In March of 2015, the New Jersey Supreme Court declared the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) failing and transferred jurisdiction from COAH to New Jersey trial courts in order to adjudicate municipal compliance with their affordable housing obligations. The decision permitted municipalities to file Declaratory Judgment Actions (DJ Actions) with trial courts to seek approval of their Affordable Housing Plans, or risk being sued by a developer. As required, the Borough submitted a Declaratory Judgment to the courts by the prescribed deadline.
The obligation to provide a realistic opportunity for affordable housing stems all the way back to the Mt. Laurel decisions of 1975 and 1983. Those decisions declare that municipal land use regulations which prevent affordable housing opportunities for lower and middle income families are unconstitutional and ordered all New Jersey municipalities to plan, zone for, and take affirmative actions to provide realistic opportunities for their “fair share” of the region’s need for affordable housing for low and moderate-income people. The decision to transfer the authority to the courts enabled many developers throughout the State to file for intervener status, effectively giving the developer a “seat at the table” with the municipality in the court. The premise of the intervener is that as a developer they have the land and resources to provide the municipality an opportunity to meet its affordable housing obligation.
The owners of Larison’s Turkey Farm located at the intersection of Rt. 206 and Main Street have sought to redevelop their property since 2002. The adjoining vacant land on Mill Ridge Lane was purchased in 2008 and since that time the owners have actively tried to market single-family homes on the site. In August of 2015, the owners filed an objection to the Borough’s DJ Action/Fair Share Housing plan and sought intervener status. The owners were granted intervener status over the Borough’s objection. With this status, litigation proceedings began between the Borough and the owner as to how the property could be developed to assist the Borough in meeting its affordable housing obligation. Collateral to this litigation, the owner also appealed the decision of the Highlands Council to grant the Borough planning compliance status, which would limit the scope of disturbance on the Turkey Farm property.
The owners’ original plan in the affordable housing litigation included a 144 unit apartment complex, 20% of which, or 28 units, would have been designated as affordable housing under Mt. Laurel. This plan was rejected by the Borough. After two and a half years, and expenditures by the Borough in excess of $300,000 for professional fees, the negotiations between the Borough attorneys, planners and engineers, and with continued input from the Mayor and Council, the following proposal was prepared by the owner and is being considered by the governing body:
- 20 town homes on Mill Ridge
- A 6,500 square foot restaurant to be located at the site of the former Larison’s Turkey Farm Restaurant. The restaurant would seat 225 patrons.
- A 14,698 square foot CVS with a drive through window
- A 5,000 square foot office building
- A 20,000 square foot medical office building, and
- 36 affordable housing units to be built and paid for by the developer
The owner would support the Borough’s affordable housing plan, and satisfy the Borough’s fair share obligation without the need for additional affordable housing units.
The most significant feature of this proposal is that the developer will build and manage the affordable housing units at no cost to the Borough and without any multiplier of market rate units. In almost every other settlement in the State, the number of affordable housing units built is limited to 15 or 20% of a total market rate residential development. For example, a developer seeking to build 100 apartment or townhome units would include 15-20 affordable housing units in the development. The market rate units associated with such projects have a major impact on those municipalities and their public resources. In this case, not only did the Borough avoid any significant increase in market rate units, as is typical in a Mt. Laurel case, but was also able to secure additional commercial tax ratable uses in the process.
It is also important to note that if a municipality does not have a developer to build affordable housing units, and if the municipality does not have adequate funding to meet its affordable housing obligation in its Affordable Housing Trust Fund, then the municipality is required by law to bond for the building of the affordable units. The bond obligation is paid by the taxpayers of the municipality.
Also of significance in the proposed terms is the appointment of an ad-hoc committee which will assist the developer in the site and design process. The Mayor and Council will appoint this committee at a later date should the terms of the agreement be accepted by the Borough.
The terms of the proposed plan are attached, as is a conceptual drawing of the development. Plans are also on display at the Borough Hall. The Mayor and Council will deliberate on this plan at the next regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, September 18 at 7:00 PM at the Borough Hall at 50 North Road. The public is welcome to attend.
Any comments regarding the plan may be directed to: Development@ChesterBorough.org. In order to be fully compliant with the New Jersey Open Public Records Act and the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act, no responses will be provided to questions or comments received regarding this plan via email, personal contact with a public official, or social media, prior to the public meeting on September 18, 2018.
BOROUGH OF CHESTER
Janet G. Hoven, Mayor
Full Press Release
Includes Site Plan Rendering and Terms Sheet