West Windsor’s plan to provide for 1,500 affordable housing credits by 2025 has gotten the stamp of approval from the state Superior Court judge who had oversight of the program.
Mayor Hemant Marathe announced on Dec. 3 that Judge Mary Jacobson had ruled in favor of an affordable housing agreement between the Fair Share Housing Center of Cherry Hill and West Windsor Township.
In October, the township reached an agreement with FSHC to settle a lawsuit brought by the nonprofit over the amount of affordable housing the township must provide. Council voted to approve the settlement on Oct. 10.
Marathe said that the township will have 90 days from Dec. 3 to enact ordinances rezoning properties in order to implement the plan. The judge will then hold a compliance hearing and certify that the township has met its affordable housing obligation through 2025.
In March, Jacobson ruled on the FSHC lawsuit, finding that the township is responsible to provide for 1,500 affordable housing credits by 2025.
Once the judge certifies agreement, it will settle the FSHC litigation and ensure that the township, the FSHC or any other entity cannot challenge the 1,500 number. Once approved the agreement would also indemnify the township from builder’s remedy lawsuits.
The settlement also helps the township’s case in a lawsuit that was filed by the Howard Hughes Corp. in September.
HHC is the owner of the 658-acre former American Cyanamid tract at the corner of Route 1 and Quakerbridge Road.
The developer has proposed a plan for the township to rezone the property (currently zoned commercial) to allow 1,976 units of housing—rental apartment, townhomes, single-family homes, and age-restricted units, and more than 1.3 million square feet of commercial retail and office space.
Marathe, members of council and the most West Windsor residents are opposed to any zoning change.
If Jacobson certifies the township’s affordable housing plan, it removes the argument by HHC that a rezoning should happen to allow for more affordable housing.
“Although this (settlement) does not resolve the Howard Hughes lawsuit against the township, it gives us a strong upper hand in responding to the lawsuit,” said Marathe.
In its lawsuit, which was filed under the name Princeton Land LLC (a subsidiary of HHC), the developer is asking for the site to be changed from its current research/office/manufacturing zoning, and to be designated an area in need of redevelopment. Under state law, the designation would be a significant benefit to the developer.
“The current (zoning) of the site is obsolete and has not been updated in any significant respect since it was adopted in or about 1980,” claims the HHC lawsuit.
“The township has recognized the need for a ‘special planning study’ to consider alternative zoning options for the site since as early as its re-examination of the master plan in 2000, but has, for nearly two decades now, forestalled any such study.”
What the lawsuit does not recognize is that the township planning board is currently conducting a review of the township’s entire master plan, including a study of the HHC site and how it relates to future development in the rest of the township. The master plan review will evaluate the zoning of all properties in town.
HHC also alleges that the site’s current commercial zoning is meant to create a “holding zone” to prohibit any development on the property. It also alleges that no one wants to develop the property under the current zoning, and the township is “depriving the plaintiff of all economically viable and productive uses of the site.”
HHC is also arguing that the current zoning, which allows for some 7 million square feet of commercial space is not viable, because there is an “oversupply of research and development space in the state and Central New Jersey in particular.”
As for affordable housing, the suit alleges that the current zoning allows for mixed use development only when coupled with 100 percent affordable housing projects, “which is neither economically tenable nor reasonable related to any legitimate land use purpose.
The plan proposed by HHC calls for 20 percent of the housing in the project—about 400 units—to be set aside as affordable housing.
Meanwhile, the settlement agreement with the FSHC fulfills the township’s obligation without any affordable units on the HHC site.
Under the agreement, the township would provide for 1,125 units of very low-, low- and moderate-income housing, and get 375 bonus credits for rentals (rentals count double towards a town’s affordable housing obligation) for a total of 1,500 credits. There are a total of 883 rental units proposed and 83 age-restricted units.
Under the state’s affordable housing regulations, a municipality is entitled to bonus credits up to 25 percent of its fair share obligation, which is 375 out of 883 in West Windsor’s case.
Some rental projects are not eligible for bonuses in this round, because the rental bonuses have been allocated elsewhere. It is possible the 508 unused credits might be applicable in the next round after 2025.
In total, the plan would bring about the construction of about 3,000 new housing units in the township, which is far less than the 7,500 units some had estimated following Judge Jacobson’s ruling in March.
The settlement agreement contains a detailed overview of the mechanisms the township will use to fulfill its Third Round Obligation (the period between 1999 and 2025) of 1,500. The full proposal is outlined here.