To the Editor:
Hopewell Township Committee supporters use simple-sounding arguments. They say that the Township Committee works hard (mostly true); are volunteers (nearly true, they receive a small, taxable salary); that the township will be healthier by meeting its affordable housing obligations (unquestionably true); and that the affordable housing alternatives were too expensive or impractical (almost certainly not true).
When asked last week at the Township Committee meeting to detail what alternatives the administration considered, and how they estimated all of the long and short-term costs, the Kuchinski-Blake administration refused to answer the questions.
If we had proposed satisfying our mandate only with 100% affordable housing, the courts likely would have balked. South Brunswick proposed only 100% affordable units, and the court rejected that.
But what if we had proposed 100% affordable housing in only one or two locations? That idea would have resulted in far fewer market-rate units, which is the real driver of higher taxes, school burdens, and monstrous traffic jams. My concerns are with the proposed 2,881 market-rate units, not with the mandate for affordable housing.
Well, the Kuchinki-Blake administration claimed that would be too expensive. Hopewell Township would have had to pay a huge sewer-infrastructure bill.
It turns out that the law has something to say about that. I am not a lawyer, but I can read. In So. Burl. Co. NAACP v Mount Laurel, 92 NJ 158 (1983) (Mount Laurel II), the Supreme Court of NJ wrote that “municipalities and all governmental agencies having jurisdiction over affordable housing development projects have an affirmative obligation to reduce cost-generative measures that impede the production of affordable housing in the housing region in question.”
What does that mean for Hopewell Township? Does it mean that we must provide reasonable sewer connection and user fees and eliminate sewer reservation fees? Those who believe that the current township committee struck a great deal fail to acknowledge the potential obligations that a 4:1 ratio of market-rate homes to affordable may require.
ELSA appears to have sufficient capacity. However, their aging sewer system has substantial infiltration. In other words, when it rains, lots of water seeps into their system. Would we be responsible for improving their existing infrastructure? Do the members of the Hopewell Township Committee know all of this? Yes! Their own resolution 18-178 quotes the legal language that I cited above.
The committee signed contracts with developers without explaining the ramifications to the community. As John Hart has famously stated, “The horse is now out of the barn.” There’s no going back. I believe, however, that we are entitled to a detailed explanation. What alternatives did the Township Committee investigate? What investigations did they conduct? Did they examine each alternative’s long-term impact on township budgets?
These are the same questions posed two weeks ago. I will continue to ask them until I receive a satisfactory response.
Cheryl Edwards, Hopewell Township