Sequoia Farms in Centreville is a community of contrasts.
Residents of its 308 single-family houses have easy access by car to Interstate 66, Route 28 and Washington Dulles International Airport, but they also enjoy pedestrian access to the tranquillity of Ellanor C. Lawrence Park’s 650 wooded acres.
Christine and John Rakshys, original owners who moved to Sequoia Farms from Pennsylvania 23 years ago, have a four-bedroom house backing to a wooded easement that runs parallel to the park’s boundary. Now a grandmother of five, Christine said paying a bit extra for that slice of nature years ago was worth it. “My husband takes our three dogs for walks daily into the park,” she said. From her deck, Christine observes a variety of wildlife, including a barred owl she photographed one recent afternoon.
Built in the late 1980s, the community seems to be in hibernation on weekdays. For now, Sequoia Farms’ red-roofed clubhouse is silent, waiting for swim season to start. The community’s wide streets see little traffic, and sidewalks are the domain of a few dog walkers and stroller pushers.
As Robin Loper watched her preschooler decorate their sidewalks with colored chalk recently, she spoke of the camaraderie her family found since moving to Sequoia Farms nine years ago.
“The first day we showed up, neighbors greeted us happily and invited us over,” she said. Since then, she’s found her street to be very tightknit, with “Bunco games, carpools and dog watching.” The latter probably keeps neighbors busy; there are about 20 dogs in the homes on her street.
Anticipation for the upcoming pool season is on her mind, too. For six years, Loper’s husband, Mark, has coached the community’s swim team, the Stingrays. Their 9-year-old daughter will begin her fifth year on the team, and their preschooler will start her second year.
A few blocks away, Debi MacLean and Kathy Williams, both members of the homeowners association board, were in Williamses’ family room, tending to association business while workers remodeled the adjacent kitchen.
Noting how residents are stepping up to help a neighbor who is seriously ill, MacLean said their efforts spawned the idea for developing a fund that would be available when others in the community face similar situations. She and Williams planned a magic show, which was held on Wednesday, as a kickoff fundraiser for that effort. “This is a very giving community,” said MacLean, one of Sequoia Farms’ original owners. By building up a nice reserve, she felt the community might be of help as soon as a need is identified.
MacLean has personal experience with the neighborhood’s generosity. When she and her 9-year-old son went through a tough stretch recently, “Neighbors brought food, gifts and cards, and even offered to help pay some bills for me,” she said.
Williams said she and her husband, Tom, moved to Sequoia Farms in 1996 because “it didn’t have a big ARC [architectural review committee] book of regulations. It was only two pages long then.” While guidelines have increased since, she said, “the emphasis is to keep the neighborhood up to resale value.”
Williams said their real estate agent also guided them to the community because of its location. “You aren’t south of 29 and 66 where traffic jams up frequently,” she said.
MacLean recalled how the day she moved in, “neighbors brought phone books, paper towels, et cetera. All the things you need but usually didn’t pack.”
Sequoia Farms’ houses offer three or four bedrooms with one- or two-car garages on treed lots. A utility easement on the northern boundary provides residents with a wide swath of open space, and there is a playground where children can work off pent-up energy. Many of the community’s streets end in cul-de-sacs or have pipestems in which two houses share part of a driveway.
“Sequoia Farms is one of the few communities in the area that offers some contemporary split-levels,” said Spencer Marker, a real estate agent with Long & Foster.
Physical boundaries separating Sequoia Farms from adjacent communities are nebulous, but they’re important for prospective residents who might want to belong to the swim club. The community was originally slated to have 350 homes, but one developer ran into financial trouble. Because of that, Marker noted, “homes may have a legal description of Sequoia and belong to a different association because the plans were laid out as one subdivision and then a builder from next door bought the lot and incorporated it into theirs.”
Fred Cho, head coach of the George Mason University men’s volleyball team, moved to Sequoia Farms with his wife in the fall of 2009. “It was as much about the cohesiveness of the neighborhood” as it was about the proximity to their jobs, he said. “Sequoia Farms looks more like a community rather than a hodgepodge,” he said. Describing the couple’s first reaction to the house, he said, “It was a cupcake . . . cute . . . but a foreclosure that needed some work.” Getting to know neighbors wasn’t a problem he said, because they moved in next door to MacLean, who seems to know everyone.
When Ed Nuttall’s family of five moved to Sequoia Farms nine years ago, it was for the schools. “The community was like a throwback to the ’50s, where everybody helps each other,” he said.
Nuttall, now president of the homeowners association, is a partner in the law firm Briglia, Hundley, Nuttall and Kay in Vienna. “I could afford to live in a bigger house, but you can’t buy good neighbors,” he said.
Siegal is a freelance writer.