Woodbridge, Connecticut: a rural enclave near New Haven

Woodbridge, Conn., a quiet suburb on the west end of New Haven, is a place where privacy comes easily. Most residential lots in the city are at least an acre and a half, and multi-family housing is almost non-existent. More than a quarter of the city’s area is protected open space. And what little permitted commercial activity is contained to the southeast corner of town, adjacent to the Merritt Parkway.

“We were pleasantly surprised by the vibe of the city,” said Hongbing Huang, 50, a pharmaceutical scientist who moved to Woodbridge from Scarsdale, NY, with his wife, Hao Wu, a medical scientist, and their 11 years. eldest daughter last June. “It has a sort of rural feel to it, but it’s so close to New Haven.”

Indeed, downtown New Haven is a 10- to 20-minute drive from almost anywhere in Woodbridge, said Beth Heller, the town’s first elected official. This makes the suburb very convenient for those working at Yale University, Yale New Haven Hospital, or one of the city’s many other educational institutions and biotech companies.

David Blumenthal, 41, and Noemi Smith Blumenthal, 39, were drawn to Woodbridge because of the schools. With a young child and another on the way, they decided to leave Manhattan during the pandemic. As she hunkered down in their weekend home in the Poconos, Ms. Blumenthal began searching online for suburbs with reputable school systems.

“Woodbridge really stood out for me,” she said. “A lot of Yale professors live there, so obviously they’re going to want to have good schools for their kids.”

The couple lost the first home they had bid on to another buyer, then backed out of a deal on another home after a disappointing inspection. Finally, they shut down a landmark six-bedroom home for $1.05 million — the same price they got for their apartment in Union Square.

Their new property is nearly four acres, with a swimming pool, pool house, barn and two rental cabins, said Blumenthal, who sells advertising for medical equipment. “Everyone has a place in Woodbridge,” he said.

Joshua DeBarba, 30, a lawyer, and his wife, Alyssa, 28, a part-time nurse, moved to Woodbridge last July. The couple, who both grew up in New Haven County, had rented in Milford and wanted to stay in the area, especially with both sets of grandparents living nearby to help with their two preschoolers.

“I love the woodsy look of Woodbridge,” Mr. DeBarba said. “I can walk around our neighborhood without having to worry about heavy traffic.”

The couple paid $510,000, a few thousand dollars more, for a three-bedroom duplex that had been gutted and redone. They appreciate the calm, but they also had to adapt.

“Coming from Milford, if we needed milk we could get it in 30 seconds,” Mr DeBarba said. “In Woodbridge, it’s a big trip to get something.

Less than 10,000 people live within the 19 square miles of Woodbridge. Sprawling Tudors, modest contemporaries, expansive Capes and ancient colonials all share the same wooded lanes. The terrain is hilly and crossed by two rivers.

“It’s a suburban community in a country setting,” said Frank D’Ostilio Jr., broker and partner at Houlihan Lawrence Wareck D’Ostilio. “It’s about privacy, space, distance, foliage.”

Strict zoning and the absence of public water and sewers in most of the city discourage denser development. A handful of restaurants, a bowling alley and a brasserie are clustered in the small shopping area.

Woodbridge has a median household income of $157,610, according to state economic data, making it one of Connecticut’s wealthiest towns. An estimated 42% of its residents have at least a master’s degree, compared to 17% statewide.

In response to criticism that its zoning of large lots effectively excludes low-income and minority families, the Planning and Zoning Commission last year changed zoning rules to allow multi-family housing in the very small part of Woodbridge with public water and sewer. Two-family homes are permitted elsewhere, but only subject to review and approval by the commission.

Erin Boggs, executive director of the Open Communities Alliance, which continues to push for broader zoning reforms, called the amendments “a first and very small step towards the more meaningful changes that need to happen across the city to ensure that it meets its obligation”. for affordable housing in the area.

The Alliance argued that the city’s zoning violates the Zoning Enabling Act, the state constitution, and federal and state fair housing laws.

Housing inventory is extremely limited these days. As of April 10, there were just 12 active property listings in Woodbridge, ranging in price from $339,000 for a three-bedroom colonial to $1.295 million for a five-bedroom contemporary-style home.

“All of my clients are waiting for other properties to become available,” said Pat Cardozo, an agent for Coldwell Banker Realty. “It’s very intimidating.”

And buyers are driving up prices to get what they want. The median sale price of the 129 single-family homes sold in the 12 months ending April 2 was $520,000, significantly higher than the median of $419,000 for the same period a year earlier, data shows. provided by Ms. Cardozo. The $520,000 median typically buys an older three- or four-bedroom home, like a ranch or a Cape Cod, she said.

Prices top out at around $1.5 million. “To my knowledge, there has only been one house that sold for over $2 million,” Mr. D’Ostilio said.

There are very few condominiums in town and sales are infrequent. The last sale price, in 2016, was $319,000, for a three-bedroom unit, Cardozo said.

Woodbridge’s per mile rate (the figure used to calculate property taxes) of $42.64 is high compared to neighboring suburbs. (The rate in Orange is $33.25; in Bethany, it’s $34.50.) Ms. Heller said the city hopes to ease the property tax burden by expanding the limited commercial tax district.

“We are in the process of hiring a planner to help us do this,” she said.

The Woodbridge Public Library in the historic downtown is “the heart of the community” and offers a variety of programs for adults and children, Cardozo said. In summer, the greenery of the center fills with families for evening concerts. Next to the town hall, a path leads to Alice Newton Street Memorial Park, a nature reserve of approximately 100 acres.

Residents support several working farms, including the city-owned Massaro Community Farm, which is operated by a nonprofit organization. The 57-acre farm sells organic produce to those who sign up for its farm-share program and to restaurants. And 10 percent of its harvest is allocated to regional hunger programs, said Caty Poole, the farm’s executive director.

The Jewish Community Center of Greater New Haven has a large facility with fitness equipment, a swimming pool, and a preschool, while the private Woodbridge Club has a swimming pool and tennis courts.

Woodbridge has one public elementary school, Beecher Road School, which serves approximately 850 students from pre-kindergarten to grade six. Students there averaged 84% of state scores for English language arts and 79% of math scores, compared to statewide averages of 68 and 63%, according to most recent data available from the State Department of Education.

Older students attend school with students from the nearby towns of Bethany and Orange, as part of Amity Regional School District No. 5. Woodbridge students in grades seven and eight attend Bethany Middle School. High school students from all three towns attend Amity Regional High School in Woodbridge. Average SAT scores for the class of 2021 were 589 for reading and writing and 583 for math. The school has a four-year graduation rate of 97%, compared to a statewide rate of 89%.

Ezra Academy is a private Jewish school for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Tuition fees range from $18,125 to $24,323 and financial aid is available.

The Metro-North train ride from Union Station in New Haven to Grand Central in Manhattan takes about two hours. A one-way ticket during peak hours is $23.50; a monthly pass costs $450.

The 80-mile trip through Midtown Manhattan takes 90 minutes to two hours, depending on traffic.

In 2009, residents voted to spend $7 million to buy the financially troubled Woodbridge Country Club, to keep it from falling into the hands of a developer. The city paid one-third to continue operating a golf course there for a while, but has periodically considered other proposals for the 155-acre property, which has public water and sewer. Nothing has passed the mark. The final pitch to elected officials calls for a mix of housing on part of the site, including units below market price. But Ms Heller said the board had decided to issue a formal request for proposals, “to see if there is anything else at this stage”.

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