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Southbridge grows up despite setbacks

Sarah Reynolds, her daughter Amaya Apperson, 9, and a friend, Anthony Horton, 7, enjoy a nice fall day in Southbridge.
Sarah Reynolds, her daughter Amaya Apperson, 9, and a friend, Anthony Horton, 7, enjoy a nice fall day in Southbridge. (Ann Cameron Siegal For The Washington Post)

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By Ann Cameron Siegal
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, December 5, 2009

With 1,543 homes spread over 600 acres, Southbridge on the Potomac tries many different routes to build a sense of community.

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For example, the homeowners association in this Prince William County community sponsors a "Home Show" twice a year -- not to highlight the latest home-improvement ideas, but to focus on residents who run home-based businesses.

Unlike home parties where individual vendors display their wares to an invited group, and where people often feel obligated to buy something because the host is a friend, Southbridge's event offers a no-pressure, no-time-commitment way for customers to see what their neighbors have to offer. This fall's show, held in the clubhouse, touted cosmetics, jewelry, Tupperware, technology, specialty foods, art and handmade crafts.

Lively chatter among vendors and customers -- some meeting for the first time -- covered pets, schools, landscaping and excitement over Southbridge's plans for its first swim team this coming season. Twelve-year resident Stacey Bivians chatted about her son's trumpet playing while perusing watercolors at the African arts table. Lynellen Perry, a Mary Kay cosmetics vendor, said she moved to Southbridge in 2000 because of its walkability and playgrounds. "This clubhouse binds people together," she said. "Our activities committee puts a lot of effort into finding unusual events."

Rosie Jarvis, who does custom sewing, talked about how the community and her family have grown over the past 10 years. She said her house is the perfect size for 13 grandchildren to visit.

In 2001, Jennifer Dorn, a real estate agent, purchased a single-family home on a one-third-acre lot that backs to woodland. "We would walk the dirt roads and watch the development grow," she said. Since then, Dorn said, "there have been a lot of connections made here." Community yard sales, teen dances, summer movie nights, fall fests and a long list of other events offer "good ways to come out and mingle with our neighbors," she said.

Southbridge, on the Cherry Hill peninsula just north of Dumfries, is still evolving more than a decade after the first townhouses were built. Since then, about a thousand single-family homes and a few houses attached to others via garages have joined the community.

Nine small neighborhoods within Southbridge each have their own physical characteristics. Lot sizes range from those that extend just beyond the perimeter of the house to almost an acre. Home sizes range from 1,008 square feet for the smallest townhouses to over 4,000 square feet for estate homes. It's not uncommon to hear of residents who have moved within Southbridge as their housing needs changed.

Southbridge's location is a big draw. Association committee member Stacey Thornton and her husband, Doug, moved there in 2001. "I'm from New Jersey, but rarely went into New York," she said. "But here, it's easy to get into D.C." And, for those seeking shopping or quiet walks in the woods, Southbridge residents are only minutes from Potomac Mills mall or Prince William Forest Park.

Southbridge's original residents took a chance that the developer's vision would materialize, but those plans changed considerably. As the community's name indicates, Southbridge on the Potomac was originally slated to extend eastward from Route 1 to the river. Much to the consternation of environmentalists who consider the peninsula to be the county's equivalent of Fairfax's Mason Neck, Southbridge's plans called for a Reston-style town center, hotel complex, Virginia Railway Express station and a championship golf course.

It was the planned golf course that really drew Rodney Cahow to the community 10 years ago. "They painted the vision, but we're still waiting," he said, noting that property east of the community has changed hands over the years. The 18-hole, par-72 golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus was completed in 2007 but now sits abandoned in the midst of what was to ultimately be Southbridge's sister community -- a 2,000-acre multi-use development with several thousand housing units and those long-promised amenities. That development hasn't materialized, either.

For now, as Cahow patiently waits for the economy to help get things back on track, he said, "In the grand scheme of things, we can't complain."

Cahow, a telecommunications specialist who helps organize charity golf tournaments for the Gerry Bertier Foundation, lauds what Southbridge does offer, including Swans Creek Elementary School, conveniently located within the community.

It was the reputation of that school that brought Sarah Reynolds and her family to Southbridge four months ago. She was also drawn to the swim and racquet club, which boasts the largest community pool in the county -- over 7,000 square feet -- along with two smaller pools -- one for laps and one for tots. Five thousand pool passes were issued this past year.

For now, Southbridge residents enjoy discounted memberships at the Old Hickory Golf Club in Woodbridge. And, year-round, residents can rent Southbridge's clubhouse for $150 a day.

Even though their local station is on hold, Southbridge commuters have two other VRE stations nearby. Rippon Landing's is five miles away, and Quantico's is seven.

Other commuter options include Route 234, Route 1 and I-95, although many residents wince at the thought of relying on I-95 during rush hour.

River Heritage Boulevard, the four-lane road that was to provide access to the riverside golf course community, now primarily leads to the region's newest Catholic high school -- Pope John Paul the Great -- which opened in 2008.

Southbridge's association dues cover common area and amenity maintenance as well as contracted services of a community patrol and an on-site management company.


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