First Night Alexandria will expand to include Mt. Vernon Avenue for this year’s New Year’s Eve celebration. Anne Dorman made the announcement at the public comment section of last Saturday’s City Council public hearing.
“I told the members of Council that I would be back to announce new and exciting things for First Night but I didn’t realize that I would be back so soon,” she said. “We are very excited that the 2004 First Night celebration will include venues on Mt. Vernon Avenue.”
The family-oriented alcohol free event has been confined to King and Washington Street. Tom Welsh, the president of the Potomac West Business Association, joined Dorman at Saturday’s meeting.
“We feel that Mt. Vernon Avenue is a natural extension of First Night,” Welsh said. “There are many good things happening on the Avenue and the businesses are looking forward to participating in First Night.”
Mayor William D. Euille knew about the planned expansion, saying, “I am very pleased about this. However, we must work hard to provide good transportation from Mt. Vernon Avenue to the Masonic Temple so that as many people as possible can join us for the fireworks.”
Vice Mayor Redella S. “Del” Pepper asked about plans for the West End. “Are we looking for ways to bring First Night to the West end,” she asked.
Dormann assured her that the First Night committee is looking at possibilities. “We would very much like to include the city’s West End neighborhoods in First Night celebrations,” she said. “That is something that we will continue to explore.”
THE CORNER OF King and Union Street will have another restaurant. City Council approved a special use permit for the Mai Thai restaurant, which will occupy a portion of the Old Seaport Inn. Council also approved outdoor seating at the restaurant despite a comment from one member of the public who expressed concern about the health hazard of ingesting bus fumes as customers eat.
“I’m not sure that we can tell people where they can eat if they choose to eat outdoors knowing that there are automobiles and buses,” said Councilwoman Joyce Woodson.
City Manager Philip Sunderland agreed. “I don’t think that a handful of buses idling for a few minutes is going to cause a grave health hazard,” he said. “I believed that we made a decision to make this part of King Street pedestrian-friendly and vibrant. This use certainly does that. Let’s not make things harder for the businesses that want to locate here.”
Tour buses drop visitors to the Potomac River Boats and to the Torpedo Factory just across from the restaurant. The outdoor seating would be located on the widest part of King Street near the corner of Union and King.
“Since we have to come back to vote on the ordinance to approve the encroachment into the right-of-way, I would like to see a report from the Health Department as to the risks here,” said Councilman Andrew Macdonald. It was agreed that this would be done.
THE ALEXANDRIA MART will not sell beer and wine. Owners of the Exxon Mobil station at 2320 Jefferson Davis Highway, had applied for a special use permit to add beer and wine to the list of items that are sold in the store attached to the gas station. Currently, the store sells Jerry’s subs, Krispy Kreme doughnuts and other convenience items, in addition to gasoline.
A number of business owners from the neighborhood spoke in support of the application. “They have been good neighbors and I do not believe that selling beer and wine would present any problems here,” said Jack Taylor.
Carolyn Merk disagreed. “Has everyone except me forgotten how hard we worked to stop the sale of beer and wine in gas stations and convenience stores along S. Washington Street,” she said. “Let’s not take several steps backward by permitting this in this location.”
Pepper agreed. “I just don’t think we should allow this,” said the vice mayor. “We did work very hard to get these uses off S. Washington Street.”
While Councilman Rob Krupicka agreed, he expressed concern about uniformity. “We need to move toward a uniform policy so that everyone knows we are not going to permit the sale of beer and wine in these types of establishments,” he said. “I think we are doing that with this decision but we need to have a clear policy and consistently enforce it.”
Woodson agreed but chided both sides about their arguments. “I find it disingenuous to say that just because there is a gas station attached to this convenience store, people are more likely to purchase beer or wine and get into their cars and break the law by drinking and driving,” she said. “I am more concerned about people driving to the bars on King Street where they park their cars and then get into them and drive after drinking. I don’t find the arguments on this issue from either side particularly compelling. If we have a policy, we need to enforce it and if we don’t have a policy, perhaps we need one.”
In the end, Council voted unanimously to deny the request of the owners to sell beer and wine at the Mart.