Winter Hill is smallest incorporated municipality in Virginia : Business


Winter Hill is a neighborhood in Falls Church, Virginia’s smallest incorporated municipality. (Maansi Srivastava)

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Step outside your home on Virginia Avenue or James Court for a walk in Falls Church’s Winter Hill neighborhood, and you’ll find yourself spoiled for choice. A block to the northeast, you’ll hit Broaddale Village Shopping Center, where you can grab a Starbucks coffee or a bite at the top-rated Liberty Barbecue; another block or so will take you to the charming Mary Riley Styles Public Library and Cherry Hill Park, adjacent to one of the region’s best farmers markets on the Saturdays. Head southeast instead, and just beyond neighborhood boundaries you’ll reach a Harris Teeter grocery store and the freshly renovated Big Chimneys Park, with playground equipment, green spaces and walking paths.

Just about seven miles west of the D.C. line, Falls Church City is Virginia’s smallest incorporated municipality at just over two square miles, and it’s the smallest county-equivalent entity in the nation. Winter Hill’s cozy condominiums and townhouses represent an affordable gateway to homeownership in this quaint and commuter-friendly “Little City,” and they offer easy walking access to nearly everything Falls Church has to offer. And residents say the neighborhood’s community is growing closer and richer, thanks to new events and gathering opportunities.

The neighborhood dates to the 1940s, when the buildings that now make up the Winter Hill Condominium were constructed as war housing, according to a history compiled by the Winter Hill Council of Co-Owners. Built on land purchased from educator and suffragist Mattie Gundry, the development originally opened in 1947 as Tyler Gardens; the condominium portion opened under the Winter Hill name in 1973. Today, Winter Hill includes 200 condominiums, 194 townhouses and 80 subsidized apartments for eligible seniors and people with disabilities.

Though the townhouses and condominiums are represented by different homeowners’ associations, they share access to the neighborhood pool, located in the condominium behind James Court. Although neighbors say the pool has been underutilized in the past, it’s becoming a hub of social activity.

Katie Martin, a condominium resident, said it was through pool visits with another neighbor during her pregnancy with her 1-year-old son that the idea to restart the social committee that had gone dormant earlier in the pandemic came about.

“We’ve had a lot of fun relaunching events that people used to enjoy every year, like our pool party and Halloween parade,” said Martin, who moved to the neighborhood in 2019. “And we’re also having fun dreaming up new events.”

Martin now edits the neighborhood newsletter, the Broadside, and she organized a caroling party in December, with hot chocolate at the finish. It happened to coincide with a favorite Falls Church tradition: Santa Claus’s ride through town on a decked-out and clanging city firetruck.

“That was pretty cool,” said Jarryd Stewart, who moved into his Winter Hill condo in 2017 and now serves on the homeowners’ association board. Martin and Stewart, who share a day-care provider, are part of what seems to be a recent wave of young families discovering the neighborhood, joining a still-substantial population of original owners who have lived there since the 1970s.

Stewart said he loves the neighborhood’s convenience to shops and restaurants, but also its inefficiencies: its sprawl and green spaces.

“You don’t really see that nowadays,” he said. “People build vertically, and they try to cram as much as they can into one small area. But when they designed this, they weren’t thinking about that. It makes it enjoyable, almost like its own little town.”

Tori McKinney, CEO of Rock Star Realty Group, lives in Falls Church outside Winter Hill, but she purchased a condo in the neighborhood for a family member in 2017. She commonly sees young families moving into the neighborhood and departing in search of more space as they grow, but she has also noticed a trend of condo residents seeking to upgrade to a townhouse to remain in Winter Hill.

“It’s honestly one of the most desirable areas of the city for the location and the instant sense of community,” she said.

Although detached homes in Falls Church City sell for north of $700,000, Winter Hill’s offerings tend to be more affordable. Of the 10 condos and seven townhouses sold in 2022, the highest sale price was $806,500 for a three-bedroom, three-bath townhouse, and the lowest was $438,000 for a two-bedroom, 1½-bath condo. Two homes are on the market, both under contract: a three-bedroom, three-bath townhouse listed for $690,900, and a three-bedroom, 1½-bath condo for $515,000, McKinney said. One single-bedroom Winter Hill unit was rented last year, for $1,725 per month.

McKinney, who also produces the annual Tinner Hill Music Festival in Falls Church, shares her love of music with Walt and Stephanie Lamore, who live in one of the handful of basement units in the townhouses.

Stephanie Lamore said favorite walkable haunts Clare and Don’s Beach Shack and the State Theatre, which both regularly feature live outdoor music, became invaluable when indoor dining and activities were on hiatus.

“We had things that you could go and do and still feel safe,” she said.

Even during the worst of pandemic isolation, neighbors at Winter Hill found ways to make memories, said James Thompson, a townhouse resident since 2013 and president of the board of the Winter Hill Community Association.

“You’d drive by some of our cul-de-sacs, and you’d see a group just sitting out there on their lawn chairs with the kids running around on a Friday night, just enjoying the time together,” he said.

As the father of four young children with a job in Washington, Thompson said he also loves the neighborhood’s peace and calm.

“I can walk out on a Sunday morning onto our deck, and, for being in a busy area, it’s pretty silent out there,” he said. “So it’s nice to be able to be close to the hustle and bustle, but be able to get away at the same time.”

Boundaries: Winter Hill is mostly diamond-shaped, bounded by West Broad Street to the northeast; Harris Teeter and Big Chimneys Park to the southeast; Rollins Street to the southwest; and Chanel Terrace to the northwest.

Transportation: Metrobus’s 28A Leesburg Pike line has multiple stops along Broad Street; the 2A Washington Boulevard-Dunn Loring bus stops about four blocks south of Winter Hill, at South Washington Street and East Annandale Road. The nearest Metro station, East Falls Church, is 1.5 miles east.

Schools: Jessie Thackrey Preschool (ages 2-5); Mount Daniel Elementary (Grades K-2); Oak Street Elementary (Grades 3-5); Mary Ellen Henderson Middle; and Meridian High.

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