Barry Becker hails from Arlington, but more precisely, he hails from Hidden Oaks.
Becker and his wife Susan occupy one of the 18 townhomes on a circle just off Arlington Boulevard that constitute a kind of private enclave, a semi-independent carveout from the county’s street system.
Since the handsome red-brick homes were built in 1987 on an old farm, the owners have been “responsible for the care and feeding of the street that is South Pershing Court,” Becker told me. That means repaving, plowing snow and maintaining street lights. “The homeowner’s association has articles of incorporation, by-laws, elected officers, dues ($120/month), and anything else the resident lawyers could create.”
The founding owners were a platoon of self-sufficiency-minded military officers, retired and active-duty, who favored an easy commute to the Pentagon and a short walk to the National Guard Readiness Center. “The developer’s dealings with the county were complicated,” says Becker, a consultant who bought his house in 1994. They would allow no gated community.
The self-sufficiency goes only so far—the county supplies water and performs trash and recycling pickup.
“We have an official business meeting twice a year,” says Becker, who has twice served as president. Unlike the county board chair, the Hidden Oaks president’s major duty is “hosting the meetings and providing wine and food,” he says. “We try not to discuss politics, for obvious reasons.”
But there is work involved. Snow removal and streetlamp bulb-changing are contracted out. Officers solicit bids, pick a vendor, ride herd on the execution and inspect results for quality.
“The sense of community has changed a bit over the years,” Becker says. “When the original 18 founders were still all here, I’m told they were a tight-knit group. But in the last few years, a number of homes have changed hands. We’re down to one retired Air Force three-star, a retired Army bird colonel, a retired Air Force bird colonel, and one active-duty National Guard colonel.”
The county’s handling of the Hidden Oaks quasi-separatists is not difficult, I was told by Dave Hundelt, who heads Arlington’s streets maintenance. There are dozens of similar arrangements, many of them condominiums, with parcels used as common areas or parking lots that reflect a mixture of county and private ownership, he says.
“The developer went through the site planning process and did not dedicate a right of way for the county to create a public street,” Hundelt explained. “They wanted to build the homes at a certain density, and the bargain county strikes is to pass along to future owners additional responsibilities, such as maintaining the cul de sac’s asphalt and curbs.”
Hundelt says the enclave shows up on county maps as private property (a short median sign declares it so), though official maps track how county sewer and water lines link to it.
The county keeps records of every residential unit and what services owners are entitled to. Because Hidden Oaks homeowners have individual water meters, they retain the common “fee simple” arrangement that provides them with county water, sewer service, trash and leaf removal. But the county wouldn’t drive a snowplow onto the cul de sac because it wouldn’t be legally protected.
Becker says he heard that some of Hidden Oaks’ do-it-yourselfers 15 or 20 years ago attempted to “give the street back to the county. The county laughed.”