For better than 40 years, Alexandria's Seminary West neighborhood has been an oasis of convenience in the Washington area -- five miles from the Pentagon and the District and less than six miles from Old Town and Baileys Crossroads.

Now, residential and commercial high-rise buildings surround the 550 town houses and single-family homes tucked between Shirley Highway and northeastern Fairfax County. Some of the area's 1,500 residents describe living precariously between comfort and possibly unbearable conditions if development continues.

"We're close to everything," said Daniel Dose, president of the Seminary West Civic Association. "The place is super-convenient."

The question Dose has is how long can his sanctuary will remain one.

To listen to Lela Curtis, who has lived in Seminary West for 14 years, two facts are evident -- she loves the area, but she hates the potential for more traffic gridlock.

"Location is what brought us here," Curtis said as she sat in the living room of her brick three-story Cape Cod home near Fillmore Avenue. "There are people here who could have afforded to move to more expensive places, but they have chosen to stay." Rather than move to a larger home, the Curtis family of four recently added to the back of their house.

Curtis, 41, a retired teacher formerly with Prince George's County schools, and others talk of a community that has seen growth add to the quality of life as well as provide the additional headache of increased traffic.

"I can walk to my doctor's office," Curtis said. "My son can walk to school. The grocery store is within walking distance."

Residents also tout easy access to Metro and DASH bus systems, a community swimming pool, an adjacent Northern Virginia Community College campus, a 1 1/2-mile segment of a wooded nature trail, and the tennis and basketball courts at the John Adams Elementary school, which becomes a haven for sledders on snowy days.

Seminary West began to take form 50 to 60 years ago when dairy farms gave way to the construction of single-family homes on half-acre to one-acre lots. A passerby traveling from busy Seminary Road might think that not much has changed in portions of Seminary West. There is an immediate sense of quiet. The community includes well-maintained homes of varying styles, such as colonial, Cape Cod and contemporary, selling for $180,000 to $450,000. The homes seem somehow removed from the bustling traffic that moves along the community's borders.

"A friend of mine said that our neighborhood reminded her of 'Leave It to Beaver,' " Curtis said. "People aren't barbecuing together every night. But there is a community spirit. I'm part of a baby-sitting co-op of 25."

In the mid-1960s, several town-house subdivisions were built, including Seminary Heights and Westridge, as developers sought to keep pace with an ever-expanding work force. According to Dose, an agent at Long & Foster Real Estate Inc., town houses range from $180,000 to $320,000. The more expensive town houses are primarily located in Seminary Park, which was built in the early 1980s.

Seminary West, which is racially mixed, has remained relatively stable, Dose said, noting that most residents tend to be long-term or original owners.

While the area may have started at least partly as a working-class community, young professionals now form the core purchasing group. Like those who came before them, location was the deciding factor in their decision to make Seminary West home.

In the late 1970s, Curtis's husband Owen got a job with a large accounting firm in the District, so they wanted to be as close-in as possible. Now he works less than a mile away at a local office complex.

Joan Presto and her husband moved to Seminary West 25 years ago to be closer to his job at a nearby Coca-Cola bottling plant. "He could walk to work ...," Presto said. "I can remember him coming home for lunch."

Presto reared five children in the same house. Now she said she worries about people raising children in the area, "because of the traffic. It's very bad."

Curtis said that she is concerned that "this convenience may not remain long."

Seminary Road, the community's northernmost thoroughfare, routes traffic from western Fairfax and Alexandria onto Shirley Highway and experiences heavy morning and afternoon commuter traffic.

Beauregard Street, the community's eastern boundary, is a gateway to the towering Park Center office and hotel complex and often is used as an alternate route by commuters when Shirley Highway is jammed.

Beauregard also serves as a entrance to a 104-acre tract of land that is one of about five sites under consideration by Navy officials planning a annex for up to 20,000 employees.

Many residents of Seminary Westdon't want the Navy complex, saying that it could ruin their quality of life.

"If they put that Navy annex out there, traffic is going to come from everywhere," Dose said. "If they put more development in the area, it's going to be impossible. We'd rather see some mixed-use {development}, houses and commercial."

Dose noted that if development continues, Seminary Road might need to be widened. Then people like Presto, who lives on Seminary Road, might have to give up a portion of their land for the widening.

"The civic leaders will not rest until we have reasoned answers to the area's transportation problems," said Jack Young, president of the Alexandria Federation of Civic Associations and a resident of the area.

Asked about the possibility of the Navy locating nearby, Presto said, "Isn't that awful? The neighborhood is quiet and nice. I walk to my church, the Church of God, every week. We are fighting to keep our homes the way they are."