Washington Post | June 1989
“Where We Live; New Mark Commons: Calm Beyond the Totem Pole.”

By Sue Anne Pressley

If you ask most Rockville residents where New Mark Commons is located, you’re likely to draw a mystified look.

They may be familiar with the wooden totem pole on Maryland Avenue, past the city hall and the public library, that marks the entrance to this planned community of 384 homes. But the careful design of the neighborhood-the limited access roads, the way the houses are placed to avoid the main streets, the dense shield of foliage and trees-offers a built-in degree of anonymity. No one exactly gets lost and wanders into New Mark Commons by mistake; one has to want to come there.

“People say, `Gee, I had no idea this existed, it really is nice in here,’ ” said Sima Osdoby, whose family of four moved from Bethesda to a large colonial-style house in New Mark Commons nine years ago. “It’s unique; we call it the answer to the suburban nightmare.”

Once one gets past the totem pole, the showpiece of New Mark Commons is its man-made lake, a scenic 4.5-acre expanse with a fountain in the middle and a border of town houses. The community’s homes are nearly equally divided among the town houses and the single-family residences that are arranged on cul-de-sacs and dead-end streets, and the effect is one of well-tended seclusion. There is also a clubhouse with a 25-meter swimming pool and a series of well-lit walking paths that are used daily by the residents.

“My kids walk to the pool. My kids walk to the [Rockville] Metro station. My kids walk downtown to Temptations Ice Cream,” Osdoby said.

Construction began in New Mark Commons, which covers not quite 100 acres, in 1967. Developer Edmund J. Bennett, who also built Carderock Springs in Potomac, envisioned a community that would attract professionals from the general Washington area and set about to preserve the tract’s thick stand of trees and to minimize the extent of grading.

The result is a rolling terrain with lush shade trees, blue spruces, magnolias with white blossoms and shiny leaves. A large weeping willow tree dips its heavy branches into the lake.

Originally, Bennett planned to build a small commercial center with shops, offices and a restaurant in the “Village Green” section near the clubhouse, but those plans were eventually abandoned, and today’s homeowners are glad the community remained strictly residential.

The residents feel that they own New Mark Commons and it is true, they do own a piece of the lake, the pathways, the swimming pool and other common areas. Each year, every homeowner pays dues of $500 to $600 for the amenities, and a full-time administrator, resident Rose Krasnow, oversees the neighborhood upkeep. Richard Winecoff, who has been the maintenance worker for 14 years, is a common sight in the community, trimming trees, cutting grass and lumbering along the quiet streets on a small tractor.

As the community ages, “We’re facing some major capital improvements,” Krasnow said. “We’ve had to resurface the parking lots, put all new tile in the pool… . . “

While New Mark Commons is subject to all Rockville city laws, it is also ruled by a list of covenants that ensures a certain uniformity in the neighborhood and addresses such things as additions and acceptable colors of house trim. A seven-member board of directors meets once a month.

The residents are a mixture of federal government employees and business executives. So diverse is the population-with newcomers from Turkey, Mexico, Nicaragua and India-that the community holds a candlelit international dinner each February.

The single-family homes, which routinely have four bedrooms and sold for $45,000 in 1967, now carry price tags of $300,000 and more. They are a collection of contemporary brick and wood structures with split-levels and more traditional looking Colonial styles with shutters and porticos.

To most residents, New Mark Commons has the atmosphere of a small town. The most common of the complaints ending up on Rose Krasnow’s desk have to do with dogs running loose. Vandalism is listed as the most frequent crime, and neighbors take note of every strange car.

There are lots of children living in New Mark Commons and lots of teenaged babysitters. It is typical that the neighborhood’s monthly newsletter, The New Mark News, recently featured a full-page advertisement from a resident who has experienced a lifestyle change: “Ex-Female Corporate Executive (Now New Mom) announces an incredible opportunity to dress for success at amazing values.” The ad went on to list a selection of clothing from Fendi, Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus.

“So many women have had new babies in the past 10 months,” said resident Susan Klise, mother of 8-month-old Stephen. “We meet at the pool and share the joy and pain.”

New Mark residents agree that perhaps the most appealing feature of their neighborhood is its down-to-earth quality.

“We know there are financial pressures, living in the Washington area, to try and keep up and we don’t have that kind of thing here,” said resident Helene Dubov. “We want our children to have certain values.”

Osdoby, too, likes to think of her community as “a very inclusive place that revels in its diversity.

“There’s a uniformity here that is required by the covenants,” she said, “but after that, the attitude is please, use your time to be yourself.”