Monday, February 23, 2009

Arlington to Enter Lease With Telesis for BV3

The deal paves the way for Arlington to buy Village 3 from Paradigm Corp., the current owner by its March 19 closing date.
This story was corrected slightly on Feb. 24; two numbers were corrected. Sorry for the confusion. --ST

The Arlington County board is set to OK a lease with Telesis Corp., the redeveloper of Buckingham Village 3, at the board’s recessed meeting Tuesday Feb. 24. This paves the way for the county to buy the land and buildings of Village 3 from Paradigm Corp. and its partners, the current owners of the property. Closing date for the sale is March 19, capping a process that began in 2006.

Although the county manager’s report to the county board supports the plan, officials from Telesis still met at the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board meeting on Wednesday to request a vote of support from the HALRB.

Wanting to follow the “Arlington Way” of getting as much community buy-in before the county board meeting, William Whitman, a Telesis vice president, said after the meeting that he wanted to know that historic changes were OK and to “secure their support.”

The request was granted, and the HALRB decided the best way to handle this was to write a letter to the county board, but the details of the letter took some time to figure out.

Doris Ray spoke on the need for accessible housing in the Village 3 project. (Click to enlarge the image.)

The HALRB wanted the letter to express general support for the direction the redevelopment was taking, without appearing to support any particular modification at this point.

Telesis is proposing to redevelop Village 3 in much the same way that AHC, Inc. redeveloped the Gates of Ballston; this makes it less risky for the HALRB to support the concept, people around the table said.

The project includes additions on the backs of buildings and using some of the basements to create new apartments or expand current ones. Telesis hopes to enclose breezeways on the property. A couple tot-lot playgrounds are planned, as well as a new, below-ground community room.

One proposal that came under a bit of fire Wednesday was the number and size of the additions. Five additions were approved months ago, and Telesis last month asked for four more. However, the new ones clogged the backyards, in the HALRB’s opinion, so Telesis asked this month only for two more, but larger, additions. The board wanted the shape of those to change.

Also at the meeting were people representing the disabled, who need affordable housing at a higher rate than other people, said Doris Ray, a member of the county’s Disability Advisory Commission.

“As you consider the historic and architectural features, please also consider that this is a project that will provide some significant number of affordable housing units,” Ms. Ray said. Most of Village 3 will be affordable for rent or sale.

“Affordable housing is very important, but the need for it to be accessible is more important,” she said.

Putting affordability and accessibility together in one project is tough, she admitted. She asked for ramps to the first floor, especially where there was only step to the stoop, lever door handles, and wider doorways where possible.

Board members were quick to say that they control only the outsides of buildings, but that they would encourage accessibility where possible.

The developers said they would look into it.

How the sale and resale works is this: Although the county will buy and own the property and buildings, Telesis will own the improvements to the buildings and will be able to rent the buildings and grounds from the county while they rent the units to tenants, said David Cristeal of the county’s planning division, in a series of interviews and emails.

“The county has to close on this property by March 20, period,” Mr. Cristeal said on Feb. 13. The cost is $34.5 million which will be paid for with a short term note from SunTrust bank and about $625,000 in AHIF funds, a tax-and-fee supported fund the county uses for affordable housing projects. Mr. Cristeal could not release the details of the note from SunTrust.

The lease for Telesis is 75 years, with the option for a five year extension. The details of this lease were still being worked out and were unavailable for print, as well.

The plan is that some of the 140 apartments would be converted into tenant-owned units, either a condominium or a co-op. If that happens, the county would have to sell the land and the buildings, Mr. Cristeal said.

The law prohibits Arlington from acting as a landlord for housing. Although the county’s policy has encouraged low-income housing, its only power to make that happen has been these sorts of deals. If the county were to create a housing authority, this deal would possibly be subject to change, Mr. Cristeal said.

Last November, voters handily struck down a referendum creating a housing authority with two-thirds of the vote going against it. About 70 percent of Buckinghamsters and Arlington Foresters voted against it while Ashton Heightsans voted against it 3 to 1.

Under a memorandum of understanding agreed to by the county and Paradigm in July 2006, while Buckingham Villages 1 and 2 have begun redevelopment, Village 3 was placed under the county's historic protection and would be sold to the county for resale to another developer.

Related stories…
  • Additions, Basement Apartments and "Roosevelt Room" proposed for Village 3 (Feb. 2, 2009)
  • Telesis' Plans for BV3 Called "Very Responsive" (Nov. 21, 2008).

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