After almost two decades in the courts, West Windsor has settled its final piece of affordable housing litigation.##M:[more]##
Township Council recently approved an agreement on a 44-acre Clarksville Road property owned by the Akselrad family that will allow for the construction of 340-unit rental apartment complex.
Under the agreement, the parcel — located near the Meadow Road intersection — will be developed at a density of eight units per acre, with a 20 percent set aside for affordable housing. The pact calls for an average of two bedrooms per unit.
The deal also requires the developer to construct a gravity-flow sewer system rather than a pumping system, which would have been significantly less expensive for the developer.
Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh says the agreement was in the township’s best interests, and that all other viable legal avenues had been exhausted.
The agreement is the closing chapter of a book that started with a builder’s remedy lawsuit filed against the township in 1985. As a result of the suit, the Akselrad site was designated with the eight-unit-per-acre zoning as part of the township’s overall affordable housing plan.
State Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg allowed the site to be rezoned for commercial uses in the late 1990s after the township’s affordable housing obligation was fulfilled through other projects — including Toll Brother’s 1,"165-unit Estates at Princeton Junction.
But in 2000, a state appellate court reversed Feinberg’s ruling and required that the previous affordable housing zoning be restored.
Hsueh says when he was elected mayor in 2001, he was advised by township legal counsel that the prospects of having the appeal overturned was poor.
“The general recommendation was not very optimistic,” says Hsueh. “Once the appellate division made its decision it wasn’t going to be easy for West Windsor, so we decided that the best course of action was to negotiate with the property owner.”
The mayor says over the last three years, the township proceeded with slow and difficult negotiations with the Akselrads.
The property owner turned down one deal that would have allowed a swap of development rights with the Wyeth — the owner of the 653-acre Cyanamid site at the intersection of Clarksville and Quakerbridge roads.
He was also reluctant to sell the land to the township as open space, says Hsueh. “When he finally gave us a price, it was astronomical.”
“In the end, this agreement was the best we could do. It came down to the township having to honor the zoning it promised in 1985, even though we had no control over it.”
Hsueh points out that the limitation of a two-bedroom per unit average will help control the impacts of the development on the school district, and the 20-percent affordable housing set aside will contribute 69 units towards the township’s future affordable housing requirements.
The gravity sewer line is also significant. “For the first time, we have finally been successful in getting a developer to agree to gravity lines out there,” says Hsueh.
The township had also attempted to require that Toll Brothers install gravity lines for the Estates at Princeton Junction, but the courts ruled that the cost was too expensive and would be prohibitive for an affordable housing development. Toll was allowed to hook its sewer lines to a pump station — the Duck Pond Run station — instead.
Under the Akselrad deal, the developer would pay the township some $1 million for the installation of a gravity-flow sewer line and the removal of the Duck Pond Run pump station.
There is one caveat — the deal sets out an aggressive 14-month timetable for the completion of the project. If the township is unable to meet the timeframe, which includes bidding the project and getting necessary approvals from the state Department of Environmental Protection, the developer will not have to pay the $1 million, and could instead construct a separate pump station.