Significant Structural Damage Found at Fairfax County Condo Building
NCC4 Washington
By Darcy Spencer
02 October 2016

Residents of 32 condo units are not allowed to go inside their apartments, officials say.

A 10-story condo building in Fairfax County had to be evacuated Sunday afternoon after significant water damage to some of the building's columns caused the building to lower 2 to 3 inches, officials say.

Fairfax County firefighters and building officials found significant structural damage at one of three River Towers Condominiums buildings at 6631 Wakefield Drive in Alexandria, Virginia. A resident noticed cracks in a few columns and called the fire department.

Crews started checking the building and found two floors had cracks in walls and several doors could not be closed. Firefighters then ordered everyone to leave the building and about 400 residents were displaced for several hours while crews and officials examined the building.

Fairfax County Building Official Brian Foley told News4 that the columns that had cracks have severely deteriorated because of water damage and the weight of the building has started to crush and shift the columns.

"Right now the building has fallen 2 to 3 inches. The building does need to be jacked back up and put into place," Foley said.

years of water infiltration caused the damage

Foley said years of water infiltration caused the damage and the columns were not appropriately maintained. There is also some damage to columns at the two other buildings at River Towers, but Foley said it is not as severe.

Most residents were allowed back into the building about 8 p.m. Sunday. Fire officials said residents in the 32 apartments above the affected columns cannot go back inside.

do not have gas or air conditioning

Residents that have gone back into the building do not have gas or air conditioning.

The condo buildings date back to the 60s.


Water damage led to partial collapse of Fairfax Co. condo building
By Neal Augenstein
03 October 2016

WASHINGTON — A nine-story condominium building in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County, Virginia, will need extensive work after water-deteriorated columns gave way, dropping the building 2 to 3 inches.

Late Monday morning, county building inspectors gathered in front of the damaged River Towers condominium on Wakefield Drive, taking measurements and snapping photographs, as part of an overall evaluation to determine what repairs will be needed in the two inhabited wings of the building.

Fairfax County firefighters helped residents retrieve pets and other valuables from the damaged wing, which had been boarded-off after Sunday’s partial building collapse. Residents of 32 units in the most-heavily-damaged wing were displaced overnight.

One woman, who chose not to give her name, said she was distraught fearing she would be unable to retrieve her cats. After being escorted into her home by firefighters, along with three plastic carrying cages, she said she was “so grateful.”

Brian Foley, the building official for Fairfax County, told reporters Sunday that River Towers partially collapsed, because of years of water damage.

“The weight of the building just crushed them, and it came down 2 to 3 inches, and shifted over another 2 to 3 inches,” said Foley.

The entire building was evacuated for much of Sunday, but residents in most of the building were allowed to return late in the day.
However, the residents of 32 units in one of the building’s three wings have been displaced.

“At this point we don’t believe it’s going to have any further collapse, because the deteriorated part of the columns is already down to grade,” Foley said.

“The building does need to be jacked back up, and put into place,” by the building owner, Foley said.

The inhabitants of the two other wings were able to spend the night, but without gas or air conditioning.

“The deterioration of the columns was definitely caused by water, just repeated years and years of water infiltration,” said Foley. “Things rust, and the columns just weren’t maintained, and were in need of repair.”

Foley said the county would not expect to fine the building owners, but plans on being in touch this week to discuss remediation.

The building was constructed in the 1960s.

Foley said inspections of the columns in the other two wings of the building showed they will need repair.

“They are OK now, but they definitely need repair,” said Foley, who said repairs of the two remaining wings will be discussed Monday.


Displaced residents provided with no date for return, due to structural issues
By Anna-Lysa Gayle
12 October 2016

In a meeting that lasted for a little more than an hour, displaced residents waited for answers at the River Towers Condominiums; but they did not get those answers.

“As you can see, I’m always in my flip flops. I can’t even get anything to wear. My sneakers, my son’s jacket, everything it’s in the building,” said Rita Woode who showed us the hotel that she has been living in for 10 days, with her 11-year-old son and her husband.

On Oct. 2, the columns beneath their condo slipped several inches, causing structural damage to building’s exterior and interior.

“Do you guys have enough money to keep living in this hotel?” asked ABC7’s Anna-Lysa Gayle

“No,” said Rita.

Dozens of Woode’s neighbors are also in a similar predicament. Residents in 32 units are displaced. They were allowed to grab a few items, more than a week ago, and they have not returned since.

“I need to get new clothes for my son, he doesn’t even have winter jacket with him,” said Woode.

At a meeting on Wednesday night, leaders with the River Towers Condominiums could not provide residents with a timeline for when they return to their condos.

“I’m living with my daughter, she lives in a three-story house, I have lousy legs…I love my daughter and son-in-law, but it’s not like having your own place,” said displaced resident Ralph Scherer.

Some residents believe the necessary repairs could take months and with little to no options or answers, Woode and others say they are worried.

“They need to talk to us and tell us if they will be able to help us,” said Woode.

Our cameras were not allowed inside the meeting at the River Towers Condominiums.


Residents of collapsed Fairfax Co. condo face months of repairs

By Neal Augenstein
24 October 2016

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Residents in 32 units of an eight-story condominium building in the Alexandria portion of Fairfax County will likely remain out of their homes for several months after one wing of the building dropped and shifted several inches due to years of water damage.

Two adjacent buildings in the River Towers complex have similar water damage, but investigators do not believe it is as severe as the damage to 6631 Wakefield Drive.
Brian Foley, the building official for Fairfax County, tells WTOP that after a thorough investigation by a building engineer retained by the condo association, he believes “there is no imminent threat of additional collapse.”

On Oct. 2, residents of 6631 Wakefield Drive were evacuated after the front wing of the T-shaped building dropped several inches over the building’s front portico.

Residents, except those living in the front wing — each floor contains four units per wing — were able to return after an initial survey.

In recent days, the portico at nearby 6621 Wakefield Drive was bolstered with steel and scaffolding. And Monday afternoon, crews were expect to continue shoring the portico at the third structure at 6641 Wakefield.

Foley said the process of using jacks to elevate the structure at 6631 Wakefield to its original position is intricate, time consuming and must avoid putting undue stress on the sagging structure.

An exact timeline for the project has not been determined.

“This is not something that can be done in days or weeks,” Foley said.

However he said he is pleased with the structural engineering work being done by Thomas Downey, LTD.

Currently, the 32 uninhabitable units still contain the owners’ belongings. But Foley said it might be necessary to empty the units before the structure could be lifted back into place.


Displaced residents balk at collapsed condo settlement offer
 By Neal Augenstein
18 November  2016

WASHINGTON — Residents of a partially collapsed condominium in Fairfax County can avoid condo fees on units they can’t live in — if they promise never to sue the owners’ association.

Residents of River Towers Condominium, in the county’s Alexandria section, still face months of repairs before they could return to their units, almost six weeks after one wing of the building dropped and shifted several inches due to years of water damage.

Building officials for Fairfax County have said repairs could take several months, because engineers will have to use jacks to elevate the structure at 6631 Wakefield Drive to return it to its original position.

On Oct. 2, the building partially collapsed and sagged. Many residents were able to return to their homes after an initial survey, except for those living in the 32-unit front wing.

WTOP has obtained a copy of a waiver offered to residents on Nov. 11, which would allow them to avoid paying monthly condominium fees while out of their homes, for six months, as long as they agree not to sue — a settlement offer that several unit owners and local lawmakers consider unfair.

“All we had to do was sign a waiver promising (no) further action. Of any kind, and apparently ever,” said one resident, who requested anonymity.

We are all still homeless, insurance will not touch us until we have definitive answers

“We are all still homeless, insurance will not touch us until we have definitive answers about what happened, and now as long as we promise not to sue they will forgive the HOA fees for units we cannot live in,” said the resident in an email to WTOP.

In a Wednesday meeting hosted by the building’s unit owners’ association — with Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck and Virginia Del. Mark Levine in attendance — residents voiced anger about the waiver offer.

In a WTOP interview, Storck said government officials “aren’t in the business of offering legal advice,” but said he and Levine suggested that residents not sign the waiver in its present form.

Levine, who represents the area in the House of Delegates, declined to speak specifically about the waiver. But he said he is “working with all interested parties to reach a fair resolution.”

no residents have signed

At this point, no residents have signed the offered waiver, according to sources.

Emails and voicemails requesting comment from River Towers officials were not returned.

Columns supporting the front portico in the affected building have deteriorated after years of water infiltration, Brian Foley, the building official for Fairfax County, has said.

Neighboring buildings at 6621 Wakefield Drive and 6641 Wakefield Drive have been bolstered with steel supports during the repair of similar water damage.

Foley has said building engineers have determined “there is no imminent threat of additional collapse.”

A final report detailing the damage is due in the first week of December, according to housing officials.


Collapsed Va. condo owners remain homeless, with few options
WTOP Washington DC
By Neal Augenstein
27 March 2017

Six months after the partial collapse of the River Towers condominium, residents still have no idea when they'll be able to return home.  (WTOP/Neal Augenstein, file)

WASHINGTON — Life was looking good for Margaret Crowley last October. Then it collapsed — literally.

The 65-year-old Fairfax County kindergarten teacher, who was planning to retire within 18 months, was at Nationals Park on Oct. 2, 2016, watching pitcher Max Scherzer go for his 20th win of the year against the Miami Marlins.

“I got an alert from the Fairfax County Fire Department that they were evacuating a building, and I realized it was mine,” said Crowley. “I rushed home.”

Crowley lives in River Towers Condominium, at 6631 Wakefield Drive, in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County.

Last October, residents in 32 units of the eight-story condominium were displaced after one wing of the building dropped and shifted several inches due to years of water damage.

have no idea when they can move back

Almost six months later, Crowley and other residents in the front wing of the T-shaped building still have no idea when they can move back into their homes, and are undergoing extreme financial hardship and inconvenience.

“I’m still paying my mortgage and condo fee for a place I can’t live,” said Crowley, in a WTOP interview.

Crowley said she’s luckier than many, who have had to find and pay for temporary housing.

“I’m staying with my sister-in-law — actually, she’s my ex-sister-in-law,” said Crowley. “We stayed friends, and she has a big house.”

Structural engineers hired by the condo board association are still trying to determine the scope of damage, and reasons for the partial collapse.

Which leaves Crowley and other residents in the lurch.

“I have homeowners insurance, but they haven’t paid ‘loss of use,’ because they’re still waiting on a report of the exact cause of the collapse,” said Crowley. “It’s long overdue — it was originally due Dec. 2.”

“There seems to be no urgency to address the situation,” said Crowley’s niece, Emily Fagan.

The inaction leaves Crowley with few choices.

“I’m getting ready to retire and I’m kind of stuck there, through no fault of my own,” said Crowley. “I can’t sell the place, and I can’t move someplace and continue to pay for two places to live.”

Fairfax County Board Chairman Sharon Bulova empathizes with the displaced residents.

“Some folks have been concerned that when they got their tax assessment, a value has been placed on the land that River Towers sits, but the actual value of their units has been valued at zero.”

Crowley shared her tax assessment with WTOP. It shows an 83 percent loss in the total value of her property, with her condo having no value.

value of the unit itself is zero

“Unfortunately, when someone’s trying to sell their unit, it would indicate the value of the unit itself is zero,” said Bulova. “Obviously, that would be remedied when the work is done and people are able to move back into their units.”

Jay Doshi, Fairfax County’s director of tax administration, said the situation at River Towers is similar to when a home is destroyed by fire.

“From the time the 32 condos were declared uninhabitable, we reduced the assessment for the remainder of the year, and it will continue until they can move back in,” said Doshi.

On the River Towers website, the condo association acknowledges it is having problems with its insurance carrier.

“We remain optimistic that Travelers will make the correct decision and provide coverage for the loss, but if not, the Association may need to engage in litigation,” according to the website.

Since River Towers is a private building, with a condo association, the county is limited in what it can to do to help.

“There’s a lot that has to happen among these private entities,” said Bulova. “We’re very much involved in making sure the work is being done correctly, and the county will facilitate inspections, once the building owner and insurance companies are ready for that to be done.”

While the condo board works to protect its own interests

While the condo board works to protect its own interests, residents still have no guidance on when they will be able to return home.

The River Towers condo association has not responded to approximately a dozen requests from WTOP for comment since Oct. 2. A representative was not available for comment early Monday.

“It’s very devastating,” said Crowley. “I had hoped to live in my condo for the rest of my life.”

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