Top Towns: Medium Population
Overall Rank: 5
Famous, perhaps, for being home to Bruce Springsteen and family, Rumson is nevertheless anything but rockin’. Rather, this upscale town is a peaceful haven situated between the Navesink and the Shrewsbury rivers. Outdoor living is a major draw: There are six meticulously maintained public parks in the 7.2-square-mile borough and recreational sports programs, including soccer, lacrosse and basketball, for more than 1,500 area children.
With a median household income of more than $130,000 and a median home sales price of $995,000, Rumson is one of the wealthiest towns in the state. Not surprising, since many consider it to be an upscale suburb of New York City; streams of residents commute daily to Wall Street on the high-speed ferry, a 40- to 60-minute ride from nearby Atlantic Highlands. “When our commuters come back home to Rumson, they’re very secure that they’re in an enclosed enclave,” says Mayor John Ekdahl. “We’re fortunate to be on a peninsula.”
Rumson can also boast notable restaurants—including Salt Creek Grille and Fromagerie—and easy access to the nightlife in nearby Red Bank. “We’ve got a great location,” says George Coffenberg, a broker/owner of Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate Preferred Properties, who has been selling homes in Rumson for 24 years. “Five or 10 minutes in either direction, you’ve got great beaches and great shopping.”
Public schools are also top-notch, ranking 14th in the state for standardized test results. And Rumson Country Day School is consistently regarded as the best private school in Monmouth County. “We have a great school system that attracts terrific residents,” Ekdahl says. —Lauren Payne
Overall Rank: 3
While Bernards Township has achieved considerable growth in population, housing units and infrastructure construction over the past 30 years, the 24.5-square-mile semirural residential area, which includes the communities of Basking Ridge, Liberty Corner, Lyons and West Millington, has preserved a small-town feeling.
“The town has not only added new parks, better ball fields and dog parks, it has also maintained many areas of green space, which helps to give it the bucolic atmosphere it has always had,” says Ruth Kaplan, who has lived in Basking Ridge for 22 years.
Residents predominantly occupy single-family detached homes, townhomes and condominium units. Home values are up, with the median sales price rising 8.8 percent from 2007 to 2010. “If you examine those towns where home values have stayed the same or risen, you’ll find the common denominators are good school systems and a commutable distance to New York City,” says John Zellweger, a Realtor with Prudential New Jersey Properties. (The town boasts two train stations, one in Basking Ridge and one in Lyon.)
The public school system in Bernards Township is praised for its academic offerings and percentage of students who go on to higher education. Students at all levels achieved impressive results on standardized test scores in 2010, according to our data. “We were concerned with the township’s growth that our children’s education would be compromised,” Kaplan says. “However, just the opposite occurred. There was always ample help when needed, many extracurricular activities and teachers who truly care.” —A.J.C.
Overall Rank: 12
With its prosperous downtown and convenient location, Westfield strikes a balance between suburban charm and urban density. Nestled between the Garden State Parkway and Route 22 in one of the most heavily populated sections of New Jersey, Westfield is home to the busiest station on New Jersey Transit’s Raritan Valley line.
Westfield’s inviting town center, which covers six square blocks, boasts 475 businesses and plenty of office space. There are restaurants—lots of them—and a range of retailers, from major brands such as Lord and Taylor and Trader Joe’s to mom-and-pop stores and boutiques. Recreation is also big here; there are nine municipal parks, including Mindowaskin, in the heart of downtown. “The town basically has everything to offer,” says Mayor Andrew Skibitsky, who is serving his second four-year term.
Although businesses abound downtown, Westfield is 95 percent residential. Homeowners pay the lion’s share of property taxes; the median property tax bill has increased 8.7 percent since 2007. In return, the residents benefit from a highly regarded school system, an abundance of recreational options for children and a low crime rate. —Candace Wells
Top Towns: Large
Overall Rank: 190
Cherry Hill made its bones as an entertainment capital in the mid-20th century when Philadelphia rolled up its sidewalks at night. There were the Garden State Park racetrack, the star-studded Latin Casino and an array of marvelous roadhouse club/restaurants. Then the nearby farms started sprouting housing developments, with their summer swim clubs and neighborhood schools, and a super-suburb ensued.
Today, the track is an upscale shopping plaza, the Latin Casino property is the world headquarters of Subaru, and the roadhouses have been replaced by (usually filled) office parks.
“Cherry Hill has become the epicenter of South Jersey,” says Bernie Platt, the township’s mayor for the last nine years and owner of a funeral home in town. “I came here 45 years ago when it was mostly rural, but now like to say that Philadelphia is a suburb of Cherry Hill.”
Platt and his all-Democratic township council have held tax increases to 1.3 percent since 2007, which he says caused some pain and layoffs, but made the township shift to more shared services with nearby municipalities. Schools have stayed top-notch; both high schools are in the top 100 in the state, according to the 2010 rankings in New Jersey Monthly.
The Cherry Hill Mall, the first east of the Mississippi, celebrates its 50th anniversary in October (see Exit Ramp, page 144) and has been recently renovated, with upscale anchors like Nordstrom.
“As big as we are, we are still a suburb, not a city,” Platt says. “The community knows what it has—good schools, good services, good shopping and entertainment—and will not let it dissipate.”