A few years ago, the march of people to Marguerite Smith's front door in Arlington got so bad that she bought a long rope, attached her German shepherd to one end and tied the other end around a porch pillar.
"I was recovering from a heart attack," the 53-year-old Smith said, "and I was so mad I couldn't see straight. We had gone through a living hell."
For a while, the rope-and-dog trick seemed to work, but the door-knockers -- real estate salesmen and developers' representatives -- were not so easily discouraged. For the tiny, two-story house where Smith and her 83-year-old husband Cloyd have lived for five years is in one of the prime development spots in Arlington, on North Oak Street just west of Rosslyn.
But despite a series of offers -- more than 50, according to Marguerite Smith -- the Smiths plan to stay in their house, on a quarter-acre lot atop a hill that once provided an unlimited vista of Washington. As evidence of their determiniation to stay, the Smiths recently began remodeling their 150-year-old house.
The Smiths are part of a small but stubborn group of homeowners in Northern Virginia who have become the last holdouts against developers seeking more and more land. The holdouts can be found in small pockets near many large highrises, like the ones at Baileys Crossroads in Fairfax County or "condo canyon" in the West End of Alexandria.
Where they used to see trees, old neighbors' houses or parks where they or their children used to play, the holdouts now look out their windows at towering edifices of glass and steel.
Just to mention of developers raises Marguerite Smith's temper. "Don't get me started on this," said Smith. "I told the last one who came here to leave or I'd call the police."
Smith seems hard to stop once she starts discussing development in her neighborhood. She points to cracks in her walls and ceilings which she contends were caused by blasting during construction of the high-rises and now surround her house.
"You see that building over there?" she asks with disgust, waving toward the eight-story Weslie apartment building across the street, at North Oak and North 14th. "I told the Arlington County Board to make a park for elderly ladies and elderly gentlemen there. That place would have been a beautiful park.
"When I die, (this house) is going to go to the county with (the stipulation) no sell to no one."
Smith, who says her house and land, owned by a family corporation, are assessed at $140,000, insists it would take an offer of $500,000 before she would even begin listening to a potential buyer.
Down the block from the Smiths, the Volkert family has finally given up on trying to fend off developers.
"I don't like it, but what can you do?" said 71-year-old Mary Volkert of the high-rises and parking lots that have replaced the neighborhood school, the small homes where her relatives once lived, and the house her friend, the late Gen. George S. Patton Jr., used to call home.
"I've become used to (construction)," says her son, 34-year-old Robert, "I can't remember more than one or two summers without having buildings go up. And I remember the Fourth of July family picnics with all the dust and dynamite from tearing houses down."
The Volkerts, who also live on a quarter-acre lot, are joining with three other neighbors to assemble their properties as one package for developers.
Before the joint-land package decision, Mary Volkert says, the offers from developers were not particularly enticing.
"(They) wanted it for nothing and I wouldn't give it to them," says Mary Volkert, who with her husband August has lived in the small red-brick house 57 years. "One of them said he would take it off my hands for $2 (a square foot) and I said, 'You're crazy.'"
The joint land-package proposal makes a sale much more attractive. "We wouldn't get as much for (just) our house because they couldn't put as much on here," she says.
Robert Volkert, an accountant, estimates that the family property, assessed at $140,000, could bring $250,000.
Real estate experts say some homeowners hold out against developers in hopes of getting higher prices. But the delays can backfire, they say, particularly if a developer builds around the holdout's property, leaving the small -- and increasingly taxed -- parcel useless to anyone but the owner.
But, in some cases, the sentimental value of a house that has witnessed generations of a family growing up is enough to stave off the temptation to sell.
For 62 of her 92 years, Helen Goings has lived in a small white frame house with bright red shutters and tree-shaded porch. The house, at 932 N. Randoph St., is atthe intersection of heavily traveled Fairfax Drive and not far from the Ballston Metro Station.
Over the last few years, says Goings' son Ishmael, the house, which currently is assessed at $150,000, has attracted a good deal of attention from developers.
"A lot of real estate people have come here, wanting to sell the house, but I've discouraged everybody, chased them all off," says Ishmael Goings, a retired postal worker known as Buck to family and friends.
Across the street is a 10-story building where a farm once stood, according to Buck Goings. Behind the office building is a restaurant; on one side is a parking lot, on the other, Fairfax Drive. The Goings have lived through a number of street widenings that have left their front gate and white picket fence abutting the pavement of North Randolph Street. Despite the vast changes in the neighborhood, Buck Goings' says, his mother has no intentions of leaving.
"As long as my mother's alive she's going to stay here," he says. "It's her home and she wants to stay." CAPTION: Picture 1, Amid the development boom in Arlington, the Goings family has refused to sell its home. By Gary A. Cameron -- The Washington Post; Picture 2, August and Mary B. Volkert at their home in the shadow of Arlington highrises. By Joseph W. CmCary For The Washington Post