In 1976, Betsy Detwiler was on the hunt for a starter home. She found Hillwood Square, a quiet, World War II-era neighborhood tucked away near the Seven Corners area of Falls Church. It was the perfect place for the then-single mother of two girls. And, she said recently, “It was the only place I could afford.”

The housing cooperative allowed her to purchase a two-bedroom townhouse for $29,000. A low monthly co-op fee covered utilities and most of the other services, such as snow and trash removal. Detwiler also found herself in a well-established, close-knit community.

That community now finds itself debating its existence.

Colorado-based Archstone-Smith, one of the nation’s leading apartment complex owners, has offered to buy Hillwood for $38 million. The 19.2-acre site, which includes a 5.4-acre recreational field, is attractive to developers because of its size and location inside the Capital Beltway.

But since Hillwood is a housing cooperative of 160 townhouses and duplexes, the sale would require approval from at least two-thirds of the residents. There is little consensus on what to do next.

“It would be hard to move,” said Detwiler, now 63 and near retirement. “It would be hard to leave the place where you’re happy and you’ve got your neighbors.”

She has posted signs in her living room window that read: “Sell? No” and “Where can I afford to move?”

Katie Hennessy, who bought her three-bedroom house for $280,000 in 2005, and has since seen property values drop by almost half, sees the prospect of selling as more of a lifeline. If the Archstone sale goes through, “I’ll just make it out,” she said.

Residents of Hillwood are negotiating with Archstone, according to Brendan P. Bunn, an attorney representing the cooperative. “The offer is still being reviewed,” he said.

WWII housing

The federal government built Hillwood in 1942 as permanent housing for civilian employees during World War II. Many of Hillwood’s original residents are thought to have worked at the Torpedo Factory in Old Town Alexandria. Two of its founding residents lived in the community until their deaths in 2007.

According to current residents and others with knowledge of Archstone’s proposal, the company would tear down Hillwood’s townhouses and duplexes to develop luxury apartments. The neighborhood known for providing affordable homes to working- and middle-class residents would cease to exist.

Robert Seldin, a senior vice president with Archstone, said the company does not comment on pending deals.

For some residents, Archstone’s deal is too good to pass up. The company is offering to pay $277,970 for a three-bedroom unit, $223,107 for a two-bedroom and $168,245 for a one-bedroom, according to residents.

For some, the group deal could be worth more than an independent sale.

During the housing bubble, some homes sold for more than a quarter of a million dollars. A listing in 2007, for example, advertised a three-bedroom townhouse for $274,900. In the past two years, however, sale prices have been less than half that amount.

But residents such as Detwiler think Hillwood is worth more than Archstone’s offer and are reluctant to sell during a slump.

“I don’t think people are considering that it’s 20 acres inside the Beltway,” Detwiler said.“I think they’re just looking at it as what they’re getting for their unit.”

Tabitha Yothers, who has lived in Hillwood for 25 years, is trying to persuade her neighbors to stay and reinvest in the community, given its rich history.

She wants Hillwood to work with the private sector to develop its recreational field into a park. Yothers envisions a monument or statue honoring Hillwood’s original founders, the welders and pipe fitters who worked at the Torpedo Factory.

With Yothers’s help, Hillwood has already earned a spot on the Fairfax County History Commission’s inventory of historic sites, an honorary designation that does not prevent it from being renovated, sold or torn down.

The community is one of a few defense housing projects of its kind left in Northern Virginia, and the only one left in Fairfax County, she said.

“It just seemed to me that it was the last one standing, that we ought to try to save it,” Yothers said.

Infrastructure costs

Saving the community could come with a substantial cost.

Hillwood remains a tidy community, with neat front yards and uniform houses painted in aqua and chocolate hues. But underground are 70-year-old steel pipes that carry the neighborhood’s water and sewer lines. After a string of water-main breaks in 2007, Hillwood’s co-op board decided to study the utility system’s life span.

A consultant’s preliminary engineering report found that it could cost about $4 million to overhaul the pipes. The report also noted that although Hillwood’s gas lines were replaced in 1979, they would have to be dug up to install new water and sewer lines.

The gas, water and sewer lines are owned by Hillwood and are a shared expense.

The water-main breaks “scared everybody,” Hennessy said. “It really scared the new people — people who spent $200,000 or $300,000 for a new house.”

Full replacement of the piping system is only one option, residents say, noting that with a long-term maintenance plan, the utility system could last several more decades.

But exactly how much longer is unknown. Hillwood is waiting for the results of a study evaluating the life span of its water, sewer and gas lines, as well as other infrastructure such as overhead power lines.

Meanwhile, Hillwood’s co-op board began exploring the idea of selling or redeveloping the community. Last year, they hired Mark Anstine and Dan Lockard of McLean-based Fraser Forbes Real Estate Services. The company marketed Hillwood to more than 200 potential buyers nationwide. Fraser Forbes then reviewed more than a dozen offers before determining that Archstone’s proposal would deliver the most money to residents, the company said.

Residents are moving closer to a decision: Continue to invest in the community that they have called home for so many years or approve a possible sale to Archstone.

“We’re really kind of at a point where something is going to have to be done,” said Jane Ryall, the co-op board president and a 31-year resident.

One thing is certain: Residents have not rejected Archstone’s proposal. Out of 160 voting co-op members, 119 have asked to review the contract.

by Kafia A. Hosh

In 1976, Betsy Detwiler was on the hunt for a starter home. She found Hillwood Square, a quiet, World War II-era neighborhood tucked away near the Seven Corners area of Falls Church. It was the perfect place for the then-single mother of two girls. And, she said recently, “It was the only place I could afford.”

The housing cooperative allowed her to purchase a two-bedroom townhouse for $29,000. A low monthly co-op fee covered utilities and most of the other services, such as snow and trash removal. Detwiler also found herself in a well-established, close-knit community.

That community now finds itself debating its existence.

Colorado-based Archstone-Smith, one of the nation’s leading apartment complex owners, has offered to buy Hillwood for $38 million. The 19.2-acre site, which includes a 5.4-acre recreational field, is attractive to developers because of its size and location inside the Capital Beltway.

But since Hillwood is a housing cooperative of 160 townhouses and duplexes, the sale would require approval from at least two-thirds of the residents. There is little consensus on what to do next.

“It would be hard to move,” said Detwiler, now 63 and near retirement. “It would be hard to leave the place where you’re happy and you’ve got your neighbors.”

She has posted signs in her living room window that read: “Sell? No” and “Where can I afford to move?”

Katie Hennessy, who bought her three-bedroom house for $280,000 in 2005, and has since seen property values drop by almost half, sees the prospect of selling as more of a lifeline. If the Archstone sale goes through, “I’ll just make it out,” she said.

Residents of Hillwood are negotiating with Archstone, according to Brendan P. Bunn, an attorney representing the cooperative. “The offer is still being reviewed,” he said.

WWII housing

The federal government built Hillwood in 1942 as permanent housing for civilian employees during World War II. Many of Hillwood’s original residents are thought to have worked at the Torpedo Factory in Old Town Alexandria. Two of its founding residents lived in the community until their deaths in 2007.

According to current residents and others with knowledge of Archstone’s proposal, the company would tear down Hillwood’s townhouses and duplexes to develop luxury apartments. The neighborhood known for providing affordable homes to working- and middle-class residents would cease to exist.

Robert Seldin, a senior vice president with Archstone, said the company does not comment on pending deals.

For some residents, Archstone’s deal is too good to pass up. The company is offering to pay $277,970 for a three-bedroom unit, $223,107 for a two-bedroom and $168,245 for a one-bedroom, according to residents.

For some, the group deal could be worth more than an independent sale.

During the housing bubble, some homes sold for more than a quarter of a million dollars. A listing in 2007, for example, advertised a three-bedroom townhouse for $274,900. In the past two years, however, sale prices have been less than half that amount.

But residents such as Detwiler think Hillwood is worth more than Archstone’s offer and are reluctant to sell during a slump.

“I don’t think people are considering that it’s 20 acres inside the Beltway,” Detwiler said.“I think they’re just looking at it as what they’re getting for their unit.”

Tabitha Yothers, who has lived in Hillwood for 25 years, is trying to persuade her neighbors to stay and reinvest in the community, given its rich history.

She wants Hillwood to work with the private sector to develop its recreational field into a park. Yothers envisions a monument or statue honoring Hillwood’s original founders, the welders and pipe fitters who worked at the Torpedo Factory.

With Yothers’s help, Hillwood has already earned a spot on the Fairfax County History Commission’s inventory of historic sites, an honorary designation that does not prevent it from being renovated, sold or torn down.

The community is one of a few defense housing projects of its kind left in Northern Virginia, and the only one left in Fairfax County, she said.

“It just seemed to me that it was the last one standing, that we ought to try to save it,” Yothers said.

Infrastructure costs

Saving the community could come with a substantial cost.

Hillwood remains a tidy community, with neat front yards and uniform houses painted in aqua and chocolate hues. But underground are 70-year-old steel pipes that carry the neighborhood’s water and sewer lines. After a string of water-main breaks in 2007, Hillwood’s co-op board decided to study the utility system’s life span.

A consultant’s preliminary engineering report found that it could cost about $4 million to overhaul the pipes. The report also noted that although Hillwood’s gas lines were replaced in 1979, they would have to be dug up to install new water and sewer lines.

The gas, water and sewer lines are owned by Hillwood and are a shared expense.

The water-main breaks “scared everybody,” Hennessy said. “It really scared the new people — people who spent $200,000 or $300,000 for a new house.”

Full replacement of the piping system is only one option, residents say, noting that with a long-term maintenance plan, the utility system could last several more decades.

But exactly how much longer is unknown. Hillwood is waiting for the results of a study evaluating the life span of its water, sewer and gas lines, as well as other infrastructure such as overhead power lines.

Meanwhile, Hillwood’s co-op board began exploring the idea of selling or redeveloping the community. Last year, they hired Mark Anstine and Dan Lockard of McLean-based Fraser Forbes Real Estate Services. The company marketed Hillwood to more than 200 potential buyers nationwide. Fraser Forbes then reviewed more than a dozen offers before determining that Archstone’s proposal would deliver the most money to residents, the company said.

Residents are moving closer to a decision: Continue to invest in the community that they have called home for so many years or approve a possible sale to Archstone.

“We’re really kind of at a point where something is going to have to be done,” said Jane Ryall, the co-op board president and a 31-year resident.

One thing is certain: Residents have not rejected Archstone’s proposal. Out of 160 voting co-op members, 119 have asked to review the contract.