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No Automobiles Allowed

Got weekend plans in Old Town? Don’t expect to park in the 100 block of King Street. In fact, don’t expect to drive through it.

The street will be closed to traffic from Friday afternoon to Sunday evening as part of a pilot project to create a pedestrian plaza on King Street. At a public hearing last weekend, the City Council voted to approve the idea — an idea that has been kicked around city government for many years.

"This is something that (former Mayor) Charles Beatley wanted to do for many years," said Vice Mayor Del Pepper. "I’m sure that he would love to see that we’re trying this in a serious way."

The pilot project will close the 100 block of King for four consecutive weekends — maybe more if inclement weather rains on the parade of pedestrians. The city’s Department of Parks and Recreation will bring special planters and furnishings while the pedestrian plaza is closed to traffic. They will be moved Sunday evening as Old Town prepares for its next work week.

"The goal is not to permanently close the 100 block of King or the 200 block of King," said Planning Director Eileen Fogarty. "It’s to create a walking, strolling type of atmosphere."

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Fat Ladies in Tight Dresses

Infill development can be a blessing or a curse. It can spruce up a dead spot or burden it with an outsized eyesore — what some people call a "McMansion."

"It’s kind of like pornography — you know it when you see it," said civic activist Katy Cannady. "They have all the character of a fat lady in a tight dress."

Council members want a city that’s tailor made, with the contours of its neighborhoods fitted with appropriate sizes and materials. That’s why they passed an emergency infill ordinance on Saturday to prevent overly large new houses from causing neighborhood trauma. The emergency ordinance will expire on Dec. 31 — by which time council members plan to resolve some lingering questions.

"What is character? Character can become an arbitrary tool," said Councilman Rob Krupicka. "I feel like we are doing this in a piecemeal fashion."

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A Tale of Two Newspapers

Ever since the Washington Examiner started delivering free newspapers in December 2004, City Hall has been awash with complaints about the daily nuisance of unwanted pulp. According to a June 7 memorandum from City Manager Jim Hartmann, the office of Consumer Affairs has received 102 complaints about the issue.

"A number of citizens have reported that newspapers have been stopped for limited periods of time and then the deliveries resumed," Hartmann wrote. "The city attorney has suggested a ‘do not deliver’ approach modeled on the national ‘do no call’ list employed to stop unwanted telephone solicitations on home telephones."

But by the time that the City Council met on June 17, the city attorney’s proposed resolution wasn’t needed. The publisher of the Examiner appeared and promised respond to complaints within 72 hours. The language was tabled — unless the Examiner resumes the problematic behavior. Alexandria Gazette Packet Publisher Jerry Vernon also made an appearance at the public hearing to oppose the proposed ordinance, which would disrupt circulation of the city’s 222-year-old paper.

"Cooperation rather than legislation is clearly the way this should be solved," said Vernon.

Although the issue of the do-not-deliver list had been jettisoned, councilmembers had other concerns to address to Vernon. Councilman Andrew Macdonald said that he was disappointed that the newspaper didn’t have a better presence in the city. And Councilman Rob Krupicka said that he and other Alexandrians had a hard time getting the paper delivered.

"I’ve called twice, and I still can’t get it delivered," Krupicka said.

After the meeting, a Gazette Packet representative got the councilman’s address and passed it along to the circulation department. Hopefully, the councilman will be enjoying his newspaper subscription.

— Michael Lee Pope