The Council Connection
your connection to City Council by Mayor Justin M. Wilson
Initiatives and Updates
Flooding In Alexandria
For over 3 decades, Alexandria has designed and planned for our storm sewer system to withstand a "10-year" storm event. A storm that is expected to have a 10% chance of happening every year, is the designed capacity of our system.

For Alexandria, a 10-year storm event constitutes one that will drop 2.28 inches of rain over a 60-minute period or 4.81 inches over a 24-hour period. This is a capacity that is at, and in many cases above, that of neighboring jurisdictions.

A year ago, I wrote in this space about the storm of July 8th, 2019 and the resulting flooding that caused millions of dollars of damage to both private and public property around our City. That storm, which dropped a month's worth of rain in one hour , was characterized as nearly a "100-year storm." In Alexandria, a 100-year storm is one that drops 3.86 inches of rain in an hour and 8.13 over a 24-hour period.There is a 1% chance that this would happen in any given year.

A year later, I am again writing about the significant impacts to our community from a severe rain event. This time the event was on the evening of July 23rd and dropped 2.5 inches of rain within a 30 minute period, including a rate of rainfall at over 7 inches an hour at various points during the storm. This storm fell somewhere between a 50-year storm and a 100-year storm.

The storm's intensity was 30 times what our stormwater sewer system is designed to address.

If we needed any other evidence of the devastating impacts we can see from a changing climate, it is the repetition in the occurrence of these storm events in such quick succession.

A climate-resilient City requires investments and potentially new policies to ensure that residents of our City do not suffer devastating damage with such frequency.

For new development, whether large-scale, mixed-use development or a small residential addition, Alexandria's stringent stormwater requirements stipulate that conditions after development to be the same and oftentimes better than they were. As a consequence, the flooding we have experienced in the City is typically in established neighborhoods, areas of our City where we have not seen new development (aside from infill) in decades.

Today, Alexandria spends a significant amount of money on infrastructure designed to manage water. In April, the City Council approved a $2.1 billion, ten-year Capital Improvement Program. Of that, over $150 million is to address stormwater and sanitary sewer infrastructure. Alexandria Renew Enterprises, the City's sewer authority, plans another $593 million of capital investments over the next decade, primarily the RiverRenew project to remediate the Combined Sewer (sanitary and stormwater) system that serves Old Town.

Together, nearly $750 million is planned for water investments. This spending dwarfs planned investments in schools, transportation and other major priorities.

These investments are financed by a variety of different mechanisms. In January's newsletter, I provided an update on the status of the RiverRenew Combined Sewer remediation project. That effort is being financed primarily by fees paid by ratepayers on your Alexandria Renew Enterprises monthly bill.

The investments required in our Sanitary Sewer system are funded by maintenance fees paid by existing customers (also on the Alexandria Renew Enterprises bills) and by connection fees paid by developers.

The fee applies to all property owners (regardless of their taxable status). For commercial properties, it is assessed based on the impervious surfaces on the property. For residential properties, there are four tiers (apartment, townhome, small single-family home and large single-family home). There is a credit system in place to encourage actions that assist the City's storm sewers. Essentially the fee is structured to be a user fee for the City's stormwater handling.

With the new Stormwater Utility Fee, the cost burden has shifted. Residential fee-payers pay 37% of the stormwater costs and non-residential fee-payers pay 63% of these costs.

  • $51 million for water quality infrastructure initiatives required under our MS4 Permit
  • $19.3 million for stomwater capacity improvements
  • $5 million for stream and channel maintenance

Some of the specific problem areas that now have identified stormwater projects are:

  • Carlisle Drive Alley
  • Founders Park
  • Key Drive (Unnamed Tributary channel wall)
  • Lloyd’s Lane
  • Loyola Street
  • Oakland Terrace (Timber Branch channel wall)
  • Saylor Place
  • W. Alexandria Alley

Additionally, the City has significant obligations to protect waterways from polluted storm water. The City's Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Program (MS4) spells out specific pollutant reductions that the City must meet over a 15 year time period, in accordance with our stormwater permits. 

There are  a variety of ways the City can meet these obligations . Redevelopment can help, in that it can convert impervious surfaces into areas that can handle stormwater. For example,  a residential project in the Eisenhower Valley  that was approved by Council in 2013 has created a pond. That pond alone will account for a substantial portion of our pollutant reduction obligations for a few years. Such projects can also become a desirable amenity (this one was recognized with a Beautification Award). 

The City recently completed two major stormwater projects, the Lake Cook Stormwater Management Retrofit Project and the Ben Brenman Pond Stormwater Management Retrofit Project. Both projects received funding from the Commonwealth's Stormwater Local Assistance Fund. Completion of these projects have placed the City ahead of schedule in meeting our regulatory goals.

These resources, while addressing capacity constraints and meeting regulatory requirements, are not sufficient to provide for significant capacity increases around the city. It was my intention to use the Fiscal Year 2021 budget process this past Spring as a venue to have a larger community conversation about the need for greater investment in our stormwater infrastructure. Unfortunately, the fiscal impact of COVID-19 and the need to delay planned revenue increases as a result, made that conversation impossible this year.

Putting in place the infrastructure that can support a changing climate will be a significant undertaking for our community. It will involve a large commitment of new resources and possibly property impacts.

Yet it is my belief that this work requires greater urgency for our City to protect the property owners impacted in our City.

Last month, as we were on track to fully expend the $13.9 million that the City received, I wrote to urge the quick release of the second tranche of funding. I am pleased that earlier this week, the Governor announced the allocation of that money to address the significant need that remains.

From the beginning of this crisis, it has been clear that the two levels of government, local and state, who are required to balance our budgets annually, could not address the immense financial need that has been created. Only the Federal Government could provide a sufficient amount of money to address some of these challenges. 

In late March,  the President signed the CARES Act  which provides $2 trillion to assist residents, businesses and government. With this legislation and the prospect of further legislation ahead, my focus has been to ensure that we leave no dollar on the table. 

Our City government has worked to assist residents and businesses to access the various funds that have been made available for their benefit. The legislation also created a $150 billion fund to assist state and local governments. Virginia received $3.3 billion of these funds. Jurisdictions with a population of 500,000 or more go directly to the Federal government and the remainder is distributed by the applicable state government. The remaining portion of these funds is where the City's allocation is drawn from.

The United States Department of Treasury  provided guidance detailing how the funds can be used.  While the City and other jurisdictions urged maximum flexibility from the Federal Government, the money the City received is limited to:

1) Expenditures incurred as a result of the pandemic response. 

2) Expenditures cannot already be in the City's budget (must be new spending) 

3) The money must be utilized by the end of 2020

In May, I wrote to the Secretary of Finance advocating that the allocation of these funds be on a per capita basis. Ultimately, that is how the administration chose to the distribute the first and second tranches.

In addition to expenses of City government to respond to the crisis, the City has fully obligated our initial allocation of the funds in these priority areas: 

  • Public health staffing and capabilities
  • Food assistance
  • Residential rent assistance
  • Small business assistance

While we have expended significant amounts of money to address this crisis, the largest financial impact on the City has been the loss of revenue. The CARES Act funds are not allowed to replace the revenue that the City lost, but it will help us support the residents and businesses who are suffering during this time. 

I am still optimistic that Federal policymakers will arrive on an approach that addresses the significant lost revenue that the City and other jurisdictions around our nation have experienced. 

In May, the House of Representatives enacted "The Heroes Act." This legislation included a substantial local government assistance component. For Alexandria, this legislation would provide $81.9 million to replace revenue that has been lost due to COVID-19 public health restrictions. While not fully replacing the $92 million that the City currently estimates we will have lost between the last fiscal year and the new fiscal year, this allocation would go a long way to easing the burden on our local taxpayers and services.

At this point, this legislation is very much out of sync with the current legislation circulating from the Majority in the Senate.

I'm hopeful that legislation with the support of both houses and the President will soon be enacted to support local governments during this time.
Get Your Ballot For November

For the first time in Virginia history, this November's election will be conducted with "no-excuse" absentee voting available.

While past elections required voters to identify a reason that they could not vote in-person on Election Day, thanks to legislation patroned by Delegate Charniele Herring, enacted during this year's General Assembly, that is no longer required.

The upcoming election will select our next President, United States Senator, Member of the United States House of Representatives and make a decision on a proposed amendment to the Virginia Constitution. This election will occur in the face of an unprecedented pandemic.

Our General Registrar's Office and Electoral Board are working to plan for our November elections.

To ensure that voters remain safe, voting by mail is strongly encouraged for this election.

In addition to mail ballots, Alexandria's General Registrar will make available early-voting from two locations beginning in September.

Voters who submit a request for a ballot by mail will receive that ballot in September.

Thanks for making sure your voice is heard in this very important election.
The Heritage at Old Town Redevelopment
Early next year, the City Council will be considering the first development under the approved South Patrick Street Housing Affordability Strategy .

Last month, our Board of Architectural Review conducted an initial concept review for the portion of the proposal that is in the Old & Historic District.

The basic premise of the adopted plan is to use additional density on the site, in partnership with private landowners, to prevent the loss and provide for the replacement of the existing affordable housing.

Across the plan area, along Route 1, there are 319 affordable housing units that are for various reasons at risk. For 215 of the units, they are under  Project Based Voucher agreements  that are on the verge of expiring or have expired. For the remaining 104 units, they are market-rate affordable units that currently accept  Housing Choice Vouchers and could be redeveloped at any time. For this phase of redevelopment 244 of those units will be redeveloped.

Inaction likely means the loss of these affordable units over time. In an attempt to devise proactive measures to maintain the affordability of the housing, the City applied for and received grant funding from the Virginia Housing Development Authority (VHDA) to launch the planning process that ultimately led to the adoption of our strategy.

While creating new affordable housing is especially challenging for our City, the preservation of affordable housing units that are ending their designated affordability periods, presents similar constraints.  

In approving the strategy for preservation of the affordable housing in this area, the City created a new zoning tool, entitled the "Residential Multi-Family" zone. This new zone allows for an increase of density up to a 3.0 FAR (Floor Area Ratio) , if a third of the new density is designated as committed affordable housing.

As privately-owned, affordable housing becomes threatened in the future, the City's approach to this particular project will provide a road-map for what works and what will not work in the future.
School Reopening
Yesterday, Alexandria City Public School Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings announced his intent to bring "Virtual Plus+," a proposal for reopening the schools in September virtually, to the School Board next week for consideration.

The decision in March and the recommendation for the fall, while sad and unfortunate for our students, are a necessity brought about by the public health crisis that has been facing our community since that time.

The Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) immediately made the transition in March to virtual learning. Students, educators, support staff and parents have spent the past few months making the best out of a bad situation. I stand in awe of the educators in our school system who have worked tirelessly to continue educational progress under difficult conditions.

While the decision to close schools was a difficult one, it was rather binary. Once it was clear school buildings could not remain safely open, they were closed.

The decisions surrounding the reopening of schools in the fall are much more difficult, nuanced and complex. The first building block of that decision-making process is the guidelines, entitled "Recover. Redesign. Restart," issued two months ago by the Virginia Department of Education . This 136 page document details how local school divisions in the Commonwealth should undertake a fall reopening.

There is no question that policymakers influencing school decisions want to see our students back in school. As a parent of two ACPS students myself, I share that desire. The health benefits of students being in school together are considerable . Yet, I also recognize that the public health challenge we are facing is quite real, exacerbates existing inequality, and requires engagement with all stakeholders prior to committing to a particular reopening approach.

With the Superintendent's proposal, the work of supporting our families is not solely the work of ACPS. The City government, our non-profit partners and our community will need to collaborate to provide the critical services our students and their families require during this time. While the conditions are clearly sub-optimal, we owe it to our students to support every student during this extraordinary time in their lives.

New Space To Serve The Public
Many times in this newsletter, I have written about the City's ongoing efforts to address the miserable condition of many of our municipal facilities. A component of those efforts has been working to identify areas of potential consolidation among our City facilities. 

The Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS) is one of the City's largest departments with over 600 full time equivalent employees, and a budget of over $100 million. The department provides the critical safety net services that so many of our residents rely on at various points in their lives. 

DCHS, together with the City's Health Department occupy 210,000 square feet of space in 8 different facilities around the City. Most of the space is inadequate, aged, and not proximate to the residents its serves. Over half of DCHS clients are on the West End, yet two of our largest offices are in the East End of the City. 

As a result the City explored options to consolidate. Those efforts concluded at the end of 2018 with the City choosing to consolidate DCHS and the Alexandria Heath Department at 4850 Mark Center Drive . This building is currently occupied by the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA).  IDA is preparing to move to a new location in Potomac Yard . Given the timetable of the intended move, the location will not become available until 2022. 

This new location will enable full consolidation of these two departments and improve service delivery for the residents served by these important services. 

While the City and IDA negotiated a 15 year lease, it included several points where the City could exercise the ability to purchase the building, which could save the City millions more in avoided lease payments.

The purchase option will cost the City $58.7 million. The negotiated lease is for 15 years (with an annual escalation), with the first year rent totaling a little over $7 million. The purchase option will save the taxpayers of the City over $18 million over the next 15 years.

The Planning Commission determined in June that such a purchase would be consistent with the City's Master Plan.

Ultimately the consolidation will avoid greater costs, improve the effectiveness of services delivered and make those services more accessible to our residents. 
Accessory Dwelling Units
At the beginning of the year,  I wrote an op/ed in the Alexandria Gazette opposing proposed state legislation  that would impose zoning policy changes on communities around the Commonwealth as a method to address affordability challenges. While the legislation was well-meaning I was fearful it would exacerbate other challenges faced by our community and remove local authority over land-use policy. 

While the legislation failed, earlier this year, the City kicked-off its  study of Accessory Dwelling Units  and we want your input! 

Last month, our staff posted a new presentation on the policies under consideration. As our staff prepares to bring a draft policy to the community, Planning Commission and City Council this fall, we would like your input!

An accessory dwelling unit, affectionately known as a "granny flat" for its inter-generational living attributes, is an independent living unit attached or separate from an existing primary residence.

Accessory dwelling units were originally identified in the  City's Housing Master Plan in 2013  as a strategy to allow inter-generational living, provide supportive housing for disabled adults and support market-based housing creation. At our most recent Housing Summit, an Alexandria architect gave an interesting presentation on his effort to bring an ADU to his property nearby.  You can watch the video online.

In September of last year, the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) unanimously adopted new regional housing creation targets . This is the first regional commitment to accelerate the development of housing supply as a means to address our affordability crisis. 

These targets commit the City to the creation of additional units, with most of those units committed to be affordable for low to middle income households. To ensure that this housing creation does not exacerbate existing transportation challenges, most of this new housing must be located near job centers and high-capacity transportation infrastructure. 

Nearly two years ago, the Board of Directors of COG  accepted a report that identified that 100,000 additional housing units will need to be constructed within the region just to meet expected job growth . That is 100,000 units BEYOND what is already planned to be developed. 

The COG analysis focuses on the housing production required to meet the economic competitiveness and transportation efficiency goals for the region. Even with increased housing production at the levels recommended, it's unlikely to be sufficient supply to address affordability challenges. 

When the City attempts to address housing affordability, it is going up against powerful economic forces. Employing market-based solutions to these affordability challenges is where the City can be most effective.
Keeping Alexandrians Housed
When the crisis started at the beginning of March, there were just a bit over 2,000 Alexandria residents who were unemployed.  During the ensuing 18 weeks, over 17,000 Alexandrians have filed as unemployed.  

With this precipitous increase in unemployment throughout our City, our residents have been faced with challenges in paying their rent. While evictions had been deferred due to the closure of Virginia's courts, our residents who are out of work are incurring overdue rent, late fees and other expenses that will burden them even once they are able to go back to work. Starting last month, the General District Court in Alexandria is beginning to again hear these eviction cases. 

Too many of our residents are facing the choice between complying with public health restrictions, and paying their rent.

While the City  has a variety of housing relief programs that have been in place , many for decades, these efforts are insufficiently scaled or structured for this crisis. 

To address the challenge we are facing in this time, the  City launched a new Emergency Rent Relief program

For eligible residents, who have had their employment impacted by this crisis and meet eligibility requirements, the City is provided up to $600/month, for up to 3 months to assist. 

This will not solve all of the economic challenges that are impacting our residents, but we are hoping it will help keep residents afloat during this time. 
Getting Alexandria Back To Business
Last week the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership (AEDP) began awarding grants totaling $3.49 million to 303 Alexandria businesses as part of  the Alexandria Back to Business Grant Program .

This program, utilizing a portion of the City's Federal CARES Act funding, is providing grants to Alexandria businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19.

The recipients of these grant dollars are from every corner of our City. Over two-thirds of the businesses receiving grants have 2 - 24 employees. Over a third of the businesses receiving grants are minority-owned firms, with 9% of the businesses SWaM-certified .

The grants, of up to $20,000, are designed to support the investments that our businesses must make to adjust. Designed to fund the purchase of PPE, health and safety equipment, cleaning services, etc. Anything that helps ease a business' transition to this new environment will be considered for this program. 

It is still too early to take stock of the full economic impact of COVID-19 and the resulting public health restrictions, but it is safe to say that the Alexandria economy has suffered a devastating blow. 

Alexandria small businesses, particularly those in the service economy, employ many of our residents who live dangerously close to poverty. Supporting these businesses helps us support our residents. In many cases, these residents are those who did not qualify for some of the Federal assistance that has been available recently.  

Early in this crisis, the City  approved millions of dollars of tax deferrals  to provide Alexandria small businesses with the liquidity to assist them in surviving and later reopening. 

We have worked with businesses to access Federal grants and lending. We have made a variety of regulatory changes to support the transition of our businesses to a "new normal." 

Last month, Governor Ralph Northam launched the Rebuild Virginia Grant Fund. This fund is designed to provided state grants for those eligible businesses around the Commonwealth.

In addition to these financial and regulatory efforts, the City recently launched ALX Promise.  This new program will recognize those businesses that have gone beyond the minimum standards to keep their customers and employees safe. Watch for the logo around our City! 

Ultimately, Alexandria needs our small businesses to survive. While we cannot solve the economic dislocation caused by this crisis, we are working to help our businesses change and thrive. 
Taxi Regulation
One of the few industries that Virginia's local governments have nearly sole regulatory authority over is the taxi cab industry. When I first came into elected office in the City, the battles between the taxi industry and the drivers that served the community were legendary. Today, we hardly even discuss the industry.

Last year, the City issued 657 driver permits.

The advent of Uber and Lyft, known as "Transportation Network Companies" in the Commonwealth of Virginia, has removed the most lucrative travel from the taxi industry and left the industry smaller and less relevant.

The consumer protection rationale behind a heavily-regulated taxi industry becomes less essential as the industry evolves.

To determine the best approach for City policy in the future, the City's Office of Performance and Accountability (OPA) reviewed the City's regulation of the taxi industry and made policy proposals for the City's future approach.

The OPA report makes recommendations for a substantial deregulation of the taxi industry in order to match the state's regulation of transportation network companies.

These recommendations will be considered by the City Council in our upcoming budget process as we determine the best way to evolve City regulation of this rapidly changing industry.
New Transit To Serve Our City
Last month, the Board of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) voted to allocate $75 million to the City's Alexandria Duke Street Transitway .

I represent the City on the NVTA Board and I Chair the Planning and Programming Committee which recommended approval of the City' requested project.

Transit Corridor B, as it was previously known, will be the final corridor implemented. With planning money awarded last year, the City will conduct community engagement later this year to update the decade-old plans for this transit service

A little over a decade ago, the City adopted its latest  Transportation Master Plan . At the time, the plan was a significant transition in that it shifted to a plan that prioritized transit. 

One of the most significant changes that came from the 2008 Master Plan was the designation of three transit corridors for high-capacity transit. The three corridors were Transit Corridor A, which was nominally north to south on Route 1 on the east end of the City, Transit Corridor B, which was intended as east to west on Duke Street and Transit Corridor C, which was north to south on the west end of the City using Van Dorn and Beauregard. 

Transit Corridor C, now called the "West End Transitway" will be the next to come to reality. The West End Transitway has now been awarded  $73 million of State and Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) funds .

High capacity transit provides our residents with alternatives to congestion and delay. I am optimistic that we will be able to bring these projects to reality.