Byron Smith’s commute from his job in Rockville can take more than an hour. But when he gets back to his five-bedroom house in Bowie’s Devonshire Estates, he kicks back, relaxes and enjoys suburban living.
“I just try to chill out. It’s nice to be home,” said Smith, an information technology director who also is president of the Devonshire homeowners’ association. Smith and the other residents who occupy the 185 single-family units in the Prince George’s County subdivision are used to jumping in the car to get to work, shopping and leisure activities.
Life outside the Beltway has been good for Smith and other residents here, who say the development, built a decade ago, is close to amenities and near enough to their workplaces. The Largo Metro station is about a 10-minute drive, and Devonshire residents head to work in the District, Northern Virginia and the Maryland suburbs.
Only a few decades earlier, much of eastern Prince George’s was rural and undeveloped. But neighborhoods such as Devonshire Estates, featuring large, mostly four-bedroom homes, have emerged along Route 214 and U.S. 301. Beyond the stone gateway signs at the entrance, the quiet streets feature houses with brick fronts, prominent foyer windows and garages. Many of the homes have more than 3,000 square feet of living space.
Some residents had their homes constructed to specifications. Karen and Keith McKenzie’s house, built by Richmond American Homes in 2000, features an open floor plan that connects the kitchen and family room, and the McKenzies added a rear deck that allows them to look out over a storm-water pond that attracts birds and other wildlife. “The deer will come right up in the back yard,” said Keith McKenzie, an engineer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s office in Suitland.
The McKenzies also enjoy walking along the development’s paved trails. Bowie recently worked with residents on the best route for another trail connecting Devonshire Estates to an adjacent neighborhood.
Devonshire’s sizable homes attracted Smith, who had lived in a townhouse in Upper Marlboro. He also liked that Devonshire was located within Bowie. “We had done some research,” said Smith, 45, who has lived there with his wife and daughter since 2000. “We wanted to use the services in the city of Bowie.” The city provides trash collection, snow removal and police protection and offers such activities as summer concerts and events at nearby Allen Pond Park.
Karen McKenzie praised the city’s services. She once called to see what could be done about a broken streetlight. “I was so impressed. In one day, they were out and they fixed the light,” she said.
Some homeowners, including Earl Mann, who moved with his wife to Devonshire in 1998 from Woodbridge, took an active role with Bowie residents concerned about a commercial development directly in front of the entrance to Devonshire Estates.
The original proposal for a shopping center with a large grocery store didn’t sit well with residents, who didn’t like that the store would have faced the entry to their development. After years of discussions with developers and Prince George’s County officials, a county library is being built on a portion of the property instead. The 45,000-square-foot facility is scheduled to be completed in late June or early July, said Jack Sloan, associate director of the Prince George’s County Office of Central Services. The plan also calls for a bank, future commercial sites and a townhouse development.
Mann, 47, said the library was a “big accomplishment” that involved plenty of outreach. “We literally went to every house in four communities. . . . We just wanted everybody to be fully aware that this was going to have a dramatic impact on our houses.”
Many residents are pleased that a key county amenity will be nearby. “My wife and daughter are heavy library users,” Smith said. Isaac Trouth, a Devonshire resident who serves on the Bowie City Council, noted that residents lobbied the county to build a two-story facility in order to fit the library on the land. The building will include a community room that will be accessible even when the library is closed, Trouth said.
Mann said he met many neighbors during the library discussions and has found that Devonshire Estates provides a good environment of educated, economically diverse residents. “I like the fact that my daughter growing up here can walk down the street and she can pass teachers, postal workers, CEOs, military officers — not all one type of person,” he said.
Despite the neighborhood’s amenities, Devonshire Estates has not been immune to the recession’s effect on property values. “Prices were really high here in ’06 and ’07, and then things really fell off a cliff,” Smith said.
In 2005, houses in Devonshire were selling for between $550,000 and $600,000, said Roxanne Calloway, an agent with Long & Foster. Those prices dropped to the mid-$400,000s by 2009, and she estimates that a house would now list in the mid to low $300,000s.
Only one house, a short sale, was on the market in January, Calloway said. In the past 12 months, four houses sold, and all were foreclosures or short sales.
Smith said the association enforces its architectural rules to maintain property values. Residents pay $48 per month to the association for upkeep of the community’s common areas.
Trouth, 64, who has lived in Devonshire since 1999, said the rules have helped the community maintain its look. “We have open spaces. It’s not that you can’t have a fence, but you have to have a certain type of fence,” he said. Storage sheds have to be a certain number of feet from the lot line, he said.
Resident Ron Pinkney said because of the rules, he will have to take down a porch and resubmit construction plans to the association. Several years ago, Pinkney purchased one of Devonshire’s model homes. “As for living here, I love it,” said Pinkney, 59.
Although Devonshire is in the southern portion of Bowie, Smith said it’s just a short trip to the movies, Bowie Town Center or Prince George’s Stadium, home of the Bowie Baysox minor league baseball team.
The McKenzies said that they enjoy the nearby Wegmans supermarket and that their church, the First Baptist Church of Glenarden, is one of several in the area. “We’re active in our church and we do visit other churches,” Keith McKenzie said, noting that the prominent Evangel Cathedral overlooks Route 214. “It sets the tone for the neighborhood.”
Jim Brocker is a freelance writer.