correction: Some photos that ran with a previous version of this story were of the McLean Greens townhouses instead of the McLean Province townhouses.
On a recent frigid Saturday afternoon, as a cerulean sky spread through bare tree branches, a couple of residents walked a visitor up and down the gently rolling hills of McLean Province. The only sounds were footsteps crunching frozen patches of snow, but they pointed out that there's little traffic and in warmer weather, children fill the streets.
"It's like one big playground here," said Howard Frost, a board member of the homeowners association and a 15-year resident.
McLean Province is a 25-acre townhouse community in Fairfax County, close to Falls Church, McLean and Tysons Corner in terms of convenience but far away in its quietude and suburban aura.
Clusters of 127 townhouses are surrounded by trees, wooded areas and common open space that act as natural buffers among the houses. "In the summer, while you're on your deck having dinner, you can't see far because trees are all around," said Frost.
"Landscaping is the largest budget item of our homeowners association," said Brian Hult, communications committee chair and a resident with his wife, Cecile and children, Chloe, 2, and Julien, 1, since 2014.
Steven Smith chairs the landscape committee and is guided by the Boy Scout rule: Leave the campground cleaner than you found it. Growing up in a small rural town, he gained an appreciation for the outdoors that's still strong today.
"We have seven to 10 members who chose to be on the committee because they really care about how our community looks," Smith said.
They plant and maintain flowers and shrubs on the common area, fertilize soil and prune bushes. "We do 10 to 15 things but many are invisible housekeeping tasks," he said.
"Their work reflects our concern that our development looks nice, stays attractive and has curb appeal," said Frost.
Young families: The three-story townhouses have backyard decks and a single-car garage. Front doors are either at ground level or one flight up. Exteriors are alternately brick or siding in colors such as beige, gray and slate blue. "The townhomes feature three or four floor plans and 21 slightly different architectural designs, providing the community with a distinctive aesthetic character," said Miley Frost, Howard Frost's wife and a real estate agent with Keller Williams. Each home has a fireplace and walkout family room. There's abundant guest parking.
The architecture review committee ensures a consistent exterior appearance. "When upgrades are sought by homeowners, we make sure they match and are in harmony with the surroundings," said Hult. Architectural guidelines specify some features but aren't meant to be overly restrictive. "When we last updated the documents, our aim was to allow people to be more flexible so they're not limited as to vendor or colors, for example," he said.
"We try to get as much input from the community as possible. Buy-in is always important to us to ensure people are comfortable," said Howard Frost.
An active HOA encourages residents to attend monthly meetings and sends a quarterly email newsletter with pictures and text to keep everyone in the loop about goings-on in the neighborhood and holiday get-togethers.
Halloween is a popular occasion. Tables are set up end to end on the street and candy is laid out. "We watch the kids, and there are many, walk up and down collecting candy while the adults have wine," said Hult.
"All the children point to the value of being here. Young families want good schools and they want the things they need to be convenient," he said.
What's nearby: Grocery shopping options abound. Giant Food, Safeway, Harris Teeter, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods are not far away. "If you drew a circle, you could get to all these places within one-and-a-half miles," said Smith. In Falls Church are restaurants, shops and commercial services.
Haycock Longfellow Park abuts the community and offers trails rising 354 feet in elevation. Branching out one mile in practically every direction are Powhatan Hills Park, Falls Church City Park, Mount Royal Park and Kent Gardens Park.
Living there: McLean Province in Fairfax County, Zip code 22043, is 12 miles from the White House. It's bounded by Kirby Road on the north, the Brooks Square community on the east, he McLean Greens community on the south and Great Falls Street on the west.
"This is a totally townhouse community with one single-family that is a unique pre-Civil War 'farmhouse' and is presently rented," said Miley Frost. "The community is highly sought after and is in one of the nation's strongest real estate markets."
No properties are for sale or under contract, she said. In the past year, five townhouses sold, ranging from a three-bedroom, three-bathroom home for $700,000 to a three-bedroom, three-bathroom model for $765,000.
Schools: Kent Gardens Elementary, Longfellow Middle, McLean High.
Transit: McLean Province is a short drive away from Interstate 66 at Exit 66B. The West Falls Church Metro station on the Orange Line sits practically in the middle of I-66. "It's a 12-minute walk or five-minute drive and is really convenient," said Howard Frost. Daily meter parking costs $4.95 and reserved parking costs $65 a month. There are 40 bike racks and 22 lockers.
Crime: According to the Fairfax County police, there were two assaults and eight thefts from motor vehicles in the past year.