A form letter slipped under his door last month gave florist Wayne Schroder his first word that the three-bedroom apartment he rents in Alexandria's Fort Ward Towers complex might be going condominium.
For Schroder, the news was particularly unwelcome. Two years earlier, Schroder says, he moved out of a building in the District that was being converted and he had hoped his new place in Alexandria would be secure.
Instead, the talk these days in the elevators and corridors in Fort Ward Towers is that a McLean-based company, Compson Development, is negotiating rights to convert the 400 unit, 15-story building at 2500 North Van Dorn St.
If approved, the conversion of Fort Ward Towers, which overlooks Shirley Highway, will be the first major condominium conversion in Alexandria since the condo boom died down in 1981.
"There's a lot of people in the same boat that I am, that have been put out of buildings before," Schroder said.
Compson representatives attended a meeting organized by the city's Office of Landlord-Tenant Relations last night to present a plan to tenants in which the company would sell units to tenants at a discount or pay cash to assist in moving elsewhere. Elderly and handicapped tenants would get special breaks, including the option to stay on as renters for three years. Currently, an efficiency at the apartment house rents for $335 per month and a three-bedroom unit for $570.
"Nobody is suggesting that this is not a traumatic . . . situation for you," Bernard Fagelson, an attorney for Compson told the gathering of about 70 tenants.
Fagelson faced occasional hostile questions and heckling from those who attended. Questions centered on details of compensation and many indicated that tenants were seriously thinking of buying their apartments. The issue of whether the building should be converted at all was not addressed by the tenants who spoke.
Tenant Charlotte Gillen said that compensation for those who elected to move out was not sufficient to pay a moving company. Sam Indolfi, a 10-year resident of the building, said residents with seniority should have first pick of what unit they would buy. When Fagelson said he could not say with certainty how much fees and property taxes elderly and handicapped people who elected to stay on for three years would have to pay, members of the audience hooted in derision.
After two hours, the Landlord-Tenant Relations Board rejected the developer's compensation plan until he clarifies about 50 points raised during the meeting. Another public hearing is scheduled for a week from today.
Plans to convert Fort Ward Towers to condominium apartments must be approved by the Alexandria City Council. Vice Mayor James Moran predicted yesterday that the council would pass the plan.
The building has no tenants' association, making it difficult to measure the tenants feelings about the conversion plans. But at previous meetings between developers and tenants, particular concern has been expressed over elderly and handicapped residents, who Compson vice president James Comparato estimates occupy about 50 of the 400 units.
Alexandria now requires developers to aid tenants disrupted by a conversion. Under the plan proposed by Compson, which must be approved by the City Council, tenants who move would get one-time payments of at least $305 for an unfurnished efficiency and $440 for a three-bedroom unit. People 62 years old or older and the handicapped would get double those rates.
Tenants choosing to buy would get discounts of 15 percent on the sale price for unrenovated units and 7.5 percent for renovated ones. Elderly and handicapped would get an additional 2.5 percent discount.
Elderly and handicapped would also have an option to remain as tenants for three years, with condominium fees and real estate taxes added to their rents. Otherwise, Compson has agreed to try to set up those tenants for three years at comparable rental units elsewhere and pay for the move.
"We feel the plan we have offered has far surpassed plans offered previously in the city of Alexandria," Comparato said yesterday.
But some tenants see it as ungenerous. "Three years and condominium fees and the real estate taxes--that's no advantage," said an elderly woman tenant who declined to give her name. She said that at her age she was not interested in buying.
Comparato said his company plans to extensively renovate the building, which opened in 1966, and to price units from the high $30,000s to the high $80,000s.
Like other area jurisdictions, Alexandria underwent a condominium boom in the late 1970s that was snuffed out by high interest rates and a recession. "We feel confident that the economic recovery is going to spur sales in the condominium market," Comparato said.