At Hopewell Township’s last planning board meeting on September 24, the planning board urged residents to be involved in the affordable housing process but also be familiar with the board’s legal obligation. The request came as a response to a flyer dispersed throughout Hopewell Township offering criticism of the Township’s current approach to affordable housing planning. Referring to the prospective areas of development as an “urban center,” the group opposes the development based on potential property tax increases and elevated road congestion, siting development and related tax increases in areas such as Chesterfield and Robbinsville.
“It has come to my attention that flyers have been distributed throughout the Township containing some inflammatory and misleading information,” said Karen Murphy, Hopewell Township planning board chairperson. “If you are here tonight because you are outraged, I encourage you to listen carefully, become informed, and help the Township develop some viable solutions. This is not a development application before the planning board tonight. The planning board is gathering background information used to create an updated housing plan element to be part of the Township’s master plan.”
Murphy explained that the planning board is currently in the phase of identifying the Township’s fair share housing obligation and developing a plan for where the affordable housing units can be built. “This is the part of the plan that has been and will continue to be the subject of numerous meetings,” explained Murphy.
At the planning board meeting, for those individuals in attendance who were not familiar with the constitutional affordable housing obligation, planning board attorney, Ronald Morgan, reiterated, the historical background of affordable housing in New Jersey and what compliance the Township is required legally to provide.
For background on affordable housing in New Jersey, See “COAH in 90 seconds: Making housing accessible, or Affordabullsh*t?“
It was suggested by a member of the public that the Township simply not comply with the process. However, planning board members warned that the ramifications of not complying with the affordable housing process are staggering. When a municipality does not comply with providing an opportunity and plan for affordable housing, it runs the risk of having a builder bring a lawsuit against the Township. This lawsuit results in a municipality losing control over the process.
At the December 2014 Township planning board meeting, one Hopewell area resident, said it best as she cautioned about her experience living in West Windsor during the time of the builder’s remedy suit Toll Brothers v. West Windsor Township. “Do not fight what your obligations are. West Windsor did and we had no say [in the development],” warned the resident. “After the community of West Windsor thought they were above the obligations, they had very undesirable results.” (See “Hopewell Twp Residents Skeptical That Competing Interests Can COAHxist.”)
At the last two planning board meetings, the board has undergone a 3-option analysis, preparing for the possibility of varying obligation numbers. The board has identified specific tracts that could potentially be developed, namely the property directly behind the Shop Rite off of the Pennington Circle, referred to as the “Zaitz Tract,” which comprises over 35 developable acres.
Tonight, a special planning board meeting will be held at 7pm at the Hopewell Township Municipal Building-Auditorium at 201 Washington Crossing-Pennington Road. The planning board will be reviewing the background demographic and economic information, reviewing the updated spreadsheet data and development scenarios and reviewing the next steps in preparing for compliance with the court on the affordable housing obligation.