After Covid hit, Ted Dalton and Lucy Banduci spent a lot of time traveling between their weekend house in the Catskill Mountains and their two-bedroom condo in Brooklyn, where they returned for their children’s schooling. The uncertain time accelerated their conversations about leaving the city entirely, as it did for so many New Yorkers.
Mr. Dalton, 51, who grew up in the Princeton, N.J., area and had worked and lived in New York for more than 25 years, was reluctant to leave, but Ms. Banduci, 46, a Queens native, was ready for something new. With what he described as “no allegiances to anywhere,” the couple began looking at houses in Connecticut, Westchester County and New Jersey in early 2021.
Familiar with Rumson, N.J. — “the name town with big houses,” as Mr. Dalton put it — they soon discovered neighboring Fair Haven, Little Silver and then Oceanport.
“Oceanport was more of a sleeper town that people didn’t know as well,” said Mr. Dalton, the managing director of real estate finance for a bank in Manhattan. “But everyone we talked to seemed so happy to be there. We’d look at houses, and then we’d go grab a bite to eat, sitting right on the water and thinking, ‘This is the best.’”
Of course, they weren’t the only ones seeking a lifestyle change at the time — or the only couple to discover Oceanport, a 3.2-square-mile Monmouth County borough of 6,150 residents near the Jersey Shore. Over the following months, Mr. Dalton and Ms. Banduci were outbid on six homes, despite going as much as $100,000 over the asking prices, before finally securing their 3,300-square-foot house in July 2021, paying $1.275 million.
Since moving into the recently built, four-bedroom, four-bath house, they’ve added a pool and joined the Monmouth Beach Bathing Pavilion beach club. Their 11-year-old son, Theodore, has started sailing lessons at the nearby Shrewsbury River Yacht Club, and their daughter, Josie, 6, has taken up horseback riding and Irish step dancing. Their neighborhood abutting Blackberry Bay is also being transformed.
“Every house is being bought, and there’s construction on every other block,” Mr. Dalton said. “It’s a changing of the guard.”
Oceanport is mostly known as the home of Monmouth Park Racetrack, which occupies 275 acres, and the former Fort Monmouth Army base. Opened in 1917 as a central post for Army research, intelligence and communication, Fort Monmouth was decommissioned in 2005 and closed in 2011, leaving empty swaths of the 1,126-acre military base, which is split between Oceanport, Eatontown and Tinton Falls.
“Oceanport was a military town. You would hear taps playing and canons going off. It was alive,” recalled Thomas J. Tvrdik, 44, a lifelong resident who is a real estate agent with Re/Max and a member of the borough council. “Then, for years, it sat vacant and desolate, so it’s nice to see it come alive again.”
That new life has emerged as investors have snatched up parcels of former base property to build new housing, commercial and recreational facilities. In December 2022, the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority approved a $55 million bid by Netflix to buy 292 acres, 117 of them in Oceanport. Destined to become the streaming giant’s East Coast production hub, the site will be built out over the next decade with 12 sound stages and extensive support space, and it promises to bring thousands of jobs and millions of dollars to the region.
“Netflix is an economic driver for the whole area, just like the fort was,” said John F. Coffey, Oceanport’s mayor, who described Fort Monmouth’s closure and the sudden loss of 10,000 local jobs as “something that was dropped on our heads.” “This was a hot spot of activity, and it will be a hot spot again. The difference is, it will be paying taxes now.”
What You’ll Find
Surrounded and divided by the Shrewsbury River’s tributary bays and creeks, and just two miles from the Atlantic coast, Oceanport is defined by its connection to water — from the numerous homes that back up to waterways to the borough’s three marinas, multiple boat ramps and nearby beach clubs.
“You have waterfront access everywhere, and you’re close enough to the beach that kids can ride their bikes there. But it’s a more affordable option than the shore towns,” said Helen George, 61, an agent with Resources Real Estate, who taught second grade in Oceanport for 30 years.
Being adjacent to the coast, but not on it, has made Oceanport more affordable in the past. But that is changing as ranch houses gain second stories and Cape Cods are replaced with larger homes. Given the desirability of the area, Mr. Coffey said he sees such development as inevitable, noting that “others have already gone through this period of growth, and Oceanport is the last of the local towns to do so.”
Beach proximity is what convinced Frank and Jennifer Giocastro to move to Oceanport, after years of visiting the area from their home in Queens. “Every time we’d go to leave Jersey, my kids would cry that they wanted to stay,” said Mr. Giocastro, 47, a plasterer for the New York City Housing Authority, who bought a five-bedroom house in Oceanport in 2019, paying $940,000. “Coming from Queens after 40-something years, it’s like being on vacation, but we live here.”
While anticipation over Netflix’s arrival has been running high, the Oceanport portion of Fort Monmouth has already seen significant development, including 180 townhouses being built by Pulte Homes and the rehab of former officers’ housing into 68 homes, plus an adjacent 48 rental units. Other projects include the construction of a fitness center, a senior care center, a craft beer brewery, a sports bar, a satellite campus for New Jersey City University, and a new borough complex of government offices. There is no central commercial district in town, but plans for a retail, office and hotel project are underway on a 12-acre lot at the former military base.
Also slated for an update is Monmouth Park Racetrack, where thoroughbred horses have raced each summer since 1947. As interest in horse racing waned, the racetrack sought additional revenue, and in 2016 it became the first site in New Jersey to add sports betting. Plans are now underway for Caesars Sportsbook to build a high-end betting center at the track, Mr. Coffey said.
What You’ll Pay
In early October, there were 20 homes on the market in Oceanport, and 15 pending sales. The most expensive listing was a five-bedroom house built in 2003 on 0.49 acres on Horseneck Point Peninsula, listed for $1.65 million; the least expensive was a three-bedroom house built in 1985 on 0.06 acres, listed for $519,850.
The median price of the 65 homes sold between January and the end of September this year was $785,000, according to the Monmouth Ocean Multiple Listing Service; during the first nine months of 2022, 53 homes sold for a median price of $690,000.
If you aren’t keen to join the yacht club or park your boat in one of the borough’s marinas, there are public ramps that offer access to the river. Kayaks and paddle boards are available to rent at Oceanport Paddle Club at Riverside Marina, where there is also a restaurant that serves lobster rolls. In nearby Long Branch, Monmouth Beach and Sea Bright, there are several beach clubs that require annual membership, as well as scattered public access points.
Occupying the site of the former Fort Monmouth Commissary is Birdsmouth Beer, a craft brewery that opened last year, and the newly opened Baseline Social, a 17,000-square-foot sports bar and virtual golf center. A former World War II dance hall has been transformed into Park Loft, a wedding and catering venue.
Oceanport students attend Wolf Hill Elementary School, which has 312 students in prekindergarten through fourth grade, and Maple Place Middle School, with 249 students in fifth through eighth grade. In 2019, voters approved a $33 million referendum to upgrade the elementary and middle schools, a project that is now underway.
For high school, students from Oceanport join those from West Long Branch, Sea Bright and Monmouth Beach at Shore Regional High School, in West Long Branch, which has an enrollment of 594 students in ninth through 12th grade. The high school offers 23 Advanced Placement courses. Average SAT scores in 2021-22 were 552 in reading and writing and 543 in math, compared with state averages of 538 and 532.
Students can also apply to one of Monmouth County’s specialized high schools focusing on law, biotechnology and applied sciences. Private school choices include Ranney School in Tinton Falls, for prekindergarten through 12th grade, and Red Bank Catholic High School in Red Bank, for ninth through 12th grade.
Oceanport is about 60 miles south of New York City, a drive that can take around 90 minutes, depending on traffic.
New Jersey Transit offers direct train service to Penn Station in Manhattan from neighboring Little Silver or Long Branch; the trip takes 80 to 100 minutes and costs $16 one way or $451 for a monthly pass from Little Silver, or $16.25 one way or $463 for a monthly pass from Long Branch.
A faster alternative is taking the Seastreak Ferry from Highlands or Atlantic Highlands, about 10 miles north of Oceanport. The trip to Lower or Midtown Manhattan takes 40 to 60 minutes and costs $28 one way or $720 for 40 tickets.
In 1938, the Fort Monmouth Army base developed the first radar system, used to detect oncoming attacks and later to bounce radio signals off the moon. Among the radar staff was Julius Rosenberg, who worked as an electrical engineer in the early 1940s, during which time he was accused of stealing sensitive information and sharing it with the Soviet Union. He was later convicted as a spy and executed, along with his wife, Ethel.
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