Before Hurricane Sandy hit New York in 2012, life in a 200-square-foot East Village rental was already feeling cramped for Tessa Allison, Jim Wolf and their miniature schnauzer, Veruca Salt. But after they were left without heat and hot water for weeks, Ms. Allison said, “We were like, ‘This is too much. Let’s get out of here.’”
Their first step was to rent a small house in Stratford, Conn., from Mr. Wolf’s brother.
William E. WolF Park
Great Hollow Lake
By The New York Times
“We agreed that if we hated it we’d move back,” said Ms. Allison, 42, the vice president of culture and employee experience at Motive, an advertising agency, and the host of “The YES Pile” podcast.
But they didn’t hate it. They started perusing real estate listings online and attending open houses. Mr. Wolf, 42, a singer-songwriter whose 2012 song, “Make You My Lady,” has been a fixture on South Korean pop charts, grew up in Fairfield County, Conn., so he knew the area.
“We loved the quaintness of downtown Fairfield and Westport, but not the price tag,” Ms. Allison said. “We learned that 20 or so minutes away, we could get a lot more house and space for a lot less money.”
In 2017, they landed in the town of Monroe, near the eastern edge of Fairfield County, where they paid $418,000 for a 2,543-square-foot, four-bedroom colonial, built in 1995 on two acres. The house has room for Ms. Allison’s office and Mr. Wolf’s studio — and for Veruca Salt, now 17, a 1-year-old rescue dog named Axel and the couple’s 2-year-old daughter, Zoey.
Built in 1847, the Monroe Congregational Church sits on one side of the Monroe town green. The church’s annual Strawberry Festival celebrates its 50th anniversary in June.Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
From forests and lakes to retail, industry, farmland and a historic town green, the 26.1-square-mile Monroe has a bit of everything. Mainly, however, it is a suburb, home to 18,825 residents, many of them drawn, like Ms. Allison and Mr. Wolf, by the property values, strong schools and small-town feel.
Twenty miles north of Long Island Sound, Monroe is bordered by the Fairfield County towns of Newtown, Easton, Trumbull and Shelton, and by Oxford, in New Haven County. Of them all, Monroe has the highest mill rate, meaning a home with the same assessed value will have higher property taxes.
“I’m sensitive to that,” Kenneth Kellogg, Monroe’s first selectman, said. “We don’t have a mall like Trumbull. We don’t have the commercial corridor that Shelton has. But I’m proud that over the last five years, the average increase in our mill rate has been less than 1 percent per year.”
Politically, Monroe, incorporated in 1823 and named for President James Monroe, skews Republican. Yet Ms. Allison and Mr. Wolf, who hold more liberal views, haven’t let that define their experience. “We might not all have the same values,” Ms. Allison said, “but the town isn’t as super conservative as we had judged it to be. There are liberal cohorts here, and even with our neighbors who might be more conservative, it’s not the forefront of our conversation.”
15 EVERGREEN LANE | A five-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bathroom house, built in 1996 on 1.38 acres, listed for $649,900. 203-258-8931Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
What You’ll Find
Shopping plazas filled with national chains and locally owned shops and restaurants form two commercial stretches: one along Route 111, a.k.a. Monroe Turnpike; the other, farther west, on Route 25, a.k.a Main Street.
A fifth of the town, or 3,341 acres, is open space, including parks, preserves and trails. The rest is predominantly residential. Leafy streets — some narrow and winding, others cul-de-sacs — are lined with colonials, ranches and raised ranches. Most lots are an acre, with two- and three-acre zoning to the north and west.
Monroe has 5,814 single-family homes and 18 multifamily homes, according to the town’s assessor, Justin R. Feldman. There are 928 condominiums in six complexes, including two for residents 55 and over, and no cooperative apartments. The only rental building is Fairway Acres, a 30-unit affordable complex owned by the Monroe Housing Authority. Two age-restricted complexes — one condos, the other rentals — are under construction.
334 CUTLERS FARM ROAD | A three-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bathroom house, built in 1987 on one acre, listed for $379,900. 203-610-1304Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
What You’ll Pay
Lawren A. Hubal, a RE/MAX Right Choice agent who sold Ms. Allison and Mr. Wolf their house, said that today it would probably cost around $630,000. Home prices in Monroe start in the $300,000s, she said, and can occasionally reach more than $1 million. But at all levels, “the bottom line has boosted up.”
Mike Korchinski, a branch vice president at Coldwell Banker Realty, cited a 16 percent increase in Monroe home prices last year, and another 4 percent increase during the first quarter of 2022. “We are on pace for an annual increase of 12 percent for 2022,” he said. “It’s astronomical.”
But that hasn’t stopped buyers. Jane Ferro, a sales associate with the Levinson Ferro Team at Coldwell Banker, said sellers are receiving multiple offers within days of listing their homes. “Inventory is low, buyers are coming in droves and everything is going over asking.”
Based on information provided to and compiled by SmartMLS, Inc., as of May 17 there were 18 single-family homes on the market, from a 1,568-square-foot, three-bedroom colonial built in 1955 on 0.23 acres and listed for $190,000, to a 6,942-square-foot, six-bedroom colonial built in 1993 on 2.86 acres and listed for $1.749 million. There were 10 condominiums for sale, from a 1,671-square-foot two-bedroom built in 1994 and listed for $350,000, to a 2,456-square-foot, two-bedroom built in 2022 and listed for $579,900. There was one multifamily home on the market, a 3,591-square-foot five-bedroom listed for $539,900.
The median sale price for a single-family home during the 12-month period ending May 17 was $485,000, up from $440,800 during the preceding 12 months. For multifamily homes, the median price was $429,500, down from $470,000 during the preceding 12 months. For condominiums, the median price was $302,500, up from $235,000.
76 PURDY HILL ROAD | A three-bedroom, three-bathroom house, built in 1977 on 0.5 acres, listed for $479,900. 203-268-1118Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
“Family-centric” is how Mr. Kellogg described Monroe: “We have all kinds of families here.”
Ms. Allison echoed that observation. “Our neighborhood has people who have been here for decades and new families who are moving in,” she said. “And we’re seeing more diverse families with young children.”
A hub for residents is the more-than-300-acre William E. Wolfe Park, which has an outdoor pool, playgrounds, ball fields and sports courts, and includes Great Hollow Lake, offering fishing, a swimming beach and a launch for nonmotorized boats.
Another hub is the town green, host to the seasonal Monroe Farmers’ Market and backdrop for the annual Monroe Congregational Church’s Strawberry Festival, celebrating its 50th anniversary in June, and the St. Peter’s Episcopal Church’s Apple Festival, in September.
Hikers can explore the Rails-to-Trails pathway, which runs through Monroe, and Webb Mountain Park, with seven miles of trails, as well as campsites. Nearby, Webb Mountain Discovery Zone caters to the youngest nature lovers.
215 WHEELER ROAD | A four-bedroom house with two full bathrooms and two half bathrooms, built in 1958 on 1.41 acres, listed for $600,000. 203-952-8880Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
Monroe’s 3,439 schoolchildren are served by the Monroe Public Schools district. Students in kindergarten through fifth grade attend one of three elementary schools: Fawn Hollow, Stepney or Monroe, which also has a prekindergarten program. Those in sixth through eighth grade attend Jockey Hollow Middle School, which has a separate branch, Jockey Hollow STEM Academy, on the campus of the high school.
Masuk High School, which has an indoor swimming pool that town residents can use, was named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2015.
Data from the Connecticut State Department of Education’s Edsight portal showed that on the 2018-19 Smarter Balanced assessments, 83.6 percent of Monroe’s fourth-graders were proficient in English language arts and 80.9 percent were proficient in math; statewide equivalents were 54.6 percent and 52.5 percent. Mean SAT scores for Masuk High School’s 2018-19 graduating class were 564 in evidence-based reading and writing, and 570 in math; statewide equivalents were 514 and 500.
Diners enjoy the fare at the Monroe Diner, on Main Street.Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
Monroe is roughly 35 miles northeast of Stamford, 55 miles southwest of Hartford and 70 miles northeast of Manhattan. It has no train station and is about a half-hour drive from Interstate 84, Interstate 95 and the Merritt Parkway. The drive to Manhattan can take 90 minutes to more than two hours, depending on traffic.
Commuters to Manhattan can catch Metro-North Railroad’s New Haven line in Bridgeport or Fairfield, where rush-hour trains to and from Grand Central Terminal take around an hour and a half. Round-trip fares are $39.50 peak, $29.50 off-peak and $383.50 monthly from Bridgeport, and $36 peak, $27 off-peak and $352 monthly from Fairfield.
Thomas Edison’s invention of the incandescent light bulb in the late 1800s indirectly led to the creation of the Stevenson Dam, built from 1917 to 1919 across the Housatonic River between Monroe and Oxford. The dam and its hydroelectric power plant meant “the advent of electricity in our town and the surrounding area,” said Kevin Daly, the Monroe Historical Society’s historian.
During construction of the concrete gravity dam, which is anchored in gneiss, a temporary village rose at the site to accommodate an estimated 800 workers. The approximately 1,300-foot-long dam formed Lake Zoar to the north and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. It carries the state-owned Stevenson Dam Bridge, which rests on a series of arches. Mr. Kellogg said that the plant, now owned by FirstLight Power, is the largest source of commercial tax revenue in Monroe.
“It continues to generate electricity,” Mr. Daly said, “in the same way it did back then.”
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