An Urban Sanctuary, Under Siege

Vanessa Vedder, who has lived for 33 years at Marbury Plaza, shows the condition of two burned apartments still without repair.
Vanessa Vedder, who has lived for 33 years at Marbury Plaza, shows the condition of two burned apartments still without repair. (Rafael Crisostomo - Rafael Crisostomo/ftwp)
By Clarence Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 20, 2005

For the better part of four decades, the Marbury Plaza apartment complex stood as an oasis of security and affluence amid some of the more troubled streets of Southeast Washington.

With amenities rarely found east of the Anacostia River, the building attracted some of the brightest and best of black Washington, those who wanted to live and play in upper-middle-class surroundings. The high-rise buildings in the 2300 block of Good Hope Road, which offered grand views of the cityscape, became a must-stop on any political candidate's trail east of the Anacostia River. Longtime residents also recall the days, about 30 years ago, when singer Isaac Hayes had an apartment here and threw parties in the community room.

But in recent years, as the surrounding area has become increasingly attractive with the city's surge in development, Marbury Plaza residents have seen their sanctuary slip. Gone are the dry cleaners and fitness center. Now tenants complain of faulty pipes, backlogged maintenance requests and their biggest concern, security lapses.

Some surveillance cameras are missing, and residents and their D.C. Council member complain that private security guards walked off the job for lack of payment last month. A convenience store in the building was robbed in recent months, as was a tenant as she left an elevator.

In this deteriorating climate, two forces seem to impinge on Marbury's residents from the adjoining neighborhood: a nearby criminal element and the ever-expanding development boom that is pressing affordable housing out of the District.

"This was the place to be. Now it's the place to get out of," said L. Yvonne Moore, a Marbury Plaza resident since 1981 and an advisory neighborhood commissioner.

The Lightstone Group, which manages the property, responded with a statement that said it "has been managing this property for a matter of weeks. Certain concerns from residents have been brought to our attention, and we are in the process of working on several remedies."

The 40-year-old complex, situated on a hillside just east of the Anacostia, features 672 apartment units in two high-rise buildings, along with a series of garden-style structures. On clear nights, the complex's high-rise apartments offer vast views, from Washington National Cathedral to the Anacostia bridges -- including the Capitol and the monuments -- and across the Potomac River to the Virginia skyline.

Residents say they love the location, with close access to Metro and major commuter arteries. And those advantages lead some residents to wonder whether capitalistic motives may be part of a plan to allow the property to deteriorate and drive out longtime renters, in favor of a higher-paying clientele.

"We know it's prime real estate," said Kevin Jayson, a five-year resident who serves on the resident board.

Nathan Weldler, regional manager for A&A Marbury LLC, a partnership based in Brooklyn, N.Y., that purchased the complex in April 2004, said there are no plans to force tenants out. "Nothing could be further from the truth," he said in a telephone interview last week. "Ownership is committed to putting money into the building" for current renters.

The flashpoint of discontent for many residents came, literally, on Jan. 11, when a second-floor laundry exploded. It killed a 2-year-old girl and her mother and injured 19 others. D.C. fire investigators believe the explosion was caused by thieves pulling laundry equipment from natural gas lines in an attempt to steal coins, said spokesman Alan Etter. As a result, the laundry rooms on all 11 floors of one high-rise have been barricaded with plywood.

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