2007-10-24 / Front Page

Moving in

Apartment living is becoming more common in Chesterfield
By Betsy McElfresh

Janet Johnston and her children, Olivia and Levi, play with their new puppy, Toby.
Whether you are starting out or scaling back, Chesterfield County has a lot more to offer than singlefamily homes in sprawling developments. Apartment communities are becoming more common, providing residents with all the luxuries of higher-end living, but without the headaches of homeownership.

Apartment living was a good fit for Janet Johnston. She decided last summer to simplify her housing to match her lifestyle. A single mom with two teenagers, Johnston has owned several houses over the years; her last one was a 2,300-square-foot home in Bayhill Pointe. Now, she rents a three-bedroom, two-bathroom unit at Crowne at Swift Creek - for virtually the same price as her mortgage.

She points out, "Every room in the apartment is being used," unlike her former home in which she used the dining room once or twice a year.

The biggest advantage for Johnston is freeing herself of the financial obligations and responsibilities of homeownership. She has 784 fewer square feet to paint, furnish and clean. If something breaks, she simply calls the landlord.

One drawback is not having mortgage interest to deduct from her taxes.

Johnston's teenage son was apprehensive about the move, but after one week, he said, "Mom, I think you should stay here at least another two years." Her daughter describes the family's new apartment as "homey" and cozy.

Johnston remarks, "It's a teenager's haven." The kids' friends love to come over and hang out. They frequently walk to nearby restaurants or Commonwealth 20 to catch a movie. Johnston loves that the apartment complex is within walking distance of the gym and grocery store. She finds a sense of community as she runs into the regulars at Starbuck's or the nail salon, instead of only seeing neighbors in passing, as was the case in her old subdivision.

When hunting for an apartment, Johnston limited her search to Manchester High School's district. Although Crowne lies in Clover Hill's district, she easily obtained a waiver for her children to stay at Manchester High.

Apartment market grows

Johnston isn't the only person who is opting for apartment life, according to Real Data Apartment Market Research of Charlotte. The demand for apartments in Chesterfield County increased from January to July this year. During this period, 256 units were rented. The vacancy rate decreased from 8 percent to 5.4 percent.

An influx of proposed apartment complexes are in the works (see table), including several within "neo-traditional" communities with mixed-use development. Fashioned after urban settings in which residents live, work and play within the same community, neo-traditional development provides a more livable, walkable environment that combines residential, office and retail space together, explains Bermuda District Planning Commissioner Jack Wilson.

Neo-traditional design has become more in vogue in recent years as a way to combat suburban sprawl, reduce the need for automobiles and return to more of an old town concept of yesteryear. Some commissioners, including Wilson, and the county's planning department are generally supportive of using neo-traditional design in Chesterfield.

Greg Allen, an administrator with the county's planning department, explains, "It's a smart growth tactic."

Festival Park at Chester Village Green is a modern-day example of this concept. The proposed project will have retail space on the ground floor and living quarters upstairs. Its design includes five brick-front buildings in multi-colored hues situated around a common area in a campus-style environment.

"If you can put two uses together, then you're using less land and creating more synergy within the development," Allen adds. "Retail customers would use the parking during the day and apartment residents would use it at night."

Wilson surmises, "Instead of getting in your car, you can walk downstairs or across the green to get a cup of coffee or your dry cleaning."

Chippenham Place is another proposed neo-traditional community planned on the site of Cloverleaf Mall with 350 apartments slated to be built.

Luxury living

Billed as "luxury apartment homes," existing high-end apartment communities in Chesterfield include The Grove Swift Creek, Crowne at Swift Creek, Bristol Village at Charter Colony and Enclave.

These complexes offer 1-3 bedroom units ranging from 800 to 1600 square feet. Monthly rent runs roughly $1 per square foot. In Chesterfield County, the average monthly rent is $772 for one bedroom, $850 for two and $951 for three, according to Real Data.

These apartment developments boast features such as gourmet kitchens, Roman soaking tubs, nine foot and vaulted ceilings, sunrooms, fireplaces, French doors and hardwood floors.

Apartment dwellers can find similar amenities as homeowners, including a pool, fitness center, clubhouse, garages, broadband connection, social activities and gated access.

"I believe apartment living is a transition for many people," Johnston opines.

Among her new neighbors, she has encountered varied reasons for moving to Crowne at Swift Creek - from financial and marital to caretaking and carefree living.

An avid hiker, Johnston envisions a rural place in southwest Virginia in the future, but for now, she declares, "I'm content with my lifestyle."
Chesterfield apartment communities in the works

Festival Park
Location: Chester Village Green
off Route 10
Proposed # of units: 106/Oct. 2008
Contact: Rhonda Kessler, (866) 859-6036

White Oak
Location: I-95 & Route 10
Proposed # of units: 322
Contact: Matt Coyner,

Location: I-295 & Route 10
Proposed # of units: 312/Feb. 2008
Contact: Tiff any McDaniel, (757) 870-5587

Location: Chippenham & Route 10
Proposed # of units: 12
Contact: Terry Pruitt, 275-2689

Location: Woolridge Road by The Grove
Proposed # of units: 84/2008
Contact: Sarah Atkinson, 595-1642

Estates at Swift Creek
Location: Hull Street Road & Route 288
Proposed # of units: 228/May 2008
Contact: Kristi Fisher, 739-5700

Chippenham Place
Location: Chippenham Pkwy & Route 60
Proposed # of units: 350
Contact: Unknown
*Has existing units available

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