As expected, the West Windsor Township Council passed a resolution on February 25 to ""sound the alarm"" about the newly proposed Council on Affordable Housing regulations before the public comment period expires on Saturday, March 22.##M:[more]##
The resolution, drafted by Township Attorney Mike Herbert, expresses township officials’ concerns about the impact the regulations would have on municipalities’ other obligations, including smart growth.
In addition, the council is expected to vote Monday, March 3, to consolidate the resolution with a memo drawn up by planning attorney Gerald Muller, township planner John Madden, and land use division manager Sam Surtees, that adds more specific, and less confrontational recommendations, regarding the regulations, and the specific impact on West Windsor.
Under the proposed third-round rules released in December, the ratio of affordable to market units would double from eight to four, and the ratio of affordable units for new jobs would increase from one affordable unit for every 25 jobs to one for every 16. The costs of Regional Contribution Agreements would double from $35,"000 per unit to $67,"000 to $80,"000 per unit. The ratio of affordable units to office space, retail, restaurants, hotel space, and parking garage space, also dramatically increased. Actually, the ratio dealing with parking garage space jumped 1,"250 percent from one unit for every 125,"000 square feet to one for every 10,"667 square feet.
The February 25 resolution acknowledges that ""West Windsor is quite diverse, and that although it’s considered an affluent community, it has provided the seventh greatest amount of new construction of affordable units in the state, which is significant because there are some towns that aren’t doing anything or very little,"" Herbert pointed out. ""Despite that, these COAH regulations, to a large extent, would penalize the efforts made by West Windsor to provide for affordable housing in some meaningful numbers.""
Earlier in February, the council heard presentations from Muller, Madden, and Herbert about their thoughts on the new regulations. Muller said then that he didn’t think the proposed regulations would have as detrimental an effect on West Windsor as he originally thought, and that by changing just a few of the regulations, West Windsor’s obligations wouldn’t be too high. He suggested township officials take a less confrontational approach and make recommendations on specific regulations, so as to keep West Windsor’s good standing with COAH officials. Herbert, however, said the township should follow the lead of the League of Municipalities and pass a more critical resolution that would ""send a message"" to COAH officials.
The council had ultimately decided to merge the two concepts, and Councilman Charles Morgan made suggestions that Herbert include in his resolution the percentages of increases in affordable housing requirements in each category — including the units a municipality would have to provide for office, retail, and residential developments in town — to create a more dramatic effect.
While Herbert’s resolution did just that, Councilwoman Heidi Kleinman raised concern over why the memo drafted by Muller, Madden, and Surtees, with the specific recommendations, was not up for vote along with Herbert’s resolution, at the same time on February 25.
""That memo was the most interesting to me because it really gets to the issues dealing with West Windsor,"" she said. ""This resolution addresses what many people are feeling. I just don’t want it to get lost.""
The memo would include ""the comments that would be issued more specifically as to the COAH regulations,"" Herbert explained. ""The resolution really is a general pronouncement of a general policy standpoint. The memo really is intended to recommend to council to approve these recommendations to send to COAH as specific regulatory items.""
Included in the more specific comments in Muller’s memo is the suggestion that the language in the new COAH regulations clarify that the township, and other municipalities, be permitted to carry over bonus rental credits from the second round (which permit each rental unit to count as two COAH units), and that the number of rehabilitation units be kept at zero for West Windsor, not rise to 23.
Kleinman also wanted to know why ""we’re not using one of the Hillier plans to explain"" how the regulations would affect a redevelopment project like the one in West Windsor. Including one of the plans would give COAH officials ""a real-life example of why these regulations are in conflict with smart growth, and trying to get a mixed-use development.""
Councilwoman Linda Geevers and Council President Will Anklowitz said they had no problem passing the resolution on February 25 and then passing the Muller memo later.
Geevers had her own comments about the COAH regulations. She said one of the biggest issues is that legislators need to work harder on property tax reform because houses and rental apartments are already expensive in New Jersey. Placing requirements on municipalities to provide affordable units adds more children to the school district, thus causing more taxes. ""On one hand, you’re trying to make affordable housing for people who truly need it,"" she said. ""On the other hand, you might be raising people’s property taxes. There has to be some sort of balance here.""
Councilman George Borek said old COAH regulations used to work, but the newly proposed regulations simply don’t. ""It’s going to be a disadvantage to the people who are looking for affordable housing in the state of New Jersey.""
Also on the agenda for the meeting on Monday, March 3, is a discussion over the redevelopment attorney — a controversial subject, as the mayor and council are at odds over which candidate to select — and whether the council can designate itself as the redevelopment entity, which some council members say could solve the brewing issue over the redevelopment attorney.