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Two months before their wedding, Rita Nurmi and Brian Kay got the present of their dreams -- the keys to a modern two-story town house inAnnapolis.

With excited smiles, they rushed into their new home and went from room to room, admiring the freshly painted cream-coloredwalls, the well-equipped kitchen and the muddy back yard.

They talked eagerly about their plans to fill the empty rooms with furniture. Kay, a sous chef at the Treaty of Paris restaurant in downtown Annapolis, inspected the kitchen with an eye toward cooking romantic dinners after his April 5 marriage to Nurmi.

"This is the first time we'd seen it, so it's really a surprise for us," said his fiancee, an administrative assistant at Second Genesis, a residential drug-treatment program in Crownsville. "We might even get married right here if we can get into the house soon enough."

Another engagedcouple and a young mother toured their new three-bedroom homes yesterday as the city celebrated the opening of Greenbriar, an affordable town house community off Forest Drive.

Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins called Greenbriar the most ambitious project of its kind to date and promised to back similar initiatives in the future to boost the city's dwindling stock of inexpensive homes.

"We're going to grow and growand see more and more of this," he said.

Yesterday's ceremony marked the long-awaited completion of the first four of 35 town houses. With help from the city, state and local banks, a non-profit community agency is selling the houses for between $71,000 and $76,111 to first-time buyers.

Low- to moderate-income families qualify for reduced-interest mortgages, keeping the price affordable, said Dallas Evans, head of the Community Action Agency, which began planning Greenbriar several years ago.

The city agreed to borrow $451,000 and lend it to the private, community-based agency. Neighbors and city lawmakers testified in support of the project in the fall of 1990, but several glitches, including a feasibility study that showed public improvements would double the land costs, delayed the work.

Last September, the Community Action Agency finished hammering out the details andput the first homes up for sale. Cathy Simmons, a 39-year-old supervisor of juvenile services in PrinceGeorge's County, was one of the first pulled from the waiting list.

Yesterday, the mayor handed her a big pair of scissors to cut a red ribbon tied around her gray and white-trimmed home.

"I'm very excited," she said after taking a quick peek inside. "This is the American dream. I've always wanted to have my own house."

She and her fiance, Bernard James Jr., 32, lingered after the crowd began to leave to take a closer look at the home.

Annapolis Bank and Trust set up a $500,000 revolving constructionfund to get the project started. Money from the fund was used to install the first four modular homes. With proceeds from the sales, the Community Action Agency will sell the next group.

Alderman Carl O.Snowden, whose district includes the Greenbriar community, called the partnership between the city and South County Residential Projects,the Community Action Agency'sdevelopment branch, "one of those real win-win situations."

Saying home ownership still is "a dream that's not a reality for a whole lot of people," Snowden emphasized that Greenbriar "is not a panacea, but it's a beginning."

Other city leaders agreed and cited their commitment to affordable housing by pointing to recent projects the city has participated in, including five inexpensive single homes for first-time buyers at Poplar Woods.

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