PARAMUS, N.J. — Five years after the borough filed a declaratory judgment action to decipher its affordable housing obligation, Paramus has reached an agreement with the Fair Share Housing Center, its intervenor in the borough’s affordable housing lawsuit.
According to the terms of the agreement, rendered on February 6, Paramus has a realistic development potential of 259 units. This obligation is met by portions of the following housing establishments that are already built: assisted living facilities, senior credits, group homes, and the Behnke Senior Center. In addition, two affordable housing projects — Oster Property and Columbus Way — made up of 135 units, both will be privately built without any monetary obligation or contribution by the borough.
"This agreement is the result of years of diligent work by our professionals and Borough Council members, and it will allow us to meet our legal obligations while protecting residential neighborhoods from overdevelopment,” stated Mayor Richard LaBarbiera in an email. “I’m proud that we reached this outcome in a bipartisan fashion, and I thank my Democratic colleagues, Council President Bellinger, Councilwoman Tedesco-Santos and Councilman Verile. I am also grateful to Councilwoman Weber for her hard work in bringing this important issue to a conclusion and newly seated Councilman Vartolone who caught up in a short time on this most complex issue, recognized the value of this agreement and voted in favor.”
Councilman Chris DiPiazza was the sole dissenter of the agreement. He did not return request for comment.
LaBarbiera expressed his displeasure with DiPiazza’s no vote, which he interprets as unwittingly “politicizing the matter” on the eve of the expiration of the borough’s immunity — a move he says could carry the risk of jeopardizing the borough, both characteristically and financially, if choosing to hinder the agreement from moving forward.
“I am disappointed that after previously supporting all negotiations and terms of the agreement, Councilman Chris DiPiazza chose to politicize this matter on the eve of the expiration of our immunity and put our borough at great risk by attempting to delay if not vote down the agreement,” said LaBarbiera. “He fully understood the ramifications of his actions, which would have nullified four years of work, immediately triggered several hundred thousands of dollars in anticipated legal defense costs, and exposed us to builder's remedy lawsuits by weeks end that could lead to massive new development directly in our residential neighborhoods. This kind of irresponsible conduct is unacceptable.”
He continued “I believe it's important for residents to understand that while the rest of the governing body stood together in a bipartisan manner to put Paramus first, Councilman DiPiazza chose to stand alone as a radical, obstructionist voice against common sense solutions and jeopardize the future of our residential neighborhoods and beloved town."
In the past five years, the borough obtained immunity from Builder’s remedy lawsuits as protection from overdevelopment, including large, multi-family projects, which would threaten the character of the borough’s residential neighborhoods. The borough’s immunity from builder’s remedy lawsuits has been extended through June 30.
As another term of the agreement, the borough also had to show the Superior Court that they could theoretically meet an “unmet need” of 1,725 units. The calculation of this “unmet need” was rendered by a Superior Court judge in 2018 in regard to Princeton’s lawsuit. To meet it, the borough would show that they could increase the allowable density in the Highway Commercial Corridor Zone from 16 to 24 units per acre — a development yielded from the demolition of the Garden State Plaza and Bergen Towne Center malls.
This theoretical need is meant only to validate the realistic development potential by showing it can be met. If the court agrees that the borough is proceeding to implement the realistic development potential, the court will grant the town an extension on their immunity from builder’s remedy lawsuits for the next five years.
In another term of the agreement, because state regulations require the allowance of nurseries to be redeveloped with affordable housing projects, Paramus settled with Victoria’s to limit that development to 8 units per acre — a density consistent with the R-50 zone and a height in line with the residential regulations. In lieu of building the units, Tori Brett, the owner, will pay the borough’s affordable housing trust fund $720,000.
The final term of the agreement calls for the Coach USA site on Route 17 North adjacent Farview Avenue to be permitted an affordable housing project in its entirety, and privately built, with no contribution by the borough of Paramus, as with all of Paramus’ affordable housing projects.
The Superior Court will review the settlement during a hearing on June 8. At that time, the borough anticipates their builder’s remedy immunity will be extended through June 30, 2025.