Residents of Hunting Terrace got all they were demanding and more from VDOT Tuesday night when they gathered for a follow up session to the stormy meeting of March 23, where they protested "temporary eviction notices" slipped under their doors without warning.
"Tonight is going to be a pivotal night for you and for me," said Thomas F. Farley, district administrator, Virginia Department of Transportation, kicking off the gathering in the exercise room of Hunting Tower, at 1204 South Washington Street. "Tonight we are going to focus on tenant issues brought forth in the March 23, meeting."
Items and issues covering everything from inspections dealing with the structural soundness of Hunting Terrace buildings, to moving details, to renter's insurance, to providing one-on-one assistance on a "seven-day-a-week basis," were explained and discussed.
Sitting in the audience was Alexandria Mayor William D.Euille who, on the Monday following delivery of underdoor notices, called VDOT representatives to his office and demanded changes be made to their actions and attitude he termed, "Just plain arrogant."
Immediately preceding Tuesday night's session, a memorandum, dated April 5, was sent to VDOT and Grady Management, the firm managing the tower and terrace properties for VDOT, signed "Residents of Hunting Terrace." It listed each resident by building and apartment number.
That seven page memo elaborated a series of actions expected from VDOT by the tenants. In addition to demanding answers to all the envisioned problems and inconveniences associated with repairing the crumbling ceilings, which triggered the confrontation, the memo stated, VDOT "has done little to mitigate our concerns regarding future structural integrity of the Terrace buildings..."
THAT WAS ONE of the first issues addressed Tuesday night. Nick Nicholson, project manager, Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project, assured the audience, "Since the last meeting we have focused on your concerns at that time and we have added four new major areas of change in our construction procedures."
He listed those as: 1.Temporary retaining wall adjacent to buildings F and D; 2. Ultimate retaining and noise walls; 3. Construction of the Urban Deck over the Beltway on South Washington Street; and 4. Bridge ramp from north bound Route 1 to the bridge.
He promised construction would proceed by "pushing piles into the ground" rather than driving them "to minimize both vibration and noise."
Other concessions were changing foundation supports from piles to drill shafts; and any pile driving in the Hunting Creek vicinity would be at least 200 feet from any buildings.
Also speaking to the structural question was Jesse Oak, manager, Facilities Engineering Support Center, Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas, Inc, who oversaw ceiling inspections of all apartments since the March 23, meeting. "There is a full report available to tenants on what we found," he said.
"We looked for any bowing and particular type of cracks. Photos were taken in each apartment of any deficiencies. City inspectors were part of each of our three teams. We also inspected the common areas and attics. There are reports available on each individual apartment," Oak stressed.
When it came to moving concerns while the apartments are being repaired, Brian O'Sullivan, VDOT's WWB Project Right-of-Way manager, who will be the primary contact for that exercise said, "We have developed a plan that is much more tenant-friendly." He will be assisted by Robert Fernandez, logistics coordinator, Grady Management.
THE CHANGES announced include:
*Furniture and personal belongings will not be stored in outside containers on site. They will be packaged and stored in a climate controlled environment. Tenants will assist in both the packing and unpacking. They will be compensated for their time at their regular wage rate regardless if they are drawing their regular salary or not from their employer.
*VDOT will work with each tenant at least one week before they move. Individual schedules and hardship will be accommodated. Moving representatives will be available six days a week from noon to 8 p.m. Packing will be scheduled for evenings and weekends as much as possible or by tenant request. An apartment at 1117 S. Alfred St. will be converted to a VDOT landlord office with staff available for tenant assistance. The schedule circulated on March 23 with projected moving dates through June 5 will be adhered to providing ample notification to individual tenants.
*$100,000 insurance will be in effect for each apartment. It will contain a full replacement clause in case of damage or loss.
*Temporary housing will be available at apartments in Hunting Tower or two hotels in Old Town. The Tower apartments are fully furnished and supplied with all linens. All locations are fully computer, telephone and television equipped. Pets are accepted at the Tower and one of the hotels. The most units vacated at any one time will be 10. There are 10 Tower apartments available. It's the tenant's choice.
*Per diem while out of apartments will $51 per day per tenant on the lease. Rent will be discounted for time out of apartment. A check will be given to each tenant for six days per diem prior to moving out. If additional vacancy time is required reimbursement will be made at the same rate. Additional reimbursements will be made for cleaning and vehicle parking with receipts.
*Each tenant will receive on-going progress reports and will be notified as to date of completion of repairs of their unit two days out. Each can personally inspect the work prior to returning. If additional cleaning is required after moving back that will be reimbursed with receipts.
ONE OF THE most noticeable changes by VDOT was the assignment of Steve Titunik as a "Tenants' Advocate." As explained by Farley, "He's here for you, working for us."
Titunik, who has served in a similar capacity to the business community throughout the Springfield Interchange Project, emphasized, "Nick's [Nicholson] focus needs to be on the project. My focus needs to be on you. I'm available seven days a week, 24 hours a day. VDOT is committed to doing the right thing."
He was buttressed in that by O'Sullivan. "What we [VDOT] are trying to do here is give you a comfort zone, to make it better for you." There will be additional VDOT/tenant meetings throughout the repair process. The next is scheduled for late May.
Each attendee was given an information packet containing the names and contact numbers for all VDOT and Grady Management representatives involved with the Terrace situation; a repair/moving schedule through June 5; written answers to questions raised previously; an Executive Summary of the Ceiling Structural Assessment Report; an aerial photograph of the area in question; and a questionnaire to be completed by tenants giving basic facts to facilitate their repairs and moves.