Affordable Housing: Berkeley Heights Faces Problems With Judicial Ruling

Credits: TAP Staff

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The Township Council unanimously voted to establish an ad-hoc committee to address affordable housing at Tuesday's Council meeting. This is a new problem facing towns like Berkeley Heights in the next few months.

The State Supreme Court issued a decision on Tuesday that, in effect, gives the courts the power of determining whether towns have adequately addressed the need for building affordable housing units in their municipalities.  The need to provide a certain number of units, geared towards enabling low-to-moderate income families to live in more upscale communities with higher quality-of-life standards, goes back to the Mount Laurel decisions of the State Supreme Court in 1975 and 1983, respectively.

The State Legislature responded to this mandate by creating the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH), giving it the power to establish regulations by which each town would be able to satisfy its particular affordable housing obligations. Certain actions permitted by COAH in recent years have led to lawsuits filed by Affordable Housing activists, saying that these actions essentially flout the intended purpose of the Mount Laurel mandate, and their case has now been upheld by the Supreme Court.

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As explained by Township Attorney, Joseph Sordillo at the Council meeting, this means towns like Berkeley Heights are now required to present a new plan to the courts within four months, showing how Berkeley Heights plans to meet their new, greater affordable housing obligations. Failure to do so, or failure to provide an acceptable plan to the courts, would enable any individual (particularly developers) to file a “builder’s remedy lawsuit”, giving them the right to build the units themselves on a location of their choosing.

In either event, it was made clear during the discussion that Berkeley Heights would have to build new affordable housing units in light of the court’s decision.

In other matters: 

  • Council voted 4-1 to approve the application for a new CVS to be built on the site of the long-abandoned Pizza Hut on the downtown strip of Springfield Avenue.
    • This project is expected to lead to a reconfiguration of the traffic pattern in its immediate vicinity, including an expansion of Lone Pine Way and the addition of a traffic light. Councilman Edward Delia voted against the resolution.
  • The Council unanimously approved the creation of a new taskforce to review and analyze the Township’s future growth and development. The task force, which may include representatives from various local civic organizations as well as ordinary citizens, will provide advice and recommendations to the Mayor and Council on this matter.
  • A discussion was held as to spending money for a gravel parking lot at the Littel-Lord Farmstead historic site, due to ongoing issues with parking at that landmark.
  • A contract for street repairs for Glenside Road, for $402,629.36, was awarded to Top Line Construction; the repairs are expected to begin in the spring.
  • The Council voted to authorize the third Annual Berkeley Heights Street Fair, which will be held on Sunday, June 28th.

The next Council meeting will be Tuesday, March 24 at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall meeting room.

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