Byron Smithâ€™s commute from his job in Rockville can take more than an hour. But when he gets back to his five-bedroom house in Bowieâ€™s Devonshire Estates, he kicks back, relaxes and enjoys suburban living.
â€śI just try to chill out. Itâ€™s nice to be home,â€ť said Smith, an information technology director who also is president of the Devonshire homeownersâ€™ association. Smith and the other residents who occupy the 185 single-family units in the Prince Georgeâ€™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 Georgeâ€™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 McKenzieâ€™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. â€śThe deer will come right up in the back yard,â€ť said Keith McKenzie, an engineer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrationâ€™s office in Suitland.
The McKenzies also enjoy walking along the developmentâ€™s paved trails. Bowie recently worked with residents on the best route for another trail connecting Devonshire Estates to an adjacent neighborhood.
Devonshireâ€™s sizable homes attracted Smith, who had lived in a townhouse in Upper Marlboro. He also liked that Devonshire was located within Bowie. â€śWe had done some research,â€ť said Smith, 45, who has lived there with his wife and daughter since 2000. â€śWe wanted to use the services in the city of Bowie.â€ť 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 cityâ€™s services. She once called to see what could be done about a broken streetlight. â€śI was so impressed. In one day, they were out and they fixed the light,â€ť 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 didnâ€™t sit well with residents, who didnâ€™t like that the store would have faced the entry to their development. After years of discussions with developers and Prince Georgeâ€™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 Georgeâ€™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 â€śbig accomplishmentâ€ť that involved plenty of outreach. â€śWe 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.â€ť
Many residents are pleased that a key county amenity will be nearby. â€śMy wife and daughter are heavy library users,â€ť 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. â€śI like the fact that my daughter growing up here can walk down the street and she can pass teachers, postal workers, CEOs, military officers â€” not all one type of person,â€ť he said.
Despite the neighborhoodâ€™s amenities, Devonshire Estates has not been immune to the recessionâ€™s effect on property values. â€śPrices were really high here in â€™06 and â€™07, and then things really fell off a cliff,â€ť 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 communityâ€™s common areas.
Trouth, 64, who has lived in Devonshire since 1999, said the rules have helped the community maintain its look. â€śWe have open spaces. Itâ€™s not that you canâ€™t have a fence, but you have to have a certain type of fence,â€ť 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 Devonshireâ€™s model homes. â€śAs for living here, I love it,â€ť said Pinkney, 59.
Although Devonshire is in the southern portion of Bowie, Smith said itâ€™s just a short trip to the movies, Bowie Town Center or Prince Georgeâ€™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. â€śWeâ€™re active in our church and we do visit other churches,â€ť Keith McKenzie said, noting that the prominent Evangel Cathedral overlooks Route 214. â€śIt sets the tone for the neighborhood.â€ť
Jim Brocker is a freelance writer.
Zip Code: 20721
Boundaries: Central Avenue (Route 214) and Hall Road on the south; the Grovehurst neighborhood and parkland on the west; the Tall Oaks Crossing neighborhood on the north; and Pin Oak Parkway on the east.
Schools: Pointer Ridge Elementary School, Benjamin Tasker Middle School and Bowie High School.
Transit: The closest Metro station is about five miles away at Largo Town Center. Several Metrobus lines serve Central Avenue/Hall Road and nearby Pointer Ridge Drive.
Home sales: One house is currently on the market, a short sale priced at $250,000, according to Roxanne Calloway, an agent with Long & Foster. In the past 12 months, four homes have sold at prices ranging from $260,000 to $370,000. All of those properties were foreclosures or short sales, Calloway said.
Within 10 to 15 minutes: Six Flags America, Bowie Town Center, the Boulevard at the Capital Centre, Prince Georgeâ€™s Community College, Prince Georgeâ€™s Stadium (Bowie Baysox), FedEx Field, Watkins Regional Park.
Within 30 minutes: Washington, D.C., Annapolis, Baltimore.