* Changing City Politics: For the first time in the long history of Alexandria politics, the election for Alexandria City Council was moved to the general election ballot. The move was orchestrated by Democrats, who lost two seats in 2009. When the election was moved to November 2012, when a record number of Democrats were expected to turn out in the presidential election, they were able to sweep the election and install a one-party government. But council terms are three years, which means the next election for City Council will be in November 2015. Democrats won't have the benefit of a presidential election to boost their numbers, and the top of the ticket will be the state Senate.
* Risky Business: Alexandria taxpayers are about to gamble on the future, rolling the dice on development at a former railroad yard to fund a new Metro station. City officials are expecting Potomac Yard to generate $1 billion worth of revenue in the next three decades, an expansion of the tax base that would help fund construction of a Metro station that could open its doors as early as 2018. But that plan comes with significant risk. Depending on the location and design of the station, the project could cost the city anywhere from $194 million to $459 million — all of which would be borrowed by the city government to finance the construction of the facility.
* Raising the Ceiling: Alexandria is about to hit the roof, literally. According to a recent report by the Alexandria Budget and Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee, the city is on track to exceed its debt ceiling with or without the borrowing needed to finance the new Potomac Yard Metro. Even when taking the $194 million project off the books, the city still has a massive amount of uncertainty about everything from the waterfront plan and the Beauregard redevelopment to federal demands on the sewer system and regional plans for transit corridors. Members of the Budget Affairs and Fiscal Advisory Commission say additional borrowing would "adversely impact" the city's bond rating and "significantly deteriorate the city's performance relative to its debt policy guidelines."
* Landmark Redevelopment: Earlier this year, members of the City Council approved a plan to redevelop the struggling Landmark Mall. Sears and Macy's will remain, but the rest of the mall will be demolished to make way for a new open-air, mixed-use community with retail, residential and entertainment. The 750,000-square-foot redevelopment will include 285,000 square feet of retail, 400 residential units and an upscale dining movie theater. Demolition is expected to begin next summer.
* Waterfront War: Last year, members of the previous City Council approved a controversial plan to almost triple density at three sites slated for development compared to what's there now. Critics say the proposal was too large and would choke Old Town. Supporters say the new zoning would create a sense of vitality and bring new tax revenue. A series of lawsuits was filed to challenge the plan and the process that city leaders used to deny citizens an opportunity to protest. The city prevailed in most of those cases, although one challenge is still being considered by the Virginia Supreme Court. One proposal has already been submitted for the Cummings Turner block, which will be considered by the Board of Architectural Review next month. And the sale of Robinson North is expected in the coming months.
* School Takeover: Jefferson-Houston School is the only school in Northern Virginia where test scores have been so bad for so long that state leaders are threatening a takeover. Next year, members of the newly created Educational Opportunities Institution are expected to seize control of the school. Many of the details have yet to be worked out, though. Will teachers at the school be employees of Alexandria City Public Schools or the commonwealth of Virginia? Will the janitors be contracted by the city or will a charter school operation step in and handle operations? Alexandria School Board members are also considering a plan that would split the existing school into two facilities, potentially protecting it from a takeover if state officials approve.
* Bulging Classrooms: Over the course of the next decade, school officials want to spend more than $300 million in an ambitious plan of demolition and construction, replacing existing facilities with new buildings and adding a new school. Three existing schools would be leveled and rebuilt, and one new school would be added at a location yet to be determined. Projections call for enrollment to increase by about 600 students in the coming year, pushing the total student population to just under 14,000.
* Gutter Politics: Every year, the city of Alexandria dumps 10 million gallons of raw sewage into the Potomac River under a permit from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. That permit is about to expire, and city leaders are trying to get a new one that will allow Alexandria to continue dumping untreated human waste into the Potomac River until 2035. Critics say it would be a mistake to wait 20 years to solve the problem, although city leaders warn that the cost of taking action would be at least $100 million. State leaders in Richmond will have the final say when they determine if they will grant the permit and what its requirements will be.