Claudia “Poody” Wisman is ready to move out of Greenbrier Heights, but not because she hasn’t loved living there during the past 20 years. “I think it’s time for us to move and let another family have a chance,” she says. A chance at what exactly? In her case that would be the chance to enjoy the convenience of your kids walking to Greenbrier Elementary School, having their birthday parties in Greenbrier Park and cutting through the fence-free connected backyards to play at friends’ houses.
Greenbrier Heights was part of a ‘60s-era surge in construction on the north side of Charlottesville, and its homes have served families since then—often without major updates.
“There were literally nine other boys in the neighborhood his age,” Poody says of her son Jack, the second of four children. It was that kid-central aspect of the neighborhood that brought the Wismans to Greenbrier Heights from further out in the county in the late ’80s. “We wanted to get closer to the children’s activities,” she says, and “we wanted everybody on the same level.”
The Wismans found their perfect family compound in a 1960s rambling, brick split-level (with a total of four levels counting the various steps up and steps down and finished basement) on close to half an acre. The floor plan allowed the Wisman brood to run easily among the adjacent bedrooms, and the location allowed playmates and school pals to run easily in and out of the home that became “Grand Central Station,” says Wisman. Kids were always gathering at the Wismans’ place on their way to nearby Fairview Swim Club practice, after soccer practice (which Wisman herself coached at Greenbrier Park) or just to “hang out.”
Since the Wismans had been playing host to the neighborhood’s kids for years, it only made sense that they would hold a neighborhood-wide party when their first child—along with a whopping 23 other neighborhood kids—graduated from Charlottesville High School in 2002.
Greenbrier residents can’t easily walk to the grocery store, but they can get their exercise.
But now that her youngest child is set to graduate from CHS in three short years, Wisman says she and her husband are contemplating moving their empty nest back out to the county or to a Downtown condo. But she’s “stuck on the convenience factor” of Greenbrier’s location, she says.
The meaning of neighborhood
The Greenbrier Heights subdivision was part of a surge of 1960s baby-boomer driven development in the northernmost section of Charlottesville between the 250 Bypass and Rio Road. The roughly 350 houses, mostly brick, were built between 1956 and 1986 and predate the kind of dense development where houses sit on top of one another and privacy fences demarcate small, manicured plots of grass. Thanks to its age and location on the outskirts of the city, Greenbrier’s lots are large by city standards (0.3 to 0.45 acres) and are landscaped with mature, shade trees and woods in an open sprawling way—like a “community backyard,” says Realtor Virginia Patrick. The property lines are ambiguous, which promotes roaming among resident kids and wild furry fauna alike.
I’m nearly taken out by a meandering resident chipmunk walking up the steps to meet Patrick at one the three homes currently for sale in the neighborhood. The house is a “solid brick rancher,” says Patrick’s listing on caar.com. And solid it is. Compared to today’s Hardiplank siding and composite doors, this house’s circa 1965 solid wood molding and grand recessed front doorway seem downright vintage, as does the bright orange and yellow floral wallpaper and blue porcelain tub and toilet in the bathroom. Patrick points out that features like the solid wood louvered bi-fold closet doors are attractive original qualities to a home that has seen practically no renovation or updates since the Summer of Love.
Patrick says the home’s retro character is just one example of a trend in the neighborhood—that of families too busy raising kids to care about bringing their cabinetry and wall coverings into the 21st century. Like many in Greenbrier, this house has had just one owner.
But one person’s outdated kitchen is another person’s good buy. Families willing to accept the need for a few renovations in exchange for a lower price, bigger yard and the chance to live in the most neighborly of neighborhoods may just find their dream home. Oh, and with the Wismans possibly moving, the role of Grand Central Station is up for grabs.
If there is a downside to the neighborhood it is the very convenience that Poody Wisman has a hard time leaving. It’s an easy neighborhood to get in and out of, but not just for residents—other drivers use Greenbrier Heights as a cut-through. It’s just a quick jaunt on Greenbrier Drive to Rio and on to 29N or from Brandywine Drive across Essex Road through Meadowbrook Heights to 250, but the Brandywine to Hydraulic intersection has become so congested that Wisman won’t go that way. And several pending city projects such as the Meadowcreek Parkway and the Albemarle Place shopping center are threatening to make the traffic and congestion even worse, according to Charlottesville Community Design Center’s profile of the neighborhood.
At Betty Davis’ home, visiting great-grandkids live it up. The neighborhood is set up for kids to roam freely.
Greenbrier Heights, after all, is a subdivision and so cars are a fact of life—there are no coffee shops or grocery stores within walking distance. But what is accessible under foot power is one of the loveliest sections of the Rivanna Trail along the Rivanna River and a community elementary school, which on the day of my visit during the summer off-season, made a convenient spot for one resident to practice his golf swing. A free, neighborhood putting green: hard to beat.
At a glance
Distance to downtown: 3.4 miles
Distance to UVA Hospital: 5.3 miles
Elementary School: Greenbrier and Walker Upper
Middle School: Buford
High School: Charlottesville
Price range of homes currently on market: $327,500-$419,000
Median price of homes sold in last year: $295,000
Source: Charlottesville Area Association of Realtor