Wood-Ridge, N.J.: Not Too Close to the City, or Too Far Away

In Wood-Ridge, N.J., residents are accustomed to clarifying where they live. “People don’t always get what you mean when you say ‘Wood-Ridge,’” said Melanie Nicoletti, a former Brooklynite. “Ridgewood and Woodbridge” — higher profile addresses in the Garden State — “they get.”

But it was the hyphenated borough in southern Bergen County where Ms. Nicoletti and her husband, Michael, now 38 and 39, landed in 2014, after feeling the sticker shock of New York City housing prices. Wanting brand-new construction, Ms. Nicoletti, a bookkeeper, and Mr. Nicoletti, an electrician, paid $408,000 for a tri-level, two-bedroom townhouse in Liberty Square, part of Wesmont Station, a transit village on a 150-acre former industrial site in the northwest corner of mile-square Wood-Ridge.

“We bought off a brochure — it was nothing but dirt when we first visited,” said Ms. Nicoletti, adding that she and her husband, who work in Manhattan, were especially pleased by the prospect of a quick walk to a train station.

Now parents of a 2-year-old, the couple have watched a neighborhood rise around them, in an unpretentious middle-class suburb 12 miles from Times Square. “We’re not too close to the city,” Ms. Nicoletti said, “but not that far where you can’t reach anything.”

Wesmont Station has boosted Wood-Ridge’s population to close to 10,000 (from 7,600 in 2010), many of the newcomers arriving from New York City and urban environments in New Jersey. A mix of townhouses, condominiums, apartments and greenery on pedestrian-friendly streets, the transit village currently has 1,050 homes, about half of them rentals. The site, which underwent an environmental cleanup, gained its first piece, the 406-unit Avalon at Wesmont Station apartment complex with ground-floor retail, in 2012. The train station opened in 2016. Another 500 homes are expected upon the neighborhood’s completion in 2024.

“Wesmont has changed Wood-Ridge’s dynamic — the town’s a lot more diverse now,” said Robert Riccardella, a 30-year resident who downsized to a Wesmont Station townhouse from a colonial a few blocks away. Mr. Riccardella, a former borough councilman and a member of the New Jersey State Parole Board, said most of his new neighbors are professionals who commute to the city — or they did, before the pandemic thinned the crowds at the rail station. At 64, he added, “I’m one of the older ones down here.”

Word of mouth brought Suren Chaturvedula, now 36, and his wife, Manasa, 35, to Wood-Ridge in 2016. Mr. Chaturvedula, a data engineer, and Ms. Chaturvedula, a software engineer, had been paying $3,200 a month for a one-bedroom in a Jersey City high-rise. For $616,000, they bought a new four-bedroom townhouse in Liberty Square, at Wesmont Station, after deciding that similar townhouses on New Jersey’s Gold Coast were at an age when renovation would be necessary.

“Initially, it didn’t feel like we were part of Wood-Ridge,” Mr. Chaturvedula said of living in the transit village, which is connected to the rest of Wood-Ridge by two residential streets. “But then they started having festivals right on our street, literally outside our door.”

The boroughwide events, complete with food trucks and music, are meant to draw Wesmont Station’s millennials and empty nesters into the local scene. (In 2020, the events were canceled because of the pandemic.)

Bordering six other municipalities, Wood-Ridge sits on a ridge two miles from Teterboro Airport and three miles from the Meadowlands. Route 17, a state highway, runs along the eastern edge.

The borough’s overall appearance is tidy and manicured, thanks to tax revenue from Wesmont Station. “We’ve invested the tax revenue in the rest of the town,” said Paul A. Sarlo, the mayor since 2000. “Every road has been repaved and every sidewalk replaced in the past 15 years, and the street sweepers go out every day.”

The windfall has also allowed the borough to build a 12-acre, artificial-turf sports complex at Wesmont Station (the soccer field is open and the ball fields will be ready this year) and made it possible for the school district to add a third building by buying a closed Catholic school.

In contrast to the transit village, the rest of the housing stock in Wood-Ridge is mostly single-family and from the early- and mid-20th century. Homes and lots are modest in size. Because of the topography and a tree cover that is sparser than in other suburbs, some properties enjoy Manhattan views. Particularly charming are the Tudor-style homes in Sunshine City, a Depression-era development that fueled the borough’s first growth spurt.

As construction continues at Wesmont Village, some borough homeowners have taken a cue. “A lot of people here have been motivated to polish up and renovate,” said Jason Mabel, a resident since 2014. “You’re seeing houses coming down and new ones going up, and Capes being turned into colonials.”

Mr. Mabel, 40, a sales manager, and his wife, Michele, 41, a special-education teacher, added two bedrooms and two bathrooms to their 1920s three-bedroom colonial, which they bought for $375,000. Formerly renters in Little Falls, N.J., they chose Wood-Ridge for its walkability and proximity to New York City, as well as the promise of the new sports complex, which they expect their three sons to use.

“Wood-Ridge has rapidly moved away from being an old, small town,” Mr. Mabel said.

Wood-Ridge property values have risen as a result of Wesmont Station and the new train station, said Susan LeConte, president and chief executive of LeConte Realty in neighboring Hasbrouck Heights.

“It’s a great town for commuters because you can get anywhere pretty easily by train, bus or highway,” Ms. LeConte said. She noted that the Wesmont train station, one of two in the borough, is walkable for many on the west side, “and I’ve had builders tell me they’re looking specifically in that area.”

On Dec. 23, the New Jersey Multiple Listing Service’s website showed 10 single-family houses on the market, priced from $410,000 to $639,999, and 12 townhouse and condominiums, from $234,900 to $699,900. Of the latter, all but the three least expensive were at Wesmont Station. As for new and future construction at Wesmont Station, prices at the Wright Place development are generally in the $600,000s; at the Link at Wesmont Station development, they are in the $400,000s.

From Jan. 1 through Nov. 30, 2020, 73 single-family houses in Wood-Ridge sold at a median price of $465,000, and 36 townhouses and condominiums sold at a median of $441,000, according to the listing service.

In 2019, Wood-Ridge’s annual average property tax bill was $9,735, 19 percent below the Bergen County average. Buyers of new homes at Wesmont Station receive a five-year tax abatement.

Home to an eclectic dining scene, Wood-Ridge cracked NJ.com’s 2019 list of “great N.J. food towns that no one knows about.” About half of the storefronts in the tiny Valley Boulevard business district are restaurants or food purveyors, including a juicery, a gelateria, a Thai spot, a kebab house and an empanada shop. Hackensack Street has another cluster: Justin’s Ristorante II and Martini Grill, both Italian; Sparta Taverna, serving Greek food; and Buffalo’s, for chicken wings.

Wood-Ridge’s 1,200 public school students attend Catherine E. Doyle Elementary through third grade, Wood-Ridge Intermediate School (the former Catholic school) for fourth through sixth grade and Wood-Ridge Junior-Senior High School from seventh grade on. Average SAT scores in 2018-19 were 512 in reading and writing and 499 in math, versus 539 and 541 statewide.

The district’s ethnic and racial composition is roughly 61 percent white, 26 percent Hispanic, 7 percent Asian and 4 percent Black.

From either train station — Wesmont on New Jersey Transit’s Bergen Line or Wood-Ridge on the Pascack Valley Line — passengers reach Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan in 30 to 40 minutes. From Wesmont, which has plentiful parking, the fare is $6.75 one way or $184 monthly; from the Wood-Ridge station, in the sliver of the borough east of Route 17, the fare is $5.50 one way or $170 monthly.

New Jersey Transit buses stop on Valley Boulevard. The 35-minute ride to the Port Authority terminal costs $4.50 or $148 monthly.

Wood-Ridge punched above its weight during the Second World War. The sprawling Curtiss-Wright Corporation plant manufactured engines for fighter-bombers and, at the height of production, employed 20,000 men and women around the clock. A bronze statue of Rosie the Riveter stands at the gateway to the Wesmont Station homes now occupying the site. The neighborhood’s street names — Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Truman — continue the wartime theme.

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