As we reach the end of summer, I want to provide an update on a few things for your information. Your board has been working throughout the summer as issues have continued to be brought forward, and you will see some discussed below. In addition to the items highlighted in this email, SHA continues to engage city staff on the proposed AHDC housing project next to the Fire Station on Seminary Road. We do not have updated information to share at this time, but we continue to monitor and actively participate in discussions about this project. There is a community meeting on this project that will be held on Thursday, September 23rd. AHDC will provide details about this meeting shortly.
I know many of us have been wondering about the status of the project at Karig Estates, especially as the grounds have become increasingly overgrown and appear abandoned. I received a call from Gant Redmon, the attorney for the project, letting us know that there will be a public community meeting on Monday, September 13th at 7:30 p.m. at Temple Beth El on Seminary Road. This will be a pre-construction meeting that will inform us about the developer’s plans to begin mobilization and ground work starting on September 15th. The developer will have the final site plan at the meeting so we can see exactly what will be built. It is his intention to do the clearing of the land and prepare the pads for the 4 homes during the fall. The lots will then be marketed and houses will be constructed as the lots are sold.
Another informational meeting regarding a city ordinance to enact a 5-cent tax on plastic bags in grocery, convenience, and drug stores will be held on Wednesday, September 8th from 7:00-8:00 p.m. In 2020, the General Assembly gave cities and counties the authority to tax plastic bags at 5-cents per bag. The proceeds from the tax will go to environmental clean-up. Some plastic will still be allowed, e.g. clear plastic used at dry cleaners, produce bags, etc. If approved by Council, the tax would go into effect on January 1, 2022. You can register for the webinar at this link, https://www.alexandriava.gov/tes/solidwaste/info/default.aspx?id=123190.
Thanks to the leadership of our Vice President, Tom Fulton, and other board and community members, Seminary Hill Association recently sent a letter to City Council requesting that a new Ad Hoc Committee be established to assist and monitor the recognition and memorialization of the graves of the African Americans buried at Ft. Ward Park. A recent city-led tour of the gravesite area caused concern that the city has not given the appropriate attention and resources to this project that had been promised as a result of the original Ad Hoc Committee’s recommendations in 2011. Seminary Civic Association, representing the Woods Avenue community, joined with SHA in making this request to the city. Mayor Wilson has indicated that Councilman Chapman will be bringing this forward to Council in the fall, but we have not heard from Councilman Chapman about his proposal. I will provide more information on this as it becomes available.
I think many of us were caught off-guard when we learned of a pilot program enacted by the Department of Planning and Zoning regarding street renaming without any public input that we can discern. After learning of this, I researched how this happened. The city’s Naming Committee, which consists of 2 City Council members – Del Pepper and John Chapman, as well as a representative of the City Manager – Jack Browand of the Parks and Recreation Department, held a meeting with city staff in April of 2021 to discuss “simplifying the process for renaming of streets named for Confederate leaders.” According to a memo dated July 30, 2021 from Tony LaColla, Land Use Services Division Chief of Planning and Zoning, city staff followed recommendations from the 3 representatives of the Naming Committee and recommended a pilot program be created to rename 3 streets. Petitions for street renaming under this new pilot program were changed from the current requirement that 75% of property owners agree to the change, to only requiring agreement from 25% of property owners. On August 10th, the 3 members of the Naming Committee approved this pilot program and it is in place.
While SHA is not taking a position on the pros and cons of such name revisions, I think it is very important to understand that this pilot was created without any citizen involvement, as no members of the public serve on the Naming Committee. I can find no record of these suggested changes in procedure being discussed in a public forum, other than the Naming Committee meeting, which was not highlighted to civic associations, who represent residents throughout the city that can be affected by such changes. City Planning staff did not mention this matter at the monthly meeting of the Federation of Civic Associations. This is a very troubling example of the recent trend in the city to diminish the role and validity of resident and civic association input into decisions that staff makes.
By way of background, you may remember that in 2015 there was an Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Confederate Memorials and Street Names. In their report in 2016, they made several recommendations, including the re-naming of Jefferson Davis Highway. In their recommendation regarding other street names, they wrote that, “Rather than a wholesale renaming of streets in the City named after Confederate figures, individual requests for new names should be considered by City Council if brought under existing processes.” That existing process required that 75% of property owners on a street request a name change, and is still in effect today. This August, however, the 3-member Naming Committee chose to disregard the recommendations of the citizen Ad Hoc Advisory Group and reduced the requirement to allow a petition for name change be signed by only 25% of property owners with addresses along the roadway.
As you may have seen in press reports, efforts are already underway to change the name of Lee Street under this new pilot project. Those applicants requesting a change must hold and document at least one citizen led community meeting to inform impacted property owners and other residents of the proposed name change. Once the application package is complete, the applicants will present their petition, as well as the background and history of their proposed new street name, to the Planning and Zoning Department. Once approved by Planning and Zoning, it will be recommended to the Planning Commission, which will then make a recommendation to City Council for approval or denial.
Upon completion of the renaming of 3 streets under the pilot program, the Naming Committee will reevaluate the procedures or discontinue the program. In the list attached to the notice about the pilot program, there are 68 city streets throughout all areas of the city that could be considered for renaming. We all may have differing views on the wisdom of street renaming, but for SHA, the issue is the way this pilot was conceived and approved by 3 people with assistance from city staff without public scrutiny or input. Upon completion of the pilot, it will be evaluated and become city policy in the same way by the same tiny group of elected officials and city staff. Given that the policy has the potential to affect thousands of residents in every corner of the city, as residents on streets with name changes will have to change all important documents in their lives, including driver’s licenses, banking and direct deposit documents, passports, bills, etc., this would seem to be a case where residents should have a voice in determining such a drastic policy change.
I attended a meeting on August 31st sponsored by an organization called BisNow. The program was entitled “The Future of Alexandria.” Developers, bankers, and land use attorneys participated in discussions regarding development in Alexandria. The first panel was a case study on the Landmark development. Panelists were Stephen Jones, the CEO of Inova Hospital, and Cameron Pratt, of the Foulger Pratt company that is the major developer of Landmark. The next panel was “The Future of Alexandria: Analyzing the Neighborhood’s Residential Boom and Beyond.” This panel included Stephanie Landrum, CEO of the Alexandria Economic and Development Partnership, Bailey Edelson, Senior Vice President for Development of the JBG Smith Company, James Simmons, the CEO of Ashland Capital Partners (the firm building the Heritage project in Old Town), and Mark Rivers, Managing Director of Lowe Enterprises, a real estate investment and development firm. The panel was moderated by an attorney from the land use law firm of Walsh, Colucci, Lubeley and Walsh. Following that panel, Mayor Justin Wilson was interviewed by a representative of Stonebridge, a real estate development and investment firm.
Promotional materials for the event stated that, “As more residents leave dense urban centers, Alexandria’s residential scene has been booming. From major repositioning to the growing need for affordable housing, learn how you can make the best investment in one of NoVa’s hottest neighborhoods.” The conclusion from all the panelists was that city incentives, such as the $130 million in bonds the city issued for the Landmark deal, or the increased density for the Heritage development, or the incentives, including some exclusion from city taxes for VA Tech in Potomac Yard, are essential to making such deals happen. Mayor Wilson stated that a key to future development is that our zoning code must be flexible to adapt to the changes needed for projects to be approved and succeed.
Finally, SHA will resume our monthly board meetings on Thursday, September 9th at 7:00 p.m. The meeting will be virtual. The information to sign onto the meeting is below. We will have a speaker from the Department of Community and Human Services to talk about the Guaranteed Income Program that will use American Rescue Funds to pay 150 low-income Alexandria residents $500 a month for 2 years. There are no restrictions on the use of this money, and researchers will track how the money impacts the lives of those receiving it. The cost of the program is $3 million. $1.8 million will go to the recipients, and the remaining $1.2 million will go to staff, equipment, data collection and research, and incentives to participants and a control group. Based upon the results, the City could then decide to fund such a program from our city budget after the federal funds run out. In addition, City Council candidate Darryl Nirenberg will speak to us.
Topic: Seminary Hill Zoom Meeting
Time: Sep 9, 2021 07:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
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Meeting ID: 810 2616 0965
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I wish all of you a Happy Labor Day. Please do not hesitate to contact me, or any SHA board member, if you have any questions or suggestions for topics you would like discussed at future SHA meetings. The board welcomes your input on all matters. I encourage you to continue checking our website, www.seminaryhillassn.org, where next week you will see the agenda for our meeting and can make a donation to the Association to cover the costs of our meetings and communications. SHA represents all the residents within our boundaries and contributions are voluntary, but always appreciated. Information on how to give is found on the website. And please encourage others to sign up on the website to receive our monthly emails.
Thank you very much for your interest and attention.
Carter Flemming, President, Seminary Hill Association