If you're thinking of living in Sherwood Forest, you'd better be quick.
Houses seem to come up for sale about as often as an appearance by Halley's comet, and when they do, they're usually snatched up in a blink of an eye.
Not that houses don't come up for sale. In fact, two are on the market, a rare occurrence, because most sales happen by word of mouth.
"Very few make it to the multiple listings," said Susan DiLeonardo, president of Sherwood Forest Club Inc., the community's neighborhood association.
After driving a few minutes through this gated community, 5 miles north of Annapolis, you quickly understand why houses are so prized. Located on a peninsula overlooking the Severn River, Sherwood Forest is a hilly, 350-acre nature preserve with 347 homes nestled among the trees. And 347 homes, not one more, will ever be allowed here.
What makes the community special is not just the limited availability of homes, but also that it's not so much a community as a state of mind. Sherwood Forest's natural beauty overwhelms the visitor, begging the question, "Who'd want to leave here?"
Not many do. While there are many neighborhoods in which the children choose to live where they grew up, this community could hold the record. More than 100 families in Sherwood Forest are related to each other, according to DiLeonardo. "I know of parents who grew up here who have four of their five children living here who have two of their kids living here," she said.
The development began in 1915 as a summer colony, and many of the original cottages still stand, though almost all have been expanded or remodeled. It's the beautiful siting of the houses on the sides of hills with names such as Friar Tuck, Maid Marion and Robin Hood and the winding roads that connect them that makes the place so un- ique. The lots are small and clustered, leaving untouched most of the green open space, which, as the community's name suggests, is pure forest.
DiLeonardo's father still owns the home he bought in the late 1940s. Back then, only eight families lived in Sherwood Forest year-round. Now, more than two-thirds of the residents live here full-time, with many commuting to either Baltimore or Washington for work.
Houses range in price from $300,000 to $800,000. The two on the market are listed for $675,000 and $1.1 million.
You can build a new house if you tear down the original structure and build within the existing layout. A strict building moratorium is in effect from June 15 to Labor Day to ensure a quiet summer for the residents.
"Because many homes are on a steep slope, the layout is different from a city house," DiLeonardo said. "You walk into the living area, but instead of going upstairs to the bedrooms, they're on the lower level."
All plans for proposed renovations must be approved by a design review board, and the exteriors must be painted either dark green or brown to blend in with the forest, though if one's home was among the original white houses, it may remain white. Many of the homes have a view of the Severn, and residents cannot build anything that will obstruct another's water view.
In addition to the homes and the natural setting, Sherwood Forest offers its residents a range of amenities, including six tennis courts, a nine-hole golf course and a clubhouse with an Olympic-sized pool. It has an eight-week summer camp for the community's children, and a new store offering groceries and other services opened in 1997.
High on a hill
No homes sit directly on the Severn's edge; rather, all are perched on a hill above the river, leaving the shoreline open for community facilities such as swimming beaches, a main pier and a marina.
Judy Smith, who owns a house on Little John Hill, likes to think Sherwood Forest gives the phrase "family oriented" a new twist.
"I've spent summers here since 1953, my husband grew up here, now my son and daughter spend their summers here with my grandchildren," she said. "The generations just keep coming back, and that's just great."
ZIP code: 21405
Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 40 minutes
Public schools: Rolling Knolls Elementary, Bates Middle, Annapolis High
Shopping: Sherwood Forest Store, Annapolis Mall
Homes on market: 2
Average listing price: $675,000* No sales recorded by the Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. in the past 12 months.