When the idea for last night's community meeting of Ward 3 citizen groups first arose several weeks ago, the plan was to have a "Neighbors for McLean Gardens" rally in support of keeping moderately priced rental housing in their community, said Hugh Allen, president of the North Cleveland Park Citizens Association.

But then it was discovered at the last minute that their rally was to have an unplanned for twist: California builder Dwight W. Mize, announced Tuesday that he had bought McLean Gardens for $30 million and made public his plans to convert the 725-unit complex into condominiums.

As a result, last night Mize was scheduled to discuss his plans with McLean Gardens tenants and residents in surrounding communities.

After the initial surprise at the unexpected development, not all reaction was negative, however. Mayor Walter Washington said through a spokesman yesterday that he met with Mize briefly Tuesday and is pleased that McLean Gardens will continue to serve as moderately priced housing under Mize's plan.

"The mayor has had a concern about proposals to demolish McLean Gardens," the spokesman said. "He's very pleased that Mize contemplates saving and rehabilitating the units. He feels it's a good starting point."

The spokesman added that Ben Gilbert, D.C. municipal planning director Ben Gilbert said he was impressed "that Mize seemed to be someone who is concerned about the people affected by his proposal."

McLean Gardens tenants received notices to vacate in early March from the owners, CBI Fairmac. Fairmac which has owned the Gardens since the early 1970s, said it planned to discontinue the project's rental use for at least six months, and gave the tenants until Sept. 1 to move. Under legislation designed to aid city renters who are threatened with eviction, however, the tenants may be able to remain until Dec. 1.

Mize expects settlement to take place in several months. He said he plans to spend about $20,000 modernizing each unit. Rehabilitation is expected to take about 1 1/2 years, he estimated.

When converted, McLean Gardens will add more than 700 units to a growing list of apartments whose owners have converted to condominiums.

More than 1,000 rental units have been converted to condominiums this year, compared to 430 conversions for all of last year, according to information provided last week by Mayor Washington's office.

Tenants at McLean Gardens have fought for years the owners' various plans to convert to other uses their apartment complex, situated on 43 acres of valuable land in one of the most desirable sections of the city between Rodman and Newark streets at 38th St. N.W.

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