Hillwood Square Residents Vote To Sell to Archstone Developer

By more than the two-thirds margin required, residents of the historic Hillwood Square residential cooperative culminated a pitched debate to vote 117-40 Tuesday night to sell the 160 owner-occupied townhouses on 19.7 acres at 2848 Cherry Street between Route 50 and Hillwood Avenue, just outside the City of Falls Church.

The prospective buyer, the Archstone Corporation, plans to demolish the existing housing and replace it with 455 new rental apartments. The Colorado-based firm has at least a year to win the needed approvals from Fairfax County and close the deal.

For some, the vote to sell marked yet another nail in the coffin for affordable housing in this region. As one resident noted, the offered price per unit, about $223,000, makes relocating to the same area almost impossible for current residents.

But Archstone is a well-known company with apartment complexes all across the U.S., and has an East Coast-based office in Alexandria. It offered $38 million for the Hillwood Square property, which has been run as a unique form of cooperative since World War II.

Hillwood Square was built during World War II in 1942 to house workers at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, when it really was a torpedo, and their families. It was dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and is on the Fairfax County Inventory of Historical Sites. As a coop, residents don’t technically own title to their homes, but pay membership fees equal to the value of them. The coop is headed by an elected seven-member executive board.

On average, according to sources, the price offered per unit by Archstone was about $40,000 higher than the current market rate. Despite that, however, the ability for residents to relocate anywhere around Falls Church on that amount is doubtful.

Some residents organized into the Hillwood Legal Defense Fund to resist the sale. Among other things, they argued that the value of the land is twice the $38 million offer, that such a sale should not occur with home prices currently at the bottom of the market and that there is an irony in their claim that Archstone Smith REIT, parent of Archstone, being 53 percent owned by Lehmann Brothers, is in effect using a taxpayer bailout to drive families out of affordable housing.

City of Falls Church residents recall that earlier in the decade the Hillwood Square’s 5.5 acre open field was a candidate for the construction of a new middle school. Hillwood Square residents voted the idea down at that time because property values were much higher then, and residents did not like the idea of the congestion and hassle of the construction and occupancy of a middle school there, especially since it would be restricted to City of Falls Church students and their own children could not attend.

(As a result, the Falls Church School Board decided to build the Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School at its present site, sharing a campus with George Mason High School).

On its website, Hillwood Square is described as “a community tucked away among the affluent neighborhoods of Falls Church, dedicated to providing reasonabl cost, quality housing to residents by utilizing a cooperative model of housing. Most residents are low to moderate income households, though there are no upper limit income restrictions to purchase a cooperative membership. Most residents are first time home buyers. Many residents know each other and many extended families live within the development. Several current members grew up in Hillwood Square, and have returned and are now raising their own families there.”