Wednesday, May 20, 2009

County And Telesis Prep for June Meeting

This story was adjusted from its post yesterday to include "The Finances," a breakdown of the money spent on this project (see it near the bottom of the story). --ST

The Arlington County Board met with senior staff and members of Telesis Corporation yesterday primarily to discuss whether to make Buckingham Village 3 all-rental or rental with some ownership. If there is ownership, the consensus, with some balking, was that it should be a condominium, not a co-operative. This is the last meeting of these groups before the board votes on the issue at their June meeting.

Telesis, with an impressive packet of information, recommended condominium ownership of 48 of the 140 units in 16 buildings, with the other 92 units renting at different levels of affordability.

The cost to the county for this is $14.5 million—or almost $17 million if buyers use the county’s Moderate Income Purchase Assistance Program. That’s about $103,000 to $120,000 per unit, according to the documents.

Under this plan, all the units would be fully renovated.

The county board, however, was not sure that the mix of 92/48 was the best and questioned Telesis about that ratio. Perhaps the best ratio would be rental on all 140 units.

Bert Mason, a principal at Telesis, ran through the numbers, explaining that full rental would mean the project would lose some tax incentives.

And the question of co-op versus condo was the point of largest contention, though “contention” might be too strong.

Board member Chris Zimmerman is a proponent of co-ops because the lower purchase costs generally associated with co-ops would make the units more affordable. Plus, the Latino community most likely to take advantage of the purchases are more familiar with the more communal co-op structure rather than the condo.

“I do think it’s a tool we should have in the box,” he said after the meeting, but he admitted that the financial structure in this country gives the advantage to condos.

“A co-op would be more helpful to us in achieving the goals we set in the first place,” Mr. Zimmerman said during the meeting. Those goals include keeping the entire Village 3 affordable, and allowing as many people who already live in Buckingham to stay in Buckingham.

County board Chair Barbara Favola said, however, that a condo, which would appreciate more than a co-op, would potentially allow more families to move up the economic ladder.

Mr. Mason estimated an additional $3 million would be needed from the county if the project went co-op. As well, the financing for a co-op is a couple percentage points higher than that of a condo, he said.

Board member Walter Tejada reiterated the need to keep the community together and wondered how likely it was that people would buy.

Mr. Mason said a “substantial number” in Buckingham wanted to buy. “I don’t think we’ll have any trouble selling these units,” he said.

In the end, the board seemed satisfied with the rental/ownership ratio and that the condo was the best option, but they asked that Telesis provide a more clear comparison of the differences for their June meeting.

Ultimately, Mr. Tejada expressed what seemed to be the feeling at the table. “Let us not get that point lost,” he said, that a large number of affordable housing units are being saved by this measure.

That the board was helping to save a housing complex built in the depression during the worst economic downturn since that time was significant, said Mr. Zimmerman after the meeting. “On so many levels, this is exciting.”

Village 3, a six acre site, sits on N. Pershing Drive between N. Thomas St. and N. George Mason Drive. This is part of project that started in 2006 when the county entered a memorandum of understanding with Paradigm Development Corp and its partners, the former owners of the property. In that agreement, Village 3 fell under the protection of the county’s Historical Affairs and Landmarks Review Board; its redevelopment and that of Village 1, across N. George Mason from Village 3, has fallen under a great deal of county scrutiny.

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