Neighborhood: Youthful discretions

Neighborhood: Youthful discretions

Whatever you do, do not try to drive through the Orangedale neighborhood around 3:50pm on a weekday. That’s when the Charlottesville High School bus lets out on the corner of Bailey Road and Prospect Avenue off Fifth Street SW, and that’s when Orangedale’s younger residents pour into the streets, communing in the road to chat excitedly and socialize boisterously in that way only people who’ve been forced to sit quietly and study algebra all day can. In other words, you won’t be moving very fast anytime soon. But that’s O.K., because while sitting stranded in your vehicle observing the scene, you get to sort of share in the excitement—to remember what it was like to be young and hang with the neighborhood kids, to swagger down your street like you owned the place.

Built beginning in 1979, Orangedale is mostly comprised of similar townhomes.

And though it may be frustrating to the would-be motorist caught unawares, the pedestrian bravado of Orangedale’s teenagers is probably a good sign—as are their suspicious glances at an unknown vehicle traveling down their main thoroughfare at the most inconvenient of times. Their looks seem to say, "You’re not from around here, are you?" It’s the type of skepticism that comes from folks who’ve had their share of problems with interlopers.

As one resident puts it, "We’ve worked really hard to take back the neighborhood from the thugs who had been here."

That resident is Ann Reinicke, a 2004 Republican candidate for City Council, who moved to Orangedale with her husband six years ago with the express intention to "make a difference." Reinicke’s eldest son had purchased a HUD home in Orangedale four years prior to that, and Reinicke bought the house from him when her son went back to school. Back then she says the "neighborhood was a mess." She says people from outside the neighborhood were selling drugs on Orangedale’s street corners and preying upon its most vulnerable residents.

Some residents feel that Orangedale has made a comeback from earlier days of drug-related crime.

Just what possessed Reinicke and her husband, a middle-class white couple, to move from the comforts of their abode 30 minutes outside of town in Albemarle County to a predominantly black, lower-income urban setting with serious urban problems?

"We felt like it was time to get more involved in the community," she says.

Promptly after moving to Orangedale, Reinicke, who has worked for UVA for 25 years and currently is helping to implement UVA’s Student System Project, enrolled in Charlottesville’s Citizens Police Academy. She then became Orangedale’s block representative to the Quality Community Council and in that role, began organizing regular neighborhood meetings to empower residents to help combat crime and promote safety. Because of those regular meetings and the vigilance of dedicated residents, as well as the work of other neighborhood leaders active with organizations such as Abundant Life Ministries, which targets youth in Orangedale and similarly low-income neighborhoods nearby for tutoring, Bible study and other Christian outreach and after school programs, crime has decreased significantly, says Reinicke, and "kids are out in the streets again," she says. Check that.

History repeated

Not that Orangedale youth frolicking freely is a recent phenomenon. Kristel Townsend, a real estate agent with Keller Williams Realty whose grandparents lived on Prospect Avenue while Townsend was young, says that back then, she spent many a day running around the neighborhood, cutting through people’s backyards to Forest Hills Park and from there to Cherry Avenue and elsewhere. But that’s before the modern day monument to insecurity and ultimate deterrent to roving teenagers—the privacy fence—made its way to Orangedale, says Townsend. And it also was back when "everyone used to look out for each other" and parents felt safe shooing their kids out the door and saying, "’Come back when the street lights are on,’" says Townsend.

But we’re not talking eons ago here. The neighborhood itself only was built beginning in 1979. It’s the newest part of the greater Fifeville neighborhood (which also includes Forest Hills and the Blue Ridge Commons, a subsidized housing complex).

Orangedale is comprised almost entirely of townhomes save for a few detached homes, including the one owned by Reinicke. Townsend says almost all of the townhomes have three bedrooms, one and a half baths and nearly identical floorplans totaling a little over 1,200 square feet. She says sale prices vary depending on whether the homes have basements, other updates such as new paint and appliances and, of course, a privacy fence.

The popularity of privacy fences, however, is not unique to Orangedale and neither is the tendency these days to order the kids home to the safety of closed doors long before dark. But Orangedale may be unique in that having confronted the thugs firsthand, its residents have had even more incentive than other neighborhoods to recapture the good ol’ days when the kids could, well, play outside.

The best kind of convenience

Orangedale is also unique in that it boasts a location convenient to the UVA hospital, I-64 and to UVA—where Reinicke often commutes the three miles on foot—but yet it doesn’t have nearly the concern with unpredictable nearby development that often accompanies such conveniently perched areas. Orangedale is tucked in between Fifth Street SW and Forest Hills Park in a way that has insulated it from the annoyance of some of the newer developments along Fifth Street SW ( e.g., Willoughby and Willoughby Townes) which adjacent neighborhoods may have suffered, says Townsend. Moreover, Orangedale’s cul-de-sacs and dead ends curb a lot of through-traffic—as do the after school social habits of Orangedale’s high school set.

At a glance:

Distance from Downtown: 1.5 miles
Distance from UVA Hospital: 1.4 miles
Elementary School: Johnson
Middle School: Walker; Buford
High School: Charlottesville
Median price of homes currently on market: $144,900