Council considers DASH restructuring, Airbnb taxes

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By Hannah Himes | hhimes@alextimes.com

City Council heard a preliminary plan to restructure Alexandria’s DASH transit system and a status report on the voluntary collection of taxes on Airbnb rentals at its Feb. 26 legislative meeting.

The DASH bus system restructuring is called the transit vision plan, and would redesign Alexandria’s transit network to better fit the city’s future transit priorities and demands.

The first transit plan option, presented by Scudder Wagg of Jarrett Walker, the consulting team working with the city, would offer a 20 percent increase in the amount of service available, especially in high ridership areas. Areas with access to bus service now would still have service, but more financial investment on the city’s part would offer higher frequency.

The second option would reduce coverage in areas with lower ridership, but would increase bus frequency in busier, more dense areas of the city.

Community feedback is still being gathered on the project, and public workshops were held Tuesday through Thursday this week. The public can also give feedback via an online MetroQuest survey.

The final transit vision plan could be completed sometime this summer.

Kevin Greenlief, head of the Revenue Division of the city’s Department of Finance, told council that in FY2018, the city’s Voluntary Collection Agreement with Airbnb brought in about $96,000.

The agreement allows for the collection of the Transient Lodging Tax from short-term residential rentals.

In the first six months of FY2019, more than $161,000 was collected. That puts the city on track to generate more than $300,000 in transient lodging taxes by the end of this fiscal year.

Relatively few complaints have been received, Karl Moritz, director of the Department of Planning and Zoning, said. Most of the complaints the city received concerned limited parking or were seeking confirmation that the rental was registered, he said.

Alexandria’s Legislative Director Sarah Taylor also updated council on actions taken by the Virginia General Assembly during its just-concluded session.

Taylor said she felt Alexandria “came out pretty good.”

Among the delegation’s priorities was procuring funding for Alexandria’s Combined Sewer Overflow project. As part of its final budget, the state allocated $25 million for the project.

Another goal was to obtain funding for the maintenance and preservation of graves in Alexandria’s historic African-American cemeteries. In the final budget, the city was granted $9,715 for the preservation of 1,943 eligible graves.

The General Assembly did not pass any meaningful funding for school renovation and construction that would specifically impact the city.

State legislators passed a bill pertaining to scooters and e-bikes.

Taylor said the legislation gave localities significant authority to regulate scooters and e-bikes. Scooters can be allowed on sidewalks, but it is up to localities to make specific decisions about them, including where they can be parked, where they can be driven and how fast they can be driven.

Council also heard information on a plan to potentially place small cell facilities around the city.

Small cell facilities are similar to large wireless towers but smaller in size and lower in power. They can be mounted on telephone or light poles and are meant to provide additional wireless coverage and capacity that would support the existing 4G network and the devices on that network.

Richard Lawrence, special assistant to the city manager, cited greater usage of wireless devices, such as smart cars and smart watches, and greater data usage as reasons small cell facilities are necessary.

In the future, such facilities would also support a 5G network.

Matthew Ames, an attorney at Hubacher & Ames who has been assisting city staff in understanding the legal framework of the plan, also noted potential issues with small cell facilities, including the overall appearance of the city.

A proposed policy concerning small cell facilities will be brought to council later this year.

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