Flemming, President, Seminary Hill Association
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.
There are several important issues coming up in the coming weeks and months, and I want to give you a few key meeting dates in case you want to attend. Our next monthly meeting of the SHA board will be Thursday, March 12 th at 7:30 p.m. at Immanuel on the Hill Church at 3606 Seminary Road. Our guest speaker will be Rod Simmons, Natural Resources Manager for the Department of Recreation and Parks. He will speak on the natural resources in the Seminary Hill area and how best to protect them, including our tree canopy.
As you may be aware, the city is embarking upon a process to look at the predicted shortage of housing units in our region. According to the Council of Governments (COG), there will be a shortfall of 75,000 housing units across our region over the next 10 years. To help meet that shortage, COG has assigned each jurisdiction a suggested increase in housing production. For Alexandria, they have recommended that we increase yearly production of housing from our current 840 units to 1,150 units per year for the next 10 years. Of those additional 310 units per year, we are asked to commit that 75% of them be affordable to households of low to moderate incomes. It is important to remember that COG is a voluntary organization and their recommendations do not have the power of law, unless our elected officials chose to formally adopt them as city policy.
The first meeting to introduce the city staff’s plan to support the production of this increased housing will be TONIGHT at the Planning Commission meeting at 7:00 in Council chambers at City Hall. This item is number 8 on their agenda and it will be an overview of the anticipated 3-year timeline for this plan. As part of this plan, there will be consideration of increasing height limits, increasing density, and altering single family zoning. Public testimony will be permitted tonight and you can sign up to speak when you attend the meeting. You can go to the city’s website and download the full staff report on this issue. The Planning Commission meetings are televised on local cable tv if you cannot attend in person.
The first component of this plan will be the consideration of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). These are additional living facilities that are built on the site of existing homes and are often called “granny flats”. There will be two community meetings held to discuss this specific proposal. The first will be held on Thursday, March 12 th at 6:30 p.m. at the Mt. Vernon Rec Center at 2701 Commonwealth Avenue. This unfortunately conflicts with our SHA board meeting. The second meeting will be at Beatley Library on Monday, March 30 th at 6:30 p.m.
There has been a great deal of interest in the issue of co-location and shared use on school and city sites. These shared uses would include recreation, health, childcare, and affordable housing. City Manager Mark Jinks has proposed a draft guiding Resolution for City Council and School Board to consider adopting. There is a Budget Work Session tomorrow night, Wednesday, March 4 th, between the School Board and City Council from 7:00-9:00 p.m. at ACPS Headquarters at 1340 Braddock Place. This Resolution is expected to be discussed at that meeting. As you may remember, housing was brought up as part of the MacArthur rebuild, but due to the accelerated timeline for the MacArthur project, it was withdrawn. It will, however, be a consideration for all future school rebuilding projects. Since this meeting is a work session, no public speaking will be allowed. I believe this meeting will also be televised on local cable tv.
There will be a community meeting for the MacArthur rebuild project on Monday, March 16 th from 6:00-7:00 p.m. in the school library. Residents can see the proposed design for the school that was recently approved by the School Board. The next public meeting will not be until sometime in May.
Finally, as you may have seen, City Manager Mark Jinks has now put $6 million into the Capital Improvements Budget to make repairs to the Holmes Run Trail. Based upon questions and research by Seminary Hill residents, Seminary Hill Association sent a letter to City Council questioning why grant funding was not being sought for this heavily used pedestrian and bike trail in favor of the Seminary Road sidewalk project. This resulted in
questions from Council members to the City Manager, and funding was secured for the project. The repairs are extensive and will take several years to design and complete, but at least the project is now in the city’s budget. We can be proud of this outcome, especially since SHA has recently been falsely accused of being “anti-bike and pedestrians”. This effort demonstrates that SHA does advocate for biking and walking in appropriate locations, and validates the important role that civic associations can play in our city. Thank you for your interest in the Seminary Hill Association and I hope to see you at one of our monthly meetings soon. Please let us know if there are issues that you would like SHA to consider at future meetings.
President, Seminary Hill Association
Happy New Year to all and I hope everyone had a nice holiday season. Seminary Hill Association (SHA) will have its next monthly board meeting on Thursday, January 9th at 7:30 p.m. at Immanuel Church on the Hill Parish Hall at 3606 Seminary Road. We will have a brief presentation on the River Renew project that addresses our combined sewer remediation and will catch up on some ongoing issues and highlight some new issues coming before City Council in the coming months. Here are a few issues of immediate importance.
If you are interested in the MacArthur School Rebuild Project, I urge you to visit the website for the project at: www.acps.K12.va.us/domain/1379 to review the concepts that have been presented. Bill Pfister is the SHA representative on the ACPS committee and has provided us with some general information that gives us an overview of the project:
As we are all aware, the issue of the Seminary Road diet has occupied much of our time and energy over the last 18 months. SHA was opposed to the road diet and offered an Alternative with numerous safety enhancements, but this Alternative was ignored by the City, and staff’s favored Alternative 3 was adopted by City Council on a vote of 4-3. Council members Jackson, Seifeldein, and Chapman supported the Traffic and Parking Board and SHA’s and 12 other Civic Associations and the Federation of Civic Associations positions to maintain the road with 4 car travel lanes. Mayor Wilson and Council members Aguirre, Pepper, and Bennett-Parker voted to overturn the recommendation of the Traffic and Parking Board and reduce the car travel lanes to one in each direction. The Virginia Theological Seminary had voted with the SHA Board to maintain the 4 car travel lanes, but without any communication with SHA, switched their position and spoke up vigorously in support of the road diet. This has caused a great deal of tension in the relationship that SHA has always enjoyed with VTS. On January 3rd, VTS Dean and President, Ian Markham, issued the following public statement regarding the position that VTS has taken on this matter:
Statement by the Dean and President of Virginia Theological Seminary
The “Seminary Road Diet”
The Seminary’s position on the “Seminary Road Diet” has created considerable anger and disquiet amongst the Seminary Hill Community and in social media. Our intention in supporting the road improvements was a way to advance our vision of creating a safer and more walkable neighborhood, where the Seminary’s pub, coffee bar, and chapel were all available just a walk away. It is now apparent that the City’s newly installed road improvements are not supported by all the residents of Seminary Hill as a way to implementation of this vision for a safe, walkable and connected Seminary Hill Community. The Seminary has a strong desire to work with the Seminary Hill Community and the City to achieve this vision.
In furtherance of this vision, the Seminary is supportive of an accessible sidewalk on the north side of Seminary Road on Seminary property. This has been discussed for many years, but the physical constraints imposed by the existing retaining wall have proven problematic in the past. Perhaps, the discussions should start anew. A north side pedestrian path should now happen.
The Seminary and I want to continue to foster the good relationships with our neighbors and the Seminary Hill Association. Going forward, I will abstain on all votes relating to the road “Seminary Road Diet. Although students, staff, and faculty may take positions as residents of the City of Alexandria, they do so as individuals and not as representatives of the Seminary. As dean and president, I will not advocate further for any particular position; I will not address council or write any letters or emails on this issue. Instead we will trust the process within the City and step aside from any advocacy.
The Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, Ph.D.
Dean and President
SHA welcomes the opportunity to restore the open communication and friendship that we have enjoyed with VTS for many decades. We look forward to discussions regarding the sidewalk on the north side of Seminary Road that has consistently been Mayor Wilson’s justification for the road diet. If this sidewalk is constructed on VTS property, rather than in the former westbound car travel lane of Seminary Road, it would seem that the City could save a great deal of money, reallocate funds to other sidewalk projects that are much more necessary, and consider restoring the 4-lane configuration of Seminary Road, as the Mayor's rationale for spearheading the road diet would no longer be valid. SHA will continue to be an active participant in all discussions regarding Seminary Road, and other quality of life issues affecting our neighborhoods.
Finally, I want to bring to your attention the Alexandria Housing Affordability Summit that will take place this coming Saturday, January 11th at the Lee Center at 1108 Jefferson Street. The sessions will begin at 11:00 a.m. with panel discussions occurring throughout the afternoon until 4:15 p.m. The discussions will focus on the City’s Housing Master Plan and “explore bold new ideas to address the city’s affordable housing challenges.” One of those new ideas being discussed is to end single-family zoning restrictions. This is being done in other cities, such as Minneapolis, and the Housing Director of Minneapolis will be one of the panelists speaking at 11:00. Such a zoning change would obviously have a great impact on Seminary Hill neighborhoods, and other neighborhoods across the city. Attendees are asked to register at the following website: www.alexandriava.gov/housing/info/default.aspx?id=110986.
Thank you for your interest in these issues and others that will be part of SHA’s meetings and discussions in the coming year. As always, all are welcome to attend our monthly board meetings and address issues of concern to you.
President, Seminary Hill Association