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:
- The capacity of the current facility is 554 students. Student enrollment is currently around 660 students, although enrollment has been as high as 720 students in recent years.
- The new school is being designed to accommodate 840 students (38 classrooms), which includes a newly added Pre-K of 72 students (4 classrooms).
- The new school is being also designed to accommodate special education for 30 students (3 classrooms).
- K-8 or PreK-8 will NOT be considered for the new school due to land and budget constraints.
- With the recent acquisition of a neighboring property, the total area for site is not approximately 5 acres, which is one of the smallest of all ACPS properties.
- All five concepts currently incorporate below-grade (underground) parking, although it hasn’t been determined if this is feasible.
- Four of the concepts are three stories while the fifth is two stories.
- The design team will refine the process to 2-3 design concepts based on feedback from the community in early January.
- School Board will select a final concept in late January
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