Where We Live

The Concept Is British, and the Accent Is Friendly

Rita Hare, who bought her house nearly 20 years ago, rides her bicycle around the neighborhood, which has 148 townhouses that were built beginning in 1982.
Rita Hare, who bought her house nearly 20 years ago, rides her bicycle around the neighborhood, which has 148 townhouses that were built beginning in 1982. (Photos By Susan Straight For The Washington Post)

By Susan Straight
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, May 12, 2007

The sturdy brick wall enclosing Landmark Mews has only one entrance, making the carefully landscaped neighborhood feel almost like a gated community even though it sits next to Interstate 395 just south of Duke Street in Fairfax County.

"We're close to zero crime rate inside the walls," said Roger Casalengo, a resident as well as the property manager of the luxury townhouse subdivision. "There's one way in and one way out."

Neighbors, many of whom are original owners, know or at least recognize each other, he said. "You have to have a reason to come back here. Some people don't even know we're here."

That appeals to many residents. "Mews is an English concept -- it's enclosed. It's charming," Ingrid Voigt said. The attention to landscaping detail in some places does suggest a well-kept English garden.

"It's such a safe neighborhood. I feel perfectly comfortable here," Rita Hare said. Hare, who plays bagpipes in her basement and bikes around the neighborhood for exercise, was the first owner of her home, which she bought for $354,000 nearly 20 years ago.

The 148 homes of Landmark Mews were built over six years, beginning in 1982, by three companies, all following the same design for one-car-garage townhouses. There are two styles: the Byron and the Keats. The Byron is about 4,600 square feet, and the Keats is about 3,850 square feet. They are all four stories tall and have three full baths and two half baths.

While highway noise is noticeable from Stevenson Avenue, the road that runs between I-395 and the Mews, the wall and tall trees help insulate the residents in the interior. Beyond the first row of homes, there is little noise.

Katalin Melamed, an agent with Long & Foster Real Estate, has been selling homes in Landmark Mews since 2003 and remembers the years when the townhouses were under construction. "The interest rates were close to 20 percent for mortgages. Nobody could afford to buy, so the houses just sat there half built," she said.

Prices for the homes when they were new started at about $250,000, Melamed said. By 2005, sale prices topped out at $850,000 for an end unit and $740,000 for an interior unit, she said. Listings are now in the low to mid-$600,000s.

One of the neighborhood's assets, its cul-de-sac-like sheltered location, also makes it hard to find. To further confuse would-be visitors, the development has an Alexandria ZIP code but sits just outside the city's boundary in Fairfax County. "You really have to know the area to understand the boundaries there and to be able to find it," Melamed said.

The community maintains its own streets, sidewalks, landscaping, utility lines and snow removal, requiring homeowners association fees of $125 per month. Maintaining all of these also requires a great deal of work, some of which the residents divide among themselves.

"Other communities have asked us, 'What's the secret of why Landmark Mews looks so good?' The secret is hiring our own property manager," Tim Foster said. "We prefer to have our own people. Roger [Casalengo] knows every tree, every neighbor. He has a vested interest in the community."

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