By Ken Wilson –
When Frank Kessler and the Kessler Group began construction on what was to be the largest planned unit development in Albemarle County in 1989, their goal was to create the “ultimate living community that would allow families to raise their children in a close-knit environment where residents enjoyed well-planned amenities.”
Almost three decades on, you could say they succeeded. And how.
Just ask Tara Savage with Keller-Williams Realty, who’s been selling homes in town for 22 years and living in Forest Lakes for 11. “I can’t think of any other neighborhood that has all the amenities Forest Lakes has,” Savage says. “My house was built in 1994 and I have lots of neighbors who are the original owners of their homes and who raised their kids there.”
It’s no wonder. Singles and young families can find townhomes in 2018 well under $200,000, put down roots, and know there will be larger homes available a street or two away when they’re ready for them. Retirees likewise can downsize within the same community without having to pull up stakes and start over again.
This variety and flexibility helped Kessler sell 154 homes in what is now called Forest Lakes North in the first 15 months after he opened the development.
In 1993 he began work on Forest Lakes South. Coming up on its 30th anniversary next year, Forest Lakes is home to some 5,000 people in 1,455 houses, making it one of the largest neighborhoods in Charlottesville and Albemarle County. The neighborhood attracts people of all ages, not only for its handsome homes and streetscapes, but for its variety of community activities, and the abundance of stores, schools and recreational areas just a short walk or drive away.
Located just off Route 29 North, Forest Lakes is a five minute drive from the Charlottesville/Albemarle Airport (CHO), and from Hollymead Town Center, with its over 30 shops including Giant, Bubbles Salon and Spa, Hair Cuttery, Kirkland’s, Mattress Warehouse, and the Chevy Chase and Wells Fargo banks.
Among Hollymead’s restaurants are Bonefish Grill, Sakura Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar, Sweet Frog, Vinny’s Italian Grill, and Quiznos.
For more shopping, exercise, and healthcare, Fashion Square Mall is about ten minutes away, and the Shops at Stonefield, Barracks Road Shopping Center, and the UVA Business Park, are just a few minutes further.
A Martha Jefferson Hospital outpatient facility is close by. So is the NGIC (National Ground Intelligence Center), a major local employer.
The conveniently located shops and services attract homeowners committed to the community and its long term interests.
“I remember when Forest Lakes was first built,” says Nest Realty agent and Forest Lakes resident Lori Runkle Meistrell, who has owned three properties there.
“So many people have lived here for so long and been part of the community because it has so much to offer. The homes have done a nice job of holding their value, in part because the community itself is so well-managed, and the amenities are properly budgeted for and maintained.”
Those amenities start with natural beauty. There is no doubt that Forest Lakes is one of the prettiest developments in the county. Many residents own wooded lots. Some enjoy water views on quiet cul-de-sacs. Five lakes—Lake Hollymead, Arbor Lake, Edgewater Lake, Watercrest Lake, and Heather Glen Lake—enliven the landscape.
“Originally the developer put in asphalt trails to connect the neighborhood to the community amenities,” Meistrell says. “But not only are there paved paths, there is an amazing trail system. There are natural, unpaved trails throughout the neighborhood for mountain biking, trail running, etc. These amenities make it a great place for people that have different interests running, biking, swimming, soccer.”
Savage too loves the paved and well-maintained trails running behind Forest Lakes houses and through the woods. “They blend in with the community,” Savage says.
“There is no through traffic, so my son can ride his bike around the pool and through the neighborhood. There is retail at the front [near Route 29], so he can ride his bike to McDonalds, and my 15-year-old daughter walks to the Dairy Queen. That’s something they love about living here. You have a real good sense of safety, and of neighborhood camaraderie. It’s unlike any other place in town.”
“The other thing that’s awesome is that my 10-year-old son loves to fish, and he can just walk to one of the lakes and go fishing. There is bass and sunfish and they do stock Hollymead Lake.” One of her son’s friends just caught a huge carp on Hollymead Lake—it was 22 inches long.
Homeowners in Forest Lakes run out of time before they run out of options like these for outdoor recreation. When the weekend beckons in warm weather, so do two large swimming pools (one with a 90-foot water slide), four basketball courts, twelve tennis courts, two soccer fields, baseball fields, a sand volleyball court, and a fitness center. Children ages 5 to 18 can join the Forest Lakes Hurricanes Summer Swim Team, which helps them improve their swim strokes, and fosters a love of competitive swimming.
Road and mountain bike enthusiasts are attracted by the miles of paved and unpaved paths and the lightly-trafficked streets. Bike and racing clubs including Charlottesville Bike Club, Charlottesville Racing Club and Charlottesville Area Mountain Bike Club offer group rides in spring, summer, and fall.
Biking tours like the Tour de Greene, Tour de Madison, Boys and Girls Club Challenge, and the MS 150 Tour de Vine pass through as well. Forest Lakes has a competitive swim team belonging to the Jefferson Area Swim League, and also fields men’s and women’s USTA tennis teams each spring.
“My kids are grown now, but my husband and I spent years coaching neighborhood lacrosse teams on the Forest Lakes fields after school,” Meistrell says. “Kids could just walk over. Things like that are really nice. There are opportunities for kids of all ages.”
Pickleball beginners and intermediate players can take to the courts each Thursday. Senior citizens and other fans of non-impact fitness enjoy Yoga several times a week and Smovey classes on Fridays. Newcomers can meet their neighbors at a monthly get together over coffee. Two clubhouses are available for rent exclusively to Forest Lakes residents.
Local farmers and craftspeople offer veggies, meats, flowers, herbs, crafts and more at the Forest Lakes Farmers Market Tuesdays from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. from April to October.
Education and Educational Play
Forest Lakes surrounds the Hollymead subdivision, which dates to the early 1970s, and Forest Lakes South kids attend Hollymead Elementary. Forest Lakes North children go to Baker Butler Elementary. Both attend Sutherland Middle School. “The schools are very close,” Savage says. “That’s a major draw.”
Baker-Butler Elementary School is located on 55 acres crisscrossed by a series of nature trails. At least once a month teachers and students devote the day to exploring this natural environment. The trails connect with the surrounding community, and this connection is an important element of the BBES philosophy.
The school holds community building events throughout the year, including a bike rodeo conducted in conjunction with the Albemarle County Police Department, a community Valentine’s Day dance, and Halloween decorating activities in October.
Founded in 1972, Hollymead Elementary is a diverse school with 567 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. It received the Governor’s Award for Educational Excellence in 2009, 2010, and 2011, and boasts a highly active Parent-Teacher Organization and volunteer corps, which lends support to the school and organizes social activities for students and faculty. Students showcase their talents annually through fine arts and grade level music performances.
Hollymead students engage in philanthropic activities, with Jump Rope, Hoops for Heart, and UNICEF, and make donations supporting both local and world communities. Hollymead has sent Destination Imagination Teams to both regional and global competitions in recent years.
Nearby Sutherland Middle School encourages students to participate in a variety of Albemarle Parks and Recreation sports, cheered on by the school mascot, the Sutherland Shark. Students can also explore the fine and performing arts via orchestra, choir and band, drama, visual arts, and other electives.
Sutherland also boasts an up-to-date media center where students can broadcast news announcements, and a Video Club where they begin to learn modern media communication skills. The school offers accelerated math classes and the opportunity to earn high school credit in math and world languages.
On days when school is out—hooray!—the grounds “are like a community park,” Savage says, with kids playing baseball and soccer. “It’s super convenient for families to walk or bike there, and for kids to get there on their own. My son went to Baker-Butler and he could bike to school every day with a friend.”
While Forest Lakes was built in two separate sections, North and South, it is further subdivided into 38 separate neighborhoods, each with houses—detached single-family homes, duplexes, and luxurious townhouses—of similar size and style, with lot sizes 60 to 90 foot wide on average. Homes are smartly spaced, sheltered for privacy in many cases by hills and woods.
Spring Ridge, the final neighborhood built, was constructed along the New Urbanism model, which, in addition to close proximity to shopping, prioritizes sidewalks and easily accessible parks and green spaces.
“Albemarle County refers to it as the neighborhood model,” Meistrell says. “Subsequently there have been numerous neighborhoods developed that way. It’s very popular because of the tree-lined streets and sidewalks, and the pocket parks and green areas.”
Many Forest Lakes homes have single and two car garages as well as finished and unfinished basements. Single family homes range in size from 1,700 square feet up to 3,000+ square feet, and have three, four or five bedrooms.
Townhomes range in size with most averaging around 1,600 square feet with two or three bedrooms. Prices for single family homes range from $280,000 to $500,000 and above. There are currently 17 active listings in Forest Lakes, ranging in price from just under $170,000 for a townhome to just under $520,000. Homeowners wishing to rent out their properties typically receive $1,400 to $3,500 per month.
The amenities that attract homeowners to Forest Lakes come at “a very affordable price,” Meistrell says. “You do have a homeowners association (HOA) fee, but that keeps the actual cost of the amenities down.”
Annual fees, which cover trash pickup as well as liability insurance, common area and facilities maintenance, landscaping, signs, security patrols, postage, bookkeeping, management fees and other community expenses are currently $960, paid in quarterly installments of $240.
“People grow deep roots in Forest Lakes,” Meistrell says. “It’s a microcosm within Albemarle County, a wonderful place for people who are new to the area to come to meet people. It has a strong sense of community.”