Readington, NJ: A farming community anxious to preserve its charm

Recently married and looking to move out of their rental townhouse in Woodbridge, NJ, Shaun and MaryJo Spiller set their sights on Readi...


Recently married and looking to move out of their rental townhouse in Woodbridge, NJ, Shaun and MaryJo Spiller set their sights on Readington, NJ, the Hunterdon County town where Mr Spiller grew up. The couple reviewed several homes last fall, making an offer that was unsuccessful due to issues with the home’s septic system. Around Christmas, Mr. Spiller’s father told him about another house recently released: the one in which young Mr. Spiller grew up.

“Everything was exactly the same,” said Mr. Spiller, a 28-year-old data engineer for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, describing the couple’s visit to their childhood home. “Even my old bedroom was the same electric blue color.”

The three bedroom home was in their price range and in the desirable Whitehouse Station neighborhood of Readington. But demand was high, as the post-Covid housing market had warmed in rural areas, and more than a dozen people lined up for the first open day. With an offer on the table, which they then increased, the Spillars hoped to improve their chances by sending a letter to the family who bought the house in 2004 from Shaun’s parents, who had moved elsewhere in Readington. In it, Mr Spiller thanked them for taking such good care of the house and asked if they could buy it back.

“We offered a fair price, but I would like to think the letter made a difference,” he said. The Spillers bought the house, which was built in 1940 and has a covered porch, for $ 403,000 in February, and have since built an annex and painted the bedroom blue in beige, using it as a home office.

With its deep roots in agriculture, open space has long been a defining feature of this 48 square mile city, home to an estimated 16,000 people, 93 percent of whom are white, according to census data. In 1978, seeking to avoid the kind of overdevelopment that occurred in neighboring Somerset County, Readington became the first New Jersey municipality to put an open-space referendum on the ballot, asking residents to vote for it. a $ 1 million bond to preserve farmland and verify development. The referendum was approved and since then Readington has preserved 9,000 acres – nearly a third of the city – through a combination of land acquisition, purchase of development rights from farmers and zoning in clusters.

“It was a local effort by those who moved here in the 1970s to get away from the hustle and bustle and sprawl of the suburbs,” said Mayor John Albanese, who moved to Readington two years after the referendum. “They didn’t want to see the whole city turn into the place they’d strayed from. There was certainly an element of “I climb the ladder as I walk through the door here.” But either you do that or you do nothing and it becomes fully developed. “

As the easternmost town in Hunterdon County, Readington is accessible to urban areas and commercial corridors, but is a bit more affordable than counties closer to New York City, which is about 55 minutes away. miles east of Readington.

“People start at Basking Ridge or Bernardsville, then they come to Readington and find they get more for their money,” said Patricia Deseno, a Coldwell Banker agent who moved to Readington in 1975. “The more you get. go west, the more you get. “

This is what Terra and Brian Kremer learned during their home search in Readington in March 2018, when they arrived from Utah and spent a weekend with Ms Deseno looking at 19 homes within a radius of 20 minutes from Raritan, where Ms Kremer, an employee of Johnson & Johnson, was relocated. A microbiologist currently working on her doctorate, Ms Kremer, 40, said they wanted a house with a finished basement for their two young sons, room for a home office and “lots of space, for feel like we live in the countryside. “

They found it all in a 1994, three-acre four-bedroom home that backs onto unspoiled green space, which they bought that spring for $ 540,000.

“We live on a quiet road with lots of space and lots of good friends,” Ms. Kremer said. “Oddly enough, I tell people that we moved to New Jersey for peace and quiet. “

Spread out at the foot of Cushetunk Mountain, the rolling hills of Readington, its wooded reserves and vast farmland provide a bucolic setting for residents. With large swathes of the city set aside for the preservation of open space, residential neighborhoods are mostly either newer developments built on former farmland, or village hamlets like Stanton, Whitehouse, Whitehouse Station and Three Bridges. .

The Whitehouse neighborhood occupies a stretch of the old Highway 28 just north of Highway 22, lined with quaint Victorian and Colonial style homes, as well as the famous Ryland Inn restaurant. Whitehouse Station (a name some use interchangeably with Readington) is south of Route 22, with the city’s main shopping area along Route 523, which is home to the historic Whitehouse Station as well as several restaurants and shops. Trois Ponts, at the southern end of town, is another historic district. It is named after the three bridges that cross the South Branch Raritan River.

Most of Readington’s new homes span two or more acres and have been built in the last 20 to 30 years. As part of its efforts to curtail development, the city has established cluster zoning that requires developers to leave 80 percent of an acquired property undeveloped, while limiting the number of homes that can be built out of the 20 for hundred remaining. No requests have been submitted for such developments over the past five years, Mayor Albanese said.

There are two townhouse developments and two 55+ communities in the city. About 90 percent of Readington’s homes have their own wells and septic tanks, with only commercial and village areas connected to the city’s sewage and water systems.

Older farm properties rarely hit the market, but when they do, the city’s historic council often gets involved, according to Tara Stone, an eXp Realty agent. “They are very proud and passionate about these properties,” Ms. Stone said. “It makes a beautiful town and preserves the integrity of what Hunterdon County was built on: the farming system. “

One such historic farmhouse – a five-bedroom, eight-bath house, built in 1845 on 13.5 acres – has a swimming pool and tennis court and is listed for $ 1.649 million, Readington’s House the more expensive currently on the market. At the bottom of the scale is a one bedroom, one bath house on Route 523, listed for $ 250,000.

The median selling price of homes in Readington from January to mid-November of this year was $ 518,000, a 5% increase over the same period in 2020, when the median was $ 492,000, according to the Garden State Multiple Listing Service.

Row house condominiums range from approximately $ 200,000 to $ 300,000. Communities 55 and older are more expensive, ranging from $ 400,000 at Four Seasons, a 98-unit community completed in 2002; approximately $ 700,000 to The Regency, a 209-unit development completed in 2014.

The beauty of the area attracts tourists on weekends, although locals also frequent the working farms open to the public, most notably the Readington River Buffalo Farm, which sells bison meat harvested from the herds raised there. Schaefer Farms has a year round farm stand, as well as pumpkin picking and spooky horror trails in the fall.

For the more sporty, there are hiking trails in the 380-acre Cushetunk Mountain Preserve, boating and swimming in the Round Valley Reservoir within this mountain preserve, and golf at Stanton Ridge Golf & Country Club. Horseback riding is another popular pastime, and there are over 20 miles of trails through Readington, some of which pass through private properties where residents have provided a right of way.

Readington’s biggest draw takes place in July, when the country’s largest hot air balloon festival takes off at Solberg Airport, with more than 100 balloons floating above the town’s fields and houses. Some residents are leaving town for this busy three-day weekend, Ms Deseno said, but others wait for a balloon to accidentally land on their property, which earns them a bottle of champagne offered by the balloon’s wandering navigator. .

The Readington Township School District serves approximately 1,500 students in four schools. Kindergarten to Grade 3 students attend either Three Bridges School or Whitehouse School. Holland Brook School serves fourth and fifth graders, and Readington Middle School covers sixth to eighth grades.

From there, the students travel to Hunterdon Central Regional High School in the nearby town of Flemington, where they are joined by students from four other towns. The school is home to 2,644 students, with four Magnet programs, a top-notch YouTube TV channel, and 75 advanced or specialist courses, 18 of which earn college credits. The average regional high school SAT scores this year were 593 in reading and writing and 598 in math, compared to state averages of 562 and 563.

Private schools in the area are limited, but include the Acorn Montessori School in Lebanon, from preschool to grade seven.

The drive from Readington to New York, going east along Highway 78, takes an hour to 75 minutes or more, depending on traffic. New Jersey Transit provides train service from Whitehouse Station to Penn Station, requiring a transfer in Newark. The entire trip takes about an hour and 40 minutes and costs $ 16 one way or $ 451 for a monthly pass. Bus service on the New Jersey Transit is available between neighboring Raritan Township and the Port Authority, the trip taking just over two hours and costing $ 13 one way and $ 303 per month.

Now serving as the headquarters for the Readington Museums, the Bouman-Stickney Farm dates back to 1741, when Dutch farmer Thomas Bouman built a Dutch farm and barns on 68 acres. In 1935, Broadway playwright and producer Howard Lindsay purchased the property for his wife, actress Dorothy Stickney. The couple used the house as a weekend retreat, entertaining Broadway luminaries such as Julie Andrews, Shelley Winters and Oscar Hammerstein, who reportedly wrote the score for “The Sound of Music” there.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Readington, NJ: A farming community anxious to preserve its charm
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