Following a day of being pummelled by accusations from irate residents, called to account by the mayor, and ordered to change the game plan by their own superiors, VDOT representatives substantially revised their Sunday edict to Hunting Terrace tenants during a standing room only meeting 48 hours later.
Packed into the exercise room of 1204 South Washington Street residents from the 115 unit complex demanded answers to questions about their personal safety and the long term viability of their homes from the landlord, Virginia Department of Transportation. There to answer were representatives of VDOT and Grady Management.
"The letter you received Sunday night is incorrect. If you thought you had to immediately find other accommodations that is not so, " Thomas F. Farley, district administrator, VDOT, said loud and clear at the outset. "The purpose of this meeting is to make sure you are safe and to decide what's to be done to guarantee that."
Carrying the burden of explaining the actions of VDOT and Grady Management was Nick Nicholson, project manager, Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project. "I'm here tonight not as project manager. I'm here as the owner of Hunting Terrace."
After admitting that VDOT had been aware of the potential collapse of ceilings throughout the complex since March 6, Nickolson identified changes to the Sunday letter which had indicated a test pile driving for Wednesday and residents being moved from their homes for five to eight days on 48 hours notice. The new program includes:
*No test pile driving until March 31,
*Working with residents on a one-on-one basis to accommodate individual circumstances,
*he first tenants to be displaced for a period of five to eight days will be on April 12. A complete schedule was distributed establishing a times for repairs on a unit by unit basis running through June 5 thus eliminating the 48 hour notice threat,
*Meal and incidental expenses to be paid to each person on the lease while displaced was increased from $31 to $51 per day,
*Tenants will be compensated at their regular salary rate on the days of packing and unpacking if they wish to be present and who would suffer financially by not reporting to work,
*A rent waiver will be provided for days of lost occupancy,
*Tenants may choose a pet kennel and be compensated if they do not choose a pet-friendly accommodation while displaced,
*Security guards for personal furnishings stored in outside containers while repairs are underway will be increased from the previously announced 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. timeframe to 24 hours.
PERHAPS THE MOST significant acquiescence came as a result of a direct question from the audience. When asked if they could be released from their leases, with no penalty, if they just chose to move, both VDOT and Grady Management representative, Brent Eckard, answered, "Yes."
When pushed if VDOT would also compensate them for moving expenses, Farley responded, "We'll have to check on that." But, he reiterated, "You tell us what you want. If you want out we will honor that." He also categorically admitted, "The tone of Sunday's letter was wrong."
Several residents pointed out that cracks were occurring not just in ceilings but in walls as well. They also claimed that vibrations were "very noticeable" when large construction trucks drove by the buildings. "It is not limited to pile driving," one tenant insisted.
There was the suggestion that VDOT tear down the entire complex and assume the costs of relocating all the residents. This brought forth mixed reactions with some speaking out against such a suggestion.
Farley's only negative reaction was toward the city in relation to how long the buildings have had structural problems. "We are going to find out who knew what when. If the city knew about this problem, we will hold those people accountable," he threatened.
IN RESPONSE, some in the audience placed the blame on VDOT for not performing a proper due diligence inspection prior to purchase. Ardith C. Dentzer, president, Hunting Terrace Tenants Association, accused VDOT of increasing the rents when they first purchased the properties based on inflated figures from the previous owner.
For the most part, the meeting seemed to accomplish its goal of answering resident concerns and establishing a more equitable procedure for making the necessary repairs with the least inconvenience to residents' daily schedules and with the most concern for their needs.
At several points throughout the gathering, individual residents thanked VDOT representatives for convening the session. As one stated, "If VDOT was not the owner we wouldn't be having this meeting. The previous owners would not have done anything."
Farley summarized the meeting by saying, "We want everyone to leave here tonight with the knowledge that your safety is our prime concern. And we will work with you all the way."