Cruising southbound on Interstate 95 on a winter or fall night, when the trees are bare, drivers may wonder where that bluish light comes from. It's right there, right before the Calverton exit, that something like a lighthouse can be seen.

It is a lighthouse.

Its light guides no ships, of course, but the 65-foot-tall lighthouse, built in the middle of a pond and equipped with two 300-watt light bulbs, serves as a landmark for the Lighthouse at Twin Lakes, a 700-unit apartment complex in Beltsville.

Besides the charming lighthouse and the two ponds that give the property its name, the Lighthouse at Twin Lakes has other points to ponder. It's conveniently located halfway between Baltimore and the District. The property also offers 22 floor plans, from efficiencies to three-bedroom units.

"It's almost impossible to say, 'You don't have what I want,' " said general manager Angela Bonsu, who lives in the community and has been working there for five years. Most units have a washer and dryer, a balcony or patio, and walk-in closets, Bonsu said.

About 60 mallard ducks, Canada geese and white ducks give the community a friendly atmosphere. The birds are tame, and some will eat out of your hands.

"It's nice seeing the ducks walking around," said Michelle Fong, who moved to the complex from Hyattsville almost three years ago. "It's a peaceful life in this area."

There's more wildlife: The two half-acre ponds are filled with bass that at any sign of food rise to the surface and also attract a blue heron as an occasional visitor.

The present ambiance represents a change of direction for the property, built in 1973. Before 1996, the community was named Olde Mill Landing--and the lighthouse was a windmill.

"It wasn't the most attractive property," said Joe Sweeney, regional service manager for Apartment Investment and Management Co., the Denver real estate investment trust that manages the Lighthouse at Twin Lakes and about 15,000 units in the Washington area. The units needed repair, and the property was drifting off course.

"People in the business said nothing could be done. We took it upon ourselves to make it different," Sweeney said. Before taking his position at Aimco's regional office in Rockville, Sweeney worked at the Lighthouse as its service manager, and he was responsible for turning the windmill into the lighthouse.

Construction lasted three months, and Sweeney did the work almost by himself. He also did some research on lighthouses and found out that each one is unique in some fashion. That discovery allowed Sweeney to use his creativity, although he chose to keep the classic shape common to most lighthouses.

The lighthouse "adds more to the community than the windmill," said Agnes Curtis, who has lived at the complex for 17 years. "I am so glad they did it the way they did."

Curtis has moved four times to different-size apartments as her needs changed. She now lives in the complex's only high-rise, an eight-floor efficiency building. The other 51 buildings have four floors.

"You can do most of your shopping in a 10-minute radius," she said. There is a grocery store and a pharmacy within walking distance and a Target store and fast-food restaurants a short drive away.

Three years ago, the Lighthouse's location attracted Philip Rindone, who wanted to be near his two daughters, who live in Virginia, and his two sons, who live in Maryland. Rindone said he also is pleased with the nice groundskeeping and quick response to maintenance requests.

In fact, if residents don't get a 24-hour response to their maintenance needs, they receive a discount voucher toward their rent. The Beltsville complex has a 16-member staff, including a recreation director, who has a pool party scheduled for July.

The management office and even the tot lot, with its ship-like playground, follow the nautical theme suggested by the lighthouse.

In 1997, the Lighthouse at Twin Lakes underwent some renovation. Aimco, which took over last year, is charting a course for another upgrade to take place this year, said Robyn Silverman, Aimco's regional property manager. The company estimates it will spend about $10 million in nearly two years of enhancements, and expects to offer new air-conditioning and heating systems, better insulation and new carpeting; it will also replace kitchen appliances and cabinets, among other improvements.

Beyond that? There will always be the lighthouse to guide the community in the right direction.

THE LIGHTHOUSE AT TWIN LAKES

11800 Twin Lakes Dr.

Beltsville, Md. 20705

301-572-5815

* Application fee: $25 per applicant

* Security deposit: $100, refundable

* Lease term: Three months to one year

* Utilities: Gas included

* Amenities: 24-hour maintenance; swimming pool; picnic areas; tot lot; fitness center; clubhouse with pool table and full kitchen

* Parking: Free outdoor lot

* Pet policy: Up to two pets ($75 refundable pet deposit, $75 one-time pet fee; $10 monthly fee)

APARTMENT SIZE QUANTITY SQUARE FEET MONTHLY RENTAL

EFFICIENCY 143 452 to 565 $595 to $620

1BR/1BA 250 621 to 807 700 to 755

2 BR/2BA 297 777 to 1,280 750 to 910

3 BR/2 BA 10 1,280 $1,015

CAPTION: A 65-foot lighthouse in the middle of a pond serves as a landmark for the Lighthouse at Twin Lakes, a 700-unit apartment complex in Beltsville.