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The affordable housing scene continues in full force as New Jersey municipalities scramble to represent themselves in court and compile affordable housing plans to illustrate constitutional compliance. Tonight, Hopewell Township will continue this dialogue at a special planning board meeting.

For a background on why municipalities must provide the opportunity for affordable housing, please see COAH in 90 seconds: Making housing accessible, or Affordabullsh*t?. To find out why this issue is now before the New Jersey courts rather than being dealt with directly by COAH, please see Time to Face Affordable Housing, Hopewell Township Plans for Future and also NJ Spotlight’s COAH IS HISTORY: STATE’S TOP COURT DECLARES TROUBLED AGENCY ‘MORIBUND.’

Some of the issues that the Hopewell Township planning board grappled with at the August 27th meeting included:

Inclusionary vs. Exclusionary Development

Inclusionary and exclusionary development refer to the balance of affordable to market rate units in a given development. Inclusionary means that there is a percentage of market rate units, exclusionary means that the development is exclusively affordable housing. Generally speaking, affordable housing must be inclusionary and can have a balance of 20% affordable units (with 80% market rate) for for-sale housing and 15% affordable units (with 85% market rate) for rental housing, explained planning board attorney Ron Morgan. This means that for every for-sale affordable housing unit, there will be 4 market rate units constructed.

The option for 100% affordable housing development, or exclusionary housing, is very limited, in part, because the economic feasibility requires acquiring tax credits to accomplish. And “there are only so many tax credits,” explained Township planner Frank Banisch.

Planning board members disagreed about whether they should first explore exclusionary housing. “This is not planning,” said planning board member Marylou Ferrara. “We’re just responding to the Supreme Court mandate and, in this respect, we should limit the number of units we create. My instinct is to limit it by fewer inclusionary.”

However, other planning board members found that there should be more varied housing in the Township. “There are gaps in the Township for people just moving back. And there are a lack of opportunities for the seniors who don’t want to buy a big house and are forced to move out of the Township,” said Township committee member and planning board liaison Kevin Kuchinski. “We should keep the number low but there are opportunities to improve the options for those who care most about the Township.”

Planning board member Larry Clarke countered that statement expressing his concern that the same planning issues are being addressed across the state. “While it may sound well to want to create housing opportunities for every segment, if every planning board is saying the same thing, we are all meeting those needs. If what makes us unique today changes to fit the needs of every segment, then all the areas will be the same.”

The planning board’s responsibility is to “plan” — in that they need to think ahead smartly based on data available today — and some planning board members expressed concern about whether permitting the construction of exclusionary housing would be poor planning. “We should have a mixed development because [building all affordable housing] is bad planning. We’re going to identify a part of the town where we dump the affordable housing? This is not something I would support,” said planning board member Bruce Gunther, whose sentiment was backed by board member Paul Kiss. Gunther also compared future development to Brandon Farms, where Gunther currently residents. “In my community, we have many types of housing. I think it is beautiful.”

Reverend Jack Belmont, also on the planning board, agreed, “We need to create the same kind of opportunities that are available in Brandon Farms in other parts of the community. To me, that is good planning — trying to create uses where there is high density and a lot of open space around it that preserves the land. We should be doing this.”

Scattered vs. Condensed

Throughout all affordable housing discussions, the planning board consciously struggles with the interest in preserving the overall character of the Township, wanting to maintain as much open space as possible, but also needing to comply with the mandatory affordable housing obligation.

Typically, and based on the Township’s master plan, development is focused on sewer service area but the definition of what continues a “sewer service area” is quite surprising. To this point, Jim Waltman, Executive Director of the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, spoke during the public comment section of the meeting regarding the difference between “sewer service areas” and areas serviced by sewers.

“Some sewer service areas are not served by sewer lines and that waste is disposed to the ground water so, before anyone assumes that these two areas are create alike, they aren’t. The Watershed Reserve is in the sewer service area with no sewer line,” explained Waltman. “This is a limitation and a limitation of nature so the numbers cannot be applied to the same types of areas.”

Furthermore, Waltman emphasized the environmental benefit of having condensed rather than scattered development.

“We are in favor of consolidating development — making it as dense as possible — protecting the maximum the amount of preserved land. When you have infrastructure (sewer lines) go big. We are not oppose to a density approach where you have the infrastructure that can handle it.”

Specific Locations in the Township

The planning board reviewed potential major properties to begin to identify specific locations where the, yet undetermined, affordable housing obligation could be satisfied.

In the southern portion of the Township, the Scotch Road area was discussed and whether housing could also be constructed in the Capital Health area to provide for housing opportunities for hospital employees. In the northern portion of the Township, Kooltronics, Pennytown and the golf course properties, all in the Marshall’s Corner section of Hopewell Township, were discussed and are technically in a “sewer service” area.

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With regard to Pennytown, the Hopewell Township committee recently requested that the planning board consider options that did not include Pennytown however the planning board made it clear that they do not plan on removing Pennytown from consideration until such time as they understand what removing Pennytown from the plan would sacrifice. “We will keep Pennytown on the list so we know what we are removing from the overall numbers,” said planning board chairperson Karen Murphy.

And as for the golf course property, Kuchinski cautioned the board, “We would be relying on the holding capacity of the soil in these areas. I would strongly caution us from looking at the golf course because it has environmental value.”

Tonight, at 7PM at the Township Municipal Building, the planning board will review alternative development scenarios and review next steps.

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