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11/21/03 - Sun Sentinel

Housing Communities Near Atlantic Avenue Draw Good Reviews from Delray Residents

By Michelle Brown

"Location, location, location."

Those were reasons James Ziese, 60, made the move to the new $17.5 million Atlantic Grove development on West Atlantic Avenue.

Ziese, who used to live in a rental apartment on the south end of Delray Beach, was looking for a new home about two years ago when he saw the signs for the new complex of houses and commercial space. Instantly taken, Ziese walked into the sales office to become an owner of one of the 55 new villas, and for the past two months he has been close to downtown shops and restaurants, within walking distance of what he calls "the action."

"Delray has something going on just about every week, and now I can walk to it. I'm physically across the street from the tennis center, where a lot of events take place. Not that I'm into tennis, but it's nice to have it close within walking distance," he said.

"I like being close to downtown, close to the ocean ... I don't want to have to drive everywhere. I want to be able to walk to everything while I'm still physically able."

Walking isn't the only exercise Ziese is getting.

"It took me a while to get used to the three stories in the villa," he said. "There are 17 steps in between the stories."

Deborah Delva, 40, has had to make the same adjustment. But the stairs are the only complaint the single mother has about her new home. Unlike Ziese, Delva was not instantly sold on living so close to busy Atlantic Avenue and downtown, but the other new construction properties that interested her were out of her price range.

Delva learned through a friend at the Delray Beach Community Development Corp. about 10 Atlantic Grove units being made available at a lower price for reduced-income buyers. The CDC is a non-profit agency and one of three partners who built Atlantic Grove.

"At first, I thought `no.' I didn't want to live that close to Atlantic Avenue. Then I saw signs and I had seen the some of the other new places on Federal Highway. I thought they were cute," Delva said. "I've been in Delray most of my life, and that side of Atlantic Avenue didn't appeal to me."

But she heard about plans for redeveloping West Atlantic Avenue. And with the help of a government grant, she was able to put a down payment on one of the affordable units priced at $134,000 and move out of her mother's Delray Shores home, where she was living temporarily to save money.

The other 45 units at Atlantic Grove have an average price of $200,000. All 55 units have new owners, much to the delight of Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Diane Colonna and the two other project partners, New Urban Communities and the Center for Technology Enterprise and Development, know as the TED Center.

To help attract moderate-income families to the development, the CRA offered up to $20,000 in second-mortgage subsidies to those who qualified. Colonna said she is pleased with the end result, which brings additional residents and revenue to downtown. Although the project garnered some criticism for not having more units available for working-class families, Colonna said the experience was a learning phase and that going forward, the CRA plans to have a more specific cost structure in place for developers and mortgage applicants.

"We are definitely interested in doing more mixed-used, mixed-income developments," Colonna said. "This style of living is what many people desire. They want to be close to goods and services, close to where the action is. This is the trend, and we plan to keep moving in this direction."

Atlantic Grove is already going into another phase of 14 additional townhomes and more commercial property, Colonna said. A piece of property that Mount Olive Baptist Church owns is under contract to be purchased directly by Atlantic Grove developers.

The homes' higher price tags ultimately may benefit the city since 50 percent of the profits that come from the two nonprofit developers can be reinvested in the community, Colonna said.

More than new homeowners are taking notice of Delray Beach's success with Atlantic Grove. On Sept, 23, the Florida Housing Coalition in Miami invited Colonna to do a presentation on affordable housing, and she was recently asked by the Florida Redevelopment Association to make the same presentation at its annual conference in Tampa.

"People are coming from all over Florida -- Leesburg, Daytona and Lakeland -- to find out what we've done," Colonna said.