As part of the ongoing coverage of the Scotch Road / Merrill Lynch proposed master plan changes that would allow high-density mixed-use (commercial and residential) development, MercerMe asked for written contributions from those who oppose the current proposed plan, specifically with regard to fulfilling affordable house/COAH obligations. For some clarification on the obligation, check out “COAH in 90 seconds: Making housing accessible, or Affordabullsh*t?” by Ryan Kennedy. For more coverage, check out “Hopewell Twp Residents Skeptical That Competing Interests Can COAHxist” by Mary Galioto.
Thank you for your invitation to share my thoughts on the proposed Urban Center at Scotch Rd! I should note to begin that my views are mine alone; I don’t speak for anyone else!
I have several thoughts on the relationship between the proposed Urban Center and COAH:
1) First, we don’t yet know what Hopewell’s future COAH obligations will be, and the Township is currently in compliance with those that exist. Given this, I think that it is unwise to make any major decisions that would dramatically affect the future of the Township as a whole on the basis of what obligations the Township *might* have in the future. Instead, we should wait and see what they are, and then respond to them. Indeed, Mr. Banisch himself stated at the November 20th meeting that he would not support the Urban Center on the basis of COAH.
2) Second, let’s assume that the Township does face in the future considerable COAH obligations. It’s important to stress that these would be obligations to build HOUSING, NOT strip malls, retail stores with housing units stacked over them, Big Box retail, manufacturing plants, assembly plants, and additional office space. But all of these NON-HOUSING forms of development are bundled into the proposed Urban Center. These have NOTHING to do with COAH. If and when we are faced with COAH obligations, we can talk about our HOUSING obligations. Not the desire of a developer to build unnecessary Big Box retail units in an utterly inappropriate location. Moreover, much of the adverse impact–taxes, traffic–of the Urban Center would be generated by the proposed retail and office units, rather than the housing. (Although placing up to 2,500 residential units in one semi-rural location would itself lead to a huge increase in traffic.)
3) Third, comparisons of municipal tax data between Robinsville and other Mercer Co. municipalities shows clearly that the creation of Urban Centers leads to an escalation in property taxes imposed upon residents compared to municipalities (like Hopewell) that have met their COAH obligations without building Urban Centers. This is a MAJOR problem if you support the concept of affordable housing. Property taxes make up a significant proportion of monthly house payments for many people with mortgages. Increases in property taxes thus lead directly to increased monthly housing payments. This means that people with low to moderate incomes will, if a municipality chooses to build an Urban Center rather than satisfy its COAH obligations through only building housing, quickly be priced out of the area altogether. Impartial considerations of the data here thus show that a concern for affordable housing should lead one to OPPOSE attempts to meet COAH obligations that are bundled into Urban Centers.
4) Fourth, I think it’s important to note that a concern with OVERdevelopment is not also a concern about development. Speaking for myself, IF the Township has future COAH obligations I can see the wisdom in developing HOUSING, including COAH housing, on ONE side of Scotch Rd between the former Merrill Lynch campus and Capital Health. Such development could be done in a manner that is sympathetic to the surrounding area, and that does not impact it visually beyond the impact of ML and CH.
5) I don’t think that this has come up yet, but, personally, I find it problematic from a social, and social justice, perspective to develop in such a way that COAH housing is all lumped into one area. This seems to me to be ghettoizing the people it’s intended for. Far better to have it spread throughout the Township, where appropriate, rather than placed into one large Urban Center.
Anyway, these are my thoughts on this issue–and, of course, they might well change as we get new data and information!
All best wishes,
Contributor: James Stacey Taylor is a Hopewell Township resident and an Associate Professor of Philosophy at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ). Dr. Taylor also prepared a paper containing his independent research regarding the Scotch Road area proposed development that you can view on the Save Scotch Road website.