Many residents of Foggy Bottom say they fear that Washington's condominium boom is permanently changing the character of their nelighborhood, and not for the better. They are alarmed, they say, by the conversion of apartment buildings to condominiums and apartment-hotels and the scarcity of rental units in the neighborhood.
"Since June 1978 over 2,600 units have been given permission to convert" to condominiums or cooperatives, said Ann Loikow, an attorney and chairman of the Foggy Bottom Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC). She said 12 buildings have been or will be turned into condominium or cooperative apartments and five into apartment-hotels.
During the first week in December last year more than 800 units in the Columbia Plaza complex at 24th Street and Virginia Avenue NW were given permission by the Neighborhood Improvement Administration, part of the District of Columbia Department of Housing and Community Development, to convert to condominiums or cooperatives.
"A lot of buildings have been given certificates. There are very few that haven't been given them," said Loisknow, a resident of the Swarthmore Apartments at 1010 25th St., W.W. "A lot of owners are pulling out of rental housing. Housing is scarce. Cooperative and condominium conversions displace middle-income people and replace them with higher-income people.
"There are only three or four buildings that don't have condominium eligibility. The only rental units left are going to be individual units in houses or buildings. There won't be any more large apartment buildings in the area," Loikow said.
She added that George Washington University, located in Foggy Bottom, also has purchased four apartment buildings in recent years for conversion to student dormitories. A GW spokesman said the university is not conducting any "negotiations for actively buying" any other apartment buildings in the area "at the moment."
When Loikow spoke last spring at a town meeting on condominium conversions, attended by several City Council members, she cited Foggy Bottom as "an extension of the western central business district -- the Connecticut Avenue and K Street commercial area. We are a prime area for developers."
Loikow quote Municipal Planning Office (MPO) statistics showing that the Foggy Bottom ANC district lost more than 15 percent of its population in six years, dropping from 14,500 residents in 1970 to 12,300 in 1976. The district boundaries, according to Loikow, are 15th Street NW, Pennsylvania Avenue, the Mall, Rock Creek Park and 20th and N streets NW.
"We've been decimated," she said. "We lost 400 or 500 people because of demolitions" of townhouses and apartment buildings to make way for parking lots, commercial structures and hotels.
"Most residents are alarmed. We have people who have been evicted three or four times," Loikow added. The ANC members "have heard some sad cases of elderly women who have lived in buildings for 26 years who have told the ANC that there's no place for them to go."
The ANC has adopted several tactics to halt the spread of businesses and the conversion of buildings from rental units to other uses.
"We're fighting rezoning in the area, organizing tenants and we've proposed an emergency order to halt apartment conversions to hotels and redefine a hotel as a commercial rather than a residential use," she said.
"This is a residential area. Hotel conversions should be in a commercially zoned area," Loikow said, explaning the position of the ANC.
Recently the ANC fought issuance of a liquor license for the River Inn, an apartment hotel that used to be the Almanac Apartments.
"We think it (the liquor license) is an intensification of a commercial use that doesn't belong in a residential area," Loikow said. The license application is still pending before the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.
Jim Lavarack, who lives at 2109 F St. NW, said that his 43-unit apartment building was purchased recently by George Washington University.
"No one has been evicted yet," he said. "GW has told us that they conduct their annual buildings survey in the fall, and we won't hear anything until then."
In the meantime as units become vacant, Lavarack added, "GW grad students are moving in at substantially higher rents."
A university spokesman said that no residents will be evicted, adding that as tenants move out, the apartments "will be offered to GW students."
Josephine Williams, chairman of the Washington Circle Neighborhood Association, is "extremely worried" about the fate of Washington Circle and Foggy Bottom. The 11-year resident of 2307 Washington Circle said, "There's a lot of talk of conversions and demolitions."