For the unacquainted, Hampton Roads is a cluster of cities and counties on the southeast coast of Virginia. Over the years, these cities have, like a pack of ambitious amebas, moved around, merged, and grown significantly, but still remain a close-knit metropolitan area. Chesapeake is considered one of the quainter, quieter cities.
This Land is Our Land Geographically, the southern half of Chesapeake is more rural, as it mingles with surrounding farmland on the North Carolina border. Chesapeake is also a community largely influenced by water. Swamp wetlands and rivers cut through the terrain to empty into the Atlantic Ocean in neighboring Virginia Beach. This means that among Chesapeake’s wealth of highways are bridges, waterways, ports, and the Dismal Swamp Canal (which, fun fact, was surveyed by George Washington and is the oldest continuously used canal in the United States. It’s also not half as bad as the name suggests). The northern half of the city is more conventionally suburban, with vast residential neighborhoods, shopping areas, and easier access to other Hampton Roads locations.
Driving in the ‘Peake Despite the waterways and a booming shipbuilding industry, aquatic transportation is, disappointingly (sorry, Waterworld fans), not the go-to option for getting around. In an area with so many cities close together, commuting to another place for work is fairly common. The Hampton Roads Transit Authority operates bus routes through Chesapeake to neighboring cities, and there’s a lot of talk about building a larger public transportation system in the future. Thus far, it’s all talk and no trousers though (“No larger public transportation system” doesn’t roll off the tongue as well). Despite this, Chesapeakans main mode of transportation continues to be driving. Having a car is expected, but living near a popular thruway can make getting to the store a nightmare during rush hour, so plan accordingly.
The most common type of housing you’ll come upon in Chesapeake is your standard detached single-family home, picket fence optional. These are mostly owner occupied, but they are also the most common renting option. Houses tend to be more expensive than apartments, though, and depending on the area, they can get up to the high $2000s or more per month. If that’s not your thing, it’s not a stretch to find attached single-family homes, like town houses and condominiums. Small or medium sized apartment complexes also pop up in some areas, but aren’t as easy to find.
A Standard Chesapeake Dwelling Since renting houses is most common, you tend to get the same amenities, perks, and downfalls as owning a house, but without the long-term responsibility. Yards, garages, and appliances (usually including washer and dryer) are a given, and utilities are rarely included in the bottom line (Meaning more money than just rent. Remember to factor that in when budgeting). While condominiums and small apartment complexes may not satisfy the savvy wannabe-homeowner in the same way, they will often have a parking lot or community amenities like a patio or fitness center. On the whole, Chesapeake is very pet friendly, too, though it’s not unheard of to charge a fee or deposit.
Where to Look While surveying your preferred neighborhood for a “for rent” sign is a classic good idea, Internet resources (Hint: you’re on one right now!) and local newspaper listings can also turn up a lot of results. Many of the places listed and advertised online, especially apartments and condos, tend to be higher rent and newer construction. For older, smaller rental houses, contacting a realtor is usually a good bet.
Rents can get steep in some places (Remember that $2000/month price-tag we mentioned?), so exploring the area to get the most out is key. It’s generally best to consider what’s important to you when renting. Access to a highway for commuting? Farmland to stretch out in? Officially, the city of Chesapeake divides itself into 6 boroughs, but many of these can be divided even further into smaller neighborhoods and communities. Let’s take a quick look at the official spots to get you familiar with the basic parts of the city:
The northernmost borough, Western Branch is touted as a great place due to its residential culture and proximity to other cities. It was once home to many military families and workers from the neighboring GE plant, which closed its doors in the 1980s. We’re no history buffs over here, so we can’t tell you why. If we had to guess, though, the release of Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo seemed to coincide with the shutdown (insert conspiracy theories here). Today, however, its streets are filled with newer construction houses and the occasional shopping plaza.
Also not so creatively dubbed “SoNo”, South Norfolk was actually its own independent city from the early 1900s until its incorporation with the rest of Chesapeake in the 60s. Many residents believed that the incorporation stunted the city’s growth, but planned revitalization projects and a hip historic district makes this an up and coming area to definitely keep an eye (or two) on.South Norfolk also has a large population of younger couples and singles, as well as slightly lower rent than the rest of Chesapeake due to its lower average income.
This borough has a smaller population density than the others because its southwestern portion contains part of the Great Dismal Swamp: a protected wetland area. Although you can’t build a house here only to watch it sink slowly into the abyss (these government regulations are such a drag, aren’t they?), the swamp gives Deep Creek a rich history as a bustling settlement and shipping point for now extinct lumber enterprises. It’s a quiet community full of rural accents and natural surroundings. Houses and rentals in this area are generally newer and more spacious, but slightly more expensive.
The most “urban” area of Chesapeake, Washington sports city hall and other major government facilities, as well as much of the city’s commerce and shopping centers. For you history buffs, it contains the site of the Battle of Great Bridge, an important colonial victory in the Revolutionary War. Feel free to shout, “’MURICA!” when crossing, it’s only appropriate. Being a highly populated and central spot, it also has a higher number of rental options than anywhere else, and thus a larger age range of citizens. Detached and attached units can be found here, as well as smaller apartment complexes, for a variety of prices.
Spacious and adjacent to the Great Dismal Swamp (which stretches down its West side), Pleasant Grove is, well, a rather pleasant area. Talk about convenient! Houses are a bit larger here, and neighborhoods lively. It’s largely made up of higher income married couples and families, so while it does have many renters in its midst, prices tend to be a bit higher.
Compared to the rest of Chesapeake, Butts Road is very rural and mostly owner occupied, so rentals are scarce here. All jokes aside (as easy and juvenile they may be), it’s another spacious and quiet area with much larger, older housing. The rental prices around here are, much like the age range of the population, quite mixed. Butts Road (as well as Pleasant Grove, right next door) back up to the border of rural North Carolina.
While everyone is entitled to their opinion, there’s a lot of talk about which cities in Hampton Roads are good places to live. Some people feel that the area is too small and too young to be able to support such a quickly growing population; but Chesapeake is proof that it can be done. People love it for its history, its greenery (not just the swamp, though it is rather green), and its laid-back, family-friendly atmosphere that’s easily accessible to the variety and bustle nearby. Why not stop in and see it for yourself? We’ve got the tools to help, and you’ve got that one increasing purpose to use it (see what we did there?). Now go out, and get situated. Chesapeake is a’callin’!