Three-year resident and advertising professional Iain Williamson agreed: “Yard maintenance is a pain. My kids do so many different sports that I’m out with them all the time. I have a two-tiered deck that’s easier to maintain, and with all the trees here, it feels like I’m in the woods.”
The 130 homes in Great Oaks, variously called cluster, zero-lot-line or patio homes, have little private turf, with lots generally running from 3,400 to 4,800 square feet. But they do offer plenty of outdoor living space, with multiple and often multi-level decks and patios. And, true to its name, the Fairfax City community is canopied by towering oaks and other mature trees, giving its 30 acres — 21 of them dedicated to green space — a wooded feel that is enhanced by the homes’ earth-tone wood-and-brick exteriors. The planned neighborhood, built from 1973 to 1983, earned recognition for its developer, Lester H. Shor, including an award from Better Homes and Gardens for “Better Neighborhood Planning.”
Great Oaks includes 15 models of contemporary homes (Richardson termed hers “a ‘Brady Bunch’ house”) ranging in size from 1,850 to more than 4,000 square feet. The homes have a modified open floor plan, large windows and two-car garages, usually in the front of the house, a design that camouflages the spaciousness of the interiors.
Two-year resident Carol Khalil said she had never considered buying such a contemporary house when she and her husband, both lawyers, were searching for their first home. “But we came in the dead of winter and there was so much light coming into the home it was amazing,” she said.
The community is governed by a homeowners association that charges a quarterly fee of $292 to cover landscaping and maintenance of common areas, maintenance and snow removal on the privately owned streets, and operation of a small pool. The neighborhood has a tidy, cohesive look, thanks to the HOA’s architectural control committee, which oversees exterior work, from building additions to maintaining mailboxes.
New resident Mo Wali quickly became familiar with the committee when he began outside work and received a committee letter reminding him of restrictions on exterior paint colors.
“It was no big deal. They had a lot of colors to choose from,” said Wali, a finance professional who was recruited for the HOA board soon after moving in. “I don’t mind the restriction, because it keeps the value of the houses up.” Khalil said she has mixed feelings about the restrictions. “It’s a pain when you’re doing the changes, but on the other hand, when you come into the neighborhood it has a great look, almost a ski-chalet feel.”
The neighborhood is across the street from the Army Navy Country Club. “A lot of military families, including high-ranking officers, have lived here,” said Patty FitzGerald, an original resident and real estate agent. “President Gerald Ford’s daughter, Susan, lived here when the neighborhood was first built.”
Retired administrator Rowena Morris said demographics have changed dramatically. “When I moved here in 1985, there were no kids; it was mostly young professionals. Now it feels like half and half, old and new families.” Original owner Dick Olson, a retired journalist, said the neighborhood has also become more ethnically diverse.
Great Oaks is within walking distance of Van Dyke Park and the adjacent Sherwood Community Center, which offers classes and cultural activities. Fairfax High School is on the neighborhood’s border; Patty FitzGerald invites friends to her house each Fourth of July to watch the fireworks display that the city holds at the high school. The Old Town core of Fairfax City, with its myriad restaurants and shops and frequent events, is so close that Khalil and her husband often walk there for date nights.
“I love the responsive city government here,” said Patty FitzGerald. “Another benefit is that the property tax rate is lower than in Fairfax County.”
There is one road in and out of Great Oaks, with multiple cul-de-sacs off of it. “I like the feeling of being safe here, there are no through streets and the people are friendly,” Olson said. That sense of security is aided by the HOA’s block and neighborhood watch programs, which monitor for security and illegal parking.
Residents said neighborhood issues include updating the pool, maintaining streets and deciding whether to allow Verizon FiOS to be installed (some are concerned about landscaping and streets being torn up). They noted that the community has struggled with frequent power outages, but recent meetings with Dominion Virginia Power about tree trimming and equipment upgrades seem to be helping.
The HOA sponsors occasional social activities such as pool parties and an annual holiday get-together at the Army Navy club, but FitzGerald said this is not a neighborhood with block parties on every street. “Everyone kind of does their own thing here, but for the most part it is a very caring neighborhood.”
That caring attitude led original owner Helen Fitzgerald, who works in the hospice field, to offer neighbors free painting classes in her home every two weeks for three years before she and her husband, Dick Olson, recently relocated. “This is an intelligent community, filled with interesting people,” Helen Fitzgerald said. “It’s a friendly community.”
“The people who’ve been here forever are very welcoming,” Khalil said. “And those who are new are committed to having a close community.”
Cheryl A. Kenny is a freelance writer.