Malcolm Barr has few complaints about his neighborhood. His two-story detached family home backs up to an expansive and handsomely manicured lawn, behind which lies a four-acre pond inhabited by an extended family of Canada geese. The view from the rear deck is one of idyllic serenity, yet Barr has to lift nary a finger toward regular maintenance of the grounds.
"If only we could keep the golf balls from landing in our flowerpots out back," Barr said.
Such occurrences are virtually par for the course at the Pinecrest community in Fairfax County, close to western Alexandria, where a nine-hole public golf course surrounds more than 800 detached, town house and condominium units. Street names echo the golf theme--Tartan Vista Drive, Shetland Green Road, Gretna Green Way, Highland Green, Zoysia and Sawgrass courts--evoking types of grass and Scotland, golf's birthplace.
Despite the occasional airborne intruders, Barr and many of the residents whose houses border the lush, narrow fairways say the view of the landscape itself is more than ample compensation.
"It has really been a pleasure to watch the development of the trees and animal life around here," Barr said. "There's a reason these homes nearest the links don't change hands that often."
Bounded by Braddock Road, Little River Turnpike and Old Columbia Pike, the Pinecrest has plenty of natural diversions for its innermost residents as well. A network of paved walking trails winds through nearly every section of the neighborhood. During the morning and early evening hours, joggers, dog walkers and stroller-pushing parents navigate the trails to exercise and socialize.
One of the better-traveled paths leads to the center of the community, where gated tennis courts and a large gazebo sit beside a pair of fountain-equipped ponds on both sides of the main road.
Nancy Wolverton and her son Quinn, 7, are standing beneath the gazebo looking out at a turtle poking its head up on a rock in the middle of the pond.
"Typically, this is the real hub for the kids to play, ride bikes and skateboard," said Wolverton, as Quinn ambled off to the far side of the pond and tried to stir an enormous bullfrog. "He'll play out here for hours," she said.
The community is built around Pinecrest Vista Drive, a horseshoe-shaped thoroughfare designed to discourage through traffic from either Braddock Road or Route 236. Many of the side streets are, in fact, oddly arrayed broad courts with no circular access back to Pinecrest Vista.
The Pinecrest's homes range widely in price, size and amenities, making the community affordable for both seasoned and first-time buyers.
Clustered in the southwestern corner of the neighborhood, the condominiums are almost a community unto themselves. The center of the circle hides an exclusive pool and clubhouse, as well as a small duck pond with its own lighted wraparound gazebo.
Nearly half the Pinecrest's residents live in town houses, which range from 1,200 to 2,400 square feet.
Newlyweds Martin Zhu and Yi Wang bought a Pinecrest town house as their first home in January and paid less than $135,000 for a cozy two-level model.
"We looked at a lot of the newer homes in the area and they all seemed so small . . . almost like condos, with no yard," said Zhu, a software developer for Computer Sciences Corp. in Falls Church. In addition to the modest fenced-in yard, the neighborhood's location was the key selling point, Zhu said.
Less than five minutes from Interstate 395 and 15 minutes from the Pentagon and the District, small wonder that the Pinecrest counts among its residents a large number of government employees, civil servants and government contractors.
While it certainly appears to be a haven for raising children--particularly with Columbia Elementary and Holmes Middle School just across the road--the neighborhood has relatively few young residents.
But Adrianne Hamilton, co-director of the Pinecrest Parents Network, said the number is growing.
With more than 30 families, "the network is a way for young parents to socialize, trade babysitting duties if they want, and exchange ideas for making the neighborhood more child-friendly," she said.
The Parents Network recently negotiated the replacement of the Pinecrest's two aging playgrounds with safer, more durable "tot lots." It also successfully lobbied the property managers to substitute organic pesticides for the more harmful chemical pesticides sprayed on grassy common areas where many of the neighborhood children play.
Liz and Paul Gill, both Parents Network members, have lived in a town house at the northern rim of the golf course with their two toddlers since 1995. As a stay-at-home mom, Liz Gill edits and publishes The LinksLine, the Pinecrest's monthly community newspaper. Gill said that she and her husband have made some close friends through the network.
"You get to know who you're compatible with and who has kids closest to the ages of yours," Gill said. "We've become good friends with another couple whose kids are in the same preschools, and it works out nicely because we car pool and often swap kids for babysitting."
Gill said she especially values the neighborhood for its proximity to "just about everything" she needs. "There's a Fresh Fields, a Starbucks and a video store just across the golf course," she said. "It's nice to have them within walking distance of our home."
Also within walking distance is Mason District Park, a 129-acre reserve that includes playing fields, an amphitheater and dozens of trails wending through miles of woods.
On a hill just beside the second hole is a house unlike any other in the development. The 19th-century structure, flanked by giant elm and holly trees, belongs to Steve and Joanna Etka and has been in Steve's family for six generations. The Lynch family--Steve Etka's mother was a Lynch--tilled the surrounding 110 acres, then called Elmdale Farm, for almost 80 years until 1958, when they converted the land into a privately owned 18-hole par-three public golf course and a separate nine-hole regulation course.
Twenty-five years later, the Etkas sold all but an acre of the land to Edward Carr Jr., the son of the man credited with developing Springfield in the 1960s. In exchange for allowing denser zoning, Fairfax County took ownership of the golf course, which was subsequently redesigned to accommodate nine holes and the 800 homes now called the Pinecrest.
Although not technically members of the Pinecrest's very active community association, the Etkas say they have made every effort to maintain their house in line with the association's strict standards.
"While we've done some renovation inside to modernize it, we don't really meet any of the association's requirements," Steve Etka said. "I guess you could say we've been kind of grandfathered in."
BOUNDARIES: Braddock Road to the east, Little River Turnpike to the south and Old Columbia Pike to the north.
NUMBER OF PROPERTIES: Approximately 800 homes, including town houses, condominiums and detached houses. Condos sell for $95,500 to $160,000, town houses for $165,000 to $230,000, detached houses for $319,000 to $370,000. Golf course views add about $15,000 to a home's price. Seven condos, 10 town houses and two detached houses have sold in the past year.
SCHOOLS: Columbia Elementary, Holmes Middle and Annandale High schools.
WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE: Forest Hollow Swim Club, Mason District Park, Fresh Fields, Starbucks, Hollywood Video, Green Spring Gardens Park, Giant Food.
10 MINUTES BY CAR: Old Town Alexandria, Pentagon City, National Airport, Baileys Crossroads, Wakefield Recreation Center.
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