BERKELEY HEIGHTS, N.J. -- Councilman Marc Faecher told residents at the Sept. 6th council meeting, that the township does not yet have a final, settlement agreement. The settlement between the township and the "intervener, the Fair Share Housing Center," still needs to be signed. That said, this should be the final number for the next 10 years.
He gave a summary of how the township reached this point, beginning in 1975 with the State Supreme Court's Mount Laurel series of decisions "determined as a matter of constitutional law, each municipality in the state of New Jersey needs to provide for affordable housing."
In 1985, the Fair Housing Act was enacted, thereafter COAH was created, followed by a series of regulations. Round 1 and Round 2 rules were adopted, but the third round was never agreed upon. In 2015 COAH couldn't get regulations enacted and the court said "enough" and turned the third round over to the court system to enact the third round.
There were several interveners in the Berkeley Heights Fair Housing Plan, including the developers of 100 Locust, the Kings property, and the movie theatre property. The township met with representatives of each of the properties to negotiate the size, density and amount of affordable housing to be built. In the end, agreements were made with each of the developers.
In June, the township was told by the court it would have responsibility for trying a case that would determine how to calculate all the housing units not only for Berkeley Heights but for the whole county. And, Berkeley Heights would be required to fund all that litigation.
As the township prepared to go to court this week, the professionals also tried to see if there would be a legislative solution and, after talking to a number of legislators and the governor's office, learned there was no hope of one. Instead, the township would either have to reach a settlement or go to court and could face anywhere between $500,000 and $1 million in legal fees. Faecher said it was likely the case would go the Appellate Division, the Supreme Court and then be sent back down again. At the same time, there could be lawsuits from the developers and others. All this would lead to uncertainty and more legal fees.
After evaluating the risk of going to court, the township negotiated and reached a settlement that requires the township to build 389 affordable housing units. While that is a large number, it includes a number of credits, including "surplus numbers" from Round 2; rehabilitation of existing units; 119 units from the previously mentioned projects, as well as the Connell and hotel site; as well as bonus credits for having rental units, with the balance coming from existing zoning and existing plans.
"This was a lot of work and a lot of people deserve a lot of credit," said Faecher. He mentioned Township Administrator John Bussiculo; Planner Mike Mistretta; attorneys, Joe Sordillo and the Sirenian law firm, which specializes in Affordable Housing issues; the mayor, council and community.
In the end, Faecher said he thought "these projects will add value to the community."
Councilman Craig Pastore thanked Faecher, "who was really the leader of this group," for the hours he spent working on the settlement and the others.