Jackson-Via Elementary School was the last of the city’s elementary schools to be built. Named after two eminent educators, Nannie Cox Jackson and Betty Davis Via, the school off Harris Street in southern Charlottesville opened in 1970. Like most of the city’s elementary schools, it is the centerpiece of its small neighborhood—in this case, one bordered by Fifth Street on the east, and Moore’s Creek on the south. A shopping center with a Food Lion and CVS is nearby. And though the neighborhood is one of the city’s smallest, it still embodies contrasts—clearly seen when one focuses on two developments within it.
A few years after the school opened, a development was christened within spitting distance to its west. Known as Longwood Park, it is a series of duplexes that stretch back on both sides of Longwood Drive and ends in a cul de sac. Now over 30 years old, the development is spotted with different looks and styles, the result of numerous overhauls over the years. Some units are brick, some have different types of siding. Most are rentals.
Longwood Place is the old face of Jackson-Via: Built in the ‘70s, the units are getting updated as renters leave and are replaced.
“We continue to refurbish them when they turn over,” says Richard Spurzem, whose Neighborhood Properties owns 55 of the 70 units. One afternoon, his property manager, Hunter Huber, stands in the living area of one of the properties. The three-bedroom townhouse was recently vacated and for some reason there is rice scattered in the crevices and corners. “They must have had a wedding in here before they left,” he says.
A new tenant has already been lined up for the unit, and renovations will start soon. The hardwood floors will likely be redone and the ceilings have already been painted. At $1,050 a month, the two-story townhome also has a full basement, and a back deck that looks out onto a yard and the section of woods that slices between the community and the elementary school. Spurzem says he is looking into retrofitting townhomes like this one with firewalls so that they can be sold as single units.
Lyndon Estes, one of a minority of Willoughby Townes residents who owns the townhouse he lives in, hopes that ratio will someday tip the other way.
A few units away, at the end of the cul de sac, four or five kids play, riding bikes and generally cavorting about in front of a set of townhomes whose fronts are worn with time and the elements. If Spurzem has his way, their current homes will be torn down and replaced with “high end” townhouses, like those nearby at Willoughby Townes, a new development that crowds the corner of Harris and Fifth streets and is only two-tenths of a mile from Longwood.
Lyndon Estes purchased his place in Willoughby in April 2006, at a time when some of the units were still being finished. The UVA grad student is one of 10 occupying owners that live in the 46-unit Willoughby Townes, which perch tentatively on their site in the way that new buildings often do. As an early resident, Estes has been intimately involved with the organization of the development’s homeowners’ association (HOA). He currently occupies the role of treasurer.
Freshly built in 2006, Willoughby Townes still has a newly-minted look that contrasts with its neighbor, Longwood Place.
“We had to get the parking sorted out,” he says. A small street makes a roundabout through the compact development. The HOA received permission from city planners to put extra parking in, adding parallel spots. Due to the parking crunch, a permit system was introduced with one allotted per household. “Before it looked like a used car lot and now it’s a lot better,” Estes says. The HOA also adopted a uniform garbage can and made landscape upgrades of $19,000.
“That will hopefully tip it back to owner-occupied over the long run,” Estes says. His cream-colored townhouse is two levels and has three bedrooms, as well as one in the fully finished basement. Right now, his daughter’s baby toys are all over the den rug. The extra bedroom doubles as his office. Up above that room is the kitchen, opening onto a small deck that overlooks a steep slope, a creek and a tall lush bamboo forest. Beyond that is a good deal of construction, a development of detached homes called Village Place that’s still unfinished. Muddy red clay surrounds their ornate structures.
According to Estes, Willoughby Townes was built on an old city dumpsite (which explains the terrain’s steep slopes), but for him the location is one of the development’s main attractions. “There’s quite a trail network around here, which I like,” he says. “I like to run, and you can hop across the street there, go down the trail and you can do a two mile loop of the Rivanna Trail.”
Jackson-Via Elementary School anchors its neighborhood, along with the nearby Food Lion.
The location is significant in another way, too—it’s just over two miles from both UVA and Downtown. That kind of proximity to Charlottesville’s center explains the density of Willoughby Townes and the way it seems to illustrate the idea of “infill.” And it suggests that the Townes, compared with timeworn Longwood Place, may be a clearer indication of Jackson-Via’s future.
At a glance
Distance from Downtown: 2.18 miles (from the corner of Harris and Fifth streets), a 20-minute walk
Distance from UVA: 2.1 miles
Elementary School: Jackson-Via
Middle School: Walker & Buford
High School: Charlottesville
Number of units in Willoughby Townes: 46
Average sale price in Willoughby Townes: $300,000
Number of units in Longwood Place: 70