Where We Live

The Good Life, Down by the River

By Susan Straight
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, September 26, 2009

The 278 homes of Villamay -- all-brick split-levels, colonials, ramblers and ranch-style homes -- were built by Texas civil engineer Gene May, also known for the grand brick estate homes of his McLean community, Evermay. The homes of Villamay lie on gently curving suburban streets and range from 2,900 to 3,800 square feet. Most are two or three stories.

Leeann and John Veatch have lived in Villamay, south of Alexandria, for 12 years after moving to be closer to John's family. "In this Fort Hunt area, people tend to grow up, go to high school here, move away and then come back," Leeann said. Often they return to raise children of their own, and that's exactly what they planned to do.

She recalled that when they were looking for a house she didn't want to see any split-levels. But when her husband persuaded her to look at the house they now own, she noticed the all-brick construction and the two-thirds-acre lot and decided to look inside. "I sat down in the area where we'd live, and I thought, 'This feels really good.' The whole house felt really good to me," she said.

Their 1964-built home is typical of the split-levels in the neighborhood, with four bedrooms, 3 1/2 baths and three levels. It also has three fireplaces.

The homes in the neighborhood, where sales averaged $819,000 over the past year, were originally designed following six basic styles. Most were built on quarter- to half-acre lots from 1958 to 1966. In 1959, a marketing brochure listed the home sales prices as $32,556 to $45,000. New owners could customize their homes with options like parquet floors, a first-floor master bedroom and air conditioning, according to resident and real estate agent Marjorie Spires.

The most expensive homes in the neighborhood are on Regent Drive, Valon Court and Gatewood Drive. With sweeping views of the Potomac River, homes can sell for more than a million dollars, considerably higher than in the rest of the neighborhood. The latest one to sell was in 2005, for $1.03 million, according to Spires. "They just don't come up very often," she said.

Besides spectacular river views Villamay's proximity to the Potomac also means its land is governed by Virginia wetlands preservation and protection laws. Any renovations that significantly alter trees and other plants require owners to obtain a permit. When Spires and her husband, David, set out to double the size of their home, they first had to obtain a permit by agreeing to plant 17 trees and 56 bushes and to build a 110-foot retaining wall.

"It was fine. We just had to comply with the Wetlands Act," she said. The landscaping requirements served to replace what had been disturbed by the construction, she noted. The couple enjoy the plants and animals of the neighborhood. "I'd never seen baby foxes before" we lived in Villamay, Spires said.

Residents are also passionate about their parkland. "We're within biking distance of I can't tell you how many parks," Talley Fulghum said. One of these parks is Lamond Park, with 18 acres stretching across much of the southern end of the neighborhood. The Fairfax County Park Authority bought the land in 2000 from the Lamond family, which had owned the land since 1940, for $4.6 million. The Villamay homeowners association holds its Easter egg hunt and other neighborhood gatherings in the park.

Besides being regular users of the George Washington Parkway bicycle trail, residents say they also bike to the Belle Haven and Hollin Hall shopping centers.

Fulghum's husband, Chris, the homeowners association president, said they waited a year and a half to get a house in the neighborhood. "She and I just fell in love with this area," he said. They bought a 1961 two-story colonial with four bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths and two fireplaces from the original owner.

Buying from the original owner is not so unusual, Chris said. At an annual homeowners association dinner four years ago, 50 of the 278 homes still had their original owners. The past few years have seen a number of original owners move on to retirement homes or pass away, he said, adding that the couple no longer feel like the neighborhood's youngest residents. "We really broke the age curve" when moving in 1998, he said. "Now there are other kids my daughter's age."

Leeann and John Veatch noticed the same age shift since they moved in 12 years ago. "It's really turned over," Leeann said. "It's a good 50-50 mix of older and younger residents now."

Residents say it's a good place to raise children, in no small part because the families tend to know all of the other families on the street. "I can tell my daughter she can go to any house in the neighborhood and they'll know her," Talley Fulghum said.

The $50 annual homeowners association dues cover regular resident activities such as the Fourth of July bike parade, an event that draws the whole neighborhood. Participants bring out their lawn chairs, sing patriotic songs and watch the parade of decorated bikes. A fire truck from Sherwood Hall usually makes a visit, and kids are allowed to climb on board. For the first time this year, the ice cream man joined the crowd.

Nine-year-old Kiki Veatch has a clear favorite annual event. "The Easter egg hunt is really fun," she said.

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