Like those of many Hidden Springs residents, the Dubows’ house is nestled on a thickly wooded lot. Streams thread between the homes and collect in ponds, which gives the neighborhood the feel of a place far outside the Beltway.
The CEOs, investment bankers and officials, such as former solicitor general Ted Olson, who make Hidden Springs their home guard that natural beauty and solitude. There is no sign for the entrance of the neighborhood. Some residents deliver their own trash to dumpsters at a local school, rather than have a noisy trash truck rumble down the main road.
Hidden Springs homes are custom-designed, so they range in style from colonial to modern and from roughly 2,500 square feet to 15,000.
When the 37-acre neighborhood was created in the 1960s, covenants were put in place to preserve the rustic character. The guidelines regulate how owners develop their five-acre lots, which trees can be removed and how homes can be lit, among other things.
The Dubows and other residents contacted the Yis and their builder about their concerns in February. Cameron said the Yis were willing to work with the neighbors. But court documents painted a different picture: The Yis’ attorney allegedly “defiantly proclaimed” the covenants did not apply to his clients and told the neighbors he would “see them in court.”
And that’s exactly what happened.
The Dubows filed a lawsuit this month against the Yis and their builder, saying the chateau would ruin the “sylvan character” of Hidden Springs, the plans violate the neighborhood covenants, and the chateau would sink local home values, according to court documents. The Dubows want the plans scaled back to fit the more “conservative” aesthetics of Hidden Springs. The Dubows and their attorney declined to comment.
Cameron said the covenants expired on the Yis’ property years ago.
It’s likely not the last such conflict.
There were eight homes worth over $5 million sold in the D.C. area in 1999, according to numbers supplied by luxury home broker Casey Margenau from the main sales database used by real estate agents. The number increased to 36 in 2005. Since January 2011, Margenau said there have been 26 such homes sold in the area.
Margenau believes most of that growth comes from sales of mega-mansions over 12,000 square feet. The homes are largely being built in McLean, Great Falls, Potomac and Bethesda, where one estate is a whopping 35,000 square feet.
“Only in the last 10 years, we have come to the point where we have a substantial amount of very high-end homes in our area,” Margenau said.
The homes usually include a raft of features not seen on your typical tract home: master bedrooms with kitchenettes for midnight snacks, inlaid hardwood floors, one-touch lighting systems that will turn on every light in the home at pre-programmed levels.
Margenau said he believes the market for mega-mansions is being driven by D.C.’s newly prosperous and by an influx of international business elites, who have different tastes and are being drawn by the D.C. area’s relatively strong economy.
For now, “Le Chateau de Lumiere” remains a work in progress. The land on the lot is graded and a foundation has been poured, but nervous neighbors are waiting to see how it will take shape and what it will mean for their own properties.
As one quipped: “Versailles had thousands of acres. This has five.”
Staff researcher Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.