- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 23, 2002

Arlington County Manager Rod Carlee threatened the owners of a 465-unit apartment building with the use of eminent domain if the owners did not sell the property to a development organization specializing in low-income housing.
"The importance to the County of [the Gates of Arlington] cannot be underestimated and to that end I am prepared to consider the use of the County's power of eminent domain to acquire the property," Mr. Carlee, a Democrat, wrote in a May 14, 2002, letter to the Texas-based Hall Financial Group.
Eminent domain is the power of the government to take private property for public use with compensation for the owner.
Rick Bridges, assistant county manager for public affairs, said the letter was not a threat, but simply outlined for the owners all the county's options as it tried to obtain the property.
"It is a tool in the toolbox," Mr. Bridges said. "We have rarely used it in Arlington. This is certainly an area where it would be appropriate."
The Gates of Arlington, a two-story apartment building in the Buckingham section of the county, has been on the market for several months. Last week the Arlington County Board allocated $500,000 to the Arlington Housing Corporation Inc. (AHC) a private, nonprofit developer of low- and moderate-income housing to acquire the complex from Hall Financial Group for about $35 million.
The county is hoping to finalize the deal this week and have a closing date of late June or early July.
In his May 14 letter to the Hall Financial Group, Mr. Carlee said the county was joining forces with AHC in order to preserve a vibrant, multicultural community and critically needed affordable housing. While other groups have approached Hall Financial about the Arlington property, Mr. Carlee said that the AHC plan was "superior" and that was why the county was working with them.
"AHC provided a specific and clearly superior plan to ensure that [the county's objectives of continued low-to-moderate income housing] are successfully met," Mr. Carlee wrote.
Charles Rinker, a member of the Arlington County Housing Commission, defended the board's actions, saying affordable housing was the No.1 crisis facing the county.
"The United Way has listed affordable housing as the major crisis in Arlington County," Mr. Rinker said. "It seems wherever affordable housing gets torn down, nothing gets rebuilt affordable housing is an important public purpose where eminent domain could be used."
Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman said, "I personally have supported [eminent domain] when we needed it for schools or sidewalks. It is a tool that could be used, and I would not hesitate to do that [in this case], but that was not necessary."
Mark Blocher, director of corporate communications for the Hall Financial Group, said it is company policy not to discuss any transactions until the sale is complete.
Some Arlington residents question whether officials are stepping over the line.
"This is the most grotesque overuse of municipal power that I have ever heard of," said Mike Lane, a former County Board member. "What is it that the county is trying to accomplish that they have to steal a private landowner's property?"
John Antonelli, another member of the Arlington County Housing Commission, said these actions were an ominous precedent.
"I think its very scary that when the county says it wants something, it can just come in and take it," he said. "Moreover, it's a more expensive and insufficient use of county funds."


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