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In Ward 8, Groundbreaking Is a Symbol of a Sea Change

By Debbi Wilgoren
Sunday, April 24, 2005; Page C04

To write about economic development in Washington these days is to get weekly, sometimes daily, media alerts announcing groundbreakings, ribbon-cuttings and other small reminders of the city's seemingly unstoppable construction boom.

Some 7,000 housing units have been built in the past four years, according to the office of D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), from pricey condos to more modest townhouses, reaching into every ward and almost every neighborhood of the capital city. In contrast, during some of the city's most difficult years in the 1990s, not a single new home was built.

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So perhaps it should have come as no surprise the other day when an e-mailed advisory proclaimed a groundbreaking ceremony -- which was attended by the mayor and Ward 8 council member Marion Barry (D) on Wednesday -- heralding construction of a 119-townhouse development called Danbury Station in the city's southernmost tip.

But wait a minute. This project was on the block of Danbury Street just west of South Capitol Street, notorious not so long ago for the crumbling apartment buildings that acted as staging areas for drug dealers and other criminals.

And the builder was Dallas-based Centex Homes, which for years has built thousands of homes and townhouses in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs but until now had never turned a single shovelful of dirt in the District.

It has sold the first 24 townhouses, priced from the high $200,000s to the low $300,000s, and has a list of 800 people interested in the rest of the homes.

A few years ago, if someone had told Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Maria Powell that one day there would be $300,000 townhouses on Danbury Street, "I would not have believed it," she said in an interview. "It's been a long time coming."

Powell said people in the neighborhood are excited to be rid of the apartment buildings, which were torn down after years of sitting vacant.

She said they are pleased about Danbury Station because it will draw new, young professionals to the area, pushing up property values; because it will offer homeownership opportunities for some who rent in Ward 8; and because the project is getting city financing in exchange for setting aside 24 townhouses at below-market prices for lower-earning households.

Danbury Station is scheduled for completion in slightly more than two years. It will sit down the block from the just-rebuilt Patterson Elementary School. Nearby, Washington Highlands Neighborhood Library is being considered for an upgrade, and several long-promised commercial projects are edging toward reality.

Those factors, and the pent-up demand for new housing, made the project attractive to Centex.

"It's a great location for us," said Karin Silver, a spokeswoman for the company. "It's affordable for people in this market. It's close to work. It's certainly opportunity for developers."

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