Affordable Housing Ramps Up, Special Meetings to be Set by Hopewell Twp Planning Board

As affordable housing issues ramp up, Hopewell Township’s planning board will be holding separate special planning board meetings to discuss the Township’s housing plan as it prepares to fulfill its yet undetermined affordable housing obligation, which is currently being litigated statewide.

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Now that Hopewell Township has filed its declaratory judgment with the Superior Court, it has begun the process of participating in the discussion regarding constitutionally mandated affordable housing obligations. For the current court process and affordable housing numbers offered by Fair Share Housing: “No More Waiting, Affordable Housing Numbers Offered By Fair Share Housing” and “COAH in 90 seconds: Making housing accessible, or Affordabullsh*t?

Part of this process requires each municipality’s planning board to undergo a reassessment of its “housing plan,” where the town envisions the how and where of potential residential expansion. Hopewell Township, at its June planning board meeting, reaffirmed its commitment to abide by the existing master plan, the official zoning document that outlines an area’s land use intentions and visions for a particular area. For a good overview of what a master plan is, check out this article.

“The housing element has two parts,” said Hopewell Township planner Frank Banisch at last Thursday’s planning board meeting. “The first is the statutory requirement for demographic housing and economic information that informs what determines appropriateness. And the second includes putting together a fair share plan that meets the rule requirements.”

Following that path, the planning board intends to start by looking at demographics information, which aids in determining amount, location and appropriateness of housing in a particular area, based on information provided by the Township’s planner. Planning board’s attorney, Ronald Morgan, explained that the demographics information is standard boiler plate, however planning board chair Karen Murphy specified that she would like to commence the housing plan analysis with the demographics to lay a foundation for the rest of the discussion.

Next, the planning board will receive some clarification on the afforable housing numbers. While the official numbers will be set by the court, Fair Share Housing has already issued its recommended numbers and the Township will be retorting with estimates being issued, as early as possibly today, by consultant affordable housing expert Dr. Robert Burchell, the Director of Urban Planning and Policy Development Program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. At the planning board meeting last Thursday, some debate erupted as to which existing housing satisfied some of the obligation but Banisch assured the group that this discussion would be more in depth at the next meeting.

Hopewell Township planner, Frank Banisch, and  Hopewell Township planning board attorney, Ron Morgan
Hopewell Township planner, Frank Banisch, and Hopewell Township planning board attorney, Ron Morgan

“We understand that Dr. Burchell’s report will be released Monday [July 27, 2015] and we’ll know quickly what our bracket is,” explained Banisch. “It will be likely some place between 500-1000. As part of our conversation at the next meeting, we will not know the number yet but we will plan for the number. We will be preparing a plan and arguing the merits of existing sites in the plan including Pennytown. We’re going starting figure this out.”

After assessing, even generally, the affordable housing obligation number, the Township planning board will look at maps along with the existing master plan to identify locations appropriate for affordable housing development.  “We’re going to concentrate on the map because carrying capacity will save the day both from the perspective of what the land can absorb and the sewer service areas,” said Banisch.

Committee member Vanessa Sandom, speaking as a Township resident at the planning board meeting, requested that the planning board release to the public any presentation material/information prior to the special meetings. “People will want to see the information, have time to review and come prepared to ask questions,” said Sandom. However, it looks unlikely that the public will receive the information prior to the special meetings. Banisch said that the maps will not be released ahead of time because they are a work-in-progress.

Special planning board meetings are open to the public and are tentatively scheduled through to November, however planning board attorney Morgan says that the housing plan will likely need to be complete and submitted to the court by November:

  • August 20
  • September 17
  • October 15
  • November 18

These issues may also be discussed in non-special planning board meetings. For firm dates, times, and agendas, make sure to check the Hopewell Township website.

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