Where We Live

In Va., Leafy Landscape Takes On Life of Its Own

By Susan Straight
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, November 22, 2008

An old white oak has become a focal point for the Black Oak Cluster neighborhood.

The large tree, an estimated 100 to 125 years old, sits between two houses on Aberdeen Street, one of the four cul-de-sacs that make up the 39-home northwestern Arlington subdivision. It's one of a number of trees carefully preserved during construction of the houses in 1978 and 1980.

The residents recently completed an application for the tree to be included in the county's Notable Tree Program. "Everyone loves that tree so. It's such a special tree to us," said Susie Gardner, who lives next door to the tree. The Gardners and their neighbors have paid to have the tree pruned, fed and watered.

"A lot of people in our cul-de-sac went in together to put up a lightning rod to protect that tree," after another tree in the neighborhood was destroyed by lightning, she said.

Houses in Black Oak Cluster are large by Arlington standards, from 3,200 to 4,800 square feet. The largest in the neighborhood, a five-bedroom bi-level with two-car garage, had six bedrooms until previous owners combined two to make a larger master suite, said current owner Rhonda Snoeyenbos.

Snoeyenbos is good-naturedly modest about living in the biggest house. She had her eye on the neighborhood for some time, and when a colleague and resident tipped them off in 2004 that the house was for sale, she and her husband bought in.

"It was the house that was available. We weren't going for the biggest. These houses don't come up very often," she said.

"When someone moves out, someone will typically host a going-away party for them," said Wade Miller, a 22-year resident. "There hasn't been too much turnover."

He's right, at least by Washington area standards. Of the 39 houses built by two builders about 30 years ago, at least 12 retain their original owners.

The homes are built cluster-style, a type of zoning where density is calculated for an entire development, rather than individual lots, usually resulting in larger common areas and smaller private ones. At Black Oak Cluster, that means houses are set close to the front curb of their small cul-de-sacs, with small front yards and very narrow side yards. Many have slightly larger back yards, with large, old trees. "They're big houses on small lots," Snoeyenbos said.

Miller and his wife, Joyce, bought their home in 1986. They didn't like the idea of cluster housing, but when they saw Black Oak, they changed their minds. "It was absolutely gorgeous. It had everything we wanted," Miller said.

The neighborhood has no through streets; only 40th Street North, the spine of the cul-de-sacs, links back to the county street grid. The one other passage through the neighborhood is a paved walking trail.

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