Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Opening the Gates; Reading Blogs

Opening The Gates
Louis Quay sat on his black leather sofa across the small living room from the entertainment center. The dining room table, a few feet from the couch, was lightly cluttered with papers and books and other tools of living. His telephone sat on the living room floor under the window. In a bedroom which could be seen from the living room, boxes were stacked.

“I’ve been most pleased with the bug situation,” he said, and it’s a line he came back to in one way or another over the course of a 20 minute conversation.

He had lived in the Gates of Ballston on Henderson Road before the start of the $30 million renovation that has displaced and shuffled many people before landing them back in new units elsewhere on the property. Many opted to move away.

For Mr. Quay that meant six months in an unimproved Gates apartment on Glebe Road, convenient to the Glebe Market, but “a little on the noisy side there.” Utility companies had been ripping up the road to run lines underground at the time. As well, other renters would wedge items in the building doorway so anyone could walk in or out.

“All kinds of bug problems over there,” he said, adding later, “That six months was a bit of a disappointment.”

The Timeline
No one now lives in unimproved apartments, said Christopher Donald, the project manager for AHC Inc., the owner of the property.

Two weeks ago, during a walking tour of the complex, he said that 264 of the 464 units had been fully renovated and people were living in them. Mr. Donald said that all people who wanted to stay at The Gates are either in improved units or live in other AHC complexes until they can move back. He estimated that they retained 40 to 50 percent of the original community.

As part of a $100 million refinancing and renovation package, the company had planned a 30- to 36-month timeline to rebuild, and if they complete the work by the summer, they will be at least six months ahead of schedule, he said. The renovation has gutted every apartment in a complex that is a mix of market-rate and affordable housing units. They replaced windows and roofs, added heat pumps for heating and cooling, and amenities such as washer and dryer units in market-rate apartments, dishwashers in all.

[Christopher Donald, the project manager for The Gate of Ballston renovation, shows off the small but cozy living room in the model unit at the corner of N. Henderson and N. Glebe roads. He said everyone on the premises lives in rehabilitated units.]
Three Bedrooms
The greatest alterations, though, have been the 37 additions to the backs of buildings, adding a half bathroom and one or two bedrooms to the apartments. This will bring 72 three-bedroom, affordable apartments to Arlington, which activists and politicians said were desperately needed. Some of the additions are finished.

“I’m pleased that that has turned out,” said Lois Athey in a recent telephone interview. Ms. Athey is long-time activist from Washington who works with the Buckingham Villages and Gates of Ballston Tenants Association.

“I know the three bedrooms are being picked up.”

Although she said tenants have many problems with the management of the complex, including “heavy-handed” tactics used to force evictions, she mentioned a family in which the daughter finally got to have her own room.

“That’s the good story,” Ms. Athey said.

The “bump outs,” as the additions are called, has caused one minor problem for Mr. Quay, who is blind. They’ve shifted his walking patterns in the backyard where he has listened to books in the past. But, he added, “it’s pretty nicely set-up.”

[This hallway under construction connects the “bump out” addition to the back of a one-bedroom apartment. When finished, the additions will add a half bathroom and one or two bedrooms to 72 units on the 464 unit property. The original bedroom door is at left.]

By August, AHC Inc. believes they will have all major reconstruction on the 18 acre complex completed, both inside and out.

Mr. Donald from AHC said the fences that run between buildings are there to make the backyards more secure for families with children especially. Two tot-lot playgrounds have been added to the complex. Bike racks have been added just inside the backyard fences, and workers installed picnic tables during the walking tour.

Gates with push-button locks will soon only allow people who know the combinations to get into the backyards. An added benefit of the fences is that people cannot cut between buildings to walk from one end of the neighborhood to the metro or the bus stops on Glebe Road. The new grass will last longer and look as good as it does now for a long time, Mr. Donald said.

If the number of bikes chained to the front stoop railings are any indication, the bike racks are not getting the use that management might have wished. Lois Athey said the locking gates might become more of a hassle than a help for families.

Mr. Quay said his building’s front door latches closed and people are not coming during all times of the night and getting in through doors that are wedged open as they were on Glebe Road.

[Locking gates will soon be added to the fences between the buildings. Management hopes it will secure the backyards for children to play and protect the new landscaping.]

Rents are Higher
“This place is comfortable,” Mr. Quay said. “I set the heat,” he said, something the heat pumps allow for the first time. He has a clothes washer and dryer, exhaust vents in the kitchen and bath.

It’s quieter here on N. 4th Street, and he has found thus far that the wind isn’t as cold outside. Something about the wind whipping around the Hyde Park Condominium building along Henderson Road was especially bitter, he said.

And at this point, he has no problems with bugs.

But it’s not all been perfect. He lives in a market-rate unit, and the rent for his two-bedroom unit before the changes was $954 per month. Now it’s $1,400.

“That was a bit of a shock,” he said.

The electrical panel, the small industrial gray door that covers his breakers, the panel that’s usually in the kitchen of apartments or basement of a house, hangs on the wall above his dining room table.

His first night in the apartment, he found the electrical system had been installed improperly, and he kept tripping breakers. As well, the phones did not work.

“All that got straightened out,” he said.

Stay tuned for more stories on the Gates renovation.

Check out other bloggers…

I’ve cleaned up the links at the right, and I just thought I’d make mention of them. The latest entry, “Arlington School of Thought” is from David Wharwood who’s just gotten his blog up and running. Although I have it linked, I don’t think it’s working (perhaps I have the wrong address??). Mr. Wharwood emailed me that he’s a former Buckinghamster whose mother helped in the effort to create the historical status regulating much of the neighborhood.

“Buddy’s folks” is a page run by a friend of mine in which he asks if a father of two, middle aged man runs a blog does that mean blogging is so totally over? Most likely, but that won’t stop us anyway.

“Chez Robert Giron” is written by an Arlington Forester and colleague of mine. Mr. Giron is a poet, editor, and writing professor, so you’ll probably find his commentary on all things literary to be, well, literate.

Then there’s “The Green Miles.” Miles, a former journalist and professional activist, is an environmentalist in Arlington who writes about politics and the environment (his profile says he’s the board chairman for Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment) all with a liberal slant.

He’s also the current top-poster on the “AIRE blog,” a new communications outlet for the county. It’s a blog used to support the latest environmental initiatives of the county (led by County Board Chair Paul Ferguson). The comments area says that comments will be read by the blog author before being posted—it’ll be interesting to see what makes it through. They’ve been kind enough to offer me a chance to post something on the site. I have no idea what I’d say.

Finally, I put up the link for backfence. I knew the backfence company had posts out in Fairfax, but frankly, I never even thought to look here in Arlington. Yet there it is. I read in the
Washington Post a couple weeks ago that backfence itself is in financial trouble and some of the primary actors there have fled, and others have reorganized hoping to save the company. So, it might not be there the next time you look.

Police Notes for Buckingham
Jan. 28: Attempted Residential Burglary, 3800 block of N. 5th St.
At approximately 1:30 a.m. a man was seen tampering with a screen on the back window of an apartment. When officers arrived they found the screen damaged with a crowbar on the ground nearby. One officer spotted the suspect in the area and followed him to a residence in the 4300 block of N. 4th St.
Anibal Rodriguez-Castellanos, 27, of Arlington, was arrested and charged with Attempted Burglary and Possession of Burglarious Tools. He was held without bond.

Jan. 27:
Robbery by Force, N. Thomas Street.
At approximately 7:40 a.m. a woman was walking down the street when an individual pushed her to the ground and took her purse, police reported. The suspect was wearing a blue hooded jacket and blue jeans


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