Adrienne Paterson knew she had found the right neighborhood in Wayne, N.J., the first time she saw Packanack Lake.
“I said, ‘This is where I need to live the rest of my life,’” recalled Ms. Paterson, 35, a teacher. She and her husband, a banker, bought a ranch house nearby for $360,000 in 2016, moving from an apartment in Englewood, N.J., a month before their daughter was born.
Joining the Packanack Lake Community Association, which covers about 1,500 homes and offers swimming, boating and other activities, she discovered a powerful sense of community. “I ended up with an entire friend group,” said Ms. Paterson, who has separated from her husband since their move.
Packanack Lake is one of several lake communities in Wayne, N.J., a township of about 55,000 people in Passaic County, 20 miles west of Manhattan.
Point View Reservoir
James W. Roe
“Wayne buyers value the proximity to highways and public transportation, and there are very good schools and lots of great activities,” said Carole Lynn Brescia, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker, who has lived in the Pines Lake neighborhood for three decades.
Jill Sasso, 49, a technology executive, moved to Wayne from Hoboken in 2010 with her husband, Robert Sasso, paying $510,000 for an expanded Cape Cod-style house. They arrived shortly after their son was born, in search of good schools and a manageable commute to New York City, where Ms. Sasso works, and to Hudson County, where Mr. Sasso, 52, is an environmental inspector.
“I felt we had a better overall value point here than in other towns,” said Ms. Sasso, who was recently elected to the township council.
Wayne’s most recent challenge has been the bankruptcy of Toys ‘R’ Us, which had its headquarters on a wooded, 200-acre site at the northern end of the town. Mayor Christopher P. Vergano said the company hasn’t told the township what it intends to do with the property; Toys ‘R’ Us recently hired a real estate advisory firm to help it deal with the headquarters and its many shuttered stores.
The shutdown of Toys ‘R’ Us follows other corporate and retail departures from the township in recent years, including that of the roofing company GAF, whose former 99-acre campus remains empty. The Wayne Hills Mall on Hamburg Turnpike also closed, as did a Macy’s store that anchored the Preakness Shopping Center.
Some of the retail and corporate vacancies are being filled. A complex anchored by a ShopRite is planned to replace the Wayne Hills Mall. Whole Foods has been approved to take over an old A.&P., and CarMax bought a former State Farm office building on Route 23. In place of the old Drake’s bakery is a new FedEx warehouse, and the former Cost Cutters store is to be replaced by an assisted-living facility.
In addition, several new hotels have been built in the township.
“We’ve had a tremendous amount of redevelopment in the last five years, and we anticipate that to continue,” said Mr. Vergano, who also works as a sales executive in the plastics industry, and whose family moved to Wayne in 1962, when he was 3 years old. “We’ve learned that nothing is forever; you have to be willing to change with the times and with what people want.”
Wayne covers 26 square miles of Passaic County, north and west of Paterson. Wayne’s municipal building, on Valley Road, is about 25 miles northwest of Times Square. Routes 46 and 80 slice through the southern part of the township, and Route 23 runs north-south.
Most of Wayne was developed in the years after World War II, and it has subdivisions full of 1950s and 1960s ranches and split-levels. It also has several large garden-apartment complexes, some of which have been converted to condos, as well as large, more recently built Colonials. There is even an occasional log cabin, particularly in the lake neighborhoods.
Along with the lakes, the township includes the Point View Reservoir and the Passaic River, which winds through Wayne on its way to the Great Falls in Paterson. The river has flooded the town many times over the years, especially in the southwestern area. In the past six or seven years, the township has used $91 million in federal funds to buy and demolish more than 300 homes in flood plains, Mr. Vergano said.
He expects that will make a big difference when the next hurricane hits. “That’s 700 or 800 people who won’t need to be evacuated or housed or fed,” he said.
Wayne offers a wide range of housing styles and prices, from condos starting under $200,000 and split-levels for around $500,000 to lakefront luxury homes listed for more than $1.5 million. As of Aug. 6, the New Jersey Multiple Listing Service showed 211 properties for sale in Wayne, ranging from a one-bedroom, one-bathroom condo for $180,000 to a six-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bathroom house overlooking Pompton Lake, listed for $1.65 million.
In the 12 months ending July 31, the median sale price for a single-family home in Wayne was $450,000, up 2.3 percent from the previous 12 months, according to the multiple listing service. For condominiums and co-ops, the median price was $350,000, down 1 percent from the previous 12 months.
Family activities in Wayne include swimming in the lake communities, as well as at the Captain Michael Kilroy Memorial Park and the James W. Roe Memorial Pool, which has a large flume slide.
The township has a number of sports leagues and scout troops, as well as a YMCA and a Boys and Girls Club. And the 30-acre Laurelwood Arboretum and 1,071-acre High Mountain Park Preserve offer trails for hiking.
“There are so many things for kids to do,” Mr. Vergano said.
Wayne doesn’t have a walkable shopping district; instead, it has strip shopping centers and complexes like the Willowbrook Mall and Wayne Towne Center, at the southern end of the township, near Route 80.
There are two movie theaters: a 14-screen AMC Loews multiplex in the Willowbrook Mall and a Bow-Tie Cinemas at the Preakness Shopping Center. Another multiplex from the Cinemark chain is planned for Willowbrook.
The town is no longer home to Fountains of Wayne, the statue and patio furniture store that inspired the name of a local rock band and made an appearance in “The Sopranos.” But if you like arcade games, Dave and Buster’s, the restaurant/sports bar/gaming arcade chain, recently opened a branch at Willowbrook.
Wayne is also home to William Paterson University, a public school serving more than 10,000 students. The university offers public events, including performances by the school’s highly regarded jazz students and a lecture series that has featured such speakers as Stephen Sondheim, Gloria Steinem and Colin Powell.
Wayne’s public school district serves more than 8,000 students in 14 schools, including three middle schools and two high schools, Wayne Hills and Wayne Valley, which have a longstanding football rivalry.
For the 2016-17 school year, the two high schools had an average SAT score of 576 for reading and writing (compared with a statewide average of 551) and 582 for math (compared with 552 statewide).
Commuters can reach New York City by train or bus. NJ Transit’s Montclair-Boonton train line runs through the Wayne’s Route 23 transit center. The train ride to Penn Station in New York City takes 60 to 74 minutes, with a changeover in Newark. The fare is $9.75 one way, or $298 a month.
Buses from the Route 23 transit center take 40 to 50 minutes to reach the Port Authority Bus Terminal. The fare is $8, or $235 monthly.
The township is named for Anthony Wayne, a Pennsylvania-born Revolutionary War general. During the war, George Washington set up his headquarters in the Wayne home of Theunis and Hester Dey for several months in 1780. The Dey Mansion is now a museum operated by Passaic County.
The writer and dog breeder Albert Payson Terhune, author of “Lad: A Dog,” lived in an estate called Sunnybank, overlooking Pompton Lake; the nearly 10-acre property is now a public park, and one of Wayne’s elementary schools is named for Mr. Terhune.
And the Preakness neighborhood gave its name to the annual Preakness Stakes, held at the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. The race was named to honor a colt named Preakness, the winner of an earlier race at Pimlico, from the Preakness Stables in Wayne.
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