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NEIGHBORLY ADVICE

Peace of mind and no purple paint

April 30, 2006|Rita Robinson | Special to The Times

Irvine cornered the market on cookie-cutter housing when it built its first large planned community, Woodbridge, 30 years ago. With two recreational lakes, 41 parks, meandering walkways, manicured lawns, good schools and a low crime rate, age hasn't affected its appeal.

Beginnings

In 1976, the Irvine Co. -- developer of the city of Irvine -- started building the first of 16 master-planned villages. Woodbridge was modeled after Balboa Island and Lido Isle, a master-planned community in Newport Beach.

To raise interest, said Raymond Watson, then-president of the Irvine Co., they "teased" commuters by building a wall around the property.

On opening day, 10,000 people showed up for a peek. Today, Woodbridge is home to 30,000 residents of increasing ethnic diversity in 9,500 single- and multifamily dwellings. Two man-made lakes are the vortex of "the Woodbridge way of life."

What it's about

Activity, activity, activity.

Paddle boats, canoes and kayaks are neatly stacked along the shores of the "fake lakes," as residents fondly refer to North and South lakes. Fans of hydro-biking (bike frames mounted on floats and pedaled) and catch-and-release fishing flock to the lakes in warm weather. Two swimming lagoons beckon with water slides, eucalyptus-shaded lounge chairs and sand volleyball courts.

"Something-for-everybody" activities include Chinese folk dancing, family campfires, sailing classes and a Fourth of July parade with homemade floats, a carnival, a pie-eating contest and fireworks.

Insider's view

The families that Woodbridge was built to attract have matured into well-established baby boomers who are nearing retirement age.

"People don't want to move out," said Marilyn Guimond, a paralegal who's raised three daughters and lived here for 26 years.

Good news, bad news

All the words associated with suburbia -- safe, quiet and stable -- apply here in spades. "You know how crazy the world can be," said Ralph Redington, recreation manager for 24 years and Woodbridge resident for 14. "It's a Catch-22. You move in here because of the strict enforcement of codes, but then people get a little upset knowing there are rules you have to live by."

"When you buy a house here, you know exactly what you're getting into," Guimond said. "You have agreed. You're not going to have a neighbor who decides they're going to paint their house purple."

The downside is that individual expression is limited, at least on the outside. Expressions like "cookie-cutter" and "bland" that taunt all master-planned communities are heard of Woodbridge as well.

Housing stock

The large ranch homes that front Yale Loop only appear to be such. They are actually multiple-home dwellings. Architecture varies from Cape Cod to California contemporary -- but not much. The Woodbridge Village Assn., with its $66 monthly homeowners' fee, keeps colors restricted to shades of beige. Even "for sale" signs are standardized to blend with the landscaping. What also gives Woodbridge away as a planned community are abbreviated front lawns and short driveways, where you wouldn't have enough room to work on an old jalopy even if the association allowed it, which it doesn't.

Of the 72 homes for sale recently, the lowest priced was a one-bedroom, one-bathroom, 750-square-foot condo near the 405 Freeway at $315,000. The highest priced was a 5,000-square-foot customized detached home with six bedrooms and 4 1/2 bathrooms for $2.375 million. A lakefront condo with 2,000 square feet, three bedrooms and 2 1/2 baths was listed at $975,000.

Woodbridge, with 1,700 acres, is bordered by Jeffrey Road, Irvine Center Drive, Culver Drive and the 405 Freeway.

Report card

Woodbridge's four elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school, all within walking distance, go to the top of the class. Woodbridge High School scored 835 out of 1,000 on the 2005 Academic Performance Index Base Report. Lakeside Middle School scored 880. South Lake Middle School scored 889. Scores at the four elementary schools were: Eastshore, 904; Meadow Park, 934; Springbrook, 873; and Stone Creek, 908.

Historical values

Residential resales:

Year...Median Price

1990...$288,000

1995...$255,000

2000...$356,250

2004...$640,000

2005...$700,000

Sources: DataQuick Information Systems; Woodbridge Village Assn., www.wva.org; ReMax of Irvine; Irvine Unified School District.

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