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River Place in Rosslyn is perhaps one of the most well-known multifamily complexes in the county.
The series of four buildings containing about 1,720 units between Route 50 and Wilson Blvd make up the cooperative complex that was built seven decades ago. Despite its age, River Place remains valued by residents, owners and real estate agents.
In conversations, phrases like “oasis of affordability,” “jewel of Rosslyn,” “prime location,” and “views that… can’t be beat in the market” get tossed around with regularity.
But what makes River Place truly unique is that it very well could be on borrowed time.
It’s a fact that has been known for awhile, as detailed in this 1982 Washington Post article. The complex was built in the early 1950s on top of 13 acres of land owned by a developer. That land is, essentially, rented from the developer through an agreement that’s known as a “ground lease.”
In 1953, a 99-year lease was agreed to, meaning River Place’s lease runs out in 2052 — 30 years from now. That timeframe, of course, holds a good deal of significance for those looking to take on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage in order to buy a property inside of the complex.
Today, the underlying land is owned by local real estate development firm Monday Properties.
When the lease expires in 2052, Monday Properties will be able to do whatever it wants with the well-located land in Rosslyn. Theoretically, Monday Properties — or a new developer, if Monday ends up selling the land — could demolish the by-then century-old River Place.
This potential would leave unit owners out in the cold and their investment, essentially, a pile of bricks.
Monday Properties hasn’t disclosed its plans just yet.
James Marandi, president of the River Places Owners Association, tells ARLnow that neither he, the association, nor the committee assembled to deal with the ground lease situation has had any “recent” conversations with the company.
Monday Properties wouldn’t discuss the situation with ARLnow, either. When reached for comment, a company spokesperson said in an email that Monday Properties does “not have a comment on this story.”
An Arlington County spokesperson tells ARLnow that there isn’t much the county can do.
“This is a private property matter, which limits what the County can do,” the spokesperson said. “This is a matter between the building occupants and the landowner.”
This uncertainty has left some unit owners and residents thinking, perhaps even anxious, about an uncertain future that’s now not as far off as it once was.
“We are not necessarily nervous yet. Thirty years is a long way away,” Marandi tells ARLnow. “But we do realize that the lease expires and something has to be done.”
The unresolved ground lease situation also could have a direct impact on the accessibility of lower-priced housing stock in Arlington, a long-running concern that the county is now trying to grapple with.
As of Friday afternoon, there appeared to be 15 River Place condos for sale on Zillow. All of the units were listed for sale under $300,000, with most under $200,000.
The average price for a home in Arlington, as of earlier this year and including townhomes and condos, is more than $800,000.
In theory, this could make River Place one of the best buys in the Arlington market. But the expiring land lease makes it potentially inaccessible for some.
Dan Perez is a veteran real estate agent with the Keri Shull Team who’s been involved in at least a dozen deals at River Place. According to his data, the average sale price for a River Place unit so far this year is just over $158,000.
The unresolved situation has undoubtedly played a part in pushing prices down, he says. However, banks are eyeing that 2052 date and are already hesitating to lend to buyers who would be taking out a conventional 30-year mortgage.
“Lenders are starting to be a little bit hesitant with lending,” Perez says. “Typically, they are going to require 25% to 40% down [payment] and [interest] rates are usually about a point higher than normal.”
The need for more cash and a less favorable interest rate has pushed what would otherwise be affordable properties out of reach for some.
Because of these parameters, Perez says he’s had a lot of investors looking to buy and then lease out units at River Place contacting him recently. It’s a great deal, he notes, if you have a lot of cash on hand.
“If you pay cash or if you can put a significant amount of money down and have a small mortgage, then it’s one of the best cash flow properties in Arlington.”
That 1982 Washington Post story, with the headline “River Place Co-Op is Selling Borrowed Time,” starts by describing an ad showing young people coming across the Memorial Bridge with all of their belongings in order to move into River Place.
Marandi remembers that ad, having first moved into the complex when he was a student in 1982. Two years later, he bought his first property there.
As a long-time property owner and, now, president of the owners association, he’s known that River Place’s time is ticking. He loves the building and co-op he bought into nearly 40 years ago and believes that River Place still has many good years ahead of it.
“Even though the beautiful brick structure may look to some people, compared to the glass and the steel structures around us, a little bit historic, the insides have been upgraded, updated, and fully maintained,” he says.
But Marandi admits he’s concerned that the situation remains unsettled and the place he’s called home might end up becoming rubble with little recourse.
There are a few scenarios that could play out. One is that Monday Properties could simply negotiate with stakeholders and extend the land lease. Or they could buy out the co-op’s interests prior to the lease ending, as a Wall Street Journal story suggested in 2019.
Others involve Monday Properties selling the 13 acres in Rosslyn to another developer. No one really knows how much that land is worth, but as Marandi put it, “it’s not going to be cheap.”
At that point, the question would be will the new developer keep River Place or demolish it?
No one, but perhaps Monday Properties, knows the answer to that question or any other around the future of the four buildings that have graced Rosslyn’s skyline for seven decades.
“I look forward to hearing from someone soon,” says Marandi. “My door is always open.”
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