Potomac Crest: Montgomery's garden spot

By Susan Straight
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, February 25, 2011; 10:20 AM

One of the first things you notice about Potomac Crest, a community of 131 townhouses and duplexes and 31 detached homes near Seven Locks Road and Tuckerman Lane, is the landscaping. "The overall community is beautifully landscaped and maintained by the owners and a very active homeowners association," said Debbie Cohen, a real estate agent with Long & Foster.

The community's focus on its trees, shrubs and flowers earned it an award of excellence for its landscaping last year from the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. Potomac Crest was one of 34 winners of the 24th annual Keep Montgomery County Beautiful community beautification awards.

It's not the first time, either. "We've won the award of excellence multiple times since 2000," said Janet Levenberg, who chairs the homeowners association's landscaping committee. Levenberg worked with the Brickman Group, a national landscaping firm headquartered in Gaithersburg, to execute the design.

Judges for the contest, run by the Keep Montgomery County Beautiful Task Force, are not easy to impress. "Most of the judges come from the National Capitol Area Garden Club Design Council" and are master gardeners, said the assistant head judge, Paula Knepper, who is a master gardener herself. Knepper said that Potomac Crest stood out.

Levenberg and her committee, including longtime members Buddy Schmidt (also the homeowners association's vice president), Inga Frank, Barbara Wilson, Judy Miller and Tony Liccardi, didn't have much to start with.

In the early days of the neighborhood, which was built between 1992 and 1996, the landscaping was adequate, but an afterthought.

Levenberg moved to the community in the late 1990s and saw immediate room for improvement in the landscaping. "There were berms everywhere," she said, referring to the common practice in new developments to bury construction material under dirt and ground-covering plants. "There seemed to be no pattern to the landscaping," Levenberg said.

Landscaping isn't the only thing that draws home buyers to Potomac Crest. Commuters like Potomac Crest's proximity to major driving routes, such as the Democracy Boulevard entrance to Interstate 270 two miles away. Most residents say they use their cars to get to work. For mass-transit commuting, "the only option would be a Ride On or drive to White Flint or Grosvenor and park," Cohen said, referring to the county bus system and the two nearest Metrorail stations.

Shopping options are very close but not pedestrian-friendly. Though Cabin John Mall is less than a half mile away, the multi-lane thoroughfares bordering the neighborhood usually cause residents to drive there.

Within the neighborhood, surrounded by large trees, there's a sense of calm. "The homes are handsomely designed, nicely positioned on each lot in harmony with the rolling hills from which Potomac Crest gets its name," Cohen said.

"I wanted a small, quiet neighborhood," said JoAnn Marceron, who moved into her townhouse in 2001. She was originally drawn to consider the neighborhood because of the architecture of the duplexes. "What appealed to me was that those were the ones with the garage on the main level. There are very few communities that have those," she explained.

Owner Tony Liccardi, who originally came to the D.C. area in the 1960s to work at NASA, bought his three-bedroom, 31/2-bathroom end-unit townhouse in 1995 for $500,000. "I really love the house. It was situated just right," he said. Over the years he's served on both the architectural and landscaping committees.

Suzanne Wilson found the neighborhood when a friend was looking for a house. She and her husband, Buddy Schmidt, bought their home before it was built and were able to choose some of the finishes. "We chose a slate walk, the black-and-white tile in the bathrooms," plus large custom closets, among other things, she said. Their duplex lies at the edge of a narrow strip of woods. Beyond the woods is a wide-open field below the power lines that stretch along the edge of the community. "We like this a lot," she said.

Many residents enjoy the wooded land next to the development, where they can walk along the mowed field where power lines run. Owner Inga Frank says she and many of her neighbors, especially those with dogs, walk along the power lines.

Schmidt believes the only downside might be when groups of deer take naps in his wooded side yard, because they make his dogs bark.

One aspect of living in a community with garages and no easy way to walk to shops or ride public transportation is that there is little daily casual interaction with neighbors. As a result, the committee work is a good way for residents to interact, as are the somewhat regular block parties, said Inga Frank.

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