Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Fair Lawn's Number Maze

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Fair Lawn's Number Maze

Article excerpt

FAIR LAWN -- For some borough residents, whether their home can be found on a GPS unit comes down to one, very small detail: a hyphen.

The borough, which has almost 33,000 residents, has had hyphenated home and building numbers for decades. For example, Borough Hall is at 8-01 Fair Lawn Ave.

Many people see the system as a local quirk -- if they've even thought about it. And many residents simply refer to the mark as a "dash" in saying their addresses.

Few municipalities use the system; Queens, one of the five boroughs of New York City, is one that does.

Of the 3.9 million addresses in the state, 21,970 have hyphenated addresses. Nearly half -- about 10,000 -- are in Fair Lawn, with Newark trailing with about 6,000, according to the Postal Service. The rest can be found scattered around the state.

Borough officials say the hyphen system was set up decades ago to help fire, police and ambulance crews navigate without a map. Homes and buildings south of Broadway -- Route 4 -- have a zero before the hyphen, followed by the building number. Structures north of Broadway are given a number before the hyphen that corresponds to the street. For example, for Borough Hall, the "8" denotes that the building is north of Broadway, in line with an imaginary Eighth Street.

And residents, who note that they never experience problems with regular Postal Service mail, admit they know to give guests from out of the area step-by-step directions or tell them to take out the hyphen when typing in addresses in online forms to get packages delivered promptly, perhaps a minor adjustment rather than a major problem.

But the hyphens have led to complications for some residents, who have noticed that some modern-day GPS units and some online retailers do not recognize the hyphen or eliminate it, leading to lost visitors, delivery people and packages.

Fair Lawn Mayor John Cosgrove, a former firefighter in the borough, said the system has been in place for about 80 years and creates a grid of the town to help emergency personnel.

"We've used it forever," Cosgrove said. "It really works well for first responders."

Borough Historian Jane Diepeveen, who has written several books about Fair Lawn's past, said it's unclear exactly when and why the system was implemented. A tax assessment map from the 1930s shows the start of the numbering system, though it's unclear if it was used for the first time then or dates back further. She also said the historic Radburn section of the community is off the "grid" and has unhyphenated house numbers.

Though the system may help those who know Fair Lawn fairly well, some residents say it can confuse outsiders.

Drora Kemp and her husband, Ronnie, for instance, live on Saddle River Road, south of Broadway. Their house number starts with a "0" before the hyphen. …

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