Somerset, Md. is a big-city small town

Between Bethesda and Chevy Chase lies a lesser-known hamlet

July 11

When Jeffrey Slavin moved from a Friendship Heights high-rise to nearby Somerset 15 years ago, he sought a suburban existence that wouldn’t require him to give up the conveniences of urban life.

“I basically just moved into the closest single-family houses to where I was living,” said Slavin.

In addition to its proximity to an urban center, Slavin also liked the fact that Somerset, an incorporated town tucked between Bethesda and Chevy Chase in Montgomery County, Md., had control over its local services. It handles its own snow and trash removal. It has town tennis courts and a pool. It even maintains its own tree canopy with the help of a town arborist, and it has been recognized by the Arbor Day Foundation for its work.

“It’s a real community, which I really liked,” said Slavin, who has served as the town’s mayor since 2008. “It’s a little oasis of trees and parkland where you can still be right on a Metro stop and have access to the Beltway.”

Slavin said there are multiple generations of families living in Somerset, as children who grew up in the town come back to raise their own families.


(The Washington Post)

There are two dozen working artists living in Somerset, and the town recently held an art show in its renovated town hall, Slavin said.

Somerset residents also recently established the Helping Hands group, which pairs younger folks with older adults who need rides to doctor’s appointments and other assistance.

“We are way more than our big houses and beautiful trees,” Slavin said. “I want Somerset to be known for the good its residents do in the world, and the way residents rally around each other when their neighbors need help.”


Eclectic architecture:
Somerset was incorporated in 1906 but was founded in 1890, when a group of government scientists bought 50 acres of tobacco farmland for a residential development, according to a history of the town compiled by Helen H. Jaszi for the town’s 75th anniversary in 1981.

The town’s 35 residents successfully petitioned to incorporate in 1906 so they could improve the substandard or non­existent roads, sidewalks and wastewater system, according to Jaszi.

Today, the town’s housing stock includes both historic Victorians and contemporary mansions. There are split-levels built in the 1960s and a Sears house from the early 1900s, said Phyllis Wiesenfelder, a Long & Foster agent who has lived in Somerset since 1982. Tear-downs are also common, with big new houses replacing smaller ones, Slavin said.

The Town Council requires homeowners to present plans for tear-downs and other major renovations to the council, and encourages neighbors to weigh in on the plans. Additionally, before making any major change to a house, the owners must give notice to all neighbors, and get neighbors to sign that notice.

“It opens a dialogue early in the process, and I think it creates some peer pressure to make design decisions that won’t jeopardize their entree into the town,” Slavin said. “People don’t want their new neighbors mad at them before they even move in.”


Fun for kids and adults:
Kids can walk to the Somerset swimming pool, where many are part of the Somerset Dolphins swim team.

They can also walk or bike to downtown Bethesda via the Capital Crescent Trail.

The town sponsors several popular events and activities, including a singing group, a book club, a Fourth of July picnic and parade, and a newcomers party. In the fall, there’s the Somerset Elementary School Back-to-School Classic 8K, which benefits after-school programs at the school.

“Halloween on Cumberland Avenue is not to be believed,” Wiesenfelder said. “One of my kids, who are grown now, recently thanked me for moving here, saying it was the best place to grow up.”

It’s not just the children in Somerset who enjoy the town’s walkability. Adults like that the town is just a short walk away from Friendship Heights, with shops and restaurants, Slavin said.


Living there:
Somerset consists of just 440 houses in a quarter of a square mile. The community is bordered by Little Falls Parkway and River Road to the west, between Drummond and Cumberland avenues to the north, Wisconsin Avenue to the east, and Little Falls Branch to the south.

Wiesenfelder said houses that go on the market in Somerset don’t stay there for long.

“It is a very sought-after community,” she said. “It’s common for a house to sell in a week, and it’s common to get eight offers on one house.”

Those offers are rarely for less than $1 million, Wiesenfelder said.

In the past 12 months, 11 houses sold, at prices ranging from $965,000 for a four-bedroom split-level (the only sale below $1 million all year) to more than $2 million for a five-bedroom contemporary, Wiesenfelder said. Two houses are under contract: an expanded and renovated Colonial with a half-acre yard, for $2.695 million, and a five-bedroom, five-bathroom house built in 2011, for $3.95 million.


Schools:
Somerset Elementary, Westland Middle and Bethesda-Chevy Chase High.


Transit:
Somerset is within walking distance of the Friendship Heights Metro station and several bus routes.


Crime:
Lucille Baur, a Montgomery County police spokeswoman, said there have been two residential burglaries and two thefts from vehicles in Somerset in the past year.

Amy Reinink is a freelance writer.

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