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Alexandria City Council Notebook
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Alexandria City Council Notebook

Welcoming Airbnb

There was a fair amount of public skepticism going into the Airbnb negotiations. At several public hearings, local residents worried the home sharing app Airbnb would cause a series of problems throughout the city, and when the city government began to enter talks to allow Airbnb to collect taxes for the city, some at public hearings said they were worried the city had no way of ensuring the app wasn’t cheating the city out of tax revenue. But looking back on the first month of revenue tax revenue collected from the app, City Manager Mark Jinks said at the June 13 City Council meeting that the revenue came in over what was budgeted.

“April was the first month the tax was in effect,” said Jinks. “We received $36,000 for the month. We budgeted $100,000 for the entire year.”

Jinks said if April was standard for what could be expected, the app could triple the expected revenue by the end of the year.

Alexandria is the first locality in Virginia to enter an agreement with Airbnb to allow the app to collect taxes.

The Eisenhower Connection

2019 is shaping up to be the Year of the West End. After decades of decay and delays, Landmark Mall is lumbering towards a sweeping renovation. The city, hoping to capitalize on the development to open up the West End of Alexandria as a new hub of commercial activity, is finally forced to contend with infrastructure issues that have long plagued the Landmark-Van Dorn Corridor. A June 13 City Council presentation on the FY 2019 Long Range Planning Interdepartmental Work Program opened up new conversations about old connectivity problems.

The west end of Eisenhower Avenue has struggled with connectivity problems. Railroad tracks separate the underutilized Eisenhower from the overcrowded streets to the north.

“It’s been a discussion that has come up multiple times and people are beginning to realize that we have to relieve that interchange,” said Councilman Paul Smedberg. “We have to connect to Eisenhower.”

Smedberg said plans for traffic improvements are positive, but that without new connections along Eisenhower Avenue to relieve the pressure on other roads, the solutions won’t be adequately addressing the volume of traffic.

A bridge over the tracks connecting Eisenhower to the northern roads was recommended in the 2009 Landmark/Van Dorn Corridor Plan, but the bridge was complicated by questions of funding and which neighborhoods would be saddled with having a new bridge opening.

“This is the connecter road idea?” Mayor Allison Silberberg asked.

“Connections,” Smedberg answered. “That was the mistake the first time around, there should have been multiple connections.”

Smedberg said the Eisenhower connections are an idea the city has been working on for over 30 years, but can’t afford to continue to delay.

“We have to protect our neighborhoods,” said Silberberg. “The connector road is something that would have had a huge impact on some of the streets we’re addressing now.”

But Smedberg said the traffic congestion north of Eisenhower is substantial. “We are protecting our neighborhoods if we give people options to get off our neighborhood streets and to get to the Beltway at multiple locations and stay on the main roads,” said Smedberg. “That’s the only way we’re going to address that. Protecting neighborhood streets is not addressing the main issue.”

“This issue brewing for a number of years,” said Councilman John Chapman. “Our streets are not protected. I’ve said that, my neighbors have said that. This body, the council, needs to allow staff to bring forward best practices on our most travelled connection.”

Ultimately, Silberberg didn’t disagree with Smedberg on the idea of a connection.

“I agree with you, the streets in Taylor Run are incredible crowded,” said Silberberg. “The Waze app has had negative impact … [it has] increased traffic [on streets] not meant for it. We’re a hypotenuse captured between these large freeways.”

More BAR Talk

The Board of Architectural Review (BAR) meetings happen once a month, and often run for less than an hour. But BAR, specifically the prospect of consolidating the Parker-Gray Board and the Old Town one, has become one of the most recent divisive issues between Mayor Allison Silberberg and the rest of the council. During the FY 2019 Long Range Planning Interdepartmental Work Program, Silberberg again raised concerns that the consolidation is moving forward without appropriate input from the affected community. While the idea came from within the Parker-Gray Board, Silberberg said the city should have done more outreach to the local civil rights leaders who helped define the Parker-Gray neighborhood.

“[These boards] have different reasons to exist,” said Silberberg. “In terms of who to contact, at the very least Lillina Patterson and Catherine Ward. I think it would be important to have their input. [These are] people who have worked in that community for decades and know what its concerns are. Their thoughts and ideas [are relevant], whether they serve on the BAR or not. You don’t have to serve on the committee to be a stakeholder.”

But Councilman John Chapman said opportunities for the community to weigh in will be laid out in upcoming public hearings on the issue.