Quiet, but Not Off the Beaten Path

By Diane Reynolds
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, January 10, 2009

Whether people move to Columbia's Clemens Crossing neighborhood for dramatic architect-designed homes or affordable tract houses, their reasons for buying in the neighborhood are largely the same: good schools, a woodsy setting and a convenient location.

"I just love my home," said Barbara Kaplan, the original owner of a 1978 custom contemporary designed by her ex-husband, an architect. The multilevel house has soaring ceilings and walls of windows overlooking an expanse of trees. Thirty years ago, it cost $120,000, Kaplan said, expensive at the time.

At first, she was drawn to the area because of the elementary school near the center of the neighborhood, where she could walk her children.

Now she appreciates the quiet, the wildlife and the proximity to downtown Columbia. She also likes the community feel on her block, where about half her neighbors are original owners.

For example, when one of her neighbors died in his sleep, the other residents remembered his hope of redoing the street's center cul-de-sac with a brick walkway. Every family on the block donated $150 to build the walk and landscape the site.

"We all went there and did the work," Kaplan said. Some of the bricks show the names of families who contributed to the project.

Clemens Crossing is next to the Hickory Ridge Village Center. Kaplan enjoys walking there and carrying home light groceries. A peculiarity of the neighborhood is that the village center was completed in 1992, long after Clemens Crossing's 650 mostly-1970s homes were built. Usually, Columbia village centers were erected first as a sales tool to attract potential residents.

The neighborhood has other features that set it apart, such as five houses on two-acre lots.

"To have five [such large lots] in one neighborhood is unusual," said Jane Parrish, the homeowners association manager of Hickory Ridge village.

It's the only neighborhood in Columbia of exclusively single-family houses, with no townhouses or apartments, Parrish said. It's also known as the "Swiss cheese" neighborhood because it's on pieces of land that Columbia founder James Rouse bought around the "holes" of existing small neighborhoods, according to "New City Upon a Hill: A History of Columbia, Maryland," by Joseph Rocco Mitchell and David Stebenne. The community is named for Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, and the street names reference his work.

Janet Roylo toured 60 houses before finding the modest Clemens Crossing split foyer that she and her husband, Lou, bought a decade ago for their family of five.

Janet Roylo was attracted by the home's big eat-in kitchen and by a yard that backed to open space and a tot lot. While not huge, the third of an acre yard was larger than many she had seen.

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