In a 50-acre hilly enclave shrouded in trees, 10 minutes from the Capital Beltway in Potomac, Md., are 159 houses built more than four decades ago.
“Potowmack Preserve is a contemporary place with an antique name,” said Raj Barr, president of the homeowners association, who has lived there for 20 years.
The houses were built during the period when landscape architect Ian McHarg wrote “Design With Nature,” the landmark 1969 book about planning in a natural environment.
In 1970, developer Croyder-Irvin and designers Cimbco Ltd. and Cohen, Haft & Associates fashioned this community of houses taking advantage of the natural setting in southeastern Montgomery County. They protected the woodlands as green buffer zones and placed the houses into the folds of the topography.
“Forty-four years ago someone said green is good and built these houses into the texture of the land, keeping the trees so that today the poplars, oaks, sycamores and white pines are 60 to 70 years old,” Barr said. “It was quite prescient of them to say, ‘Yes, we’re going to protect the land, save the trees.’ ”
“Houses were literally built into each lot. The developer didn’t bulldoze the site to make it easier to build,” said Rande Joiner, another longtime resident who lives with husband Robert Honig, mother Gloria Weissman, border collies Jedi and Skye, and cats Lyra Peabody and Mr. Frodo.
“We looked at lots in Potomac 25 years ago and considered building an Acorn or Deck house. We stumbled into Potowmack Preserve, and the rest is history. We’ve been here since 1989,” she said.
In harmony with wildlife: Sonjae Whang moved there last year with his wife and daughters, now 3 and 5 years old. They were in a townhouse and “were looking for a single-family house with a decent-sized yard in a quiet neighborhood with good schools,” said Whang, treasurer of the homeowners association. “We like living here. It’s close enough to D.C. yet feels far enough away.”
Community-owned green space is plentiful around the houses, and Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission land borders two sides. Woods surround quarter-acre lots. “There’s a sense of harmony and coherence,” said Barr.
A homeowners association (annual dues $99) maintains the parkland, the trails and the aesthetic integrity of the houses. Proposals to alter an exterior or build an addition are evaluated by an architectural review committee, and an environment committee ensures that healthy trees aren’t cut.
Deer wander around as if they belong — and, of course, they do, having followed Buck Branch to the Potomac River for centuries. “They’re part of being in these woods,” said Barr. Foxes, opossums and eagles are common, too.
Like living in a treehouse: The contemporary-style houses are wood, brick or stone and painted beige, brown, tan, pale yellow and the occasional cobalt blue. Most are two stories with basements, and they range from 2,600 to 4,800 square feet.
“I’m here 20 years and haven’t made any changes to my house. That’s saying something for an architect,” said Barr, president of Barr-Kumar Architects Engineers.
Clerestory windows are a common feature across the community. They’re set across upper walls below the ceiling, let light in from every direction and keep a house bright all day.
The designers took conventional styles like a rambler, split-level and Colonial and “added a twist,” said Joiner, gesturing to the solid-cedar ceiling of her soaring, two-level-high dining room.
Patios, second-floor balconies and decks are common. Joiner’s deck runs the length of the house in back. Beyond the deck railing, the site drops 25 feet into a forest. “It’s like living in a luxurious treehouse,” she said.
Living there: Potowmack Preserve, in Zip code 20854, is bordered roughly by Buck Branch Park to the north and east, Democracy Boulevard to the south, and Falls Road to the west. “The community is a tightknit group of neighbors who share the pleasures of peaceful walks and social get-togethers in a park-like setting,” said Meg Percesepe, an agent with Washington Fine Properties.
All the houses are single-family. Two are on the market — a five-bedroom, three-bathroom priced at $839,900 and a four-bedroom, four-bath for $989,900.
Four properties sold in the neighborhood in the past year, at prices ranging from $775,000 for a five-bedroom, three-bathroom house to $1.125 million for a four-bedroom, five-bath.
Transit: The Grosvenor-Strathmore station on Metro’s Red Line is a 15-minute drive from the community. A Ride On bus to the station is on Bells Mill Road.
From the District, River Road NW off Wisconsin Avenue in Tenleytown is a straight shot to Potowmack Preserve. Go right on Seven Locks Road and left on Bells Mill Road and you’re there.
Shopping: The community is five minutes from Cabin John Mall with a Giant and Potomac Village Shopping Center with Safeway and Giant. Westfield Montgomery is home to Nordstrom, Macy’s and Sears. “We live in the woods, but if you need a dozen eggs or propane canister, they’re right there,” said Honig.
Schools: Bells Mill Elementary, Cabin John Middle, and Winston Churchill and Thomas Sprigg Wootton high schools.
Crime: According to CrimeReports.com, there was one theft in Potowmack Preserve in the past six months.
Audrey Hoffer is a freelance writer.