Lyndhurst, N.J.: An Inclusive Community With Affordable Homes

The line outside Michael’s Salumeria starts to form before dawn on Christmas Eve, with customers anxiously waiting for this 47-year-old Italian market to open so they can buy braided fresh mozzarella and sliced prosciutto for their holiday feasts. An identical scene plays out a few blocks away, at the 75-year-old Lyndhurst Pastry Shop, where patrons wait to collect their orders of butter cookies and housemade mini cannoli.

These institutions reflect Lyndhurst’s deep-seated Italian roots, which — along with sizable Irish and Polish populations — have long defined this south Bergen County township. But while demographic data shows that Lyndhurst still has the highest percentage of Italian Americans in Bergen County (and among the highest in New Jersey), the township’s makeup is changing. According to 2020 census figures, 65 percent of Lyndhurst’s 22,519 residents identified as white (down from 90 percent in 2000), 26 percent as Hispanic, 6 percent as Asian and 2.5 percent as Black.

Among the most recent arrivals were Jasmine Mhrez and Ali Abughannum, who closed last week, for $840,000, on a six-bedroom, two-family house with a pool, which they will be sharing with Ms. Mhrez’s parents. Although they have yet to fully experience life in Lyndhurst, Ms. Mhrez, whose parents are Cuban and Egyptian, said that every encounter they’ve had so far has been positive.

“We didn’t think fitting in would be an issue,” said Ms. Mhrez, 29, a paralegal at a law firm in Paterson, N.J., who said the couple’s choice of Lyndhurst had more to do with proximity to their jobs. Mr. Abughannum, 32, who was born in Palestine, is a sales vice president for a software company in Jersey City.

“Everyone in the neighborhood has been greeting us. And when we visited a bagel shop, they made us feel welcome,” said Ms. Mhrez, who is Muslim and wears a head scarf. “There’s always a fear about being accepted for your faith and religion. So far, it’s been very pleasant.”

This once rather traditional township has become more progressive on other fronts as well, said Justine Sebastiano, an agent with Cappiello Realty Services, who grew up in Lyndhurst. In late 2021, Ms. Sebastiano and her parents bought a three-bedroom, two-family house for $465,000. Her sister now lives on the lower level, and she and her girlfriend live above.

“It’s very much pro-L.G.B.T.Q.,” said Ms. Sebastiano, 32, noting that Lyndhurst was one of the first communities in the area to hold an annual gay-pride parade. “With more people starting to move in, it’s bringing in a different mind-set. You’re not going to feel like an outsider now.”

Kathleen Savino, who taught literature at a middle school in Lyndhurst before working in real estate, described the township’s population as “upper blue collar, lower white collar.” For most of her clients, Lyndhurst’s biggest draws are its relative affordability and proximity to highways, Newark Liberty International Airport and New York City.

“I’ve been here my whole life,” said Ms. Savino, an agent with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Coccia Realty. “Sometimes I wish for more land, but there’s a convenience that you kind of get spoiled by. You can walk to the store in five minutes, and drive to the city or the airport in 20.”

After decades of working at his family’s store, Michael’s Salumeria, Anthony Sciancalepore and his wife, Caroline Lilore-Sciancalepore, moved to Lyndhurst in 2007, buying a 100-year-old colonial for $240,000 and spending another $400,000 doubling its size to accommodate their four children.

“We’ve developed a good life here,” said Mr. Sciancalepore, 49, who now runs the Italian market. “Lyndhurst offers a lot for families. I’m close to work, and my kids have good friend groups. We really appreciate this town.”

Lyndhurst is bordered on the west by the Passaic River and on the east by the Hackensack River and the Meadowlands. The residential neighborhoods are largely contained in the northwestern portion of the 4.96-square-mile township. The housing stock is a mix of small colonial homes built in the early 20th century and midcentury ranches and Capes, with many two- and three-family houses that are attractive to multigenerational households and investors.

The topography varies, with low-lying areas that have undeveloped wetlands or industrial zones adjacent to hilltop residential neighborhoods, where the more expensive homes sit, some with views of the Meadowlands and the New York City skyline. From there, many residents, including Ms. Savino, watched the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings on Sept. 11.

In the last decade, several large rental developments have been built in the area near the Meadowlands, including Vermella Lyndhurst, a four-story luxury complex built in 2013 with 296 units, and the five-story Winston at Lyndhurst, built in 2018 with 218 units. Also on the east side of town are a Marriott Hotel and the Lyndhurst Recreation Center, a complex of indoor and outdoor sports fields. On the western side, near the Passaic River, many homes sit in designated flood zones; some have been raised after they were battered by storms in recent years.

Lyndhurst’s walkable commercial district runs along Valley Brook Avenue, which has shopping plazas, supermarkets and the township’s administrative offices; and Ridge Road, where Lyndhurst Pastry Shop and other local restaurants and stores can be found.

In early May, there were 11 homes on the market in Lyndhurst, including six single-family houses, four multifamily houses and one condominium. They ranged from a new four-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bath hilltop townhouse with Manhattan views, listed for $874,900, to a one-bedroom, one-bath condo built in the 1960s, listed for $299,000. More typical of the housing in Lyndhurst is a two-family house with three bedrooms built in the early 1900s, listed for $550,000, and a larger two-family house with six bedrooms, built in 1980 and listed for $829,000.

According to the New Jersey Multiple Listing Service, the average price of the 84 homes sold through May 3 of this year was $575,075, compared with an average of $510,623 for the 116 homes sold in the first four months of 2022.

Rental prices at Vermella Lyndhurst range from $2,600 a month for a one-bedroom apartment to $9,800 for a large three-bedroom. The one- and two-bedroom apartments at The Winston rent for $2,200 to $3,100 a month.

Throughout the summer, the township holds free concerts and screens movies in Town Hall Park, but the marquee event is the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a four-day festival in mid-July that offers live music, amusement-park rides and a beer garden.

For out-of-towners, Medieval Times is a big draw, with its behemoth meals and jousting tournaments. For more contemporary entertainment, MetLife Stadium and the American Dream mall are a few miles away, in East Rutherford, N.J.

Home to many multigenerational families, Lyndhurst tries to cater to both ends of the age spectrum, said John Montillo, the township commissioner, citing the Senior Center’s monthly dinners, biweekly bingo games, trips to Broadway shows and a municipal bus that loops through the township, offering free rides to everyone.

“You can see we pay a lot of attention to kids, by how many athletic fields there are in town,” Mr. Montillo said. “So we’re trying to balance it out by having lots of things for seniors too.”

Lyndhurst’s public school system has one school with a prekindergarten program; two schools serving students from prekindergarten through second grade; two schools offering kindergarten through second grade; two schools serving students in third through fifth grade; one middle school; and one high school.

Lyndhurst Middle School, which opened in 2020, was the first new school built in the township in 85 years, at a cost of $53 million. Serving 611 students in sixth through eighth grades, the school has a state-of-the-art theater and a culinary-arts program.

Lyndhurst High School serves 779 students in ninth through 12 grades, offering 14 Advanced Placement courses and a relationship with Fairleigh Dickinson University and Bergen Community College that allows students to earn college credits. The average SAT scores for 2021-22 were 516 in reading and writing and 491 in math, compared with state averages of 538 and 532.

Private school options include Sacred Heart Catholic School in Lyndhurst, which has 350 students in prekindergarten through eighth grade, and Abundant Life Academy, an Evangelical Christian school in Nutley serving students in prekindergarten through 12th grade.

Lyndhurst is 11 miles west of New York City, and New Jersey Transit offers bus and train service between the two. Buses 191 and 195 go from Rutherford and Stuyvesant Avenue to Port Authority in Manhattan, a trip that takes about 30 minutes and costs $4.50 to $6 one way, or $148 to $167 for a monthly pass.

The township has two train stations, Lyndhurst and Kingsland, both of which provide service to Penn Station in Manhattan, with a transfer in Secaucus, N.J. The trip takes 26 to 40 minutes, and costs $5.25 one way or $152 for a monthly pass.

Commuters can also travel to Hoboken, N.J., and switch to the PATH train; tickets for the 20-minute ride to Hoboken cost $3.50 one way or $97 for a monthly pass.

On Jan. 11, 1917, a fire at a munitions plant in Lyndhurst set off more than 400,000 shells of live ammunition, destroying the factory and lighting up the sky for miles around. Because it was at the height of World War I, German saboteurs were suspected of being involved with the Kingsland Explosion. In 1953, Germany paid the United States $50 million in reparations but never admitted guilt. Theresa Louise McNamara, a switchboard operator and Lyndhurst resident, was credited with saving 1,400 lives, as she stayed at her post, warning workers to evacuate. The Lyndhurst Historical Society created a pocket park on Clay Avenue in her honor.

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