Colonial Village, Buckingham, Chatham, Hyde Park, Claremont.
Within the last six months, these five Arlington County apartment complexes have been sold to out-of-state buyers.The sales affect as many as 10,000 tenants, many of them elderly or recently-arrived ethnic minorities who live on low to moderate incomes. Since the sales, anxious tenants and curious county officials alike have been speculating about the new onwers' plans.
Last week, multimillionaire real estate developer James D. Klingbeil of Columbus, Ohio, bought the Buckingham, Chatham, Hyde Park and Claremont apartments, plus two small shopping centers adjacent to Buckingham and Claremont and a large tract of vacant land on S. Four Mile Run.
Buckingham (1,800 units), Hyde Park (323 units) and Chatham (250 units) are located on a tract bordered by Rt. 50, N. Pershing Drive and N. Henderson Road, Claremont (520 units) is located on S. Walter Reed Drive.
Several months ago a subsidiary of Mobil Corporation bought Colonial Village (1,092 units), located on Wilson Boulevard.
periodic rumors of impending redevelopment and imminent eviction have swirled through the complexes, some of which are located on choice pieces of land close to Washington and the burgeoning Metro subway system.
Tenant reaction to the sale of Colonial Village has been dramatic. For the first time since the late 1930s, a tenants' association has been formed. Three issues of a professional-looking mimeographed newsletter have been distributed to the more than 2,000 tenants. Officials from the association have met several times with county officials about preserving the complex.
Tenants have also formed an Historic Preservation Committee to try to have Colonial Village - the nation's first FHA-financed garden apartment complex - declared an historic landmark. Representatives from that group met recently with Rep. Joseph L. Fisher (D-Va.)
Tenant reaction at the other complexes apparently has been quite different.
"There's a 'wait and see' attitude,'" said Barbara Baker, who has lived at Buckingham with her husband and two young sons for the past seven years. Of the five recently sold complexes, Buckingham is the largest and most ethnically diverse.
"I don't think you could mobilize people here if you had to," Baker said. "The neighborhood here is so transient and international. Besides, it can't get too much worse in terms of maintenance and unkeep. If it were converted to condominiums we'd have to move, but I don't know where we'd go."
Several of the 800 Vietnamese residents of Buckingham said they were concerned about the possible outcome of the sale.
"They're just waiting," said community leader Nguyen Ngoc Bich. "Most of their reaction is fairly cool. It probably has something to do with Vietnamese fatalism. Even when they are very concerned, the Vietnamese are not going to shout. We're just not used to organizing things like tenants' associations."
Harold Fuchs is assistant manager of Pershing Market, a small foodstore frequented by tenants from Buckingham, Chatham and Hyde Park.
"Everybody was talking about it the first day, (the package) has been up for sale for some time so people weren't too surprised," Fuchs said. "It's just like changing presidents: (a new owner) doesn't affect anyone too much. I've got a lot of customers on social security, welfare and food stamps. These people could never afford to buy condominiums."
"there aren't any legal roadblocks to condominium conversion," said Frances Lunney, executive director of Arlington's Tenant-Landlord Commission. Lunney noted that a developer would not have to get the county's approval for condominium conversion and would need to give tenants 90 days written notice of a planned conversion and a 60-day option to buy. When the 3,400-unit Fairlington Villages was converted to condominiums several years ago, 40 percent of the tenants bought units.
Lunney said that one indication to tenants of a planned conversion is that one-year leases are not issued or renewed. "They'll rent apartments but only on a month-to-month asis, so they'll be able to give notice to everybody in one section at the same time," she noted.
State law requires that a converted project meet present-day zoning requirements such as adequate parking. In the case of pre-World War II projects like Buckingham this might present a problem, although a developer can ask the county board for an exception. County planner Tom Parker noted that in terms of allowable density under existing zoning laws, "Buckingham is underdeveloped as are most older garden apartments."
Parker said that the most likely optioin for a developer would be to rehabilitate and convert large projects like Buckingham, Claremont and Colonial Village to condominiums. County board members have repeatedly said they favor preserving Arlington's garden apartment projects, although not necessarily as low-cost housing.
"What happened to the people who lived in Fairlington" who didn't stay? asked county board chairman John W. Purdy. "I don't think anybody really knows. We don't have a real answer to the question of where low-income people would go (if the projects were converted). We've been grappling with that question for years."
Last month, the board denied a request by the owner of the 900-unit Lee Gardens for a rezoning to permit future construction of a high-rise building or an apartment hotel. Like Buckingham, Colonial Village and Claremont, Lee Gardens provides a significant part of Arlington's stock of low-cost housing.
"I have no idea what the new owners are thinking," said Parker, "but you would assume that based on the success of Fairlington and an extremely strong market for townhouse (condominium) units throughout the metropolitan area that's what an owner would be thinking about."
"The cost of construction has outpaced the market for rentals," Parker noted. "You cannot afford to build a high-rise rental project and make it financially. A high-rise condominium is a possibility but if you look at the region, most high-rise condominiums built three or four years ago are just beginning to fill up."
Lunney said she was less convinced that the recently purchased projects would be converted to condominiums. "I would guess that Hyde Park and Chatham are lucrative enough as rental properties. At Colonial Village, I haven't heard any real discussion of condominium conversion. From the discussion I've heard, very few people think it's likely Buckingham would go condominium because of the way it's designed and the number of small units."
"You don't have to work with existing floor plans," said Parker. "In Fairlington they did a variety of things like-gut the interiors and just leave the shell of the building intact."