Back in 1976, after a decade of renting on Capitol Hill, Bill and Sarah Cavitt wanted a home surrounded by green space.
They found what they were looking for in a Dutch Colonial with a river view, "on the biggest lot on the highest part of ground," in Riverbend Estates, near Fort Washington in southern Prince George's County, also spelled as River Bend Estates on some maps and documents.
Bill Cavitt, now retired from the International Trade Association in the District, recalled that the area back then was, "semi-rural with trees, livestock and open space -- lovely." The home's previous owner had added exquisite landscaping and a swimming pool. Their Shangri-la cost $75,000.
Since then, the Cavitts have enjoyed living at the end of a cul-de-sac next to 24 acres of wooded land, even though years of tree growth have long since obscured their river view and much of their backyard landscaping has fallen victim to the "four-legged children" -- dogs -- that they have adopted over the years.
But this southwestern corner of Prince George's County has been discovered, to mixed reviews.
"It's finally getting the attention it deserves," said Jackie Pyatt, a 30-year resident.
Another original resident, Jim Hudnall, bemoaned: "The area is pretty much built out."
With the exception of Fort Foote Park, bordering the southwest corner of Riverbend Estates, the green space that brought the Cavitts to the community is disappearing as development races ahead in the southern part of the county.
The older and smaller community of River Bend to the north is the only thing that separates Riverbend Estates from the 300-acre, $2 billion National Harbor retail, restaurant and entertainment complex planned for the riverfront. Directly west of Riverbend Estates, River Gate Pointe, a community of 15 elegant new Colonials that have sold within the last year for prices from $700,000 to more than $1 million, occupies a small riverfront parcel of land where Riverbend Estates residents for decades enjoyed access on foot to the water.
The investor who owns most of the woodland adjacent to the Cavitts's property envisions developing "a high-end community" there within five years.
Even if the neighborhood is no longer the semi-rural place it used to be, the Cavitts say, they still love Riverbend Estates. "We've enjoyed our neighbors -- it didn't make sense to move," Bill Cavitt said.
Residents Gerald Olexa and Scenobia Easterly have been corner neighbors -- "family" as they see it -- for 27 years. "We have a gate from his yard to my yard so our families can visit without going around the corner," Easterly said.
Easterly's son, Anton Robinson, now 41, was a young teenager when his family moved to Riverbend Estates. "It was a fulfilling and enriching environment," said Robinson, who now lives nearby and works at Reagan National Airport. "I got a good education and I attribute that to the area, my family and the neighbors."
The 240-home community began in 1972 with modest split-levels and Colonials built by Ryland Homes. A smattering of small California contemporary ramblers was soon added by another builder. Today, a few large Colonials are being built on the few remaining lots in the community.
Brenda Cosby, a retired Defense Department worker, has lived in Riverbend Estates since 1984. "It doesn't have that city life hustle and bustle, but in a few minutes I can be seeing a play in D.C. or be enjoying the beauty of Mount Vernon," Cosby said.
From her hillside deck, Cosby has a view of the Potomac River and the Wilson Bridge, even though the water is about two blocks away. "Many houses here are close to the water and that brings peace to me," she said. Although some houses in Riverbend Estates have views, few have water access.
Long-timers may remember the area when it was less densely developed, but it's still green enough to draw the attention of dedicated gardener Reggie Washington and his wife, Cathy. They moved to Riverbend Estates four years ago largely because it seemed a good place to give his green thumb a workout.
Cathy Washington recalls the morning she heard her husband shouting, "You're not going to be happy. . . . The deer ate the tops of the hosta."
Outwitting the deer is the biggest challenge the Washingtons say they have faced in the community. Reggie, a service technician for Giant Food, now tucks unwrapped bars of soap under his plants.
Residents say that while covenants regulate the appearance of property in the neighborhood, the homeowners association is low-key. With few issues requiring attention within the community, many focus their civic energies on broader South County issues revolving around development.
There is no monolithic neighborhood opinion. For example, the National Harbor project draws both concern and applause. Residents active with the Oxon Hill Bicycle and Trail Club favor low-impact growth, while those cheering on the South County Coalition for Absolute Progress want Oxon Hill Road to become a four-lane highway.
Bill Cavitt said, "We're independent thinkers in terms of lifestyles, careers and attitudes."
He added, "Despite all the building and changes since we've been here, it's still a charming area."