Montgomery, NJ: A low-key suburb near Princeton

Montgomery, on the southern border of Somerset County in New Jersey, has a bit of an identity problem: the 32-square-mile township is hard to find on many maps because its name is often omitted, while the names of its North Neighborhoods and South Neighborhoods appear instead. To make matters even more confusing, a number of Montgomery homes have zip codes that correspond to better-known communities like Hillsborough and Princeton.

It’s an issue that “annoys me”, said the mayor, Devra Keenan, 55, who has lived in the township for 23 years. “We don’t want to be known as ‘Princeton North’ or ‘Princeton lite’. We did not claim our brilliance. Montgomery is a wonderful community, and we’re selling ourselves short.

The mayor and township committee members have pushed back on when developers want to use the word Princeton in the names of projects they propose to build in Montgomery. And they’re proud of the things that draw people to this once mostly rural community: the highly rated public schools, increasingly diverse population, large and relatively new housing stock — and, of course, proximity to Hillsborough. and Princeton.

Montgomery’s growing diversity is reflected not only in the latest census figures — 51% of the township’s 23,690 residents identify as white, 38% as Asian, 6% as Hispanic, and 3% as black — but also in government makeup. In January, the township swore in its first black committeewoman, Deputy Mayor Shelly L. Bell, and the first Sikh woman to hold public office in New Jersey, committeewoman Neena Singh.

Montgomery is “a town where people are open to others coming to bring new ideas,” said Ms. Singh, who was born in India and lived in Canada before moving to the township 25 years ago. She was happy to introduce ideas that represent her culture, she said, including the new international-standard cricket ground at Montgomery Veterans Park.

Sheila Liu and Jian Gao moved to Montgomery from Fairfield, NJ, last August, attracted not only by the community, but also by the public schools and after-school activities available for their children. Since moving to the township, the couple’s daughters, Valentina, 9, and Gianna, 8, have been involved in many activities including music lessons, acting, swimming, art, taekwondo and chinese.

“We want our girls to experiment as much as they can while they are young, and later they can specialize,” said Ms. Liu, an information technology business partner at a pharmaceutical company. “Montgomery gave them the opportunity to do that.”

In an extremely tight housing market, where homes sell out almost as soon as they come up for sale, she and Mr. Gao, a computer programmer, found themselves in a bidding war for the five-bedroom house with a swimming pool. which they bought for $935,000 – $37,000 above the asking price. They weren’t the highest bidder; Ms Liu believes they got the house thanks to the ‘love letter’ she wrote to the seller – who was Chinese-American, like them – in which she described the property as ‘generous, warm and peaceful “.

Route 206 is the backbone of the township. The northern part of Montgomery is known as Belle Mead; the southern part, near Princeton, is Skillman. In between are the remains of historic villages like Blawenburg and Harlingen, which once defined Montgomery, as well as several large farms.

In recent years, the township has evolved into a modern bedroom community, with several housing estates being built on what was once farmland – although 39% of Montgomery’s land has been preserved as open space through dedicated taxes. open spaces and state funding.

Cynthia Fowlkes, owner-broker of Re/Max InStyle Realty, Montgomery, said she often educates newcomers about the township’s housing options, which are many and varied. They include luxury single-family homes around the Cherry Valley Country Club; Tapestry, an upscale 55+ community at Skillman; and Pike Run, a development in Belle Mead with townhouses, rental apartments and affordable housing.

Kelly O’Rourke and Nick Oakley bought a 1992 four-bedroom home in the Skillman neighborhood for $735,000 in February 2020, shortly after the birth of their second child and just before the Covid-19 lockdown. Their new home gives them easy access to the cultural offerings of Princeton and is close to the veterinary practice that Dr Oakley, 32, has in Harlingen and the elementary school that their daughter Isabelle, 5, will attend this fall. Ms. O’Rourke, 37, a regulatory manager for a pharmaceutical company, said she also appreciates Montgomery’s plentiful open space, something they didn’t have in Millington, NJ, where they previously lived .

“I can take the kids and the dog to a handful of nearby parks,” Ms O’Rourke said. “And there are sidewalks everywhere. And now that things have started to open up, we can finally meet people from the neighborhood.

At the end of April, there were 31 single-family homes and eight townhouses for sale in Montgomery, ranging from a 1986 two-bedroom, three-bathroom townhouse listed at $350,000 to a 1997 five-bedroom and five bathrooms listed for $1.725 million. .

Over the past year, prices have risen dramatically as inventories have dwindled, and homes have sold almost twice as fast as in the previous year. During the first part of 2022, ending April 25, 44 homes sold for an average price of $849,000, after spending an average of 17 days on the market; during the same period in 2021, 74 homes sold for an average price of $725,000, after spending an average of 35 days on the market, according to Garden State and Bright Multiple Listing Services. Ten townhouses sold during the same period this year, for an average price of $424,000; last year, 28 townhouses sold in the same months, for an average of $398,000.

Montgomery’s main commercial activity is along Route 206. At a mall in Skillman, you’ll find a ShopRite supermarket and Montgomery Cinemas, a multi-screen movie theater that opened in 1971, showing foreign and art films.

For those looking to explore Montgomery’s agrarian roots, there’s Hidden Spring Lavender & Alpaca Farm, a 25-acre farm where visitors can make an appointment to walk an alpaca.

The city has several parks, including the 100-acre Montgomery Veterans Park, with its sports fields and picnic facilities, and Skillman Park, a 257-acre county park that was once a public institution for epilepsy patients.

The Montgomery Township School District operates five schools – Orchard Hill Elementary School for students in kindergarten through second grade, Village Elementary for third and fourth grades, Montgomery Lower Middle School for fifth and sixth grades, Montgomery Upper Middle School for seventh and eighth grades, and Montgomery High School.

The high school, built in 2005, includes a television and radio studio, culinary lab, swimming pool, and state-of-the-art science and performance spaces. It offers 22 advanced level courses and 15 specialized or accelerated courses. In 2020-21, the school enrolled 1,563 students from Montgomery and Rocky Hill, a neighboring township. Average SAT scores were 650 in reading and writing and 677 in math, compared to national averages of 557 and 560.

Private school options in the area include Chapin School, a co-educational day school in Princeton for students in grades K-8, and Princeton K-12 co-ed day school.

Montgomery, located about 50 miles southwest of Midtown Manhattan, “isn’t necessarily ideal for commuting,” said Tracy Sonner, agent at Keller Williams Real Estate and resident for nine years. But that has become less of a concern for buyers as more and more people work from home.

The township does not have a train station, so commuters drive to New York or drive about 20 miles south to Princeton Junction station in West Windsor, where they can take a New Jersey Transit train to Penn Station in Manhattan. The trip takes about an hour and costs $16 one way or $451 for a monthly pass.

Princeton Airport is at the southern end of Montgomery.

The State Village for Epileptics, also known as Skillman Village, served as a self-contained community for people with epilepsy from 1898 to 1952. The institution’s 100 buildings included housing, a theater, a school, a hospital, power plant and security facilities. and maintenance facilities. The village was initially seen as a model of progressive treatment, but as new drugs were developed to treat epilepsy, the facility lost its purpose and fell into disrepair, earning it the nickname “the New Jersey snake pit”. The township purchased the property in 2007, but after taking on the challenge of remediating the land, sold it in 2011 to Somerset County for use as a park.

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