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There's Room to Grow

By Kate Moore
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 17, 1994

George and Pam Swegman and Richard and Elaine Blackman all moved to the nine-year-old Valley Stream Estates community of Burtonsville for the same reasons: The decades-old reputation of the Montgomery County schools and the affordable housing.

The Swegmans have lived on Cavalcade Court for five years with their children, Colin, 11, and Casey, 9. George Swegman, 45, is president of the neighborhood Saddle Creek Homeowners Association board of directors. Swegman, a plaintiff's attorney in the District, said he believes many of his neighbors were attracted to the area for similar reasons.

"And there's a real exposure in the schools to understand ethnic and racial diversity. I think it's beneficial for the kids to learn this lesson early on," Swegman said.

Saddle Creek, part of the broader area of Valley Stream Estates, is home to whites, blacks, Asians and a large Armenian population. There are teachers, police officers, doctors, lawyers and military personnel. The residents are mostly young people with families, but singles and retired people say they like the community as well.

There are so many children, in fact, that Swegman and other residents would like to see the county turn the vacant field at the end of Saddle Creek Drive into a ball field. "There are a heck of a lot of kids running around out here and it would be nice for them to be able to walk out of their yards to a community field, instead of having to be driven to the several area parks," he said.

Lisa Ringler, property manager for the Saddle Creek homeowners group, which is run by Chambers Management Inc., said the subdivision is home to about 2,000 people who live in 664 detached homes and town houses. The detached homes are colonial and Victorian, with front and back yards and garages, while the town houses are brick-faced with small yards and street parking.

Melissa Leone, an agent with Long&Foster Real Estate's Burtonsville office, said the average 1994 price for the detached homes in Saddle Creek is $204,216 and $121,689 for the town houses.

Burtonsville was named after Isaac Burton, who bought a large parcel of land about 1853 for $523. Back then, Montgomery County had 34 public one-room schools with 750 students and a population of about 15,000. The community is located off routes 29 and 198 and accessible to the Silver Spring Metro station.

Spencerville Road and Old Columbia Pike were Burtonsville's main roads for decades. They were unpaved until the late 1920s and early 1930s. It was a common sight in those days for residents to "work off" their taxes by pitching in with road construction. The completion of Route 29 followed: Now the community finds itself accessible to both Washington and Baltimore.

"There has been phenomenal growth in the Burtonsville area with over 1,000 units built on Route 198 south since 1982," said Piera Weiss, a planner with the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

When it was built, C&P Telephone gave Valley Stream Estates a Laurel telephone exchange instead of a Montgomery County exchange. The community wasn't listed in the Montgomery telephone directory, only in the Laurel directory, and residents weren't able to call the governing Wheaton-Glenmont police station or any of the county offices without being charged long-distance rates. "There has been phenomenal growth in the Burtonsville area with over 1,000 units built on Route 198 south since 1982." says planner Piera Weiss.

Residents worked with local council members and the Maryland Public Service Commission for the last two years to correct the problem. As of July, the community has a Montgomery County exchange. People were given the choice of keeping their Laurel number for an additional monthly charge of $15.25, or of receiving a new Montgomery number with no additional charges.

There's more good news for the Saddle Creek homeowners association members: Swegman credits past association president William C. Burgy as the driving force in successfully reducing the monthly dues for the fourth time in three years. Fees for town homes are $28, and detached homes are $16.50. The group is organizing its annual Halloween parade, planned for Oct. 29. There is also Christmas caroling in December. An association newsletter, the Saddle Creek Messenger, is published eight times a year.

The Burtonsville Crossing Shopping Center, also at routes 29 and 198, has a Giant Food store, along with other specialty stores. Restaurants and other shops can be found nearby and also in the downtown Burtonsville district. The area is also home to Burn Brae Dinner Theatre, now in its 25th season. And Seibel's restaurant has been serving "homemade super premium ice cream" to Burtonsville residents strong community outreach program and a very, very, very innovative instructional program."

Elaine Blackman, 42, lives with her family on Saddle Creek Drive, in a detached house for which they paid $182,000 in 1988. Blackman was PTA president at the elementary school for two years and was thrilled about the state and national awards. She is now vice president of the Parent Teacher Student Association of the Benjamin Banneker Middle School. Blackman said the other main area school is Paint Branch High.

Her son, Mark, 9, attends Burtonsville Elementary, and her daughter, Sandy, 11, attends middle school. "We think this is a great place to live," Blackman said. "We've gotten to know loads and loads of families through the PTA."

Dan Straub is vice president of the Saddle Creek homeowners board. Straub, 36, and his wife, Fay, live on Meanderwood Lane with their daughters, Lauren, 7, Kristina, 5, and Elaina, 2. Straub, who works in law enforcement in the District, helped other residents to coordinate a National Night Out as part of the neighborhood watch program with the help of the Montgomery police department.

"It was a great opportunity for the residents to interact with the local police," he said.

The police spoke to the residents about how to curb crime and offered ideas for better security in their homes and community.

"Our goal is to get everyone involved," Straub said. "It's a really good thing that comes out of neighborhood watches. You find yourself interacting with your neighbors and you see neighbor getting to know neighbor. It also allows you to rely on each other in times of need. This helps strengthens the bond in the community."

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