Residents of Ballston Apartments Feel Blindsided by Plans to Convert Building into Marymount Dorm

by Alex Koma February 21, 2019 at 10:00 am 0

Janet Caputo and her husband thought they’d found just the right home for a new chapter in their lives when they moved into an apartment at “The Rixey” building in Ballston last month.

The couple had just sold their Cherrydale home of the last 22 years, looking to downsize now that their children are all heading off to college. Caputo says they spent months on the apartment search, touring buildings across Arlington multiple times before settling on The Rixey, located at 1008 N. Glebe Road.

Then came the news on Feb. 8 that Marymount University would be buying the building from its current owners, the prominent real estate developer The Shooshan Company, and converting it into housing for students, faculty and staff.

“I was not told the truth,” Caputo told ARLnow. “I wouldn’t have spent all this money to move in if we knew we could only stay for 14 months.”

Indeed, Shooshan and Marymount are now working over the course of the next several months to manage the tricky process of converting what was once yet another luxury apartment building in Ballston into an upscale dorm.

Representatives for both the company and the university say they’ll honor all existing leases, and are committed to making the transition go smoothly. Still, residents like Caputo can’t help but feel that they were blindsided by the change.

“I don’t think millennials are out to wreck the world… I don’t mind living among them,” Caputo said. “What I don’t like is being told I can’t stay in this building after I put all this effort into moving here.”

Kelly Shooshan, the company’s chief operating officer and director of residential development, says she can’t speak to what people were or were not told about the building’s future when they signed their leases. She deferred questions on that to The Rixey’s management company, the Bozzuto Group — Jamie Gorski, Bozzuto’s chief marketing officer, declined comment for this article.

However, Shooshan says residents have long been aware that some Marymount graduate students have lived in the building since it opened in October 2017, making ties to the university quite clear.

“In fact, they were the first students to move in,” Shooshan wrote in an email.

She added that the sale shouldn’t have come as a complete surprise, considering how Marymount and Shooshan worked together to make the development happen.

Marymount built its new Ballston Center building right next door to the Rixey, leasing the adjacent land to Shooshan. But the university reserved the right to purchase the apartment building outright in the future, and that’s exactly what Marymount did earlier this month, using a mix of state funds and private financing to afford the $95 million price tag.

“The Rixey was my baby,” Shooshan said. “I worked on it for four-plus years, so no one will miss it more than me. But all that means is I have to go build another great project.”

But Caputo says she had no idea that such an option was ever a possibility, and thinks it’s unreasonable that this wasn’t explained to residents ahead of time — she fully expects that if she’d known about the option, she and her husband wouldn’t have chosen The Rixey, and they certainly wouldn’t have spent close to $7,000 installing upgrades to the apartment’s furnishings.

Caputo adds that many of her neighbors are in the same boat. She’s heard from some who signed leases just weeks ago, and even encountered one family that put pen to paper on a lease the day the sale was announced.

A letter provided to ARLnow from the building’s new management company (American Campus Communities) says staff have also heard “a number of residents express concern” and surprise about the change.

“It’s just house flipping on an enormous scale, without telling unsuspecting people who think they are signing a lease in a multifamily building,” Caputo said.

Yet Shooshan points out that it’s not as if current Rixey residents are being thrown out on the street overnight.

“All leases will be honored,” Marymount Chief Financial Officer Al Diaz wrote in a statement. “But we will only renew leases for qualifying students, faculty and staff.”

Diaz says the university won’t start moving in undergraduate students to The Rixey until this coming August, though he says it “may fill vacancies that develop with graduate students, faculty and staff.”

But for anyone looking for a more immediate change, Shooshan says her staff is already working to help them move to another one of the company’s residential properties.

“Hopefully, this will resolve some of the initial frustrations,” Shooshan said. “As you know, no one likes change.”

Caputo isn’t yet sure what she and her husband will do — they’ve already paid their first month’s rent, and aren’t sure whether they’ll get it back if they move out early.

And she’s adamant that she has no interest in living in another Shooshan-owned property, after her experience at The Rixey.

“My husband and I are beside ourselves,” she said.

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