Now that West Windsor has finally resolved its affordable housing plan, officials are gearing up to deal with the next step in the process—the construction of new housing developments.
State Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson in May approved West Windsor’s plan to implement an October settlement with the Fair Share Housing Center of Cherry Hill.
The ruling and subsequent agreement came after FSHC sued West Windsor, claiming that the town had not provided for its fair share of affordable housing. In a ruling earlier last year, Jacobson set the township’s obligation at 1,500 units.
The township negotiated a settlement last October with FSHC that set out a detailed plan for how the town would provide for that number of units. The settlement satisfies the township’s obligation and protects the township from builder’s remedy lawsuits through 2025.
“The board has made some amendments to our land use as part of our master plan,” said West Windsor Planning Board chairman Gene O’ Brien. “The change was to recommend classifying certain parcels of land to be used for mixed use or residential development. These changes were then translated into ordinances that were approved by the township council.”
Now that the council has updated its land use ordinances, the next step is for the developers of the properties to submit land use applications, get approval from the planning board and begin construction.
The following update on several of the projects anticipated in the near future is based on interviews with O’Brien, Mayor Hemant Marathe and land use manager Samuel Surtees.
AvalonBay Communities is planning a mixed-use development, with 37,000 square feet of commercial/retail space and 800 residential units, of which about 99 will be affordable rentals. The plan also includes a hotel, which is separate from the rest of the commercial space.
The project will be built on a 24-plus-acre site at Station Drive and Washington Road. Currently, the developer is working with the township’s Technical Review Committee to finalize the specifics of its plans before they are submitted to the planning board.
AvalonBay must also obtain approvals from N.J. Transit (due to proximity to the Princeton Junction train station) and Mercer County, since this development will impact Route 571, a county road.
Another major project in the pipeline is Mack Cali’s 25-acre Roseland site, located on Route 1 north between Carnegie Center Boulevard and Meadow Road. Based on discussions with Mack Cali, it is estimated that construction on the site will yield 492 market-rate units and 164 affordable units. The developer is also currently working with the TRC.
The Heritage at West Windsor, which is being developed by American Properties, would be located in the southeast corner of the township near the East Windsor border. The parcel totals roughly 67 acres, although a portion of the site is encumbered by wetlands.
It would have frontage on both Old Trenton and Princeton-Hightstown roads. The developer has presented a concept plan for 185 townhouses with at least 25 set-aside for affordable housing. The developer is currently working with the TRC.
Also on the site, ARC Mercer has discussed partnering with American Properties on the affordable component of the project. The nonprofit has agreed to construct a group home along Princeton-Hightstown Road. The home is anticipated to contain four bedrooms and would be constructed as part of the inclusionary development phasing schedule.
Surtees says that he expects public hearings to take place by the end of the year for the AvalonBay, Roseland and Heritage at West Windsor projects.
One project already underway is the Woodstone development on a 54-acre property owned by Princeton Theological Seminary near the intersection of Wheeler Way and Canal Pointe Boulevard. The project was approved by the township last June.
A total of 12 residential buildings are to be built, including 89 affordable units. The project is currently being reviewed for compliance with township zoning ordinances, and construction is expected to start later this year.
PTS is also looking to develop a 68-acre property adjacent to Woodstone, which is currently developed with 240 apartments. There is a possibility that PTS might sell or lease the property to a developer. Such a transaction would require that 20 percent of the units (48) to be affordable housing.
Garden Homes is proposing a 588-unit rental project, which would include 147 affordable units. It would be located on a 64-acre site that has access to Route 1 north and Meadow Road. The property is south of Route 1 and adjacent to Meadow Lane Apartments and Windsor Woods. It was anticipated that the developer move to develop the site this year, but it has not yet submitted a site plan.
The 400 Steps development is currently mired in legal proceedings. The project would be located in back of the Ellsworth Shopping Center on the 3.85-acre site where the partially constructed and abandoned phase two of the shopping center now sits.
The project derives its name from the fact that it will be located approximately 400 steps away from the Princeton Junction train station.
The property was recently condemned by the township, and the 400 Steps developer is going through the condemnation process in court. According to Marathe, the developer is bearing all the cost of condemnation, “so taxpayers have not paid a penny for the cost of condemnation and for purchasing the land.”
Two properties in downtown Princeton Junction along Princeton-Hightstown Road are also slated for development.
The Sun Bank property at 47 Princeton Hightstown Road and the Dr. Mian property at 55 Princeton-Hightstown Road are both part of the Princeton Junction Redevelopment Area and are included as part of the township’s affordable housing plan.
The Sun Bank property received a use variance for a day care center and is now going through the TRC. A total of 10 units could be on the site, which would produce 3 affordable units.
Meanwhile, the developer of the Dr. Mian property is expected to appear before the planning board with a concept plan, but no application has been submitted. The tract, which is owned by Princeton 55 Associates NJP, currently contains a two-story office building. The site also has access from Carlton Place. The developer has proposed 18 apartments, of which 4 units would be affordable rentals.
Under the agreement with FSHC, the township will 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 Jacobson’s ruling.
In the days since the settlement in October, the township has worked to implement the necessary changes to its development strategy.
Now that projects from the township’s affordable housing plan are being developed, there are some concerns of how the increase in housing will impact the community.
An ongoing concern has been the increase in school children and the impact on the school district. Marathe said that the township has been working with the school district in order to help plan for the additional students.
“The (school district’s) referendum approved last year (in regard to increasing the capacity of Maurice Hawk, HSS, and CMS) was based on the expected increase from affordable housing,” Marathe said. “We work very closely with (superintendent David) Aderhold and the school staff to keep them updated on how many apartments and houses will be completed.”
Another concern is the inevitable increase in traffic. “Currently, our roads are just not numerous enough to serve all the people who are going to live in West Windsor when this is all built,” said council president Alison Miller, who has worked with the township’s affordable housing committee for many years.
Overall despite the obstacles in the process, Marathe said he believes West Windsor acted proactively to deal with the affordable housing issue.
“I think we did a wonderful job in satisfying our requirement with as little overcrowding and school impact as we possibly could,” he said. “Not only did West Windsor identify the sites, but we have already rezoned the properties and have ordinances to go with it. Judge Jacobson commended us in her ruling, saying that we have gone above and beyond what is required, which is why she approved the plan with complimentary comments.”
O’Brien also noted that the affordable housing agreement helped save tax dollars. “West Windsor avoided protracted legal proceedings, which would have cost the township a considerable amount of money,” he said. “By agreeing to the 1,500 units, the mayor and council automatically saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.”