Charlottesville, Virginia Beckons to Retirees with its Lively Ambiance, Academic Stimulation, Rich History, Excellent Hospitals and Lush Landscape
Cost of Living: Above the National Average
Nestled along the Rivianna River just east of the Blue Ridge Mountains in north central Virginia, leafy Charlottesville (population 48,000) is an appealing small city steeped in history. It is the location of the prestigious University of Virginia (22,000 students and a UNESCO World Heritage Site), which was founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819. Charlottesville was also Jefferson's home, as well as the home of president James Monroe (and president James Madison lived in nearby Orange). It is an active, vibrant place to retire, cozy yet big enough to provide plenty of intellectual and cultural stimulation.
Thanks to the University (UVA), Charlottesville definitely has a youthful flavor, but 26% of the population is age 45 or better. Residents overwhelmingly vote Democratic, and 50% of them hold at least a four year college degree. The city is racially diverse, and the crime rate meets the national average. Charlottesville has grown by 10% in the last 10 years, and the cost of living is 4% above the national average.
The median home price is $295,000. The city has its share of distinctive architecture, and many homes are large with two stories, three to four bedrooms, three baths, 2,000 or more square feet and a large yard. Craftsmans and restored Colonial and Federalist styles are common, but there are also more modest ranch ramblers, condominiums and town homes. Many apartments cater to students, but a few complexes are for the 55+ demographic, including Branchlands, with just 67 units.
When it comes to taxes, Virginia is a mixed bag. Social Security is not taxed, and, depending on income, people age 65 and better may deduct up to an additional $12,000 in retirement income. All other income is taxed at rates between 2% and 5.75%. Long term care insurance premiums are deductible. Real estate is assessed at 100% of fair market value. The annual taxes on a $295,000 residence are approximately $2,050. The state sales tax is 4.3%, but another 1% is added at the local level. Prescription and non-prescription drugs are not taxed, but food for home consumption is taxed at 2.5%.
For American history buffs, there are few better places to retire than Charlottesville. This is a city proud of its historical significance, and Thomas Jefferson casts a long shadow here. The UVA campus is known for its Jeffersonian architecture, and wonderful Monticello, Jefferson's home (and a UNESCO World Heritage site), is on a hill just two miles southeast of town. Two other presidential homes, James Monroe's 535-acre Ash Lawn-Highlaestate and James Madison's 2,650-acre Montpelier, are close at hand.
Even if one is not a history enthusiast, Charlottesville is full of things to do. Its thriving historic Downtown Mall has more than 150 restaurants, bookstores, boutiques, coffees hops and pubs (with many housed in vintage buildings). Art galleries and museums are plentiful. The Second Street Gallery showcases cutting edge contemporary art by local and national artists. The University of Virginia Art Museum, although small, presents up to three exhibits at a time, and Bozart is a collective retail space that exhibits local art and craftwork.
Residents also enjoy numerous fairs and festivals year-round. The Virginia Film Festival and the Dogwood Festival are just a couple. Particularly popular is the Virginia Festival of the Book, as Charlottesville is known as a readers' Eden (and has more newspaper readers per capita than anywhere else in the nation). Many prominent writers, including John Grisham and Rita Mae Brown, make their home here (as did Edgar Alan Poe and William Faulkner).
For golfers, the Meadowcreek Golf Course, operated by the city of Charlottesville, is an 18-hole, 70-par, 6,050 yard course that was designed by R.F. "Buddy" Loving and Bill Love. A handful of other private courses are outside of Charlottesville. For those who love the outdoors, nearby Shenandoah National Park provides a wealth of opportunities for camping, fishing and hiking. And, of course, a drive along the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway is always a nice way to spend an afternoon. For sports fans, the annual calendar includes UVA basketball, crewing, soccer and football events.
For wine aficionados, the forested countryside outside of town is dotted with nationally-recognized wineries, many of which offer tasting tours (Thomas Jefferson is credited with being the father of American wine and produced it in the tunnels underneath Monticello). Locals also enjoy the Ash Lawn Opera, the Charlottesville Symphony and the Charlottesville Ballet.
The Senior Center of Charlottesville (for people age 50+) is nationally accredited and offers a plethora of classes, programs, workshop and support groups. They also organize trips and tours and cruises and have special events of all kinds. More than 500 people volunteer at the Center. Other volunteer opportunities can be found at UVA Hospital, Martha Jefferson Hospital, Charlottesville Free Clinic, Gordon Avenue Library, Meals on Wheels, etc. UVA has an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), with a wide range of classes for people age 50+. The cost is $75 per semester.
Medical care is outstanding as the city is a regional health care center. Two major hospitals, 176-bed Martha Jefferson Hospital, award-winning for clinical practices, patient safety and more, and 565-bed University of Virginia Hospital, award-winning for stroke care, cancer care and a Level I Adult Trauma Center, provide most medical services. The UVA hospital is a teaching hospital and has been certified as a Top 100 Hospital. Both facilities are accredited by the Joint Commission and accept Medicare patients. For military retirees, Charlottesville has a VA outpatient clinic, but the nearest VA hospital is in Richmond, 70 miles away.
Much of the city is accessible by foot or by bicycle, but the clean and safe Charlottesville Area Transit (CAT) provides bus service seven days a week. Tickets can be purchased at kiosks around town. There is also a free trolley with limited service, and JAUNT provides transportation for those with disabilities, as well as for everyone else, on a call-in basis.
According to the American Association of State Climatologists, Charlottesville has the second best climate on the East coast. The average July high temperature is 88 degrees, and the average January low is 26 degrees (45 degrees is the average January high temperature). On average, the city receives 46 inches of rain and 20 inches of snow per year. On the comfort index, a combination of temperature and humidity, the city comes in slightly above the national average. The sun shines 215 days of the year. The air quality and water quality are below the national average.
Charlottesville is an inviting place, but it has some drawbacks, too. The poverty rate is above the national average, but this is attributed to the large student population. The city is also somewhat isolated. Richmond, an hour and a half away, is the nearest large city (population 210,000 people). Washington, D.C. is two hours away. Students congregate in nooks and crannies, and the downtown is often very crowded. Traffic congestion is an issue.
It is worth mentioning, too, that Charlottesville has been wrestling with its slavery past, with the city and many residents wanting Confederate symbols removed from public spaces. In 2017, white nationalists killed a protestor and injured 19 others after a rally. In 2019, the Charlottesville City Council voted to drop Thomas Jefferson's birthday as a city holiday. There is little doubt that Charlottesville will continue to try to find a balance between its past and its progressive present. Doing so may lead to more protests in the future, forever changing the city and the people who live here.
Yet even with its downsides and unsettled identity, Charlottesville beckons to history buffs and retirees seeking a stimulating Southern college town. When Thomas Jefferson retired, he settled in Charlottesville. More than 200 years later, savvy retirees are following in his footsteps.
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