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Week in Alexandria: May 21

Not Torn Asunder

— Lawyers for former Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were back in court this week trying to persuade a judge to separate the charges against them. Late last year, federal prosecutors filed a 14-count indictment accusing the couple of accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from Jonnie Williams, the former CEO of dietary supplements maker Star Scientific. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge James Spencer denied their request, siding with prosecutors that the two will face trial together.

"The judge thought that these two were in this together, and nothing has convinced the court otherwise," said Frank Shafroth, director at the Center for State and Local Leadership at George Mason University. "They're almost as if they were within the Catholic Church, perceived as inseparable and the sins of each will be added together rather than attempting to discriminate between them."

A five-week trial is set to begin in late July.

Smashing the Silos

The patchwork of services offered to children in Alexandria has a dizzying array of government institutions and nonprofit organizations, many of which operate in the dark about what the others are doing. In recent years that's created a concern in Alexandria, which is now seeking to consulate efforts and organize a master plan to coordinate efforts as part of a comprehensive effort.

"None of us are really working together," said Glenn Hopkins, president of the Hopkins House. "We're all in our individual silos."

One example is the fight against childhood obesity. Is the Alexandria Childhood Obesity Action Network working with the public school system and the city parks department? Are leaders at the action network coordinating with the nonprofit community? For many years, city leaders have been concerned that the lack of organization leads to duplication of services and a failure to marshal resources. That's a concern the master plan hopes to address.

"My worry is that we'll get bogged down in dissuasions of budget and what the costs will be," said Hopkins. "I'm hopeful that we will not get bogged down with territorial issues such as to what extent is the city imposing new or different responsibilities on the school system."

A work session between City Council members and School Board members will take place later this month, and a final vote is expected in June. Advocates for the master plan say they hope the final draft will have a clear action plan, which will be implemented by a paid organization or individual to help ensure that the main elements of the plan get pushed forward.

"It's all in the implementation," said Councilman Tim Lovain. "If it's just a nice sounding plan that you ratify and then ceremoniously put on the shelf that's no good."

Hotel Appeal Denied

After years of debate and lawsuits, members of the Alexandria City Council are giving a green light to a controversial waterfront hotel at the northeast corner of Duke and Union streets. Last weekend, council members denied an appeal of a March 19 vote of the Board of Architectural Review to approve the 120-room hotel. Critics say the hotel is too big for the neighborhood, arguing that it will ruin the historic ambiance of the waterfront.

"This building looks like an oversized jail," said Townsend Van Fleet, who lives near the site. "This is evidence that you care more about density and tax revenues than you care about us."

The history of the property dates back to the earliest days of the city, a time when city leaders extended the waterfront east into the river to create a zone for commerce. About half of the property was underwater when Alexandria was founded in 1749, although the parcel had been completely filled in by 1845. Now it will feature the first development in the waterfront plan, which will be viewed as a sign of things to come.

"While there were many improvements, I felt it was too big for the space," said Vice Mayor Allison Silbergerg, who with the applicants appealing the board's decision.