The Harbors of Newport, built in the 1970s on land that was once part of the large Lee family estate where Revolutionary War hero Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee was born, is a quiet community of split-levels and colonial-style houses tucked east of Route 1 in southeastern Prince William County.
Until the mid-1990s it was the only residential community on mile-long Neabsco Road, which dead-ends where Neabsco Creek meets the Potomac River. Residents of the neighborhood, which has its own private park, tennis courts, playground and basketball court, enjoyed a sense of seclusion.
With the recent construction of the communities Newport Estates and Powells Landing, Harbors residents have experienced a sizeable increase in traffic on their quiet lane, but they still have access to nature via the 508-acre Leesylvania State Park, established in 1992 at the end of Neabsco Road.
The Harbors of Newport is an orderly place. Strict covenants govern the height of lawns, color and location of fences, and even how long a car can be left jacked up. Violations of the spick-and-span look elicit warning letters. "Homes that have been selling recently have been selling at top dollar. I think that speaks well of our community," said Laud Pitt, 67, president of the homeowners association.
Taking one more step to maintain the manicured appearance, the community, which includes a hefty proportion of avid gardeners and military families, is working to take advantage of new government rules that make it easier to clean up what some see as community blight. The neighborhood association is considering a ban on parking boats and boat trailers on Harbors streets.
In the past, Virginia state law said that to ban boats, trailers, motor homes and such from parking on neighborhood streets, there had to be proof that they were taking spaces away from automobiles. The state legislature removed that restriction in April. Now, how and whether to ban street parking for such recreational vehicles is left up to local jurisdictions. Prince William County in large part has passed that authority on to local homeowners associations.
Steven Stevens of the county's public works department said communities that can show widespread support for such parking bans can now take advantage of a streamlined process. In one version of the process, if at least 51 percent of residents sign a county-supplied petition, the department schedules a public hearing. Two weeks before the hearing, notices are posted throughout the neighborhood. The department then makes a decision based on the hearing.
Later this month, the county board of supervisors is scheduled to consider a proposal that would relax the process further, allowing associations to submit documentation other than petitions to verify that they have community support. "Some neighborhoods are quite large," Stevens said, so door-to-door petition drives may be impractical.
The Harbors of Newport association has had difficulty getting volunteers to canvass its 366 homes. Pitt got the go-ahead from county staff to substitute a mailed ballot to residents. Signed ballots will be attached to the petition form and delivered to the county.
To some who live in the Harbors of Newport, the same boats that are so pleasant to look at as they navigate area waters are seen as safety hazards when parked at curbs. Backers of the ban also say they fear that boats lining the road hurt property values. Those opposed to the ban cite the convenience of being able to simply hook up a vessel and head out for a day on the water.
The neighborhood's covenants already prohibit boat owners from parking their vessels in driveways or on yards.
One resident, who referred to the boats as "floating garbage cans," said, "The problem is that many of these boats stay on the street all year."
Pitt said that even though there are numerous boats in the neighborhood, "Most Harbors of Newport residents are not boat owners."
Ken Denton and Bruce Smoke, who have shared a four-bedroom colonial at the Harbors of Newport since 1979, say they favor the ban because they are concerned about the safety of children. Because Leesylvania Elementary is in the neighborhood, children are often out and about. "They run into the street from behind the boats, and you can't see them coming," Denton said.
Denton, retired from the Pentagon, and Smoke, who took early retirement when the Interstate Commerce Commission was abolished in 1995, are former boat owners, but they were attracted to Harbors of Newport by the neighborhood's trees.
"Look at these," Smoke said, gesturing over their forested back yard, where hosta, impatiens and other shade-loving plants thrive. Denton grows his own gourds for birdhouses.
Their garden attracts wrens, bluebirds and hummingbirds "big time," Smoke said. A holly tree that now dominates their front yard was cultivated from a tiny plant a neighbor was throwing away. "We just threw it in the ground. Look at it now," he said.
When they moved to Harbors of Newport more than 20 years ago, "The Pilot House at the marina was the only place to eat in Woodbridge," Denton said. "There was no Potomac Mills."
However, with growth came traffic. "The 30-minute commute [up Interstate 95] 25 years ago grew to 1 1/2 to 2 hours," Smoke said.
Many Harbors of Newport residents work at nearby Quantico or Fort Belvoir, but those who commute farther north have the option of using Virginia Railway Express at Rippon, which is also close by.
Denton and Smoke have stayed residents for so long partly because of the neighborhood spirit. "We gave up our sailboat for the big cruise ships," said Smoke, who said they have taken 29 cruises over the years, "but we never worry about traveling because the neighbors take care of things."
During a big snowstorm, "People pulled grills into the cul-de-sac, and we all fixed dinner," Denton recalled.
Residents say crime is negligible in the community for two reasons. One, said John Matza, 37, is the police substation nearby. "If you're a criminal, you're not going to pick a community with one way in and one way out and a police station on the way out," said Matza, who works for ABC News.
The other reason is that neighbors are observant. Police records show several calls from residents reporting suspicious vehicles.
Information spreads rapidly throughout the community. "We have a very active neighborhood watch with block captains about every 20 houses, so we can get the word out if any problems arise," said homeowners association President Pitt, an Army retiree.
Problems and concerns are not the only information that travels through the neighborhood grapevine.
David Walden, 37, and his family moved from Kansas in August, and they were immediately welcomed by neighbors who brought over a basket of goodies and an apple pie. The oldest boy, Davell, 10, a fourth grader, said after visiting his new school, "I think I'm going to like it here very much."