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Demolition Redux

Developer could buy Gunston Hall apartments any day; demolition could follow.

Basheer and Edgemoore, the developers who want to demolish Gunston Hall apartments, are one step closer to purchasing the 56-unit garden apartment complex, but the future of the building remains uncertain.

The trust that owns the complex rejected a $12.3 million bid from the city's Housing Development Corporation.

With a contract already on the table between the current owner and the developer, the only thing that stands in the way of closing the deal is financing for their project and a demolition permit from the city.

Basheer’s previous attempt at getting a demolition permit was put on hold when a group of historic preservation and affordable housing advocates lobbied City Council to put a halt to the process. Council’s action last year opened a one-year window for prospective buyers to come forward with a proposal to preserve the property.

“The owner of the property is obligated to accept a bona fide offer,” said Danny Abramson, president of the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation, which hoped to purchase the property. “We submitted a bona fide offer.”

The current owner of the property, a trust represented by Shawn Weingast, disagrees. Weingast said that the city did not present an offer that was within the framework of Virginia law.

“We bent over backwards to help the city, especially considering that we had this other offer on the table,” Weingast said. “We still have not received a contract that’s compliant to the code.”

In November, lawyers involved in the deal went back and forth, faxing each other questions and answers. The city’s housing corporation was not able to seal the deal before the one-year window for preservation closed. On Nov. 30, one of the trust’s lawyers sent a letter to Abramson that spelled out further concerns with the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation’s bid.

“'While we appreciate the changes you made to the contract from the prior draft, there were several provisions that had not been corrected and which prevented the owner’s execution,'” wrote John Fagelson, one of the lawyers representing the trust that owns Gunston Hall.

THE INABILITY OF the city’s housing corporation to close the deal is a disappointment to affordable housing advocates in the city, who hoped that the $12.3 million offer would have been accepted by the current owner. In November, City Council borrowed millions to finance the deal with the hope that Gunston Hall could be revamped into housing that would be affordable to local workers.

Now, after the one-year deadline has passed, the possibility that the city’s housing corporation could close the deal seems remote. Assistant City Manger Mark Jinks described the Nov. 30 letter as a “rejection” of the housing corporation’s bid, adding that the owner put up “unreasonably high hurdles” for the city.

“What the seller was asking was an unreasonable expectation of restoration above and beyond the city standards for historic preservation,” Jinks said. “Under the city code for historic preservation, any buyer would not be required to meet these standards.”

Basheer and Edgemoore has said that if it is able to purchase the property, it plans to seek a demolition permit. That process would begin with a review of the plans by the city manager’s staff, followed by an appeal by the Board of Zoning Appeals. Ultimately, the Alexandria Circuit Court could have the final say on whether the buildings are demolished.