Set amid wetlands and mature woods, the Avalon at Traville apartment complex feels a bit like a resort.
The Montgomery County complex features a heated pool and spacious clubhouse with computer center, indoor basketball court and lounge. Bay windows, fireplaces and ample cabinet space are some of the luxuries. Even though the complex is just a year old, with parts still under construction, the look is of a community built over time. Varied architecture and brick siding add to that feeling. The lush courtyards, manors and balconied brick buildings echo those of historic Charleston, S.C.
Avalon's green space adds to the vacation feel. Of the community's 47.9 acres of land, 42 percent is undeveloped open space, wetlands or woods. Once complete, sidewalks and trails will wind through the development. All buildings are two or three stories, less dense than the standard four-story garden buildings. Varied architecture and brick siding lend the buildings a sense of tradition.
The open space was a plus for Rob Bussell, 38, who had lived in Alaska his whole life before moving to the Washington area last fall. "I didn't have a lot of time to be shopping around. I looked [once] and pulled the trigger," said Bussell, a project manager for Arctic Slope Compliance Technologies.
Bussell's office is in Crystal City, too congested for his taste. "It's crowded in any direction for 50 miles by the city. I was shocked by the density of population."
His father, Charlie Bussell, 70, who was visiting one day this summer, agreed. "He should have bought a farm instead," he said. However, the two still took the opportunity to grill beef on new outdoor grills provided by Avalon.
The complex, a mix of garden apartments and townhouses, is tucked between Shady Grove Road and Traville Gateway Drive in the North Potomac area. It's close to Interstate 270, the Beltway and Route 28, with easy access to Human Genome Sciences Corp. and the other biotech companies that line the 270 corridor.
There is no Metro station nearby, however, and parking can be competitive. Management says a shuttle to Shady Grove Metro is coming, but when is unknown. Apartment residents can either rent garages or chance a good parking spot.
"Parking can be a hassle at times," said resident Kathy Nickelson, 33, a teacher at Marymount Elementary school.
But she added, "It's quiet. . . . The staff is really nice. It's close to Rockville, yet it sits away from everything."
To stay in touch with residents, management sends out bimonthly newsletters, with construction updates and feedback requests. Recent resident suggestions led to trash cans by the mailboxes and, soon, a bike rack.
Before moving to Avalon at Traville, community manager and resident Jackie Smoyer lived in another Avalon property for more than three years, while working for a competitor. She now rents a townhouse with her new husband and praises the natural setting. "I always say, if you didn't know we were here, you wouldn't know we were here," she said.
However, the proximity to open space breeds some unusual neighbors, said resident Joy Mordica, 46, a Montgomery County Public Schools evaluations specialist. "The only complaint I have is that we're in the wetlands. . . . The frog noises get loud. To be in nature, you have to pay a price."
Aside from the amphibian life, Mordica is content with her surroundings. "The grounds make the rent worth it. I like the fact that there's trees around," she said.
On her way to grab a bite to eat at the Traville Village Center across the street, Mordica praised the complex's management. For example, she said, maintenance workers "called and left a message after the dishwasher plug had worked its way loose" to explain precisely why the electrical current was not working.
Youngsters who live at Avalon at Traville attend Montgomery County's award-winning Thomas S. Wootton High School cluster. "Part of the reason we moved to this area was the schools," said Jonathan Pike, 16, after a workout at the fitness center. He is a junior at Wootton. In 2002, the Education Department honored Wootton as a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence, one of 172 middle and high schools nationwide and one of four in Maryland.
On one recent afternoon, residents relaxing around the pool spoke in the accents of England, Ukraine, Iceland, Morocco and Russia. Mehdi and Katya Elkassem, from Morocco and Russia respectively, said they appreciate the nearby shopping, which includes a Giant and Blockbuster in the shopping center across the street. From living overseas, said Katya Elkassem, 26, "we're used to walking everywhere."
Mehdi Elkassem, 29, a science teacher at Washington Episcopal School, said the couple, who have an infant son, looked at apartments in Bethesda and Gaithersburg but chose a two-bedroom, two-bath unit at Avalon at Traville. He said, "When you come here, you don't leave without renting."