Real State

Mahwah, N.J.: Plenty of Open Space and Easy Access to Manhattan

Marc and Lainie Hirsch were initially drawn to Mahwah, N.J., because of the Bergen County township’s low taxes and well-regarded schools. But they soon came to treasure the 9,000 acres of open space, including Campgaw Mountain Reservation, a county park that offers skiing and snowboarding.

“Give me another town in New Jersey that has its own ski slope,” said Mr. Hirsch, 54, an advertising sales executive whose two 14-year-old sons learned to ski at Campgaw.

Situated about 30 miles northwest of Times Square, Mahwah is a sprawling, 26-square-mile township with a population of 26,000, set against the backdrop of the Ramapo Mountains near the border with New York State. A significant corporate and commercial presence helps keep property taxes down, and the area is easily accessible to much of the metropolitan area thanks to its location on Interstate 287 and Route 17, a state highway. Along with Campgaw Mountain, green spaces include the 4,000-acre Ramapo Valley County Reservation, the largest park in Bergen County.

“The magic is the parkland, and how close it is to the city and everything else,” said Margaret Gregorek, a longtime resident and a real estate agent with Christie’s International Real Estate in Mahwah.

Desarie Rocamora, 35, a former marketing professional, and Sam Taha, 42, the chief financial officer of a legal services firm, paid $835,000 for a 1905 colonial on one acre in Mahwah in 2019. The couple, who have four children, previously lived in southern Westchester County. Seeking more land and lower taxes, they searched in northern Westchester and Rockland County before crossing the border into New Jersey.

In Mahwah, Ms. Rocamora said, they not only found lower taxes and a school system they love, but also friendly, welcoming neighbors — including one who stopped to help when Ms. Rocamora recently found herself struggling with a power washer.

Being close to Interstate 287 means Mr. Taha’s commute to White Plains, N.Y., takes 30 to 45 minutes, depending on traffic. And when they want to go into New York City, they can walk five minutes to Mahwah’s New Jersey Transit station.

The Hirsches, who previously lived in Rockland County, bought their first home in Mahwah about six years ago. Seeking more space but wanting to stay in town, they moved again in 2017, paying $845,000 for an expanded split-level near Masonicus Brook. Their twin sons are saxophone players, and the Hirsches value the music programs in the Mahwah schools.

“Mahwah has been great for us, and we’ve met a lot of great people,” Mr. Hirsch said.

Wanting to give back, particularly in the wake of the pandemic’s economic effect on many local households, the couple recently launched Mahwah Free, a Facebook page that connects residents in need with those who can donate items or offer help. The page has expanded to include neighboring areas, and the response to requests for help has been “heartwarming,” Ms. Hirsch said.

Mahwah comprises many neighborhoods, including the historic Cragmere Park section, developed in the early 20th century, and Fardale, a neighborhood that was largely developed in the second half of the 20th century and includes single-family homes on one-acre lots. Stag Hill has long been home to members of the Ramapough Mountain Native American community. Rio Vista is a luxury development built mostly in the 1990s, partly on land that once belonged to the Catholic Church’s Immaculate Conception Seminary, which moved to South Orange in the 1980s.

Mahwah’s housing stock includes more than 3,000 condominiums, said Jeff Adler, a Mahwah resident and an agent with Keller Williams Valley Realty, in nearby Woodcliff Lake, N.J.

The condo market “allows people to buy into a Bergen County town at an affordable price and then later upgrade without leaving town,” said Jon Paul Molfetta, another agent with Keller Williams Valley Realty who lives in Mahwah.

That was the path that Eva Prunk, 53, a school administrator, and her husband, Robert Prunk, 52, a director of marketing for a lighting company, took. In 1997, when she was still single, Ms. Prunk bought a condo in Mahwah. After the couple married, they bought a house in the Fardale section in 2005. When they decided they wanted more space, they paid $776,000 for a colonial-style house in 2018, choosing to stay in Fardale because of their ties to the neighborhood, where their daughters, 10 and 14, are involved in Girl Scouts, sports and the school music programs.

In 2020, 170 single-family homes sold in Mahwah, down slightly from 182 in 2019, according to the New Jersey Multiple Listing Service; the median price of a single-family home rose 8.3 percent, to $777,000. The number of condo sales also dipped slightly in 2020, to 229 from 239 in 2019; condo prices rose 5.7 percent to a median $370,000, according to the multiple listing service.

In mid-January 2021, the multiple listing service showed 60 homes listed for sale in Mahwah, from a two-bedroom mobile home asking $59,000 to a 43-acre horse farm with a 10-bedroom colonial house listed for $18.9 million. Two dozen homes were priced at $1 million or more.

Mahwah lacks a walkable downtown with shops and restaurants; instead, most retail and dining options are along busy Franklin Turnpike. But a sense of community is nurtured by established businesses that keep residents coming back, including Roxanne’s Brick Oven Pizzeria, Ernie’s Ice Cream, Secor Farms and Mahwah Bar & Grill.

Along with outdoor activities at the parks, residents can take in performances and events at Ramapo College of New Jersey, a state institution with about 6,000 students.

Mahwah’s public school system enrolls about 2,800 students in six schools. The district’s ethnic composition is about 69 percent white, 13.6 percent Asian, 10 percent Hispanic, 2.6 percent Black and less than 1 percent Native American.

Students in prekindergarten through third grade attend Betsy Ross, George Washington or Lenape Meadows; fourth and fifth graders go to Joyce Kilmer; sixth, seventh and eighth graders go to Ramapo Ridge Middle School, and on to Mahwah High School from there.

On 2018-19 SAT tests, students at Mahwah High School (which has an enrollment of about 900) scored an average of 580 in reading and writing and 605 in math, compared with state averages of 539 and 541. Ninety percent of the 2019 graduating class went on to college.

The ride on New Jersey Transit from Mahwah to Penn Station in New York City takes about an hour, with a transfer at Secaucus; the one-way fare is $14, and the monthly fare is $376.

Driving to Midtown Manhattan can take as little as 40 minutes with no traffic, but much longer at rush hour. Interstate 287 runs through town, putting Westchester, Rockland, Passaic and Morris counties within commuting range.

From 1955 to 1971, antiaircraft missiles were hidden underground in Mahwah’s hills, poised to strike if Soviet planes approached New York City with nuclear weapons. At one point, 250 soldiers were stationed at Nike Missile Base in Mahwah, one of 19 missile bases that formed a protective ring around New York City. By the early 1970s, the technology was considered obsolete, and the missiles were moved out. The site is now mostly covered by the Rio Vista housing development.

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