With the filing deadline set by the New Jersey Supreme Court looming later this week, Hopewell Borough’s Mayor and council deliberated in closed session prior to the regularly scheduled July 6, 2015 meeting to discuss whether to proceed with filing an affordable housing declaratory judgment action. As previously reported by MercerMe, such a legal maneuver would avail the Borough to court-ordered immunity from builder’s remedy lawsuits and permit the Borough to participate in weighing in on the number of units needed in the municipality. The special session allowed elected officials to receive confidential advice from their professional planner, Frank Banisch, and the Borough attorney on the implications of proceeding with the lawsuit.
Moved by long-time councilman David Mackie, the council approved taking the legal step 4-2, with Councilman Bob Lewis and Council President Sky Morehouse voting against the action without offering much of a reason for their votes in opposition.
MercerMe contributor Ryan Kennedy was in attendence and spoke as a member of the public, asking the council to take action towards increasing the amount of affordable housing available in the Borough, noting that for many in the community, diversity of housing oportunities was an important goal regardless of the procedural path chosen. Mayor Paul Anzano indicated that he believed affordable housing was an important goal, whether the town filed the action or not.
Unlike some other local media treatment of the issue, Kennedy pointed out that filing the declaratory judgment action did not mean “opposition” to affordable housing at all, rather that it is a step that would show Hopewell’s commitment to a diverse community with a desire to retain planning control over the details of implementation. Alternatively, “builder’s remedy” actions could allow developers to take the planning out of the hands of the local zoning or historic preservation bodies. In recent weeks, several developers have showed interest in residential housing construction in Hopewell Valley, including one in Hopewell Borough itself.
As the meeting concluded, Borough officials indicated that they would at an upcoming meeting provide details of implementation and any revisions needed to the existing housing plan.