Living In: Fair Lawn, N.J.: An Unpretentious Place That Smells Like Cookies

Living in

Fair Lawn, N.J.: An Unpretentious Place That Smells Like Cookies

The Bergen County borough also offers residents a large inventory of entry-level homes, an expanding public school system and a diverse community.

By Jay Levin

Plotting their escape from the Upper East Side, Elizabeth Greenfield Estersohn and Matthew Estersohn pored over test-score data and Google Maps images of train stations. Their quest for a suburb with good schools and a reasonable commute led them, in 2014, to a brick colonial in Radburn, a historic planned community at the heart of Fair Lawn, N.J.

“When we went to look at the house, it was bright and sunny, the birds were chirping and the air literally smelled of cookies,” said Ms. Greenfield Estersohn, 31. “It all made Fair Lawn seem surreally perfect.”




Fair Lawn







n.j. transit


Fair Lawn


Radburn station















By The New York Times

The aroma, they learned, was from the Nabisco factory where Mondelez International makes Oreos. The hulking bakery is a landmark in the unpretentious Bergen County borough, but for the Estersohns, a more familiar landmark is the Dutch Colonial revival-style Radburn train station, a quick walk from the four-bedroom house they bought for $430,000. The couple, parents of a 3-year-old and a 10-month-old, commute to Midtown, where Ms. Greenfield Estersohn works for an animation company and Mr. Estersohn, 33, is an accountant.

Fair Lawn, which is about 12 miles west of the George Washington Bridge, has a population of 34,000 — including robust Russian-Jewish, Hispanic and Asian communities — a growing public school district, more than a dozen parks and nearly 500 commercial and industrial properties. There is even a hint of Queens: Most addresses in Fair Lawn are hyphenated, some with numbers as bizarre as 0-01.

“We’re not one of those sleepy, up-north Bergen County towns,” said Kurt Peluso, the mayor. “There’s a lot of stuff going on here.”

Ms. Greenfield Estersohn, a native of rural Sussex County, N.J., serves on Fair Lawn’s Green Team Advisory Committee, and sees the town as a balance between leafy and busy. “It’s comfortable for people coming from either the country or the city,” she said. “There isn’t culture shock from any direction.”

The separation of pedestrian and vehicular traffic was a key element of the Radburn development, promoted as “a town for the motor age.”CreditBryan Anselm for The New York Times

Irina and Charles Ventura, originally from Upper Manhattan, moved to Fair Lawn in 2015, renting a three-bedroom, two-bathroom Cape Cod on a street lined with similarly modest houses. “When I was little, we visited relatives in Fair Lawn, and it was the only place in New Jersey I knew,” Ms. Ventura said. “Because I was kind of familiar with it, I investigated and kept hearing about the school system.”

Mr. Ventura, 41, is an operations manager at a hospital in Westchester County, and Ms. Ventura, 38, is a program manager at a nonprofit in Newark, about 15 miles south. In July, they bought the house they were renting, paying $340,000.

“Is it our forever home? Probably not,” Ms. Ventura said. “But it’s a great starter home.”

For now, though, she is fairly certain the family is staying put, because “our kids would kill us if we moved out of Fair Lawn.”

Their 11-year-old son plays on multiple sports teams, and their 8-year-old daughter participates in arts programs at the recreation center. The sand-bottom municipal pool at Memorial Park costs $200 per family for the summer. And the neighborhood streets are easy to bicycle. “You feel a sense of community here right away,” Ms. Ventura said.


A stretch of shops along Fair Lawn Avenue, one of the town’s commercial thoroughfares. CreditBryan Anselm for The New York Times

Fair Lawn occupies five square miles between the shopping malls of Paramus and the city of Paterson, to the west across the Passaic River. Route 208, a state highway, bisects Fair Lawn diagonally, and Route 4 runs through the southern portion as Broadway, in the largest of the borough’s three principal commercial districts. The others are in Radburn — which Mr. Peluso said will be rehabilitated and made more pedestrian-friendly in the coming year — and along River Road.

Cape Cods, split-levels and bi-levels abound, with newly constructed colonials mixed in. “Fair Lawn has a lot of midcentury houses with good bones,” said Paula Royak, a Fair Lawn native who works as a sales associate with Terrie O’Connor Realtors, in Ridgewood. “They’re solid, with features like brick exteriors, plaster walls, hardwood floors and steel-beam construction, and distinctive finishing touches certain builders were known for.”

What Fair Lawn lacks is Victorian architecture, so those looking for wraparound porches and other 19th-century flourishes will be disappointed. But there is charm to Radburn, created in 1928 as “a town for the motor age.” The community’s 680 homes, most single-family, are set amid cul-de-sacs, pedestrian pathways, parkland and gardens. The association fees Radburn homeowners pay on top of municipal, county and school taxes — $2,000 a year is a typical assessment — afford them the use of tennis courts, two swimming pools and summer recreation programs for children. But to maintain Radburn’s ambience, homeowners must abide by architectural rules that include restrictions on things like fence heights (not to exceed 36 inches).

“Homes in Radburn are definitely on the quainter side and not for everybody,” Ms. Greenfield Estersohn said. “Those who want a large house or a large, private yard won’t find it in Radburn, but will find it elsewhere in Fair Lawn.”

Radburn is the site of the borough’s largest new housing development, Crossings at Radburn, 132 three-story luxury townhouses under construction at the edge of the community. Fair Lawn also has 1,600 rentals in complexes ranging from red-brick garden apartments to Fair Lawn Promenade, a mixed-use project on a former Route 208 industrial site.


28-25 HIGH STREET | A three-bedroom, two-bathroom house, built in 1955 on .17 acres, listed for $459,000. 201-445-9500CreditBryan Anselm for The New York Times

With single-family home prices starting in the $300,000s, Fair Lawn is affordable for many first-time buyers and young families, said Zohar Zamir, founder of the Zamir Group, a local real estate agency.

“The sweet spot is $450,000 to $600,000,” Mr. Zamir said. “In that range, you can get an updated split or Cape with three or four bedrooms.” (The units at Crossings at Radburn start in the mid-$500,000s.)

In 2018, through Nov. 30, 318 single-family houses sold in Fair Lawn at a median price of $440,500, compared with $410,000 during the same period in 2017, according to the New Jersey Multiple Listing Service.

On Dec. 19, the listing service’s website showed 71 homes for sale, from a two-bedroom cooperative apartment listed for $189,900 to a newly built, five-bedroom, four-bathroom colonial for $1.195 million. Near the median price was a three-bedroom, two-bathroom brick Cape Cod on Tunbridge Road listed for $429,900, with annual property taxes of $7,977.


7-10 CAMPBELL ROAD | A three-bedroom, two-bathroom house, built in 1927 on 0.12 acres, listed for $359,900. 973-305-5880CreditBryan Anselm for The New York Times

Fair Lawn is more than Oreos. The borough supports five bagel shops, three diners, a Texas wiener joint, a pork store, a luncheonette that makes its own ice cream and a kosher bakery known for its challah. A popular spot for burgers and drinks is the Dutch House Tavern, in a sandstone structure that predates the American Revolution. Fine dining can be found at Oceanos (seafood) and River Palm Terrace (steak).

Public school enrollment stands at 5,200 and is projected to rise by some 100 students a year in the near future. To address crowding, voters recently approved a $25 million middle-school expansion and renovation that will shift fifth-graders from the six elementary schools to the two middle schools, which currently serve grades six through eight. The realignment is planned for 2020-21, said Nick Norcia, the schools superintendent.

“The fact the referendum passed overwhelmingly shows how much the residents of Fair Lawn value education,” Mr. Norcia said.


Memorial Park borders the Passaic River separating Fair Lawn from the city of Paterson. CreditBryan Anselm for The New York Times

Fair Lawn High School, with 1,500 students, has a planetarium that supports an astronomy curriculum and presents public shows; the drama program won notice this year when a student production of “Once” received top honors at a regional high school musical competition.

Average SAT scores in 2016-17 were 578 in reading and writing and 581 in math, versus 551 and 552 statewide. From the class of 2017, 78 percent went on to four-year colleges, compared with 70.5 percent statewide.

Fair Lawn’s two rail stations, Radburn and Broadway, are on New Jersey Transit’s Bergen County Line. Traveling to Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan takes about 50 minutes, including the transfer at Secaucus. The fare is $7.75 one-way or $270 monthly.

New Jersey Transit buses reach the Port Authority terminal in 40 minutes to an hour; the fare is $6 one-way or $167 monthly.

The Dutch farming community took its name from Fair Lawn, the hilltop house David DePeyster Acker built in the 1860s, which had a broad, sheep-grazed lawn bordered by a semicircular carriage drive. The railroad appropriated the name for its station, and residents created the borough of Fair Lawn in 1924, after breaking off from the Saddle River township.

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An earlier version of a picture caption with this article misidentified a street with several businesses. It is Fair Lawn Avenue, not River Road.


Published at Wed, 26 Dec 2018 23:15:45 +0000