View Full Version : Living In: Atlantic Highlands, NJ

August 26th, 2006, 05:55 PM
Boating on the Bay, and Ogling the City Across It

IN DEMAND The Atlantic Highlands municipal marina has a five- to six-year waiting list. Some say it would be better run by a private company.


Published: August 27, 2006

TAKING in its winding roads and impressive views of bay and ocean, visitors to Atlantic Highlands might imagine they have been transported across the country to the steep, rugged coast of northern California. That is, until they glimpse the unmistakable Manhattan skyline beyond the water.



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On the Market (javascript:pop_me_up2('http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2006/08/25/realestate/27livi_OTM_ready.html', '542_750', 'width=542,height=750,location=no,scrollbars=yes,t oolbars=no,resizable=yes'))


Community Profile (http://realestate.nytimes.com/Community/Profiles/Monmouth-Atlantic-Highlands.asp)

A 1.2-square-mile borough that is home of New Jersey’s largest municipally owned marina, it is named Atlantic Highlands in part because it claims to occupy the highest natural point on the Eastern Seaboard. Its eclectic housing stock is still relatively affordable, for a shore town. With an expanding downtown shopping district and high-speed ferry to New York City, it has many qualities potentially attractive to New York area home buyers.

As a result, this once sleepy municipality of 4,700 residents on Sandy Hook Bay is becoming better acquainted with developers, who are doing battle with officials over rights to its last remaining waterfront property. K. Hovnanian Homes has options on two tracts totaling 15 acres, on which it is proposing to build 120 town houses. The borough wants the property for parkland and, possibly, more marina parking.

The builder has challenged Atlantic Highlands, saying that it has not fulfilled its affordable-housing obligation and that a fifth of the new units would be priced for low-income residents (one- to two-bedroom condos priced at $70,000 to $120,000). The state’s Council on Affordable Housing is reviewing the borough’s plan, which includes building 16 affordable units elsewhere in town.

Describing the waterfront town houses as unwelcome, Mayor Peter Donoghue cited a 1,000-name petition supporting the borough’s effort to buy the land. “We don’t want to have this kind of high density,” he said. “We want to maintain the character of this town. What they are proposing is very un-Atlantic Highlands.”

Yet despite the mayor’s push for more waterfront parkland, some are less enthusiastic. There are already pocket parks, as well as tennis and basketball courts, these residents say. They favor some kind of private development — though not necessarily of the density that K. Hovnanian is proposing.

Much of Atlantic Highlands’ 2.5 miles of shoreline accommodates the municipal marina, which despite its 480 slips has a waiting list of 400. The wait is five or six years, said Bill Bate, the harbor master.

Peter Crosta, who owns the Atlantic Highlands Bait and Tackle shop, said he would like to see management of the marina turned over to a private company. “There’s no incentive,” he said of the municipal management. “Their attitude is, ‘The slips are all full so we don’t have to go out and get anybody.’ But what about the businesses here? Shouldn’t they be worried for us, too?”

Mayor Donoghue defends the marina’s management, saying that in the three years since he took office, revenues have increased to $1.1 million from $300,000. He sees the site as a major draw.

Mark Strassburg, a longtime resident, opened Memphis Pig Out on First Avenue 21 years ago, long before the current rush of upscale restaurateurs discovered Atlantic Highlands. He, too, favors more private enterprise along the waterfront. “People who live here don’t want to have more building per se,” Mr. Strassburg said. Yet, he added, “As a business owner, I like the building because it lowers the ratables and brings more people to town.”

What You’ll Find

At the eastern end, larger Victorians and contemporary houses are built into steep hillsides, while smaller Victorians, ranches and Capes fill the low-lying western streets, closer to downtown. This divide causes some friction among residents, said Benson Chiles, a consultant to environmental groups, who moved here from New York three years ago. His wife, Sarah Croon Chiles, a program director at the business school at New York University, commutes to Manhattan on the ferry.

“There’s a little bit of tension there,” said Mr. Chiles, who started the Front Porch Club two years ago to bring people together. “The lowland folks resent the upland folks.”

The diverse housing stock, however, is one of the borough’s appeals. Brian Samuelson, a local real estate agent, moved here nine years ago from Asbury Park, and though he preferred older homes, he bought a small contemporary in the hills because of the spectacular views. “People who drive around here say it’s a cool town,” he said. “Either you’re moving here for the eclecticness of the town, or you’re spending $1 million for a view.”

Although many residents are second- or third-generation Atlantic Highlanders, the borough has recently had an influx of new blood, particularly young couples from New York City who appreciate the expanded ferry service to Manhattan.

With nearly all available land accounted for, there is little building going on in Atlantic Highlands, except the occasional teardown-and-rebuild, a syndrome that has been far less severe here than in neighboring communities like Rumson and waterfront towns in Monmouth and Ocean Counties. Rather, the mayor said, newcomers are returning some of the two- or three-family Victorians to their original single-family state.

What You’ll Pay

While Atlantic Highlands sits on the bay and is close to ocean beaches, its real estate is priced fairly reasonably. There are 50 houses on the market — from a two-bedroom, one-bath bungalow on Avenue C, for $294,000, to a 4,100-square-foot custom-built home on Bayside Drive, listed at $1.895 million.

Property taxes run the gamut, too: taxes on the bungalow were $4,087 in 2005; on the Bayside Drive home they were $28,762. The median price for a single-family home in July was $588,350, Mr. Samuelson said.

Three town house complexes offer a range of choices. At King James Court, one-bedrooms are priced at $199,000; Scenic Ridge offers three bedrooms and two and a half baths for $550,000. There is one rental complex in town, with apartments going for $1,000 to $1,700 a month.

Views come at a price: a four-bedroom, two-bath expanded Cape on the less panoramic side of Grand Avenue is listed at $577,700, while a similarly sized colonial with a better view on Ocean Boulevard is listed at $774,000. Grand Victorians and hillside contemporaries that evoke Carmel, Calif., are priced in the $1 million-plus range; along with spectacular views, they often come with sizable properties.

Hillside living has other hidden prices, like dealing with runoff from upland homes — an issue that can complicate neighborly relations.

Paul Barbato bought a large contemporary on Lawrie Road five years ago for $500,000. He estimates that it is now worth more than $1 million, which he is thinking of trying to cash in on, having grown weary of neighbors and officials he called nosy. Neighbors reacted angrily, he said, when he painted the suspension bridge leading to his house electric blue. He also said his efforts to get his street paved had involved attending at least 35 town meetings.

“They say: ‘Welcome to the neighborhood. Live here, work here, play here.’ Yeah, and get harassed here,” said Mr. Barbato, a social worker at Willowbrook, a Staten Island mental hospital.

Mayor Donoghue countered that the borough had a schedule of paving roads based upon need. “I think the town bent over backward in this case,” he said of Mr. Barbato.

What to Do

Mount Mitchill, at the eastern end of town, sits at 266 feet above sea level. The park offers stunning views of New York, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and the Statue of Liberty, and has maps and telescopes to help make the most of them.

For boat owners and fishermen, this is the ideal place to take to the seas. The marina houses nine charter fishing boats and provides launch access for day trippers. The downtown has many new restaurants and shops, as well as a playhouse and a movie theater. The beaches of the Gateway National Recreation Area are three miles away.

The Schools

The Atlantic Highlands Elementary School, which had 286 students in the 2004 academic year, offers prekindergarten through Grade 8. Henry Hudson Regional School in Highlands, with 463 students from Highlands and Atlantic Highlands, covers Grades 7 through 12.

SAT scores at Henry Hudson were close to the state’s average in 2004, with math scores of 507 (they were 519 statewide) and verbal scores of 519 (501 for the state).

In the past, families considering a move to Atlantic Highlands might have seen the schools as a drawback, especially when comparing them to nearby systems like Rumson’s.

“It was with some validity that 10 or 15 years ago there was the feeling that the junior-senior high school was not top drawer,” Mayor Donoghue said. But he cited evidence of change: higher test scores; a recent governor’s award for excellence; and an expansive music program.

Other options are Mater Dei Catholic High School in Middletown, or Red Bank Catholic High School.

The History

Legend has it that Henry Hudson drank from a natural source on the borough’s hillside and that James Fenimore Cooper’s novel “The Water Witch” was set here. Eventually served by steamboat from New York, the area was a summer getaway for prominent New York families at the turn of the 2oth century.

The Commute

The SeaStreak ferry takes Atlantic Highlands commuters to Lower Manhattan in 35 minutes and to East 34th Street in 45 minutes, but it’s not cheap: round-trip peak fares are $41, and a 40-trip pass for peak travel is $628, more than twice the price of New Jersey Transit trains. Rail service from Middletown or Red Bank takes 60 to 80 minutes, depending on time of day. The drive to the city takes about 75 minutes, via the Garden State Parkway and I-95.

What We Like

The eclectic mixture of houses, many of them historically significant, give this town a funky, yesteryear feel, while the burgeoning downtown offers a nice waterfront alternative to overhyped Red Bank.

Going Forward

Although the notion of clustered town houses on the waterfront might not be in keeping with the historic nature of Atlantic Highlands, more public space — or more parking for the marina — may not be the best use of the available shorefront either.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

August 26th, 2006, 06:29 PM
Gotta get those ferry fares down.