Where We Live

Getting Neighborly With National Harbor

By Jim Brocker
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, March 28, 2009

Some residents of the Riverbend area of Fort Washington have been neighbors for decades, raising their children, attending picnics and potluck suppers, holding holiday decorating contests, and running food and toy drives.

"Folks really watch out for one another. You see some of the old-fashioned neighborliness folks used to have before the hustle and bustle of the day," said Zeno W. St. Cyr II, who is president of the citizens group for the Riverbend subdivision. One stealthy neighbor in Riverbend Estates has been known to leave vases of daffodils on doorsteps to mark the start of spring.

Some of the bustle has moved in next door in the form of the National Harbor development, providing shopping and entertainment as well as discussion over noise, traffic and construction.

The "Harbor," as residents call the mega-development in Prince George's on the Potomac River, opened in 2008. A fence prevents access on foot but also discourages non-residents from parking in the neighborhood. The rear of the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center lies in plain view of homes on Rosier Road, and the dust and dirt during construction was "a source of consternation," St. Cyr said.

Some issues remain, but Irma Bogan, whose Rosier Road home backs directly to the Gaylord, said developer Peterson Cos. and Gaylord have met frequently with neighbors.

"Certainly they have done a number of things with some of the landscaping. I think they are trying to be good neighbors," said Bogan, who has lived in her home for 36 years.

Elizabeth McIlveen, 77, has lived in her home since 1968 and still has a view of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge from her dining room despite the hotel. "You can see the fireworks on the Fourth of July," she added.

Longtime Riverbend area residents say the first homeowners were an ethnically and racially diverse group of government workers, professionals and military families who have remained friendly with one another.

McIlveen said she and her husband, David, were the first African Americans to move into Riverbend and were welcomed by most neighbors. "One lady invited our daughter to bake cookies," she recalled, and another neighbor gave them oak trees to plant.

Now, many residents of the Riverbend and Riverbend Estates subdivisions are older -- "aged in place" as Jane Hudnall, 64, put it -- but they have remained because they cherish their friendships.

"It's been the satisfaction with the people around us, our neighbors," said Jacqueline Pyatt, 70, president of the Riverbend Estates Homeowners Association. "We definitely have similar values and interests . . . just concern for the quality of life in the community."

Newcomers like Carl Beaudry and his wife, Melissa Houghton, were happy to find a new home in an established neighborhood with trees when they moved in in 2001. "We decided we wanted to start a family here," Beaudry said, and their son, Max, was born in September.

Some say crime is a growing concern as National Harbor brings more people to the area. Cpl. George Ross of the Prince George's County police department's District 4 Community Resource Team said he has spoken to neighborhood groups about crime prevention. They monitor the streets through a neighborhood watch program.

"For the most part, it's pretty quiet back here," he said. He said the number of calls in Fort Washington was lower than elsewhere in the district, like Oxon Hill and Temple Hills.

Guinevere Jones-Wood, an agent for Long & Foster, said housing prices in Riverbend, which generally features larger, custom-built homes, average around $400,000. Prices are lower in Riverbend Estates, a subdivision with a range of styles.

Jones-Wood purchased a home in Riverbend so her children could be near her parents, who lived in the neighborhood. Any impact of National Harbor on property values "would have been years before the project was built," she said.

One issue for some neighbors with the development is the sound from the Gaylord hotel's laundry facility.

"I wish you would have heard the noise," said Rosier Road resident Joyce Thorpe, who has been unhappy with the effects of National Harbor on the neighborhood.

The hotel is building a $350,000 multilayered "skin" around the outside of the laundry's exhaust fans, said Gaylord National spokeswoman Amie Gorrell. The work could be complete in April. "We wanted to make sure it wasn't a quick fix and the sound was mitigated properly," Gorrell said.

Bogan said the situation is better: "The noise has reduced exponentially with each layer that goes up."

For entertainment purposes, "there's nothing like being around the corner from the Harbor," said resident Brenda Cosby, who has long enjoyed the area's proximity to the District, where she can see plays or events at the Kennedy Center. "We're in the suburbs, but not far away from anything."

Jim Hudnall used to ride his bicycle to work from his Riverbend Estates home to the Naval Research Laboratory in the District. Now in retirement, he and his wife Jane still enjoy cycling and frequently use the nearby Henson Creek Trail. Both would like to see bike paths along Oxon Hill Road, a busy two-lane thoroughfare that provides access to Fort Foote Road and Riverbend.

Residents have attended meetings to offer suggestions for improving the road, and the spirit of activism is likely to continue, especially "if there's an issue that unites the neighborhood," Jane Hudnall said.

That sense of civic pride impressed Edwin Walker, who attended a homeowners meeting prior to purchasing his house in 1998. "I saw a group of people who genuinely appeared to care about each other," said Walker, who works in the District for the federal government. Now, he is active with his citizens association and a satisfied property owner. "When I step out on my deck, I'm in the forest. . . . This becomes a retreat from the city without being far from the city."

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