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Residents of westside neighborhood, built over last 14 years, are a ?tight group?

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(Editor?s note: This is one in a series of monthly stories taking a close-up look at neighborhoods in Petaluma.)

Annette Thomason never has been a big fan of deer heads on house walls, so she didn?t particularly appreciate finding one mounted on her backyard fence, staring back at her, after she returned home from vacation with her family.

But Thomason couldn?t help from smiling, because she knew she was the victim of yet another good-natured prank in the Westridge Knolls neighborhood.

?A group of about six families in our area does things like that when one of us goes on vacation,? said Thomason, who lives with her husband, Mike, and two children on Black Oak Drive. ?We also get together for barbecues and carve Thanksgiving turkeys together. We?re a tight group.?

And although this group represents only a small part of the new Westridge Knolls neighborhood, it reflects the general spirit of camaraderie and fun.

This neighborhood, which sits adjacent to the old Westridge neighborhood, has been built in a series of home clusters since 1993, and now contains 167 houses.

?I grew up in the old Westridge. When these homes were being built, I walked through the neighborhood and thought that I would like to live here some day. Now I have my dream house,? said Eric Byous, who lives on Hash Court with her husband, Eric, and two young children.

And she absolutely loves the neighborhood.

?You know it?s special from the minute you drive in through the tree-lined entrance. You feel like you are in a nice place, and it is a perfect place to go walking,? she said.

Stephanie Dietrich, who has lived in Westridge Knolls with her husband, Craig, on Dogwood Court since 1993, remembers a particularly unappealing early aspect of the neighborhood, though.

?After we moved in here, every family ? and I mean every family ? with a dog found itself with a ?skunked? dog, and it?s possible ours was the first. We laughed that there was a skunk in the area, keeping tabs on all of the dogs it had sprayed,? she said.

One day, Craig, a veterinarian, encountered an animal of a different sort.

?While getting the newspaper early in the morning, he was startled by a large buck leaving our front yard. I don?t know who was more scared ... the deer or the man getting chased!? Dietrich said.

Dietrich enjoys the natural beauty of Westridge Knolls.

?It?s a pastoral, country setting with city amenities,? she said. ?Most of the time, the neighborhood is quiet. In the early morning, you can enjoy the chattering of birds, and sometimes hear wild turkeys in the distance. If you enjoy watching birds, this is the place to live ? we have seen an egret and blue heron fly into the area, as well as numerous turkey vultures and red-tail hawks.

?And it?s peaceful to sit outside in the evenings and view the many stars without competition from city lights.?

When Mac and Teresa Tillman and their two children moved to their home on Black Oak Drive, however, they felt as if they were in the middle of a loud jungle.

?We heard exotic animal cries, the type you might hear on a jungle soundtrack. Actually, they were coming from a peacock at a neighboring farm,? Mac Tillman said.

Beside the obvious natural attractions, residents have made special efforts to beautify the neighborhood.

?Several years back, lots of neighbors got together and planted bulbs in the parkways and in the area around the creek bed. And one of the elementary school classes planted native trees along the creek,? Dietrich said.

As Westridge Knolls steadily has grown, some of the scenic beauty has been lost, though.

?The thought of (more) development worries some neighbors,? said Tom Bates, who has lived on Black Oak Drive with his wife, Luise, since 1993.

Carolyn Albee, who lives on Grevillia Drive with her husband, Dave, and their two children, does not oppose more development, but feels that the large $1-2 million homes are too large and close together for the area.

?This will affect the view on the ridge line, where some landslides have taken place and several brush fires have approached (the neighborhood) in recent years,? she said.

Some neighbors also voiced concern over increased traffic and speeding. All but four families can enter and exit the neighborhood by vehicles only through the I Street Extension. The other four families live on the south side of Thompson Creek, across from the rest of the neighborhood.

?People have been speeding in the 25 mph speed zone on Grevillia Avenue, and I?m surprised that quite a few people aren?t making full stops at stop signs,? said Bill Hammerman, who has lived with wife Connie on Black Oak Drive for 13 years.

The Hammermans have been highly active volunteers in the community, and Bill has organized an Internet message board for neighbors to communicate about such things as safety and traffic issues.

Whereas an influx of new residents potentially can diminish the cohesiveness of a neighborhood, thanks to the message board and other community efforts ? and basic, down-home friendliness ? this doesn?t appear to have happened in Westridge Knolls.

?We moved here just two years ago, and already we know many people,? said Mac Tillman. ?People here are so open, and easy to get to know. They rush to help with the simplest things, like running to get your kids at soccer practice.

?What we love about the neighborhood is that it feels like somebody took the charm of New England, the neighborliness of the Midwest, and the attitude and lifestyle of California and then brought them together.?

Many people, such as Bates, are attracted to the mixed-age aspect of the neighborhood, which still has plenty of children.

?We were looking for a neighborhood that has lots of kids,? Tillman said. ?When we first drove up with our Realtor, there were kids everywhere ? kids on bikes, kids on skateboards. And we said, ?This is a great neighborhood.?

?The neighborhood feels very safe, and the open space area is a great play area for families,? said Laura Roberts, who has lived on with husband Lance on Black Oak Drive for the past 10 years. ?My sons love to go out there and build forts.

Families typically socialize most with others in their particular clusters in the neighborhood, and this intimate familiarity can spawn the good-natured pranks.

And sometimes, families unintentionally pull pranks on outsiders ? or perhaps subconsciously, they do so on purpose, given the festive nature of the neighborhood.

?We?ve had mountain lions in the area, and one day, someone here reported seeing one. A news crew came out, and videotaped the animal ? but it turned out to be a cat,? laughed Christine White, who has lived with husband Steve on Black Oak Drive since 1993.

(Contact Dan Johnson at dan.johnson@arguscourier.com. Corey Young, John Jackson and Dane Golden contributed to this article.)