Dealing with zoning issues can either make or break a community. In the case of Rockshire, just west of Interstate 270 in Rockville, it has made the 750-home community--both in the sense of shaping the neighborhood and of bringing people together.

Since the early days of the development in the 1970s, Rockshire residents have had a clear vision of what their neighborhood is and isn't. They fought off a developer who planned a large shopping center, although a small one was deemed acceptable and was built. A proposed 120-unit high-rise apartment house didn't fit in with their vision either, although some three dozen town houses were fine and went in.

More recently, neighbors persuaded the city of Rockville not to allow the construction of 40 additional town houses; instead, 14 detached houses went up. And running a proposed sewer line through much-loved and well-used Woottons Mill Park eventually got an official thumbs down; the line now is being installed near Wootton Parkway, a main thoroughfare.

"We had to work together. Any community that has to face issues ends up stronger in the long run," said Dottie Thoms, a real estate agent who resided in Rockshire from 1972 until last year and now lives just a few feet outside its boundaries.

Only the shopping center battle ended up in court; the other issues were settled more amicably. The successful efforts involving the 40 town houses and the sewer routing exemplify the way the neighborhood approaches such issues: Residents effectively used Rockville's governance system.

The town houses were proposed for five acres backing onto Woottons Mill Park. That property belonged to the Veirs family, which had operated its paving company on the property, and in 1994 wanted to sell to a developer, who planned to put up the town houses.

Rockshire residents argued that the zoning was inappropriate. Resident Don Boebel said town houses are generally used as a buffer between single-family detached housing and denser zoning. "Here we were going from single-family to parkland," he said. The residents also were wary of the additional traffic. But the planning commission did not give the residents a warm reception.

To help organize their efforts, the residents created the Association of West Rockville Citizens. "Through that vehicle, we talked to the mayor, council and planning commission and told them it changed the character of the neighborhood," said Boebel, who soon afterward was appointed to the planning commission.

Eventually the residents prevailed with the Rockville mayor and city council, and 14 detached houses, more expensive than many already existing in Rockshire, were built instead. "There wasn't animosity toward the Veirs family," Boebel said. "The town houses just weren't appropriate."

Then, in August 1996, Rockshire residents heard that Rockville wanted to route a new sewer line through Watts Branch Creek, which runs through Woottons Mill Park. They joined with unhappy residents from other neighborhoods, and eventually the city offered to run the line down Hurley Avenue, a two-lane road used for access to I-270 and Wootton High School.

That didn't sound much better to a lot of people in Rockshire. Judy Koester, a homeowners' association member, suggested that routing the line along Wootton Parkway would be less disruptive to the environment and traffic. Her suggestion won approval, and the city of Rockville now is doing the work.

Driving these efforts to protect Rockshire is a sense of community that residents appreciate. That sense may be expressed in a number of other ways, too--sometimes as simply as picking up mail for someone on vacation or putting a neighbor's recycling bin back after pickup. "I'm recently retired from the government," Maxine Scott said, so she has the time to do such a favor. Her neighbors always look out for one another, Scott said.

Scott is one of a number of Rockshire residents who, when it came time to think about moving to a larger or smaller house, decided to stay in the neighborhood. The range of prices and sizes of homes makes staying in the community possible: There are some 300 town houses, which sold last year for $142,000 to $188,000, while single-family detached houses sold for $219,000 to $280,000.

For example, Scott and her family moved to a Rockshire town house in September 1982. They liked the good schools, the convenient access to I-270, the feeling of being safe in the neighborhood. "We didn't consider moving out of the neighborhood" when they moved two years later, she said. Now, with the children grown, her husband is making noises about moving to a smaller house. "But I'm adamant" about staying in Rockshire, Scott said.

Good schools and a convenient location also attracted Nancy and Len Rosenthal 23 years ago. When their children began school, the Rosenthals learned to value something else: "This is one of the few places in Montgomery County where kids can walk to schools and live next door to their classmates," Nancy Rosenthal, 52, said.

The Rosenthals, too, moved from a town house to a single-family house within Rockshire. "We have looked around, but we always come back to liking the sense of community here," she said.

Helping to build that sense are such activities as the garden club, which is 26 years old, and the swim team. "My kids have grown up on the team," said Sally MacKenzie, 45, whose family has lived in Rockshire for 11 years.

The team gives children and parents an opportunity to know one another, said Nancy Murphy. Her children both started on the team when they were 5, she said. One is now 10, and the other is 13. Murphy's family, too, moved within Rockshire.

With their lower prices, the town houses are often the entry point for new residents. Size varies from two to four bedrooms, with one to three full bathrooms. The single-family detached houses are in colonial, split-level and split-foyer styles.

Reflecting how stable the neighborhood is, the turnover in houses is unusually low for the price range, Thoms said. "People come here as a short-term plan," she said, "and stay for years."


BOUNDARIES: Interstate 270 to the east, Route 28 (Darnestown Road) to the north, Wooton Parkway to the west and Greenplace Terrace and Gerard Street to the south


SCHOOLS: Fallsmead and Lakewood Elementary, Robert Frost Middle and Thomas S. Wootton High

PROPERTY SALES: Eighteen town houses sold in the last 12 months, from $130,000 to $188,000. Twenty-one single-family detached houses sold, from $216,300 to $350,000. The average listing price in mid-May for town houses was $181,945, for detached homes $277,313.

WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE: Schools; Rockshire Shopping Center, which includes a Giant supermarket; community pool; Woottons Mill Park, with jogging trails, tennis and basketball courts

15 MINUTES BY CAR: White Flint, Lakeforest and Montgomery malls; Rockville Pike shopping; Shady Grove Hospital; Montgomery College; four Metro stations

CAPTION: Rockshire residents encouraged single-family houses, including one that incorporated the historic Veirs log cabin.

CAPTION: Bill Hanrahan, left, Don Boebel, Dottie Thoms and Sally MacKenzie led the charge against adding more town houses to the Rockshire community.