With its Colonial, brick Georgian townhouses and wide, tree-lined streets, Loch Raven Village, a horseshoe-shaped community just north of the city line, east of Towson and west of Parkville, is a neighborhood with a storybook feel.
At night, white candles cast their lights from many front windows, giving the neighborhood a Norman Rockwell glow.
"They are not Christmas decorations," said Wayne Skinner, a four-year resident and board member of the Loch Raven Village Community Association. "The candles are pretty, and people like to keep them up all year long."
Daylight does not dispel the fairy-tale aura. All of the village's 25 streets bear Scottish names: Deveron, Kennaway, Glen Keith, Loch Ness, Loch Shiel, Aberdeen and Myamby, among them.
Old-fashioned gas-style lamps, some with black and white address plaques hanging from them, stand on the edges of a few of the neatly kept front yards. Dried floral wreaths grace some front doors, while seasonal decorations adorn others. Backyards visible from the streets show touches of landscaping and gardens beneath wooden decks lined with flower boxes.
Situated in groups, the spacious homes feature natural materials such as plaster walls and hardwood floors.
End-of-group homes tend to be slightly larger with one or two wood-burning fireplaces and bay windows.
Loch Raven Village was built in 1947 and named for the nearby Loch Raven Dam and Loch Raven Boulevard.
"It's a stable neighborhood, a wonderful community," said Barbara Nock, manager of O'Conor Piper & Flynn's Lutherville office.
"The homes are affordable, which makes the community attractive to first-time homebuyers. A lot of people have lived there a long time."
Considering the almost infectious community spirit, it is easy to see why residents are reluctant to leave. Newcomers receive welcome packets that contain vital information about the neighborhood, coupons for local retail stores and an issue of the Village Crier, a substantial monthly newsletter that is funded by nominal dues and local advertising.
Edited by Frank Stromyer, president of the association, the newsletter runs from 20 to 40 pages and is distributed to each of the community's 1,472 homes as well as to residents of the surrounding Loch Raven Village Apartments.
During the holidays, the entire neighborhood takes on a festive air. Streetlights are decorated with ribbons and bows as they are the tiny, nearby Knettishall neighborhood, which is surrounded by the village. Contests for the best-decorated door and the best-decorated house bring small cash prizes.
Adding to the storybook quality, Santa, sitting on a sleigh mounted on the bed of a pickup truck, makes a street-by-street visit during the Christmas season for Loch Raven Village's children. Times are posted in the newsletter, so residents can plan holiday parties accordingly.
Spring and summer bring the communitywide Easter Egg Hunt, Yard Sale Weekend and Clean-Up Day. These seasons also usher in the community's Greening Committee, which oversees the beautification of the common areas with the planting of trees and shrubs.
And, of course, there is the community garden, boasting decorative plants, annuals and perennials, in a median strip on Putty Hill Road, just before the LaSalle Road intersection.
Aside from the two well-equipped playgrounds at the Pleasant Plains and the former Loch Raven Elementary schools, a recreational center offers activities ranging from ballet to baseball, art to child care. Activities for adults include aerobics and sewing classes.
At the Loch Raven Senior Center, adults can explore English literature if bingo, line dancing, woodcarving and other arts and crafts do not appeal to them.
With the plethora of shopping centers and retail districts along its borders, Loch Raven Village is easy to overlook.
"A lot of people hardly know it exists," said Ron Walker of Century 21.
"Unless people are traveling up and down Loch Raven Boulevard, they wouldn't see it. If people are traveling the Jones Falls, Perring Parkway or Charles Street to get in and out of the city, they would not be exposed to it."
The only sign that marks the neighborhood stands in the community garden, but the area's proximity to shopping districts, schools and churches make it appealing to "anyone," said Lois Dressel of Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty.
"For young professionals who work downtown and who don't want to drive, they can take the bus to work and be there quickly," Ms. Dressel said.
A majority of the village's homes have been remodeled over the years, but some may require minor cosmetic work such as replacing floor tiles. End-of-group houses tend to bring a higher sale price because they are larger, limited in number and more coveted.
"There might be a home that has not been updated and needs some work that will sell for $98,000," Mr. Walker said.
"Generally, these are low-maintenance homes because of the all-brick exteriors. The majority of them have been updated and most now have central air. The only maintenance that might be needed would be to have the furnace or central air [system] checked."
He said the village is unique in that the zoning keeps commercial districts contained. "You don't have gas stations and businesses right on top of you. They are there, but they are on the borders. I don't think there is another development in Baltimore County in which there is such a large block residential area in one spot," he said.
The homes of Loch Raven Village are governed by covenants to perpetuate the community's attractiveness. According to Mr. Stromyer, while the association often works with homeowners regarding covenant issues, it has successfully taken violators to court.
While Loch Raven Village has been an area with relatively low turnover, it is now undergoing a generational transition as a number of houses belonging to elderly people are coming to market.
According to Ms. Dressel, over the past two years, only 61 houses have come to market and sold quickly -- an average of 82 days. Now there are 21 houses for sale in the village -- a higher-than-average number since many longtime residents, in need of smaller, more manageable spaces, are leaving after 30 or so years.
"For the most part, people have bought in the village and have stayed. Now the elderly are selling their homes to move into retirement communities, and younger families have the opportunity to move in," Ms. Dressel said. "There for a while, you couldn't get anything in Loch Raven Village, and if you did get something, it was expensive."
Bob Botti, 34, recently returned to the village, buying the same home in which he grew up. "When I lived in Hunt Valley and Timonium, I didn't even know my neighbors. Here, everyone is friendly. I spent most of my life in the village, and the same people are living in the houses that were there when I was a kid," said Mr. Botti, who purchased the house from his mother.
"I feel lucky that it was still in the family and I was able to move back," Mr. Botti said.
He is revamping it to reflect his style. "We had wall-to-wall carpeting when I was a kid. I just pulled it up and had the hardwood floors redone," Mr. Botti said. He is single and keeping his color schemes "neutral" so that changes will be easier in the future.
Kim McCabe, a three-year resident, also cites warmth and friendliness as one of the community's best features. But she also quickly points out that the sturdy construction of the homes has kept her family there.
"My husband and I thought we would move into a larger house and actually started looking for one," said Ms. McCabe, a graphic artist who works at home. "But, after seeing houses that were twice as expensive and not built as well, we decided to refinance and stayed in the community."
"We just couldn't find the same amount of house for our money," she said. "And we couldn't bring our neighbors with us."
Loch Raven Village
Population: 3,800 (Baltimore County Planning and Zoning Office)
Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 25 minutes
Public Schools: Pleasant Plains Elementary, Cromwell Valley Elementary Regional School of Technology, Loch Raven Technological Academy for Environmental Sciences, Performing Arts and Visual Arts (formerly Loch Raven Middle School), Loch Raven Senior High School
Shopping: Hillendale Shopping Center, Towson Marketplace, Loch Raven Plaza, Raven Wood Shopping Center, Pleasant Plains Shopping Center
Nearest Mall: Towson Town Center, Towson Commons
Points of Interest: Cromwell Valley regional park
ZIP codes: 21234, 21286
Average price of single-family home**
* Based on 52 sales during the past 12 months through Mid-Atlantic Real Estate Information Technologies Inc.