Only six miles from the Capital Beltway, and eight miles from the heart of Washington, lies a hidden pocket of waterside privacy known as Battersea on the Bay. There, about 80 houses, each on an acre or more, offer the serenity of country living and the suburban convenience of close-in Prince George's County.
Wildlife is abundant in Battersea. Deer, red fox, beaver, osprey and even the occasional bald eagle delight the eyes of early risers. Graham and Hedy Thomas's children have their own built-in ecology lab where their two-acre property backs onto Broad Creek. Delighting in observing turtles, snakes and fish in the shallow waters of this Potomac River estuary, David, 5, and Hannah, 4, also love searching for "alligators and monsters," neither of which has been seen yet.
Battersea on the Bay is entwined with one of the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Overlay Zones. John Stackpole, a 10-year resident, said that means within 100 yards of the water "you can't even break a twig without permission."
Stackpole, retired from the National Weather Service, adds that within the next 1,000 yards of the buffer zone, only 19 percent to 20 percent of each lot can have "nonporous" coverage. In other words, water must be able to filtrate through to the ground on about 80 percent of the property.
Conell Jones, a teacher who commutes daily to Northwestern High in Baltimore, applauds the protected area. With his three acres of land, bordered by a creek on the south, Jones points to his well-manicured lawn, saying, "We own up to the grassland, and the animals own out to the creek."
Battersea is surrounded by history. Jones, who has uncovered remnants of a gravel road behind his house, believes it speaks to a time in the 18th century, when tobacco was rolled down to landings on the water for transport by boat. The Battersea property served as part of the farm support area for nearby Fort Washington during the Civil War, and still was primarily farmland 60 years ago. Now included in the Broad Creek Historical District, evidence of Battersea's past keeps surfacing. After one early snowstorm highlighted some parallel pathways through his property, John Stackpole realized they were traces of old planting furrows. "The land remembers," he said, almost in awe.
The 1723 Georgian manor Harmony Hall sits to Battersea's east, and just to the north is St. John's Episcopal Church, "the mother church" of others in the area, Stackpole said. Local lore has it that George Washington, on numerous occasions, was ferried across the river from Mount Vernon to attend services there.
There are some custom-built houses in Battersea, but most of the four- and five-bedroom houses were built by Winchester Homes in the late 1980s. The large brick-front Colonials were constructed at varying angles on heavily wooded lots, so that from the beginning Battersea had the look of an established neighborhood.
The tranquil life at Battersea, for both humans and wildlife, is enhanced because there are no cut-through roads in the community. There are only two entrances, both off Riverview Road, giving the impression that one has entered a giant gated cul-de-sac. Nonresidents are easily recognized. With ample garages and driveways, there is no need for on-street parking, and a strange car sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb.
The homeowners of Battersea, a racially and occupationally diverse group, don't really see themselves as one big family. There are pockets of closeness, Jones said, cul-de-sac by cul-de-sac. There is no central community anchor--a swimming pool or community center--to draw people together naturally. It takes a quarterly newsletter and a comprehensive World Wide Web site to keep the community up-to-date on legislative issues, local news and handyman notes.
While not the type of neighborhood where everyone knows everyone else's business, Battersea on the Bay is the kind of community where pride of ownership is strong. Whether consciously or not, residents seem always to be vying for the Yard of the Month award, bestowed by the community's architectural review committee. Community members also actively protect their investment by participating in the periodic cleanup along the river and in the Adopt a Road program along Riverview Drive.
There seems to be an equal mix of do-it-yourself types and those who farm out the upkeep chores to others. Some, like Jack Dennis, who works for the Federal Reserve Board, revel in the weekly yard tasks. For others, the joy of pushing a mower around their expansive property got old very fast.
One of the earliest owners, Washington Hospital Center physician Jerome McQueen, decided after only two hours that push mowers weren't compatible with him or his two-acre property. In came the first of many "yard toys," as his wife, Arleta, described his riding mower.
By the time Conell Jones moved in seven years ago, a riding John Deere was part of the builder's package. "I didn't know how to use it, so I left it in the garage and got out the trusty old push model," said Jones. Halfway through the first go-around, he decided that learning to ride a mower couldn't be as hard.
"This is one of the most eclectic communities in the area," said Ed Nelson, who retired from the Air Force and came to the Washington area for the job opportunities. Nelson chuckled as he recalled house-hunting back in 1991. After looking at numerous communities, he settled on Battersea and was surprised several months later to find that his real estate agent, Jerry Mathis, had followed his lead and become his neighbor.
Mathis, who serves on the county's Commission 2000, sees efforts to create a new image for Prince George's County as helping communities such as Battersea.
The Fort Washington area "is the gateway to the richest minority county," Mathis said. "The potential is great."
BOUNDARIES: Riverview Road to the south, Fort Washington Road to the east, Riverview Park to the west and Broad Creek to the north.
PROPERTY SALES: Five houses have sold in the last 12 months, from $292,000 to $350,000. Three now are on the market, priced from $257,000 to $1.1 million.
SCHOOLS: Potomac Landing Elementary, Eugene Burroughs Middle and Friendly High schools.
WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE: Riverview Park, Harmony Hall, Federal Communications Center.
10 TO 15 MINUTES AWAY: Oxon Hill Farm, Andrews Air Force Base, Fort Washington Marina, Tantallon Country Club.
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