A Cozy Town That Appeals to All Generations
Matt Loughlin and his wife, Maggie, were raising two sons in Middlesex. But Mr. Loughlin’s broadcasting career was on the rise, so they looked to move near the Newark airport, because he traveled for work. They ended up in Westfield.
Nearly 13 years ago, just before the birth of their third son, Liam, they paid $279,000 for a five-bedroom Dutch colonial. Mr. Loughlin’s career has advanced — he became the radio voice of the New Jersey Devils hockey team three years ago — but the family remains firmly ensconced in Westfield. Westfield NJ Homes for Sale are extraordinary.
“This sounds so pie in the sky, but it really is small-town America,” Mr. Loughlin said recently. “It’s too big of a town to say you know everybody, but you see enough people you know.”
As families like the Loughlins have moved into Westfield, a UnionCounty municipality of about 30,000, it has slowly lost some of its mom-and-pop ambience and morphed into a suburb of restaurants and boutiques.
But many of the attributes that drew the Loughlins still hold sway. The town has a coziness that stems from an intergenerational appeal. People who grew up here often choose to move back as adults — to be near parents and to be parents themselves. It’s the kind of community where children ride their bicycles and skateboards downtown, gathering at delis and Italian-ice stands.
“It’s just a very welcoming place,” said Brian Granstrand, a lawyer who moved to Westfield 24 years ago with his wife, Suzanne. They have four children, 21 to 16.
A corollary: Because it is relatively safe and has a well-regarded school district, Westfield has also become more expensive. A recent look at the Garden State Multiple Listing Service (gsmls.com) revealed 133 homes on the market. The median price was $714,000. “When I retire, I think I’m going to have to move, because property taxes are very high,” Mr. Granstrand said.
Westfield is likely to undergo still more changes. Today, it lacks direct train service to New York City; commuters must make a connection at Pennsylvania Station in Newark. But according to Andrew Skibitsky, the mayor of Westfield, construction is under way on a railroad tunnel that will provide direct service to Midtown Manhattan by 2016. Mr. Skibitsky sees this as a “major, major benefit for Westfield.” Even in this economy, the town has not had to trim its municipal services. Staff reductions have been made through attrition, he said. There are only a few empty storefronts downtown.
As the town has become more popular, traffic flow and parking have become an issue. As Keith Gibbons, a 50-year resident, put it, “Everybody’s going to circle through town three times to look for a parking spot right in front of the place where they want to go.”
Mr. Gibbons remembers when more blue-collar workers and municipal employees like police officers and firefighters lived in town. But in the late 1990s, he said, smaller homes were demolished so “McMansions” could be built. “When you can walk through town and remember who used to own a store and knew those people,” he said, “you have a different take.”
But he, too, is planning to stay. Westfield has become much more exclusive than it was when he bought his first home in 1983, for $72,000. “And I felt at the time, did we overpay?” Mr. Gibbons said. But like the Loughlins, he is comfortable with his decision.
WHAT YOU’LL FIND
Westfield is about 25 miles southwest of New York, roughly in the middle of built-up Union County, west of Elizabeth and Newark Liberty International Airport. Springfield, Kenilworth, Cranford and Garwood are to the north and east, and Mountainside, Scotch Plains and Clark to the south and west.
The Garden State Parkway is accessible from Route 28, or North Avenue, which slices through Westfield, then Garwood and Cranford. Westfield is described as having two parts — the north side and the somewhat newer south side — though residents say they don’t see a lot of difference.
Broad Street, a wide and leafy boulevard lined with homes in a mix of styles, runs through the north end of the town, near Echo Lake Country Club and the rolling Fairview Cemetery. Chestnut Street, which leads to the complex of youth baseball fields known as Gumbert Park, is stately, with speed bumps slowing cars through the area.
“The sense of community is very powerful,” said Scott Gleason, an agent for Re/Max Properties Unlimited who has been a resident since 2003. “There are a terrific number of people who grew up in Westfield in the 1950s and 1960s, move away, but come back because they want to recapture what it was like growing up.”
The New Jersey Transit railroad station, a prim stone building, sits at the heart of downtown. Mayor Skibitsky says retail space takes up about a million square feet — about evenly divided between independents and chains.
WHAT YOU’LL PAY
According to the listing service, prices range from $180,000 for a 1965 one-bedroom condominium, to $3.199 million for a new 7,000-square-foot French Norman on 1.22 acres. The 2009 tax bill on a house listed at $749,000, a five-bedroom colonial, was $8,549.
Mr. Gleason said the local market had not been immune to economic conditions, especially at higher price points. Values have held up better in the middle and lower ranges.
Recently, he said, business has picked up. Multiple bids and sales within 72 hours have become more common. According to Mr. Gleason, homes closer to the center of town tended to hold their value better than those for which a car was needed. Making a sale for over $2 million, he said, is “going to be a long and daunting process. But every well-presented proposition is going.”
There were 42 sales in July 2009, versus 37 in July 2006, according to listing-service data supplied by Mr. Gleason. But the average price fell by almost 19 percent in those three years, to $655,395 from $807,215. “If a house is nice and has a good price tag, they’re going pretty quick,” said Constance Hellhake, also with Re/Max Properties.
The system has six elementary schools. Roosevelt and EdisonIntermediateSchools are for Grades 6, 7 and 8, and Westfield High School has about 1,800 students enrolled in Grades 9 through 12. SAT averages last year were 591 in math, 559 in reading and 566 in writing, versus 509, 492 and 494 statewide. The class of 2008 had a 98.5 percent graduation rate, versus 93.1 percent statewide.
WHAT TO DO
The downtown is an interesting mix. There are chain stores like the Gap, Staples, Starbucks, Qdoba and Williams-Sonoma, but there is also the Rialto Theater, with Art Deco letters on its marquee, and a row of restaurants on Elm Street, including Sweet Waters Steak House. In the summer, there are jazz performances downtown. “It does lend itself to a pedestrian stroll,” Mr. Loughlin said.
Westfield is known throughout New Jersey for its extensive youth and adult recreation program. There are nine municipal parks and fields in the town, plus tennis courts at Elm and Walnut Streets. Tamaques Reservation, at 106 acres, is the largest, with football and baseball fields and places to jog and picnic. Memorial Pool is a popular summer gathering place; an annual family membership for residents is $350.
The Westfield Symphony Orchestra (westfieldsymphony.org) has six concerts scheduled at several locations in season.
The train station is on the New JerseyTransitRaritanValley line to Newark Penn Station, where commuters transfer to trains into New York. A monthly pass is $198. Nine trains make the 47- to 62-minute trip to New York on weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m., and seven trains go to Westfield from 4 to 6 p.m.
The town has waiting lists of two to five years for two permit lots near the station. Permit parking at Lot No. 3, on the south side of the station, is $576 annually and $360 for six months. Permit parking at Lot No. 6, about two blocks from the station, is $360 annually and $180 for six months.
Additionally, New Jersey Transit operates the No. 113 bus line from a stop at the Westfield train station to the Port Authority in Midtown Manhattan. There are 25 express buses between 5 and 9 a.m. that stop only in Cranford before going to New York. One-way trips take about 55 minutes, and a monthly pass is $184.
European settlers bought a tract of land from Lenape leaders in 1664. The area was part of Elizabethtown (now Elizabeth) until 1794, but the settlement had become known as “the West Fields” by 1720 or so, according to the town’s Web site.
British soldiers looted a Continental Army command post in the area in the summer of 1777.