Roseland, N.J.: Small-Town Appeal With Reasonable Taxes


When they began house hunting in early 2020, Tatsiana Butsko and Yury Krychala, immigrants from Belarus, decided to concentrate on western Essex County, an area in northern New Jersey known for its relatively affordable homes and good schools.

“We focused on Livingston, Caldwell and Fairfield,” said Mr. Krychala, 41, a software engineer for a financial services company in Jersey City, N.J. “We didn’t even know about Roseland.”

But their real estate agent convinced the couple, who had been renting in a two-family house in Dumont, N.J., in Bergen County, to expand their search to the neighboring borough. “And so we went there, and the only house we looked at we decided to buy right away,” Mr. Krychala said.

He and Ms. Butsko, 35, a title specialist for a logistics company in Secaucus, N.J., and their two daughters moved into a split-level house with three bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms on a quarter of an acre in June 2020, paying $595,000.

Roseland, they said, checked all the boxes. “It has good schools, a good commute to work, and I also feel safe,” said Ms. Butsko, recalling one night when the police stopped by their home to let them know that their garage door was open.

“You really do get a sense of a small-town feel,” said James R. Spango, Roseland’s part-time mayor since 2019 and the chief of the Essex County Sheriff’s Office. “This was what attracted me to Roseland,” said Mr. Spango, who moved there from Livingston with his wife, Dawn Spango, and their two daughters in 2016.

Roseland is considered one of the county’s most desirable areas, with its highly regarded school system, diverse housing stock, quaint downtown and ample public space. It was ranked 14th on New Jersey Monthly’s most recent list of best places to live in the state, in 2019.

One major selling point for home buyers has been the property taxes, which are lower than those of surrounding areas, in large part because of the corporate offices, many of which are situated on what was once the sprawling Becker Farm, on the southern edge of the borough. These include the headquarters for Automatic Data Processing and several law firms. But a number of buildings are now vacant, and one major corporate tenant, Prudential Financial, is selling its two buildings and consolidating operations in Newark. (A spokesman attributed the downsizing to the workplace changes since the pandemic.)

Mr. Spango, however, doesn’t expect that to result in an increase in taxes. “The office parks that are closing are being replaced with residential,” he said, some of it affordable housing.

For Martin and Judith Folkman, who moved to Roseland from Montclair, N.J., in 2014, and traded a Craftsman-style home on three-quarters of an acre for an expanded ranch on a wooded lot twice as big, the tax savings have been significant. “We’re paying about $8,000 less a year,” said Mr. Folkman, 65, who runs an international awards program for indie musicians with Ms. Folkman, 63.

The couple say they enjoy being in a quieter environment with less traffic, while maintaining proximity to their favorite shops and restaurants in Montclair, about five miles away. “We’re also close to all the parks and reservations in Morris County,” Ms. Folkman said.

And making friends has been easy. “We’ve met people walking the dog,” Mr. Folkman said. “And before you know it, they’re stopping over for cocktails.”

Roseland, with roughly 6,300 residents within its 3.6 square miles, borders West Caldwell and Essex Fells to the north, West Orange to the east, Livingston to the south and East Hanover in Morris County to the west. Interstate 280 cuts through the borough, providing easy access to Manhattan, as well as Newark and other New Jersey cities.

Within the borough are four main thoroughfares: Passaic and Livingston Avenues, which run southwest to northeast; Harrison Avenue, traversing the northern end; and Eagle Rock Avenue, east to west, where a small downtown with a variety of shops can be found, along with the Roseland Municipal Building.

A popular downtown haunt is Fairchilds Market, which sells fine wines, burgers and other prepared foods. But many residents do much of their dining and shopping in nearby areas with larger and livelier commercial districts.

Roseland does have a large and varied housing stock, with a range of choices in its tree-lined neighborhoods, including townhouses, grand colonials, midcentury Cape Cods, ranches and split-levels. The bigger, older (and pricier) homes can be found in the wooded Holmehill section, on the east end of the borough.

“Roseland offers a good blend — you kind of have something for everybody,” said Lauren Orsini, an agent with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, in Verona, N.J.

Roseland has an array of home styles and price points, as “every section of town was built a little differently,” Ms. Orsini said. Lately, though, as in other areas, inventory has been low and prices have been up.

Last year, Ms. Orsini said, 54 detached houses sold for an average price of $570,381. That compares with 44 home closings so far this year, for an average sale price of $701,898. In 2020, 34 townhouses sold for an average price of $534,106; this year, there have been 23 sales of townhouses for an average of $556,272, she said.

In mid-October, there were just 10 properties for sale in Roseland on the Garden State Multiple Listing Service, from a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom townhouse, listed for $529,000, to a five-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom colonial in the Holmehill section, for $1.149 million.

“You’re getting a better bang for your buck here, as well as more diverse choices,” said Maya Norman, an agent with Coldwell Banker, in Livingston, who helped Ms. Butsko and Mr. Krychala find their home last year.

There are a few rental options, as well. Some townhouse owners rent out their units, and there are apartments available in luxury complexes like the Avalon Roseland and Everly Roseland, on the northwest end of the borough. A one-bedroom at the Everly starts at around $2,300 a month.

Residents have access to several parks and playing fields. These include two expansive spaces run by Essex County that are partly in the borough: the 1,360-acre West Essex Park, which runs along the Passaic River and includes spots for fishing and boat landings, as well as an environmental center; and Becker Park, a 147-acre tract with hiking trails.

The borough holds various events throughout the year, including Roseland Day in October, which includes a 5K run, performances by local bands and an evening bonfire; an Easter egg hunt; summer concerts at Thomas J. O’Beirne Field, on Harrison Avenue; and an annual Christmas tree and menorah lighting celebration. Some of these activities had to be modified during the pandemic, the mayor said.

Lester C. Noecker School, on Passaic Avenue, has around 470 students enrolled in prekindergarten through sixth grade. It is one of the state’s top-ranked public schools for reading and math proficiency.

Students in middle and high school are served by the West Essex Regional School District, as are students from nearby North Caldwell, Essex Fells and Fairfield.

West Essex High School, which has a 97 percent graduation rate, offers many Advanced Placement classes to its nearly 1,100 students. The average SAT scores for the 2019-2020 school year were 552 in reading and writing and 558 in math, compared with 536 and 536 statewide.

The borough is around 24 miles from Midtown Manhattan, a drive that can take an hour or so, depending on the traffic.

Many residents, like Mr. Krychala, continue to work remotely. Those who commute to offices in New York have a few options, although most of them involve some driving. These include catching a PATH train at the Harrison station off Interstate 280, about a 20-minute drive; the trip to Lower Manhattan takes around 20 minutes and costs $2.75 one-way or $110 for a monthly pass.

Commuters can also opt for a 40-minute train ride on New Jersey Transit from Montclair to Pennsylvania Station, or drive about five miles to the Essex County Park N Ride on Northfield Avenue, in West Orange, to catch a Coach USA bus to Port Authority Bus Terminal.

The DeCamp Bus Lines offers limited service to Port Authority from Eagle Rock Avenue.

Roseland was once part of Livingston, and was known as the township’s Centreville section. It was incorporated as an independent borough in 1908, after the community’s growing population pushed for more independence, as well as a separate post office. Roselyn was the name originally suggested for the borough, but through misspelling or by design it became Roseland.

Farming was the predominant industry in Roseland’s early days, and the most prominent agricultural business was Becker Farm, which operated from 1880 to 1964, encompassing nearly 1,200 acres at its peak, or almost half the borough. Most of that land was later developed as a corporate office park.

Notable residents have included Richard J. Codey, who served as governor of New Jersey from 2004 to 2006.

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