Construction crews clear land where Ryan Homes is building townhouses at Dakota Crossing in the District. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

For decades, developers and District officials promised residents of Fort Lincoln a model planned community with all the amenities — a destination for those who wanted beautiful homes, green space and shopping. But though the homes were built, the shopping center never materialized.

Finally, after years of false starts and promises, residents of the Northeast Washington neighborhood will be able to shop and dine close to where they live.

“It was always ‘around the corner,’ ” said Robert King, who has served as the area’s advisory neighborhood commissioner for 29 years. “It was always, ‘It’s coming.’ Well, in the words of the late Etta James, ‘At last, at last, at last.’ ”

Trees and shrubs that covered the 44-acre hill on the eastern edge of the neighborhood — a spot visible to thousands of daily commuters coming into the District via Route 50 — have been cleared. In coming months, the skeleton of the Shops at Dakota Crossing will rise. The 430,000-square-foot retail center will be home to the District’s first Costco, a Marshalls department store and a Shoppers Food Warehouse.

Across from the $60 million center, Ryan Homes is constructing 314 townhouses. According to a sign at the sales center, more than 30 have been sold.

King said the shopping center will be a boost for the community of 3,000-plus residents, a mix of young professionals, seniors and families.

Stephanie Mwangaza Brown, who moved to Fort Lincoln in 2007, is looking forward to having shops, sit-down restaurants and maybe a bank close by. And although she worries about the traffic the new development may bring, she’s hopeful the center will increase the value of her townhouse.

The vision for New York Ave.

City officials see the development as an important visual anchor for their efforts to remake the New York Avenue corridor, a commuter artery traveled by 87,000 vehicles every day. With its mishmash of gas stations, fast-food joints and storage yards, the road is hardly the most scenic introduction to the nation’s capital.

But with Wal-Mart slated to open a store at New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road and a growing number of upgraded hotel offerings catering to budget-minded tourists and families, the character of the area is changing.

D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange (D), who represented Ward 5 for two terms before winning an at-large seat on the council in 2011, said he also hopes to bring a bit of Hollywood to the corridor. He envisions studios for film and television production headquartered at a long-vacant Hecht’s distribution center that was purchased by D.C. developer Douglas Jemal in 2011.

For now, though, the focus is on Costco.

Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) said the project will bring the kinds of amenities, shops and services that residents in other neighborhoods take for granted. With Costco as its anchor tenant, the center could also become a regional hub for shoppers from all over the area, Brown said.

“We lose about $1 billion in retail sales a year,” said Victor L. Hoskins, deputy mayor for planning and economic development. “Those retail sales are going to Virginia and Maryland. It’s fine that Virginia and Maryland have these stores, but people in D.C. really want to shop in [their] town.”

‘A transformative project’

District officials say development is expected to create 1,200 jobs in construction and retail and bring an estimated $634 million in tax revenue to the city over 30 years.

Developers say Costco will open by the end of the year. Other stores will come online in 2013.

The center is a joint project between Fort Lincoln New Town Corp., CSG Urban Partners and Trammell Crow. The D.C. government provided $17.3 million in public financing.

“This is a transformative project — a great example of economic development that works from all angles,” said Adam Weers, a principal with Trammell Crow. “It will be used by the neighborhood and by people from all parts of the District. You’re getting a combination of both neighborhood-service retail and destination retail.”

In addition to the larger retailers, Weers said the center will have a “main street” component that could include restaurants and smaller retailers.

Although the project is a far cry from the original vision for the Northeast neighborhood as a model planned community of 25,000 people, complete with homes, offices, its own monorail system and a lake, residents say they’re glad the long-stalled project is moving forward.

“We broke the ground,” King said. “Now I want to make sure the train stays on the tracks. I don’t want to lose any of the wheels.”

Environmental hurdles

While many have focused on the economic benefits of the project, some have expressed concerns about the environmental impact.

Fort Lincoln, site of a Civil War fort, is in one of the city’s choicest natural settings. Despite its proximity to Route 50, the neighborhood is nestled along grassy hillsides, and residents speak fondly of the area’s deer and birds.

Concerns about the loss of valuable wetlands stalled the project for five years as developers negotiated with various agencies. As part of an agreement with the D.C. Department of the Environment, developers will build 1.83 acres of new wetlands on the site to replace the 0.90 acre that will be destroyed.

The developers believe that’s a fair trade-off, but others have their doubts.

“Trying to build new wetlands to replace stuff that’s been there, it’s always a risky move,” said Mike Bolinder of Anacostia Riverkeeper. “We can try to build wetlands, but we have no idea how the water will interact with the earth.”

Others have criticized the planned 2,000-space parking lot, saying the project should be more transit-friendly. The neighborhood is accessible by bus but is not near a Metro station.

But city officials maintain the project will bring new vibrancy to the corridor.

“When people drive into the city, [New York Avenue] is going to look beautiful,” said Brown. “They’re going to come into a city where they’ll see Costco, new homes, restaurants; it will be a whole different flavor.”