A tractor-trailer heaped with lumber chugs up Rte. 202 from the Capital Beltway and turns left into Lake Arbor Way. The nonstop flow of trucks hauling backhoes, bulldozers, building materials and construction workers has become a common occurrence at Lake Arbor since a Denver builder joined with Wall Street investors and formed Central Avenue Associates two years ago.
The partnership selected 10 builders to produce about 900 detached, single-family houses and 1,000 town houses in the Prince George's County community in the Mitchellville area. Last month, ground was broken for a 13-story luxury apartment building that will tower at the edge of a 22-acre lake built about 15 years ago.
Lake Arbor is the 750-acre community's third name in 15 years, but now is the first time that the neighborhood has become vibrant with activity.
In 1981, when Verginald and Irene Dolphin and her son, Curtis Ruffin, moved into their four-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath colonial-style house on Golf Course Drive, their nearest neighbor was a half-mile away. Irene Dolphin said their home was one of three experimental solar houses built on the East Coast by Exxon Corp. Large solar panels sit atop the roof collecting energy while the the south side of the house is mostly glass. In the room behind the glass, a floor made of special bricks collects the sun's rays and warms the room in the winter.
But the Dolphins said they were not attracted to the Mitchellville subdivision because of the home's modern technology or their proximity to the pool, the half-dozen tennis courts or the 18-hole golf course where these days a duffer's "fore" is drowned out by hammers and power saws.
"We really chose the house because it was away from everybody and away from the traffic," says Irene Dolphin. "You could see animals -- deer, rabbits and groundhogs -- walking in our backyard."
Dolphin, who works as a secretary in the Northwest Washington law and insurance firm where her husband is a lawyer, said they were always aware of plans to develop the community, but hoped the building would never begin.
"I was happy being here all alone," Dolphin says. She and her 23-year-old son cleared the brush in the surrounding lots and cultivated a huge, well-tended lawn that stretched for nearly 70 yards. All but about 20 yards were lost to a street and to new houses this summer when carpenters arrived to build houses on streets with such names as Golf Course Terrace and Pebble Beach Drive.
Like much of Prince George's, the Lake Arbor area was a tobacco farm during the Civil War and owned by a descendant of Lord Fairfax, who named the area Northampton after an English county.The name stuck through the early 1970s, when the first of the most recent developers tried to build the community.
There were even earlier large-scale plans for the community. According to John Kazley, who owns Maryland Title and Escrow in Hyattsville, three developers during the mid-1930s "quietly assembled" 4,200 acres running from Enterprise Road to Central Avenue to where Landover Mall now sits in hopes of attracting the next World's Fair. Their grand plans, which included building a monorail from the District to the site, were rejected and the 1939 fair was held in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. The land was later sold in parcels, eventually resulting in the development of Prince George's Community College, the Capital Centre and the Inglewood and Largo Park business parks.
But today, it appears that Lake Arbor is finally taking shape, with 160 families already moved in. Up to 2,000 more are expected by 1990. Some think Lake Arbor is among the nation's most racially heterogeneous diverse communities of upscale residents, with a mixture of blacks, whites, Asians and Hispanics. A majority of residents hold professional jobs.
In a county where builders long felt there was no market for homes costing $150,000 and up, such builders as Porten Sullivan, Pulte and Winchester Homes have discovered otherwise.
Most of Lake Arbor's homes have four or five bedrooms, 2 1/2 to 3 baths, including some with spas, and sell from $140,000 to $210,000. Winchester's models begin at $157,490 and go to mid-$180,000. However, sales manager Ginny Anderson says most home buyers want more luxury items than ever before and are pushing prices to $205,000.
"We are in a sellout situation right now," Anderson said. "Out of 110 homes, we have about a dozen left."
More homes are on the way. Earthmovers have just begun pushing dirt around where about 1,000 town homes -- priced from the mid-$80,000s to about $125,000 -- will be built. Most of the two- and three-bedroom town houses will ring the lake. At the moment, fishing, swimming and boating are forbidden on the theory that they would attract unwanted visitors. And that's what residents don't want.
"We've got peace and quiet here," said Sam Dyson, who with his wife, Karen, and their two children, Trena, 17, and DeMon, 16, moved into their $147,000 home on Cypress Point Circle last New Year's Eve. Dyson, who works at the Mortgage Bankers Association of America, moved his family from their 60-year-old home on First Street NW.
Like many of their neighbors, the Dysons worry about growth.
"We don't want it to get overcrowded," Karen Dyson says. "A lot of people have been active in trying to slow down the traffic on Lake Arbor Way," the community's main thoroughfare that has become a shortcut for commuters from Central Avenue to Rte. 202. Recently, the street was repainted to make four lanes into two, a tactic that residents hope will curtail speeding.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, Dan Shepp stood outside his new, three-bedroom colonial-style home on Inverrary Court, admiring the flower beds he and his wife, Sharon, had just planted. The Shepps, both 28, moved in with their two boys in January after waiting almost 10 months for their house to be built, but Shepp said the wait was worth it.
"We can hear the geese in the morning and the rain falling on the neighbor's house," he said.