Several hundred Alexandria residents attended a City Council hearing last week to protest the proposed conversion of their apartment units, but were told by the council there was little the government could do to reverse the continuing trend of condominium conversions.

"A mass exodus is taking place (from the city) of second-class citzens who don't have cash for a first-class downpayment," said James Stevenson, a leader of the Federation of Alexandria's Concerned Tenants (FACT). Stevenson claimed that 1,500 apartment units currently were planned for conversion, adding to the low vacancy rate of less than one percent in apartments in Alexandria.

Included in the latest list of buildings being taken off the rental market are Harbor Terrace, Bellehaven, Marina Towers, Madison House and Bradlee Towers.

Mayor Charles E. Meatley Jr. contended that the city was doing all it could to help renters, noting that "our track record is pretty good" in getting developers to offer voluntary relocation assistance to displaced renters. Council member James P. Moran Jr. added that the council "had been a leader in pushing tenant-oriented legislation in Richmond."

Moran cited several bills, which failed to win Assembly approval, that would have required developers to provide relocation assistance to tenants and would have required owners to offer tenants first refusal on the purchase of their apartments.

However, Moran said, the only bill passed by the General Assembly requires developers to submit relocation plans with their public offering, if they have any relocation plans at all.

"We get stonewalled in Richmond," Moran said.

The protest last week was one indication of the continuing concern in Alexandria over displacement of tenants due to condominium conversions. Several people said after the meeting that their monthly payments would double if they had to purchase their apartments. Juette Iverson said she currently rents a one-bedroom apartment in the Madison House for $347 a month. If she purchased the unit at the asking price of about $52,000, her monthly payments would more than double to $751 a month. "I can't afford that," Iverson said.

The public hearing was held in conjunction with the granting of special use of permits needed if a zoning change is required to complete conversion plans. It was also held to give citizens a chance to express their concerns about the proposed conversions of the six apartment complexes. In the past, the city has tried to withheld approval of the permits until developers provide relocation assistance to tenants.

The council approved special use permits for Harbor Terrace, which has 164 units, and Bellehaven, with 31 units, after hearing plans to relocate tenants from both complexes. In addition, a special use permit was approved for Marina Towers, which has 282 units.

No special use permits were required for Madison House, which has 283 units, Bradlee Towers, with 300 units, or Jefferson Gardens, with 105 units, because both meet current zoning requirements.