Where We Live

A Corner Bordered by Roosters and Rush Hours

By Ann Cameron Siegal
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, December 27, 2008

Accokeek, in southern Prince George's County, has a dual personality not readily visible from Route 210, a four-lane highway that bisects the community.

Once the domain of the Pomonkey and Piscataway Native American tribes, Accokeek today is an amalgamation of historic sites, run-down shacks, tidy ramblers, grand estates, working farms, small businesses and sprawling nature preserves.

For some residents, a rooster's crow is the preferred wake-up call. It's not unusual to see goats, horses, chickens or guinea hens roaming a property. In this setting, you'll often hear residents describe Accokeek as a cozy, laid back, semi-rural, unincorporated community that's not understood -- and sometimes looked down on -- by what they see as a developer-friendly county council.

Others have been drawn to new suburban developments with small lots and rural-sounding names such as Manning Preserve, Horizon Estates and Simmons Acres, but often bemoan the lack of major urban-style amenities within the community. There's no central shopping destination, and schools, police and water services seem overwhelmed.

Bridget Creek, a Washington native who is part American Indian, moved to Accokeek 11 years ago because, it was "small -- not a lot of hustle and bustle."

There were around 2,400 houses and apartments in 2000, but that number has more than doubled to around 5,000, said Judy Allen-Leventhal, a 20-year resident and past president of the Greater Accokeek Civic Association. There are now eight homeowners associations under that association's umbrella.

Her husband, Mike, said jokingly that he now commutes to Arlington via Route 210, with "15,463 of my closest friends." And yet, when it's not rush hour, "We can still be at the Smithsonian in 30 minutes."

In 2000, much of Accokeek, straddling both sides of Route 210, was designated as part of the county's rural tier, where zoning favors slow growth, agricultural land and large lot sizes. At the same time, a wide swath along the highway received "developing tier" status, allowing for high-density building.

Updating of the master plan for the southern part of the county is in progress and will guide development of Accokeek over the next 10 years. Debate centers on how to meld these different designations into one cohesive community.

The fact that folks willingly choose to live along unpaved roads in the woods is a foreign concept to many, said lifelong Accokeek resident Kelly Canavan, who chairs the AMP Creeks Council -- it stands for Accokeek, Mattawoman and Piscataway creeks -- a group formed to channel the county's focus away from what members describe as "unreasoned development" in the developing tier.

"We're not here by circumstance -- we're here by design," said Mike Leventhal. "We know how to travel to shops someplace else -- we chose not to have that in our back yard. Development should be amenable to what is already here, not in some new-urban format."

"We live in a region, not a subdivision," Canavan said. She points to nearby Waldorf's sprawl as a negative example of "what people will trade for convenience."

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