When Hillsmere Shores resident Gail Vernon wants to unwind after a summer day at work, she pilots her 17-foot Boston Whaler out on breezy Chesapeake Bay.
"I get home at 6, and I'm on the water at 6:30," said Vernon, 51, a librarian who works 35 minutes away in Laurel. "I keep it on a trailer in my carport." Vernon also keeps a sailboat at another marina south of Annapolis. "I go up to Thomas Point and bottom fish for perch, rockfish and spot."
In 2001, the tug of the nautical lifestyle prompted Vernon to sell her vintage Cape Cod in Mount Rainier. "I was in a nice old neighborhood," she explained, "but I wanted to be near the water. I looked at several water-privilege communities, but I liked the marina here. It has really nice access to the bay."
Hillsmere Shores, about three miles southwest of downtown Annapolis at the entrance to Quiet Waters Park, is a neighborhood of about 1,200 single-family houses, built from the 1960s through the 1990s, said Linda Patterson, an agent in Long & Foster Real Estate's office in downtown Annapolis. "The community has one of the better water privileges in the Annapolis area," she said. "There is a wonderfully large beach on the South River with play areas for the children, picnic areas and a sandy beach. It attracts families and empty-nesters looking for an affordable rancher in a walking neighborhood."
In the early 1950s, according to an account published in the Capital, the Annapolis daily newspaper, what is now Hillsmere Shores was a farm owned by Martin H. Smith, a wealthy Philadelphia physician. His 30-room mansion is now part of the exclusive Key School.
Although the bay is the neighborhood headliner, the profusion of trees stands a close second. Along Hillsmere Drive, the only road leading into and out of the community from the intersection of Forest Drive and Bay Ridge Road, mature trees shelter many homes. While street names include Harbor and Bay View, they also include Oak, Maple, Spruce and Locust.
Hillsmere Shores is also within easy walking distance of Quiet Waters Park. The park offers concerts, a fine arts festival, an art gallery, bird walks and children's nature programs. There are canoes, kayaks and pedal boats for rent on Harness Creek. It costs $5 per vehicle to enter the park, but walkers, runners, bikers and rollerbladers get in free.
As in almost all communities of its type in this region, waterfront property is pricey. One newly renovated house, with a Florida room, granite countertops and within steps of the marina, listed this spring for $1,399,000. The asking price was later cut to $1,150,000, and the house is now under contract, according to Jean Atkins of Long & Foster's downtown Annapolis office. However, away from the water a bit, prices are lower, averaging about $400,000 lately.
Sixteen years, ago, when Jean Somers's split-foyer a few blocks from the beach was new, it cost $94,500. She and her husband, Jim, a computer software engineer at Northrop Grumann Corp. near Baltimore-Washington International Airport, recently had it appraised at about $300,000. Jean Somers, a mother of four, is the paid administrative officer for the Hillsmere Shores Improvement Association and the editor of the Sea Breeze, the monthly community newsletter.
"I love the neighborhood," she said one evening after returning home from one of her son's baseball games. "There are many amenities, like a beautiful beach and wonderful swimming pool. And even if you don't have a boat at the marina, you can crab off the pier."
While the $10 annual dues to join the HSIA is voluntary, every lot owner in Hillsmere Shores is required to pay a special annual tax of $100, Somers said. Anne Arundel County receives the money when it collects property taxes, holds it in escrow, and turns it back to the community. The money is set aside for upkeep of common areas.
While its waterfront location is the big draw of Hillsmere Shores, there can be some disadvantages. Last year after Tropical Storm Isabel blew through, Somers recalled, Lake Hillsmere flooded into her front yard. "But that was nothing compared to some side streets that flooded." In one case, the storm surges and fierce waves "came up from the South River and took out a chunk" of a resident's property.
Most of the neighborhood lost electricity for as much as a week. There was a bright side to that, Somers said: The storm forced neighbors out of their houses and got them to mingle. "The whole neighborhood was out taking pictures. It was a piece of history, just like a blizzard."
Down at the private beach early one recent Sunday morning, with sailboats and jet skis on the horizon, Natalie Lobe was doing a good job of keeping up with Jonas, her 5-year-old grandson who was visiting from Vermont. Lobe, taking a break from kicking a red rubber ball, said she moved to Hillsmere Shores 19 months ago to be near her son, her daughter and the water.
"We bought a ranch-style home with three bedrooms, no basement, with a one-car garage on a big lot for less than $300,000," she said.
Lobe, who lived in Columbia for 32 years, acknowledged that she "misses the planning and organization of Columbia."
"This general area has many strip commercial centers," she said. "It's a little late to do anything about it, because it's so built up."
In 1984, newlyweds Nick and Maria Kyriacou paid a family member $75,000 to build a brick Colonial for them a half mile from the water. The house sits across the street from a community-owned athletic field and outdoor swimming pool. "Everything's geared to the family," said Nick Kyriacou, who works for the Maryland Department of the Environment. "There's a Halloween parade and Easter egg hunt at the beach."
"It's not a noisy or rowdy neighborhood," said Maria Kyriacou, who works at Anne Arundel County Medical Center. "And Quiet Waters Park has a variety of things. There's a picnic area, a playground for the children, a banquet hall and walking and bike trail."
Vernon, the librarian, admitted that the vintage 1917 home she left behind in Mount Rainier packed more charm than the more contemporary split-foyer she found at Hillsmere Shores. "But I really got a nice vibe from the neighbors here. I would say they all introduced themselves to me when I moved in, but it is not as if people are having block parties all the time," she said. "It's a friendly place. As soon as I turn into Hillsmere Drive to go home, I'm in a different zone."