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A Look Back: How Del Ray Changed in 2012

For those who haven’t been keeping up with changes and activities in Del Ray, here is a recap of the past year, from my perspective as president of the Del Ray Citizens Association.

Del Ray continued to hum with activity in 2012, with perhaps the only disappointment being the cancellation of the popular Halloween Parade because of concern about the effects of Hurricane Sandy. Fortunately, we were spared any major impact from that storm. We weren’t as lucky in late June, when the so-called derecho storm cut off power to most Del Ray (and Alexandria) residences for days and inflicted more damage on the neighborhood’s already declining tree canopy.

In 2012, there was a great deal of concern and discussion about traffic and parking issues. Residents of East Howell and East Custis Avenues, in particular, expressed concerns about increased traffic and especially about the possibility of future Potomac Yard residents using their streets to reach the shops and restaurants on Mount Vernon Avenue. The city has already taken some steps to deal with these concerns and promises more action in 2013.

Meanwhile, the city released a consultant-conducted study of parking issues on and off Mount Vernon Avenue. The study concludes that demand for spaces exceeds the supply in certain areas at certain times, leading to parking on residential blocks just off the Avenue. The tight parking situation reflects the overall success of Del Ray’s retail areas during the past decade or so. The city has said that it will form a work group made up of residents and business owners to address solutions to parking issues, but at this time it is unclear when that group will be formed.

After more than a decade during which development languished, last year saw major progress in the build-out of the 5-million-square-foot 1999 Potomac Yard plan, which the Del Ray Citizens Association had a major role in shaping. With a number of specific development projects approved by the City Council in 2012, by the end of 2015 or early 2016 much of the 1999 plan should be completed. The approved projects include a new Giant supermarket, which called into question the continued operation of the small but convenient Giant store on East Monroe Avenue. Giant has not said what its plans are for that store, but the DRCA will continue to monitor the situation and work closely with Alexandria’s economic development agency and the city’s planning staff to seek a suitable replacement if Giant decides to leave the property.

The progress at Potomac Yard also included construction of the 24-acre Potomac Yard Park, expected to open in summer 2013, and construction on Route 1 of dedicated transit lanes for buses, to be completed in December 2013.

Two major projects got underway in Del Ray: the renovation and rebuilding of the Calvert apartments complex and the Yates Corner development at the corner of Mount Vernon Avenue and Braddock Road. Renovations began at two modestly priced apartment complexes, Caylor Gardens and Alexandria Commons, with an unknown impact on the future affordability of those apartments.

Del Ray’s retail sector continued to change, with the opening of the Del Ray Café, the Holy Cow Burger Joint, VeloCity, the community bike shop, and Amalgamated Clothing and Dry Goods, which sells vintage clothing and accessories. M.E. Swing Company began moving its coffee roasting operation into the former Gold Crust bakery on East Monroe Avenue, with a retail store planned to open early this year. Reingold, a communications and marketing firm, renovated and moved into a building at 433 E. Monroe Ave. The Del Ray Pizzeria and Evening Star Café both received approval for additional seating. The Mount Vernon Deli changed ownership to become Mama Reacer’s at the Mount Vernon Deli, selling Southern-style food. But La Strada restaurant closed at the end of the year, and the proposed Del Ray Trolley, created to bring visitors from Old Town to Del Ray, was derailed, at least for the time being, when a company could not be found to operate it. In 2013, we expect to see the opening of Emma’s coffee and wine bar/restaurant and hopefully the reopening of the Bombay Curry Indian restaurant.

The DRCA sponsored three very successful events in 2012: The Del Ray House and Garden Tour, which raised money for tree planting and other community projects; the well-attended District A school board candidates forum; and the Del Ray Historic Preservation Conference, which highlighted, among other things, the neighborhood’s rich Art Deco and Streamline Moderne architecture and the need to preserve it in the face of increasing redevelopment.

The Del Ray Business Association continued its roster of events, including Art on the Avenue, the Turkey Trot road race on Thanksgiving Day, the Christmas tree and luminaria lightings, the Taste of Del Ray, and First Thursdays on the Avenue, one of which featured an entertaining Fashion’s Night Out featuring local personalities walking a runway wearing a diverse collection of elegant and in a few cases outrageous fashion items.

Kelly Cares continued its 5K run/walk for charity, and a sock hop fundraiser in honor of Ryan Bailey benefited the Miracle Field, which opened this year.

The Del Ray Artisans celebrated its 20th anniversary and continued to produce imaginative art shows. Duncan Library helped celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Alexandria Library as a public system.

In park news, the new multipurpose fields at the expanded Simpson Park (part of the 1999 Potomac Yard plan) opened, the Mount Jefferson Playground was renovated, and the city began discussions with the neighborhood about longer-term changes to Simpson Park. The playground at the new pocket park at East Del Ray and Commonwealth avenues became a popular spot for toddlers, but unfortunately the city failed to complete the building of the park, despite spending more than $1.7 million to buy the property and install the playground.

Mount Vernon Community School got a dynamic new principal, Peter Balas. Meanwhile, the City Council approved a handsome and expanded new facility to replace the existing Jefferson Houston School. Many Del Ray residents live within the boundaries of the Jefferson Houston School District.

Del Ray continued to produce city leaders. Del Ray resident Bill Euille was elected to his fourth term as mayor. Former DRCA President Justin Wilson, a former member of City Council, was elected to the City Council for a second term. Former DRCA President Rob Krupicka stepped down after his third term on the City Council after being elected in a special election as the 45th District representative to the Virginia House of Delegates. Del Ray residents Stephanie Kapsis and Karen Graf won two of the three District A seats on the Alexandria School Board, with Graf being elected as chair on Jan. 2. Graf and Kapsis replaced two Del Ray residents who decided not to run again: former Chair Sheryl Gorsuch and Mimi Carter.

Overall, it certainly was another banner year for Del Ray.