Montvale, N.J.: Friendly Neighbors, Good Schools and Low Taxes


In Montvale, a Bergen County borough on the Rockland County border, the landscape is changing.

Where DePiero’s farm stood for generations, there is now a shopping center. The corporate offices of Mercedes-Benz, A. & P. and Sony have been shuttered, with plans in the works to redevelop their large properties into housing and mixed-use space.

The highest-profile project is on the Mercedes site, which became available after the automaker’s move to suburban Atlanta a few years ago. The first three buildings in the development, with about 300 apartments and retail and office space, are scheduled to open in 2021 and 2022.

The S. Hekemian Group, which is developing the property and is also responsible for the adjacent Shoppes at DePiero Farm, is aiming to create a pedestrian-friendly environment where residents can walk to restaurants and stores.

“It’s got elements of urban living in suburbia,” said Peter Hekemian, the company’s senior managing director. Mr. Hekemian hopes the apartments will appeal to empty nesters or young adults who want to stay in northern Bergen County but don’t need a single-family house.

Buyers who prefer the borough’s leafy, single-family neighborhoods — tucked away off the main roads — are unlikely to be affected by much of this new development. Real estate agents said those buyers are drawn by the borough’s highly rated schools and its location, about 30 miles northwest of Times Square, on the Garden State Parkway or New Jersey Transit’s Pascack Valley train line.

Low taxes add to the appeal. Even after the loss of some of its corporate tenants, Montvale remains home to several large companies, including KPMG, Benjamin Moore and Sharp Electronics. Corporate taxpayers still account for about 25 percent of the tax base, which helps keep property taxes low, said Mike Ghassali, the mayor.

One former corporate building has been taken over by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, which is using it as a treatment facility. That has attracted related businesses, including medical supply companies, Mr. Ghassali said.

Daniel and Christine Galeon, finance professionals who are both 33, recently moved to Montvale from an apartment in Jersey City. The couple, parents of 3-year-old twin sons and a 1-year-old daughter, were looking for good schools and more living space.

The Galeons bought a four-bedroom house for $515,000 in 2018. They pay about $10,000 in annual property taxes — less than they would have in other towns they looked at in northern New Jersey and Westchester and Rockland Counties.

But equally important, they said, is the friendly neighborhood they landed in. “There are a whole bunch of young families on the street,” Ms. Galeon said. On their first weekend in the new house, the neighbors welcomed them at the annual summer block party. Ms. Galeon has joined a local book club.

With growing children, the couple thought they might move into a larger house in a few years. But they have decided to expand their current home and stay put.

“We’ve fallen in love with the town,” Ms. Galeon said. “We just love our neighborhood, we love the block, we love the people.”

Montvale, with a population of 8,500 covering four square miles, is largely a single-family housing market, although there are some townhouses, and the redevelopment plans will add multifamily units. Smaller homes can be found near the train station in the eastern part of the borough; larger properties tend to cluster west of the Garden State Parkway, near Upper Saddle River.

In between is the Donnybrook area, centered on Donnybrook Road, which has colonials, split-levels and raised ranches on lots of up to an acre. Donnybrook is popular with families because it is within walking distance of the borough’s three schools, said Maureen C. Sgambati, a broker with Terrie O’Connor Realtors in Upper Saddle River and a 21-year Montvale resident.

The redevelopment of the corporate sites will add a total of 720 apartments and townhouses; 160 will be for sale, and the rest will be rentals. About 20 percent will be affordable, fulfilling Montvale’s obligations under New Jersey’s affordable-housing regulations.

Several luxury gated communities have been built in recent years, including the Enclave, west of the Garden State Parkway, and Woodland Heights, near the Donnybrook area. Antoinette Gangi, of Keller Williams Valley Realty in Woodcliff Lake, said these high-end properties often appeal to buyers who have sold larger, more expensive homes nearby.

“Montvale attracts a lot of people downsizing from Saddle River, who still want to live in luxury,” she said.

In the 12 months ending Aug. 1, about 100 Montvale properties sold at a median price of $630,500 for single-family homes and $545,000 for condos and townhouses, according to the New Jersey Multiple Listing Service. The number of sales was unchanged from the previous 12 months, but prices were down from a median of $717,000 for single-family houses and $595,000 for condos and townhouses during that period. (Real estate agents said that the earlier medians were skewed by a number of high-priced sales.)

A recent check of the multiple listing service found 41 homes for sale, from a one-bedroom condo in a garden complex, listed for $216,000, to a six-bedroom colonial with an elevator, listed for $1.4 million.

Covid-19 has increased demand in Montvale, along with other suburban areas, as New York City and Hudson County residents look for less densely populated environs. As a result, inventory on the market has shrunk to about a four-month supply, down from six months a year ago, Ms. Sgambati said.

“We have more buyers than sellers at the moment,” she said.

Because there is only one elementary school in the borough, families with young children tend to get to know one another, Ms. Sgambati said. After games, team members and their parents celebrate wins (or mourn defeats) at Davey’s Irish Pub near the train station, she said. Other popular local restaurants include Bellissimo and the Hearth & Tap Co.

In addition to the Shoppes at DePiero Farm, shopping is available in a small cluster of stores near the train station, as well as the Chestnut Ridge Shopping Center, a strip mall on Chestnut Ridge Road, west of the Garden State Parkway.

The redevelopment of DePiero’s farm was controversial, as many residents lamented the loss of one of Bergen County’s last farms. But the Wegmans supermarket there — the only one in Bergen County — has proved popular. DePiero’s Farm Stand can now be found on a smaller property, on Summit Avenue.

Memorial Elementary School serves students in prekindergarten through fourth grade, and Fieldstone Middle School serves fifth through eighth grades. A total of about 975 students attend the two schools.

High school students attend Pascack Hills High School in Montvale, which has a total of about 835 students in ninth through 12th grade. Pascack Hills is part of the Pascack Valley Regional High School District, which includes two high schools serving students from Montvale, Woodcliff Lake, River Vale and Hillsdale.

During the 2018-19 school year, Pascack Hills students averaged 599 on the reading and writing portion of the SAT, and 605 in math, compared with statewide averages of 539 and 541. About 91 percent of graduates enrolled in higher education, compared with about 78 percent statewide.

Montvale is also home to St. Joseph Regional High School, a Catholic boys’ school serving about 500 students in ninth through 12th grade.


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