Where to Retire, Jan/Feb 2015
This northern Virginia development close to a vibrant downtown district charms residents with its historic setting, active-adult amenities and easy access to the nation’s capital.
About 55 miles southwest of Washington, DC, Fredericksburg lies in the heart of Virginia’s Civil War country. Four major battles — Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness and Spotsylvania — took place in the roughly 7,600-acre Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park near the manicured lawns of Virginia Heritage at Lee’s Parke.
The gated active-adult community, primarily developed by Lennar, references the region’s history with street names such as Balls Bluff, where Confederate soldiers blocked the Union Army’s attempt to cross the Potomac River, and Winchester, the site of several Civil War conflicts in Frederick County.
“We like to walk the trails of the Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg battlefields,” says Sharon Wooten, 58, a homemaker and longtime area resident. She and her husband, Bob, a retired facilities manager for the Washington Post, moved to the neighborhood in August 2013.“We owned a house on a corner lot with 30 trees and we wanted a smaller yard,” says Bob, 63. “Virginia Heritage is also close to shopping and restaurants and close to I-95.”
Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center and the couple’s physicians are nearby. “Our eye doctor, drugstore — everything is with a mile,” Sharon says. “That makes it convenient.”
In addition to Civil War battlefields, Fredericksburg draws locals and visitors with its historic district of gracious 18th- and early 19th-century buildings. “I love the town,” says Cindy Rooney, who moved with her mother from Ashton, MD, to Virginia Heritage in 2009. “My brother and I took my mother out to lunch there the other day. The town has these really nice old shops.”
Vintage clothing, repurposed wood furniture, collectibles and antiques stores line downtown’s Caroline Street. The 1824 Kenmore Inn offers lodging and great food, and on the outskirts of the city, the A. Smith Bowman Distillery gives free tours and sells its award-winning bourbon.
Cindy, 64, a part-time contractor with the National Institutes of Health in Rockville, MD, praises Virginia Heritage’s setting. “It’s easy for me to get to work in Rockville,” she says. “Washington, DC, is just about an hour away. And you can take the train anywhere. I’ve taken Amtrak to New York City.”
Location and transportation are important to buyers in active-adult developments. “We see more and more people who are working, whether full time or part time,” says Carolyn Morrison, director of sales and marketing for Lennar in Virginia. “Moving to these communities is about planning for the future. And people want to live close enough to family and grandkids.”Cindy and other Virginia Heritage residents represent the trend. She has a son in Winchester, VA, roughly 85 miles away, and brothers in Fredericksburg. Her sister, Terry Rooney, 60, worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and relocated from Morgantown, WV, to help care for their 88-year-old mother.
Cindy and Terry purchased a three-bedroom, three-bath Lennar home that fits their needs. “My sister has the second floor and my mother and I live on the main floor,” Cindy says. “It gives us space and privacy.”
Fredericksburg’s relatively low cost of living lured Joe and Deneen Bernard, 63 and 57 respectively, from Stafford, VA, where they owned a bed-and-breakfast. They did not consider coming to an active-adult community until Deneen decided to help her parents. “We needed a two-story house,” Joe says. “We wanted the in-laws to have their privacy.”
The Bernards liked the area and moved to the development in January 2011. “The house was already built. We just had to finish the basement,” he says. “My father-in-law lived with us until he died in October 2012. My 79-year-old mother-in-law still lives with us.”
Lennar keeps houses in inventory but builds about half its properties after a buyer signs a contract. The company estimates construction takes four to five months, depending on customizations.The developer has 10 floor plans, some with unfinished basements. Starting prices range from $279,990 for a 1,366-square-foot home to $439,990 for a 2,816-square-foot model.
Home features are offered in silver, gold and platinum packages and include 9-foot ceilings, a gas fireplace, oversize master shower, recessed lighting, granite kitchen counters and stainless steel appliances as standard. Gold and platinum packages include features like more wood flooring and upgraded crown molding.
D.R. Horton also builds at Virginia Heritage, constructing most of its homes on speculation, says Charles Baity, community sales manager for D.R. Horton. “There’s usually a life event — relocation, caring for an older relative — that causes people to move into an active 55-plus community,” he says. “We want to make sure we have something ready to go to capture that market.” The average completion time for a new D.R. Horton home is 90 days.
D.R. Horton has three designs, ranging from 1,761 to 2,328 square feet and from $289,990 to $299,990. The three-bedroom, two-bath Sawgrass, the builder’s most popular floor plan, features two large master closets and a double shower as standard as well as sunroom and master bathtub as options.
Bob and Sharon decided on a 4,792-square-foot Lennar model with four bedrooms, four baths and a finished basement — more than double their previous 2,000-square-foot home. “We were going to downsize, but once Sharon saw the craft room in the basement, that was it,” he says.
Liz and Teddy Sampson relocated from New York City to Estates at Lee’s Parke, the nearby all-ages community, in 2009. Liz, 49, took a buyout from Verizon Communications Inc. and Teddy, 62, retired from the Police Department.“Being that my husband is much older than me, we decided to make that move across the street to Virginia Heritage in 2011,” Liz says. They chose a three-bedroom, three-bath Lennar home. “It’s half the size of the home we had before, but it has a nice layout with the master bedroom on the first floor and a big walk-in closet,” she says.
The development’s 18,000-square-foot clubhouse features an indoor pool, fitness center, ballroom and library with coffee bar. An outdoor pool, two tennis courts that double as pickleball courts and a picnic pavilion complete the picture.
“When we first moved here, it was interesting to us that people were always waving and saying, ‘Hello,'” Liz says. “We’d wave back, but my husband and I would say to each other, ‘Who’s that?’ And he’d say, ‘I thought you knew the person,’ and I’d say, ‘No, I thought you did.'”
The Sampsons are happy at Virginia Heritage. They work out at the gym and participate in various events, including a summer luau. “I keep myself busy,” Liz says. “I love my house and my neighbors are great.”
Cindy and Terry stay active with water aerobics and pickleball. Bob and Sharon welcome newcomers at monthly meet and greets, and she has started a crafts club.
“Sometimes when I do my walk, I never get the full distance in because there are so many people to stop and talk to,” Bob says. “On other days, I go to the gym and I meet the same people there. Everyone’s very friendly.”