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From seedy to sought-after: D.C.'s Mount Vernon Triangle becoming urban village

CityVista, the largest development in the neighborhood, has condos, rentals and street retail.
CityVista, the largest development in the neighborhood, has condos, rentals and street retail. (Josh Howell)
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By Will Smith and Mark Wellborn
Saturday, January 30, 2010

A few years ago, Mount Vernon Triangle was an area known for parking lots and prostitution. Today, it is a popular destination in the District for young home buyers, where new high-rise condos sit amid remnants of what was once an urban wasteland.

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The neighborhood didn't happen by accident. In the early 2000s, the redevelopment of downtown and Penn Quarter was in full bloom, and builders were looking eastward for more opportunities. Underdeveloped but with great proximity to downtown and public transit, they turned to the area just east of Mount Vernon Square. In 2002, the city and developers launched an initiative to revitalize the area. The Mount Vernon Triangle Community Improvement District (CID), established in 2004, coordinates the initiative, provides community services like cleaning and safety, and markets the nascent neighborhood. Six years later, the housing inventory in Mount Vernon Triangle has grown from about 500 residential units to 2,000, effectively quadrupling the population of the neighborhood.

The newcomers are largely young professionals drawn by convenient access to both downtown and Northern Virginia, where many of them work.

Virginia Kromm, 29, bought a one-bedroom-plus-den at CityVista, a three-tower residential complex at Fifth and K streets NW, in September 2008.

"I don't have a car, so when I was deciding on a place to buy, I realized that I could either go into the suburbs and then commute to work or I could live here, be close to restaurants and retail, and have some of the best access to public transportation in the city," Kromm said.

Public transportation is a big selling point for Mount Vernon Triangle. The Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro station on the Red, Green and Yellow lines is an eight-minute walk from the heart of the neighborhood, and Metro Center on the Red, Blue and Orange lines is five minutes beyond that. The Circulator bus routes also run by, and access to I-395 is just a couple of blocks away.

In addition to location, Mount Vernon Triangle's housing stock -- almost exclusively comprising condos such as Madrigal Lofts, The Sonata, 555 Mass. Ave. and Yale Steam Laundry -- attracts residents with plentiful amenities and services.

Lister Lim, 34, who bought a one-bedroom at Yale Steam Laundry in 2007 after living near Gallery Place for two years, explained that the growing options for shopping and restaurants were what sold him.

"The quality of life here is great," Lim said. "Nightclubs and restaurants are regularly opening up, and there is talk of building hotels and more shops. I hang out a lot with the people in my building. It sometimes feels like a dorm."

Most of the neighborhood's amenities are at the ground level of CityVista, the area's largest development, with 224 rental apartments and 441 condominiums. The "urban lifestyle" Safeway at the northwest corner of CityVista (dubbed by the supermarket company because of amenities such as a nut bar and open-flame hearth oven) is the neighborhood's popular grocery, while the coffee shop-restaurant Busboys and Poets and trendy deli Taylor Gourmet sit around the corner on K Street. The ground floor is rounded out with a hardware store, bank, and Results Gym.

"Compared to other new neighborhoods in the city, Mount Vernon Triangle offers a lot," said Paul Sieczkowski, founder of the Triangle, a neighborhood blog. "If you went to the ballpark neighborhood or NoMa, you would find that the amenities are pretty scant."

CID Executive Director Bill McLeod notes that rampant prostitution was a big problem in this area a few years ago, and the CID worked to curb the activity and hired police officers to patrol the streets on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.


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