Real State

Woodbridge, Conn.: A Rural Enclave Close to New Haven

Woodbridge, Conn., a quiet suburb on New Haven’s western edge, is a place where privacy comes easily. Most of the residential lots in town are at least an acre and a half, and multifamily housing is almost nonexistent. More than a quarter of the town’s land area is protected open space. And what little commercial activity is permitted is contained within the town’s southeastern corner, adjacent to the Merritt Parkway.

“We were kind of pleasantly surprised by the feel of the town,” said Hongbing Huang, 50, a pharmaceutical scientist who moved to Woodbridge from Scarsdale, N.Y., with his wife, Hao Wu, a physician scientist, and their 11-year-old daughter last June. “It has a sort of rural feel, 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 selectman. That makes the suburb highly convenient for those working at Yale University, Yale New Haven Hospital or one of the many other educational institutions and biotech companies in the city.

David Blumenthal, 41, and Noemi Smith Blumenthal, 39, were drawn to Woodbridge because of the schools. With one young child and another on the way, they decided to move out of Manhattan during the pandemic. While taking refuge at their weekend house in the Poconos, Ms. Blumenthal began searching online for suburbs with well-regarded school systems.

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

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

Their new property covers almost four acres, with a pool, a pool house, a barn and two rental cottages, said Mr. Blumenthal, who sells advertising for medical equipment. “Everyone has some space 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 been renting in Milford and wanted to stay in the area, especially with both sets of grandparents living nearby to help out with their two preschoolers.

“I like the wooded look of Woodbridge,” Mr. DeBarba said. “I can walk around our neighborhood without having to worry about high-volume traffic.”

The couple paid $510,000, a few thousand dollars over asking, for a three-bedroom split-level that had been gutted and redone. They appreciate the quiet, but they have also had to do some adjusting.

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

Fewer than 10,000 people live within Woodbridge’s 19 square miles. Sprawling Tudors, modest contemporaries, expanded Capes and antique colonials all share the same wooded lanes. The terrain is hilly and traversed by two rivers.

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

Strict zoning and the absence of public water and sewers in most of the town discourage denser development. A handful of restaurants, a bowling alley and a brewpub are clustered in the small commercial district.

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

In response to criticism that its large-lot zoning effectively excludes lower-income and minority families, the Town Plan and Zoning Commission last year amended the zoning rules to allow multifamily housing in the very small portion of Woodbridge with public water and sewers. Two-family homes are allowed elsewhere, but only subject to the commission’s review and approval.

Erin Boggs, the executive director of Open Communities Alliance, which continues to push for more extensive zoning reforms, called the amendments “a first and very small step toward the more meaningful changes that need to happen throughout the town to ensure that it’s meeting its obligation for affordable housing in the region.”

The Alliance has argued that the town’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 home listings in Woodbridge, ranging in price from $339,000 for a three-bedroom colonial to $1.295 million for a five-bedroom contemporary-style house.

“All of my clients are waiting for more properties to come on,” said Pat Cardozo, an agent with Coldwell Banker Realty. “It’s very daunting.”

And buyers are bidding up prices to get what they want. The median sale price for the 129 single-family homes that sold during the 12-month period ending April 2 was $520,000, significantly higher than the median of $419,000 for the same period a year earlier, according to data provided by Ms. Cardozo. The median of $520,000 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’s only been one house that’s sold for more than $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, Ms. Cardozo said.

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

“We’re in the process of hiring a planner to help us do that,” she said.

The Woodbridge Town Library, in the historic town center, is “the heart of the community,” and offers a variety of programming for adults and children, Ms. Cardozo said. In the summertime, the center’s town green fills with families for evening concerts. Next to the town hall, a path leads into Alice Newton Street Memorial Park, a nature preserve of roughly 100 acres.

Residents support several working farms, including the town-owned Massaro Community Farm, which is run by a nonprofit organization. The 57-acre farm sells organic produce to those who subscribe to its farm-share program, and to restaurants. And 10 percent of its harvest is allocated to regional hunger-relief 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 pool and tennis courts.

Woodbridge has one public elementary school, the Beecher Road School, which enrolls about 850 students in prekindergarten through sixth grade. Students there averaged 84 percent on state assessments for English language arts, and 79 percent on assessments for math, compared with statewide averages of 68 and 63 percent, according to the most recent data available from the State Department of Education.

Older students attend school with students from neighboring Bethany and Orange, as part of Amity Regional School District No. 5. Woodbridge students in the seventh and eighth grades attend middle school in Bethany. 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 percent, compared with a statewide rate of 89 percent.

Ezra Academy is a private Jewish day school for students in preschool through eighth grade. Tuition ranges from $18,125 to $24,323, and financial assistance 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 peak-time ticket is $23.50; a monthly pass is $450.

The 80-mile drive into 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 prevent it from falling into the hands of a developer. The town paid a third party to continue to operate a golf course there for a while, but has periodically entertained other proposals for the 155-acre property, which has public water and sewer. Nothing has passed muster. The latest pitch before the selectmen calls for a mix of housing on a portion of the site, including some below-market-rate units. But Ms. Heller said that the board has decided to put out a formal request for proposals, “to see if there’s anything else out there at this point.”

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