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Old 04-03-2010, 09:23 AM
 
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Hi all-

I have combed these threads over the past few weeks, as my husband is strongly considering a job in Ridgefield Park and it's my job to find out where we should live. About us: We have a preschooler and another one on the way, in our late 30s, well educated but not Ivy Leaguers. We love living in a walkable town--we currently live in the Bay Area and walk to parks, the grocery store, community center etc. We much prefer older homes (1900s-1940s) to newer ones and, for better or worse, always choose character and charm over square footage. We both grew up in loving, hard-working, flatly middle class families, and though we are more financially well off than our parents were, we are hoping (and trying) to raise our kids similarly in terms work ethic and appreciation for opportunities. Good schools are important, but we don't have to be in the "best"/most competitive districts. We may also look at Catholic schools.

Hopefully that gives you a good sense of who we are. Now, where should we live? We've considered renting for a while, if we could find a house (no apartments or condos)--our max rent would be about $3500/month. If we were to buy, our ideal budget would be about $500k, though we could stretch to $600k if necessary. Questions:

1) From everything I've read, I'm currently considering Midland Park, Westwood, and River Edge (had also been looking at Cranford but understand it may be too far away). Do they sound like good matches for us?

2) Are these towns a reasonable (30 to 45-minute) commute to Ridgefield Park? I know the mileage on Google maps; I don't know the traffic.

All information, advice, and any other suggestions for towns to consider would be most welcome and appreciated.
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Old 04-03-2010, 10:06 AM
 
Location: Vermont
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we live in midland park but westwood may be better for walkability. i do not know much about river edge. it may be the closest town to ridgefield park? since you have googled them... what were the 3 different commute times?

culturally i think westwood may be more diverse than MP (82% vs 93% white) with almost 2X the number of people as M.P.( 10k vs 6k people).

midland park really has no walkable downtown. if you live in midland park, you can WALK to places (there are sidewalks everywhere) but not too many people walk. we walk or ride our bikes to the grocery store , hardware store and a few restaurants, etc.

westwood schools goes to westwood regional. i dont know what towns go to this school. but some people may not like regional schools. i think it may only be 2 towns: westwood and washington township. where as midland park has their own school system and only MP kids go there.

3500 a month to rent a house is plenty I think, in any of the towns, assuming you want a 3 BR.
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Old 04-03-2010, 02:36 PM
 
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Thanks, joe moving--I appreciate the input. According to Google, the mileage is:
River Edge to Ridgefield Park - about 7 miles
Westwood to Ridgefield Park - about 14 miles
Midland Park to Ridgefield Park - about 14 miles

River Edge obviously looks to be a top choice in terms of commute, but I just can't find too much about it. The few threads I've read about it do make it sound pretty appealing; Westwood's walkability is the big draw there. I just don't know what 14 miles would be in actual drive time in that area.

Anyone else with feedback?
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Old 04-04-2010, 01:50 AM
 
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the closest town to ridgefield park that offers what you're seeking is leonia, which is right across overpeck creek (about a 5 minute drive). it's a solid middle class town in terms of both income and values that also features a moderately-sized population of upper middle and lower middle/working class residents. its housing stock primarily consists of pre-WWII single family homes on quiet streets with tall, mature trees. there are also some garden apartments toward the bottom of the hill on broad and grand avenues as well as some larger homes that cater to the wealthier residents up in the east hill section. many of these were built around 1980 and reflect the architectural tastes of that era, but some date back to the 1920s or earlier and have loads of character.

according to the various rankings and word-of-mouth, leonia has good but not elite schools - solidly in the middle of the second tier (i.e. among the top 50-60 in the state, which is very respectable) but not in the same league as ridgewood, tenafly, northern highlands, northern valley demarest/old tappan, etc.

there is a fairly large park on the western edge of town called overpeck park. it has some tennis, basketball, and volleyball courts, softball fields, a bicycle and jogging path, and a horse riding area. the park hosts a 4th of july fireworks display and carnival every summer along with some other summertime events. in general, it's a good place for casual recreation, playing with the kids, or walking the dog.

the downtown area in leonia is very nice, traditional, and walkable, with plenty of small mom-and-pop shops and restaurants. the only caveat is that the great majority of these are operated by and cater to the town's large korean population. some may find this very appealing, while others may not. leonia is over 30% asian (mostly korean) and nearly 15% latino, so it's more racially and ethnically diverse than the other towns on your list.

an interesting tidbit about the town is that it used to have a reputation as a haven for creative/intellectual types and college professors (especially from columbia university) who valued the close-knit community feel and proximity to manhattan. i don't know if this is still the case, given the shifting demographics of the past 30 years, but i mention this fact because the town's populace has traditionally taken great pains to keep the town well-maintained. they even prevented I-95 from being built through the downtown area in the 1950s, which forced the NJDOT to reroute it around the northern fringes of the town.

so basically, it's a great little community that has a lot to offer. i'm surprised that it isn't recommended more frequently on these boards, but to be honest, not everyone is comfortable living in a town with a large minority population; you have to decide if that matters to you.
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Old 04-04-2010, 03:23 AM
 
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midland park is a solid middle class, unpretentious, and quiet town with good-but-not-elite schools (similar reputation as leonia's) that has somehow flown under the radar compared with its ritzier neighbors. it is far more racially homogenous than leonia (95% non-hispanic white) and has a quiet, somewhat isolated feel due to a lack of highway and rail connections and greater distance from nyc. it is much more likely than leonia to have longtime, multi-generational residents, including some who are descended from the early dutch settlers and 19th-century immigrants.

MP's overall income level is fairly similar to leonia's, but it probably has smaller percentages of working class and high upper middle/upper class residents. and its traditional downtown area is much smaller by comparison, with only a handful of shops catering to basic everyday needs. IMO it is not as well-manicured or as interesting as leonia's downtown. MP also has several bland strip malls with supermarkets and chain stores. the town is not really walkable in the way that you're seeking; sure, the houses are close together and on smallish lots, and there is the aforementioned downtown area, but it isn't the same as leonia or some of the other towns you're considering.

the main thing to consider about MP is that the drive to ridgefield park would be pretty slow during rush hour. google maps suggests a commute time of 21 minutes, but it could easily be 40-45 during rush hour. your husband would have to deal with routes 4, 17, 80, and/or 95, which are among the most congested in the entire state. on top of that, both routes 4 and 17 have notorious bottlenecks (three lanes are reduced to two), which only exacerbates the congestion. it's certainly a doable commute, but he'd have to be patient, as tons of people are headed toward the gw bridge/lincoln tunnel/nyc/jersey city in the morning.

personally, if i were to look in that part of bergen county, i'd also consider glen rock, ridgewood, wyckoff, and oakland. i don't know if there will be many houses in your price range in the first three towns, but it's certainly worth a look, as those are all great communities with outstanding schools. oakland will definitely have homes in your price range, but the negatives are that it's somewhat far from ridgefield park, parts of the town lie in a flood plain (other parts are quite hilly), and it's definitely not walkable, as the "downtown" area is negligible. on the flip side, you'll get more house for your money there, it's super quiet and semi-isolated (feels like the boondocks compared with southern/eastern bergen county), it has mountains, woods, and lakes, and the schools are good; school-age kids even have the option of attending the very highly-regarded ramapo h.s. with the rich kids in franklin lakes and wyckoff.

ridgewood might be the most well-balanced town in the entire county - elite top tier schools, great youth sports and recreation programs, lovely pre-WWII housing stock, a large and outstanding walkable downtown filled with great shops, restaurants, and cafes, and several nice, small-to-medium-sized parks. the negatives (besides the slow drive to ridgefield park) are very high housing prices and a reportedly snobby, hyper competitive atmosphere. you'll only be able to afford a lower-end house in the town (i.e. a smallish 1950s-era cape cod or ranch), so if you're class-conscious, it might not be a good fit. but do check it out. the west side of town is where many of the million dollar homes are located whereas a lot of the more modest homes are on the east side (this is a generalization, not a rule).

glen rock is like ridgewood's little sibling - smaller population, smaller downtown area, smaller high school, somewhat less affluent (albeit very solidly upper middle class), and with less hype from the status conscious. but really, it's a terrific town with almost everything ridgewood offers. the schools are top-notch, the housing stock is pretty nice (i think ridgewood's is nicer because it has more pre-WWII houses, whereas glen rock has more of a mix of pre-war and post-war), and the downtown has plenty of mom-and-pop shops mixed in with some chains (ridgewood is the same way). it is more racially homogenous than ridgewood, which has a fairly sizable asian population and a small but growing latino population in an otherwise WASP/catholic town. glen rock apparently has a larger jewish population by percentage, for what it's worth. i am not sure if the students and parents are as super competitive as in ridgewood, but i do know that kids from the local schools move on to great colleges.

wyckoff is on a similar income level and has top schools. the housing stock tends to be post-war (everything from small cape cods to 1970s ranches to large, new mcmansions) and the streets are filled with very tall, mature trees. in recent years, a lot of the small farms and woods that gave the town a semi-rural feel have been bulldozed in favor of upscale tract housing developments; still, there is a fair number of older houses with character, and many have larger yards than in ridgewood/glen rock, so it's worth a look. the downtown is small but pleasant and definitely walkable; the problem is that the town as a whole is large and sprawling, so unless you live in close proximity to the downtown, you'll have to drive to get there. overall, the town is a blend of a traditional small town and modern cookie cutter suburbia with faint echoes of its rural past. like midland park, it's pretty homogenous in terms of race but has a much larger upper middle and upper income element.

getting back to your other suggestions, i would definitely consider westwood if you're looking for good but not necessarily upper echelon schools. my friends who attended the local schools had mixed reviews about their experiences, but i think that's only because they were comparing westwood h.s. with the elite ones like ridgewood and tenafly. the downtown in westwood is one of the five best in the county (very walkable, plenty of shops and restaurants, mix of mid-range and semi-upscale), and the housing stock is a mix of older homes (some very charming, some blah) and modern split levels and ranches. overall, it's a solid middle class town with moderate proportions of working class and upper middle class residents. it is also relatively diverse compared with its neighbors, including a fair number of african-americans, asians, and latinos. it isn't as wealthy or fancy as many of its neighboring communities, but it's still a nice place to live overall - kind of like a less jazzed-up, more modest version of ridgewood or glen rock. just watch out for a few flood-prone areas near the little brooks/creeks.

as with midland park, the commute will be slow but doable. i would count on 30 minutes during rush hour at an absolute minimum and possibly up to 45. the problem is that no highways pass through westwood, so if your husband wants to stick to the highways, he'll have to take local streets going westbound to the garden state parkway (usually pretty congested) and then switch to rt. 17 south, which is awful at most times of the day. local streets might be a better option, but they can get pretty backed up, too (especially kinderkamack rd, which is the primary north-south artery through that area of the county).

if you're going to look at that area of the county, consider oradell, which is two towns to the south (and thus closer to your husband's office). it's a solid upper middle class town with very good schools (borderline bottom first tier/upper second tier), attractive older homes on nice, tree-lined streets (along with a section of town that has 1970s-era ranches, colonials, and split levels), an underrated, pleasant, mid-sized, and walkable downtown, and a couple of small but nice local parks with ballfields for the kids. i really like this town more than westwood, to be honest, but you'll have to see for yourself. it's definitely more upscale than westwood and has a nicer housing stock. it's pretty racially homogenous (about 90% non-hispanic white) and apparently taxes are very high.

river edge is kind of like oradell's less affluent and less polished sister town. they're located next to each other (river edge is just to the south), share the same well-regarded high school, and have some similarities among their post-war housing stock. the difference is that river edge has fewer pre-war homes with charm/character along with some non-descript garden apartments. and it definitely does not have the nicer upper-end options that oradell has. as a result, river edge has much more of a middle class feel, albeit with some upper middle class and lower middle class residents mixed in. it is also more diverse than oradell, with a somewhat large and growing asian population and a moderate latino population.

another thing about river edge is that it doesn't have much of a downtown. there are some scattered shops and a few small strip malls on or just off of kinderkamack road, but it doesn't have the manicured, cohesive look of the downtowns in oradell, westwood, ridgewood, glen rock, etc. although the town isn't really sprawling, it isn't exactly super walkable, either.

a few more options to consider:
-tenafly: very affluent with top-notch/highly competitive schools, a large jewish and asian population, and a great downtown. the western edge of town has middle-class housing (some generic post-war, some charming pre-war) that might be in your price range; the ritzy eastern end is filled with charming old houses and large modern mansions. located two towns north of leonia, so the drive to ridgefield park would be 20 minutes during rush hour.

-closter: upper middle class overall, with a mix of modern mcmansions near the alpine border, small cape cods and other generic post-war homes in the center, and older pre-war houses with character mixed in everywhere else. similar demographics as tenafly, although perhaps somewhat fewer jewish residents. top-notch schools and a nice, walkable, charming downtown; just be aware that about half of all businesses cater to the korean community (some like this, and some don't). overall, a nice mix of old and new. it's located several miles north of tenafly, so add 15 minutes to the commute.

-haworth: upper middle class with lovely old homes and very tall, mature trees. the downtown is very small but the entire town is walkable. top-notch schools (shares the regional h.s. with closter and demarest) and extremely quiet. probably doesn't have the type of downtown you're looking for, but it's worth a look since you'll be in the area. the commute will be about 30 minutes via local streets during rush hour. it isn't located along any highway, which adds to its charm but can make driving in and out of town a pain at times.

-rutherford: the top choice in southern bergen county, which tends to be more blue-collar than upper bergen county in general. it has excellent highway coverage, good proximity to your husband's office (about 20 minutes max), a nice downtown with a mix of mid-range and semi-trendy, nice views of the manhattan skyline, and an unpretentious population of solid middle class, upper middle income professionals, and longtime blue collar residents. the housing stock is primarily pre-war with some garden apartments and older mid-rise buildings, and the town has a lot of understated charm (kind of similar to westwood in that way). the schools are good but not great (bottom second tier, i.e. top 75 in the state) and of all the towns i've discussed, it probably has the largest proportion of residents with blue collar values and the least amount of cachet among those who care about social status. still, it's solidly middle class overall and definitely worth a look.

-englewood: located just north of leonia and south of tenafly, this town has among the widest range of incomes of any town in bergen county. the east hill section of town is primarily upper middle and upper class, with some ridiculously lavish and beautiful pre-war mansions perched on multiple wooded acres. the elementary schools in this wealthy area are supposed to be pretty good, from what i hear. the streets are lined with very tall, mature trees, and the overall feel is of seclusion. there are some smallish and medium-sized pre-war homes with character in this area, but they will probably be out of your budget. the population in this eastern section is primarily jewish, with some wealthy african-americans mixed in.

the western side of town is much more modest and diverse by comparison. it has a very large african-american population (whose incomes range from middle class to lower middle to poor/working class) and a pretty large latino population (similar range of incomes as the af-am population, but i'd guess that not as many are middle class). the homes in this area reflect the range of incomes - there are plenty of pre-war homes with character, especially in the northwestern section, which tends to be more middle class; there are also some unattractive, vinyl-sided row houses in the west-central and southwestern parts of town, which are englewood's least desirable areas.

the elementary schools on this side of town are not well-regarded at all. the local public high school, which is very beautiful and has been used in various films and tv shows, has for years been among the worst in bergen county, but recently a magnet school program was set up on its campus - i believe half the students must come from englewood and englewood cliffs, and the other half from the rest of the county. if you were to settle in this town, the well-regarded magnet program would be a viable option, but the general program at the local h.s. would not be an option whatsoever.

the reason i mention englewood is because you might be able to find a relatively affordable older house with lots of character in this town, especially in the northwestern section near tenafly. if you're ok with living in a racially mixed area (NW englewood is a mix of af-am, latino, and non-hispanic whites), then this might be an option. i'm not sure which elementary schools you'd be zoned to, but if your kids aren't allowed to attend the town's better primary schools on the east side, you'd have to send them to private school through 8th grade; after that, you can choose the aforementioned magnet program or continue with private school.

also, englewood has a really wonderful downtown area, filled with upscale shops, restaurants, cafes, and bars/lounges along with some low-to-mid-range options on the western end of palisade ave. englewood's downtown doesn't receive much hype on this board for some reason, but it's actually one of the best in northern nj.

-teaneck: located just to the west of englewood (and just north of ridgefield park), this town is very similar to englewood in a lot of ways. it's an older, racially and socioeconomically mixed town that is filled with many attractive pre-war homes of varying size and architectural integrity. there are some real gems in this town and plenty of pretty, tree-lined streets. i do not know much about teaneck's elementary schools, but the local high school gets very mixed reviews from people i've spoken with. some people tell me it's awful, some say it actually offers a wide range of good courses and programs and that the top students always get into great colleges, and some say it's just average. most rankings list the school as average, but i really don't know for sure. as is the case in englewood, many of the town's orthodox jewish residents send their kids to private jewish school instead of the local public schools.

teaneck is described as "half black, half jewish" by many bergen county locals, but in reality there are plenty of other racial/ethnic groups in town, including arabs, indians, filipinos, latinos of various backgrounds, etc. since teaneck is a large town, it has several walkable and attractive shopping districts, with the primary one located on cedar lane. cedar lane's shops tend to be geared toward the town's large jewish population, whereas the ones in the northeastern part of town either cater to the african-americans in that area or to the jewish population.

generally speaking, the northwestern part of town is the most affluent (mainly jewish), the northeastern section is lower middle and middle class (mainly af-am), and everywhere else is a mix of races and incomes (generally middle class, though). there are some really nice-looking older homes just off of the cedar lane shopping district, so i would look there first if you're considering this town.

a final note: while englewood may have a higher per capita income than teaneck, it also has a higher number of lower income and working class residents. meanwhile, teaneck doesn't have the extreme wealth of englewood, but its less polished areas are generally respectable for the most part.

both of these towns have plenty of homes that you'd really like, so definitely take a look and figure out if the amenities, mix of races and incomes, and location are worth it.

Last edited by pbergen; 04-04-2010 at 04:30 AM..
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Old 04-04-2010, 08:42 AM
 
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I think that of the towns you mentioned, Westwood would be the best fit. It's diverse, it has a very nice downtown with actual shops you can buy things in (Ridgewood tends more towards restaurants and design studios and banks), nice stock of charming older homes walking distance to town and in your price range. Look in particularly in the Roosevelt & Lexington Avenues areas just east of Kinderkamack Road and the areas between Washington Ave. and Mill Street.

As far as drive to Ridgefield Park, it's not optimal. You're looking at a trek down Kinderkamack Road to Route 4, then Queen Anne Road down to RP. But heck, I drive from the Westwood area to Fairfield every day. So it's do-able.

Westwood Regional school district is Westwood + Washington Township. The schools are I'm told going through some kind of reconfiguration to better distribute students. The district has lost 83% of its state funding, but other towns have lost even more, so that's not a huge factor for you; taxes will be higher than they are now wherever you go...but Westwood's are pretty low as Bergen County goes (which isn't saying much). There is a Catholic school in Hillsdale, which is the next town over, and a Lutheran one in Westwood.

I would NOT recommend River Edge. Taxes are astronomical, there is no walkable downtown, and taxes are preposterous.
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Old 04-04-2010, 09:30 PM
 
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Westwood has a really great walkable downtown. The commute to Ridgefield Park will be alright, not so great but definitely doable. As a product of the Westwood Regional Schools, I think they are great...there are great opportunities for students and most move on to college. The areas that flood are primarily between Harrington and Westwood Ave near Berkeley School (Benson, Lyons, Bogert Pl, Lockerby, Berkeley, Bryant, Dean) and north of Washington near the Hillsdale border (the bottom of Stueben, Harding, Nugent and bottom of Lafayette), as well as some sporadic flooding mixed in. I would not suggest living in those areas.

I would also try to be on the west side of town, as Ketler (next year Brookside) is the better of the elementary schools. The district is doing major rezoning-Ketler will become a 6/7 school, the other four elementary schools will become K-5 (instead of K-4) and the high school will be 8-12, though they plan to bring 8 down to Ketler within a few years.

Westwood is a great town with a huge community feel. There are always people in town and it's really a great place. Midland Park and River Edge aren't bad, but they don't really have walkable downtowns.
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Old 04-04-2010, 09:42 PM
 
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Oh, and there is a great mix of housing throughout Westwood, with about half of the homes built before WWII-areas closer to town have the nicer, older homes, and the further you get, the homes are generally newer (many bi-levels and splits). But closer to town has numerous colonials with character.
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Old 04-04-2010, 10:04 PM
 
Location: On the Rails in Northern NJ
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Westwood is a very nice , i would say my town ,but it does not have a Walkable Downtown
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Old 04-04-2010, 11:48 PM
 
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Wow--thank you so much for all of the great information. I appreciate the feedback on my initial choices as well as all the alternative suggestions. Some of the towns I hadn't even heard/thought of (like Leonia) and some I had skipped over (like Oradell). I'll keep researching and will probably be back with more questions as we firm plans up. Thanks again!
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