Retired federal employee Susie Bachtel had a similar prerequisite when seeking a home 11 years ago. “I wanted a walkable, sociable, geographically convenient neighborhood,” she said. “How lucky can we be here to have a library, a hospital and a supermarket within a mile?”
That neighborhood is Waverly Hills, a nationally registered historic district with tree-canopied streets and an eclectic assortment of mostly older homes. It’s a neighborhood where one resident sets a bowl of water in her front yard for thirsty dogs being walked in the summer heat and another adds a block to his morning stroll just to check on an at-home mom. Located five miles from Washington, it is bordered by busy Lee Highway and Glebe Road and within walking distance of the Ballston Metro station, Glebe Elementary and Washington-Lee High schools, restaurants, stores, churches, libraries, parks, bike trails, and an ice rink.
“We’re on the edge of the commercial part of the Orange Line. It’s less crowded, more residential, and our prices are more reasonable than areas closer in,” said 18-year resident and real estate agent Jennifer Caterini. She said prices for older detached homes, most from the late 1930s and 1940s, range from about $550,000 to $850,000; newer homes built after the occasional tear-down are $1.2 million to $1.6 million. In addition to its enclave of 488 detached homes — the historic landmark Glebe House, originally built in the 1700s to house Fairfax Parrish rectors, is among them — the neighborhood includes 44 businesses, about 75 townhouses, and more than 900 condos and apartments, mostly along its commercial perimeters.
Waverly Hills’ often-cited “urban village” character draws both young professionals and families (more than 150 children are within the neighborhood’s New Parents Group). A 2012 Neighborhood Conservation Plan survey conducted by the Waverly Hills Civic Association reported that 75 percent of its 300 respondents had lived there at least 20 years. “I was surprised how many people have lived here for so long ,because D.C. is so transient,” said association board member Sandi Chesrown, an urban planner who lived in Waverly Hills for more than a decade, moved out of the state, then returned in 2007. “It seems like people who used to move to Fairfax when they had kids now stay close in.”
Survey results also showed 69 percent of respondents were either retired or planning to retire in Waverly Hills. The association president, Ginger Brown, said those unexpected results will affect the group’s future plans, including possible “aging in place” programs and its proposals on renovating 1.25-acre Woodstock Park. The neighborhood park is likely to be redone to include an upgraded basketball court, dual playgrounds for ages 2 to 5 and 5 to 12, and features attractive to older residents. “This is a very diverse neighborhood, and we want to have our park that way, too,” said Brown, a mother of two with a degree in public policy.
George Schaefer, a Defense Department retiree, and his wife, Mary Ann, a retired nurse, have lived in Waverly Hills for 41 years, long enough to remember their excitement when Metro arrived in 1979, “giving us easy access to get to the city and all it offers.” They recall snowy winters when they placed garbage cans with bonfires at the bottom of their hilly street to protect their children from sledding into traffic along Utah Street, at the bottom. “People still guard kids sledding, but we haven’t seen any bonfires,” George said, laughing. “My children say Waverly Hills was one of the greatest places for a kid to grow up.”
Residents value Waverly Hills’ leafy, natural setting, according to survey responses. The Schaefers tried for years to save a tulip poplar with a 20-foot circumference and a canopy stretching across three yards that had been struck by lightning. “We went through seven arborists in seven years to try to save that tree,” George said. “One of the saddest days of my life was when we had to take it down.” The Schaefers’ back yard looks like a park, with a falling-water stream and a pond that they covered with netting after a great blue heron became a regular visitor and ate 30 of their koi. They and other residents often spot foxes; Bachtel once had an entire family, including four playful kits, living beneath her deck.
Recently, residents have been galvanized by two issues: renovation of Woodstock Park, and the safety of parents and children crossing Glebe Road to get to their elementary school, an endeavor Brown termed “nerve-racking.” The association is collecting data and working with the Virginia Department of Transportation to identify ways to improve safety. Brown said the recently revitalized association is also growing its membership — now about 200 individuals plus a few businesses — and plans to become more socially active.
Louis Wassell, an economic development specialist who lives in a Waverly Hills townhouse, said he plans to stay in the neighborhood for the long term but might move his growing family into one of its detached homes. “The two-story box structure design of most of the homes here allows flexibility,” he said. “The houses can grow with a person’s lifestyle.”
Ginger Brown expanded her home in a 2010 renovation, after briefly considering leaving Waverly Hills to find a larger place. “We stayed because we love our urban village,” Brown said. “Every time I go to the park or walk to the shops, I see someone I know.”
Cheryl A. Kenny is a freelance writer.