Three years ago, Jack Maher, then 12, was flying his remote-controlled helicopter in front of his Stratford Landing home when he had an unexpected aerial attack.
“From out of nowhere, a huge owl dove right in for the helicopter,” said Rob Maher, Jack’s father and a 23-year Stratford Landing resident. “Luckily he cut off the power right before the owl got it.” Maher said neighborhood sightings of owls, along with eagles, beavers, foxes, deer and groundhogs, are common.
Kids and nature are a big part of Stratford Landing, a 773-family community alongside Little Hunting Creek near Mount Vernon and Fort Hunt National Park in southern Fairfax County. Though the George Washington Memorial Parkway is nearby, residents describe Stratford Landing as a “dead-end” community — not a cut-through — where children ride their bikes to neighborhood schools and adults don’t dread their commutes. Maher, a mortgage broker who serves as the Stratford Landing Citizens Association president, describes the neighborhood as “beautiful, mature and close to the water.”
Maher, an avid boater, said that while Little Hunting Creek is part of what drew him to Stratford Landing, he normally doesn’t get to use it. His house is not on the creek and there is no water access for the public, including non-waterfront residents, so Maher boats out of Belle Haven Marina, along the Potomac River. Lots along the creek (navigable to the Potomac) are privately owned and many are developed, although a few residents have donated conservation easements to ensure their waterfront properties remain unbuilt. Properties on the water, some with docks, attract neighbors, especially boaters and fishermen.
“Individual owners sometimes allow access, and sometimes people just go over there without permission,” Maher said. “Plenty of people think it’s public land. . . . Once, a woman thanked one of the owners for mowing ‘the park’!” Maher said that “some [residents] want access, but not enough to really mount a campaign to get it, it would appear.”
It was Stratford Landing’s family-friendly character that brought Chrissy Kopple and her husband, Scott, there two years ago. “When you have kids, you want to live where there are a lot of kids,” she said.
There are a lot of kids in Stratford Landing these days, and the Kopples said good schools are one reason. Within the community’s boundaries are Stratford Landing Elementary and Fort Hunt Elementary, which offers a partial-immersion Spanish-language program. “Both would work; you can’t go wrong,” Scott Kopple said.
The community’s pool is another attraction. Rob Uhrin, president of the Stratford Recreation Association, said the 5.5-acre complex includes a recently renovated pool, four tennis courts and a volleyball court. More than 100 children were on the swim team this year.
The pool also appeals to adults, Uhrin said, with Friday-night happy hours and Sunday-morning coffee-and-doughnuts adult swims. “Our seniors love this. It’s a social gathering,” he said, adding that about 100 of the 425 pool families do not have school-age children.
The citizens association— with 84 percent of families as members — sponsors social events, maintains a list of recommended service providers on its Web site and publishes a newsletter. Board member and 13-year resident Betsy Martin said that the community faces some environmental issues, such as storm-water runoff and litter coming into creek waters from the Potomac. Some residents expressed concern about increasing traffic along Route 1, but many commute via the scenic George Washington Memorial Parkway. “The parkway is a great part of [the commute] at the end of the day because no matter what kind of day it was, you decompress before you walk in the front door,” said Scott Kopple, who commutes into Washington.
Retired human resources professional Jack Shawn lived in Stratford Landing from 1964 to 2011 and started the Stratford Landing blood drive in 1993. He said the citizens association is the first, and still the only, with its own blood drives at Inova Mount Vernon Hospital; about 70 residents are on his list of potential donors. “This tells me Stratford Landing is made up of wonderful people,” said Shawn, who tries to build community rapport by encouraging neighborhood donors to meet one another.
Original owner and retired teacher Nancy Truluck also praised the community’s involvement with the Stratford Woman’s Club, founded by a Stratford Landing resident 40 years ago. The 45-member group, made up mostly of Stratford Landing residents, is active with local educational, charitable, cultural and civic pursuits, and donates to the local schools as well as to the homeless population of the Route 1 corridor.
Truluck, who calls her living room “the Mount Vernon room” because of its Mount Vernon-focused decor, said the fact that Stratford Landing was once part of George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate attracted her.
Some residents, including Truluck, display plaques on their houses proclaiming they are on land once part of the first president’s River Farm.
Twenty-seven-year resident and real estate agent Leah Chapla said the neighborhood includes split-levels, Colonials, Cape Cods and ramblers built mostly in the mid-1960s; sizes range from 1,000 square feet for older ramblers to 3,000 square feet and more for newer homes. Many military families live in the community, which is about seven miles from Fort Belvoir.
Hollin Hall’s shopping area, about three miles down Fort Hunt Road, is popular with Stratford Landing residents. It includes Village Hardware, a Safeway supermarket and a senior center. “If I go to [Safeway] and don’t see someone I know, it’s not a successful trip,” Truluck said.
Uhrin, who moved to Stratford Landing in 2004, said its location, especially its proximity to Reagan National Airport, was paramount. “It wasn’t the housing stock that brought me here,” said Uhrin, an architect who renovated his 1962 split-level to replace the home’s original wood paneling and tiling. “It was that this neighborhood is sort of an island, although it’s on the doorstep of Old Town.”
Cheryl A. Kenny is a freelance writer.
ZIP CODE: 22308
BOUNDARIES: Approximately, Little Hunting Creek to the west, a tributary of Little Hunting Creek that runs parallel to Creek Drive to the south, a tributary of Little Hunting Creek that runs parallel to the east-west course of Brewster Drive to the north, and Riverside Road and part of Wittington Boulevard and its feeder roads to the east.
SCHOOLS: Fort Hunt or Stratford elementary, depending on street (the dividing line is Childs Lane); Carl Sandburg Middle; West Potomac High.
HOME SALES: Eleven homes are for sale in Stratford Landing (four of those are homes to be built), with prices ranging from $525,000 to $1.3 million, according to Leah Chapla, an agent with Long & Foster. Four homes are under contract, with list prices ranging from $499,000 to $685,000. Between October 2011 and October 2012, 26 homes sold, for prices ranging from $380,000 (foreclosure) to $951,470. In the past six months, the average sale price was $558,857 and the average time on the market was 56 days.
WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE: Fort Hunt Park, Riverside Park, the Mount Vernon Trail along the Potomac River, a convenience store, a veterinary hospital, shops and schools.
WITHIN 10 MINUTES BY CAR: The Mount Vernon estate, Fort Belvoir, the Mount Vernon post office, the Hollin Hall Shopping Center, and stores and restaurants on Route 1.
TRANSIT: The neighborhood is within walking distance of Fort Hunt Road, where commuters can catch a Fairfax Connector bus to the Huntington Metro station (Yellow Line), six miles away.