Where We Live

They're Townhouses, But 'This Isn't a Townhouse Feeling'

By Diane Reynolds
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, August 2, 2008

In 1974, when the King Charles Commons townhouse development opened in Columbia, a sales brochure described the Colonial-inspired community as recapturing "a bright page in American history" when "the easy and gracious living style afforded leisure time for politics and the arts."

Whether or not it affords leisure time, the neighborhood remains a peaceful spot, residents said.

"People don't know we're back here," Angela Terrell, 71, said of the neighborhood, which consists of several blocks of townhouses surrounded by woods at the end of a quiet street.

Terrell and her husband, Fred, who moved to King Charles Commons with their four children in 1977, recently completed a 780-square-foot addition to their end-unit townhouse.

The end units, which are turned at 90-degree angles from the rows of townhouses to which they are attached, appear head-on as single-family, Colonial-style homes. Many are brick on three sides, an unusual feature in Columbia, and some have double doors opening to a center hallway. A few owners have added large screened porches to the sides of their homes, heightening the single-family effect.

The community was the product of builder Edmund J. Bennett and the architecture firm Patterson & Worland. Bennett, who preserved as many trees as possible in his 1960s Rockville community, New Mark Commons, brought the same aesthetic to King Charles Commons, which is shaded by dozens of tall trees.

Patterson & Worland, who were known in the region for their Colonial-style townhouses, designed the King Charles homes with staggered fronts, some jutting out farther to add visual interest to the rows. Rather than repeating identical houses, the architects varied the look of the units. Thus each home, though connected to other houses, looks individual. Some homes are frame, some brick. Wooded paths wind between townhouse blocks, leading to open space and to Phelps Luck Elementary School and Phelps Luck pool.

Terrell, a semi-retired journalist, first encountered her townhouse when she showed it to a client during a stint as a real estate agent. The client chose another property, but Terrell was taken with the house and its location. She thought her husband would warm up to it, even though he didn't like townhouses. She was right.

"When he saw the back and Jackson Pond, he said, 'This isn't a townhouse feeling,' " she said.

"You can't buy this," said Fred Terrell, 70, waving a hand toward the wooded view from his back yard. "It's unbelievable."

Although the two-year project of adding space was often trying, the Terrells said, they were lucky to be able to do it: Many newer townhouses don't come with yards big enough for such expansion.

Ronda Lennon, who moved to King Charles Commons nine years ago, also wasn't sure she wanted a townhouse, but she was sold once she toured the home and community.

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