Robbinsville, N.J.: A Diverse Community ‘at the Center of It All’
The township of Robbinsville, N.J., has a long history, but it has been known by its current name for less than two decades.
Until 2007, when residents voted by a three-to-one margin to change the name, the Mercer County community was called Washington Township — one of six municipalities in New Jersey named after George Washington, which made it difficult to stand out.
The township, which is smack in the middle of the state, also wanted a bigger commercial base to go along with the influx of new residents it was seeing. So along with the new name, which was taken from a village called Robbinsville in the center of town, it adopted a new slogan: “Be at the center of it all.” The double meaning was clear: Robbinsville was not only at the center of the state, but at the center of the action.
Mission accomplished, it would seem. A few years after the opening of the mixed-use Town Center development of shops, restaurants and residences, one of the first of its kind in the state, Amazon opened a fulfillment center in Robbinsville in 2014, and a corner of the township became a warehouse hub. So the township was able to build a high school, a municipal building and a police training facility without raising property taxes. That drew more residents and, in turn, more businesses.
An exquisite Hindu mandir, or temple, was completed in 2014, enhancing a diverse community. And Robbinsville became a hot spot for pizza, or Trenton-style “tomato pie,” as area old-timers call it. De Lorenzo’s and an old rival, Papa’s, moved from the Chambersburg neighborhood of nearby Trenton, which is no longer the Italian enclave it once was.
In 2020, the census counted 15,476 residents in the 20-square-mile township — a 13 percent increase over 2010, and 50 percent more than in 2000. But as the population was growing, few residents wanted to see more of the area’s farmland paved over, so in 2016, voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum to preserve open space, curbing development. Robbinsville appears to have struck a balance.
“They do a very good job keeping open space intact. The town is growing, but it still has a small-town vibe,” said Fahad Ullah, 30, a business development manager for a telecom company, who bought a two-bedroom loft at Robbinsville Town Center in November, for $280,000.
Robbinsville Town Center was one of the first mixed-use developments of its kind in New Jersey. There are lofts above the shops on the ground floor.Credit…Hannah Beier for The New York Times
As in other suburbs nearby, property values in Robbinsville are climbing. The average sale price for a single-family home rose 16 percent from 2019 to 2021. Sharif Hatab, an agent with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach in Robbinsville, said it’s common these days for a seller to receive dozens of offers over the asking price, because housing stock is so limited.
Mohamed Yousef, 83, a professor emeritus of engineering and mathematics at the City University of New York, paid $500,000 in December 2020 for a six-bedroom, four-bath house near Town Center that he said was “a downsize of what I had before in Cranbury,” a township 10 miles north. But he and his wife, Horeya Abo-Elazm, a retired bank manager, still have plenty of space to entertain their grown children. (Mr. Hatab, of Berkshire Hathaway, is Ms. Abo-Elazm’s son and Mr. Yousef’s stepson.) There are new restaurants in the area to try, and they enjoy taking walks and watching the planes at the airstrip nearby.
“The area I’m in is full of greenery,” Mr. Yousef said.
Dave Fried, the chief executive of a payroll company, has lived in the township for 30 years, and has been its mayor for 16 of them. He remembers the old days, when people weren’t sure where Washington Township was. “It’s been really fascinating to watch all of the different groups working together,” Mr. Fried said. “It’s a really blended community.”
What You’ll Find
Robbinsville is 60 miles southwest of New York City and about 40 miles northeast of Philadelphia. “If you took a pin and pushed it into the center of what you thought was the center of New Jersey, you’d probably be pushing it into Robbinsville,” Mr. Fried said.
When it was still known as Washington Township, Robbinsville was much more rural. “It used to be all farmland,” said Mr. Hatab, the real estate agent, who grew up nearby.
The New Jersey Turnpike and U.S. Route 130, which is lined with new and old businesses, cut parallel tracks through the township. Interstate 195 connects the two highways and is a straight route to shore towns 35 minutes east.
Robbinsville Town Center is on N.J. Route 33, near U.S. 130, to the south of Robbinsville High School. The Amazon fulfillment center and other warehouses are on the eastern side of the Turnpike, providing separation from Town Center.
The 12,000-square-foot Hindu temple, BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, sits on 162 lakeside acres in the northern part of the town, not far from Windsor Industrial Park. (The Muslim Center of Greater Princeton is in West Windsor, five miles north.)
Working Dog Winery, a local vineyard, is open year-round on weekends. Oasis Family Farm, near the turnpike and I-195, offers activities for children in the warmer months and family attractions like a gem mine, as well as the official suburban sport: mini-golf.
What You’ll Pay
According to information provided by Bright MLS, there were nine active residential listings in Robbinsville on Jan. 20, from a one-bedroom, one-bath condominium for $215,000 to a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath house for $739,900, with annual property taxes of $14,469 in 2020.
The MLS data showed that 297 homes sold in Robbinsville in 2021, for an average of $473,675, an increase in both price and volume over the previous two years: In 2020, 255 residences sold for an average of $421,721; in 2019, 247 residences sold for an average of $407,627. The average number of days a listing spent on the market in 2021 was 27, compared with 44 in 2020 and 59 in 2019.
The market has “calmed down” in recent months, Mr. Hatab said. But if houses are priced right, he added, they can sell in less than a week.
Although Town Center provides Robbinsville with a vibrant hub — and a mirror image of Town Center is in the works directly across Route 33 — the main attraction for newcomers is the township’s open space. Said Mr. Fried, “We’ve been very aggressive with our open-space program.”
This was important to Murthy Gadicherla, 49, a software engineer who was living in nearby Plainsboro. He and his wife, Praveena Gadicherla, 42, who works in data entry, paid $700,000 in August for a 25-year-old, four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath house south of Town Center.
The younger of their two children is a high school sophomore, and she was concerned about her transition to Robbinsville High School. But “she said, ‘Dad, there is not much difference,’” Mr. Gadicherla said. “The school district is good, and it’s going up in the ratings.”
Sports are a big deal in the township: There is a large indoor soccer facility, along with a number of thriving youth programs. A team of 10- to 12-year-old girls from Robbinsville won the Little League Softball World Series in 2014. Playing fields and parks abound.
That may explain why Mr. Gadicherla wants to hop back on his bicycle when it gets warmer. “I’m really looking forward to going out and discovering things,” he said.
About 3,150 students are enrolled in three Robbinsville public schools: Sharon Elementary School, for prekindergarten through fourth grade; Pond Road Middle School, for fifth through eighth grade; and Robbinsville High School, which opened in 2004. According to the New Jersey School Performance Report, compiled by the department of education, the student population in 2019-20 was 59.3 percent white, 31.4 percent Asian, 5.5 percent Hispanic and 2.6 percent Black.
Robbinsville High School, home of the Ravens, had 1,044 students in 2019-20, with a four-year graduation rate of 95.7 percent. SAT scores for the class of 2020 were 598 in reading and writing and 597 in math, compared with statewide averages of 536 in each.
Robbinsville has access to two New Jersey Transit train stations on the Northeast Corridor line: Hamilton, about six miles west of Robbinsville Town Center, and Princeton Junction, about nine miles north. There are 48 trains running to and from New York Penn Station on weekdays. The trip takes 60 to 80 minutes, depending on the number of stops.
The one-way fare to Penn Station from Princeton Junction is $16; a 10-trip ticket is $160 and a monthly pass is $451. Daily parking at Princeton Junction is $6. Travelers from Hamilton and Princeton Junction can easily connect to Northeast Regional service between Washington and Boston.
Driving on the Turnpike from the Robbinsville Town Center to the Lincoln Tunnel takes 60 to 75 minutes on a good day. The inbound turnpike and tunnel tolls are $27.30 in cash, and $20.21 for E-ZPass customers during off-peak hours.
Robbinsville is named for George Robbins Robbins — yes, he had the same middle and last names — who lived from 1808 to 1875 and was a physician in nearby Hamilton Square. He later became a politician, serving two terms, from 1855 to 1859, in the U.S. House of Representatives, first with the Opposition Party, then with the new Republican Party.
The village at the center of the township that was established near a tavern was originally called Newtown, but the name was changed in 1844 to honor Robbins. Washington Township was incorporated in 1859, and officially became known as Robbinsville on Jan. 1, 2008.
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