Sparked by concern over apparent rumors that the Mobil Corp. is planning extensive redevelopment of Colonial Village, 80 tenants jammed a room at the Dawson Terrace Recreation Center last week and voted to form a tenants association whose representatives will meet with Mobil officials in an attempt to secure several written promises from that corporation.
The tenants say they want written assurances from Mobil that no redevelopment will occur for several years, something Mobil and management officials have repeatedly stated.
Colonial Village, the nation's first garden apartment complex, was sold last month to Mobil by its sole owner and builder, Gustave Ring, for an undisclosed amount. The complex is located on a wooded 55-acre tract on Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, about three miles from downtown Washington. Since the sale of the 1,092-unit complex, which was built in 1935, rumors, leaflets and letters have circulated between anxious tenants, the management - which Mobil has said it will not replace - and Mobil's local representative, American Security Corporation, about the future of the complex.
In two letters from the management officials and American Security, tenants were advised that "we have no plans to turn Colonial Village into condominiums or any form of redevelopment in the near future." However, John Reeder, a tenant who organized last week's meeting, printed and distributed leaflets which read, "Will Mobil Oil take our apartments? Now is the time for tenants to be heard. . . and to insure that we continue to have decent and moderately priced apartments."
"You've got all these low income apartments going," said one tenant at last week's meeting, noting the recent sale, conversion or closing of a number of older, large apartment complexes in Northern Virginia, including Fairlington Villages, Parkfairfax, and Shirley Duke Apartments. In north Arlington alone, both Lee Gardens and Buckingham Community are also for sale.
Paul Bombaci of the Arlington County Tenant-Landlord Commission briefed skeptical tenants on a recent meeting he attended with two Mobil representatives and Colonial Village general manager Amos Ford Clift.
"Mobil said it would be five years before any change was contemplated. They told me they just wanted to preserve Colonial Village. I told them that the county government would fight any Crystal City-type development tooth and nail. Why did they buy it? It's a good tax deduction," Bombaci said.
Reeder noted that Mobil could convert Colonial Village to condominiums without having to rezone the property. Mobil's only legal obligation to tenants, all of whom are on month-to-month leases, was a 90-day notice, Reeder said.
Gladys Lenox voiced the fears of a substantial number of tenants who are "retirees on fixed incomes just above the poverty level" and say they can't afford more expensive housing. Rents currently range from $160 for a one-bedroom apartment to $210 for a two-bedroom apartment. According to Bombaci, the Mobil representatives asked him about rent increases.
"I told them that increases in excess of 6 per cent would be out of line," Bombaci said.
Arlington County has no policy of rent control. During the past several years, rents at Colonial Village have increased annually by about 10 per cent per year.
Reeder stressed that concerted political action through a tenants' organization was the best way to approach Mobil and the county board and staff. "Tenants are a majority in this county , about 70 per cent of the population. The only way we're going to get anything is through political action. It isn't like you're going to have to go begging, like in Fairfax County where tenants are a minority," he told the group.
They agreed unanimously, voted to form a tenant's association and passed Lenox's rainhat, collecting about $15 in contributions to defray the cost of printing meeting announcements.
"Can I charge dues on my Mobil credit card?" one man asked jokingly.