To the Editor:
In our twenty-one years living in Chatham Township, we have never felt the need to attend Township Committee meetings. However, like many of our neighbors, we were shocked and alarmed last November to find out that the Township Committee had made certain critical decisions relating to the Township’s affordable housing obligation without soliciting the views of Township residents.
We felt blindsided by the Committee’s decision to donate our Township municipal building, as well as the valuable property it sits on, to a developer to fulfill affordable housing obligations. Worse, after questioning and scrutiny by residents, it became apparent that the decisions were made with very little financial analysis and were certainly not in the best interest of the residents. Ultimately the Township Committee reversed those poor decisions, based not on the information from those paid by the Township to do so, but on the residents’ research and due diligence.
Unfortunately, due to time constraints imposed by the courts, the Township Committee was forced into other bad decisions caused by the lack of proper planning: primarily, foisting the affordable housing burden on yet another section of Chatham Township, leaving little to no time for those residents affected to launch any response.
From a community planning and budgeting perspective, affordable housing has been the single largest issue facing Chatham Township for several years. The importance of the affordable housing issue to Chatham residents (and residents across many other New Jersey communities) has been “masked” due to various reasons, mainly legal interpretations of the obligation and political agendas. Chatham Township has been fortunate, again from a community planning and budgeting perspective, to have received numerous extensions of the obligations hoisted upon it by the State of New Jersey.
To meet its initial affordability housing obligations, the Town has or will donate land and buildings, provide tax abatements and fund increased costs related to community density, such as additional school students and costs related to increased use of infrastructure. These costs will result in the multiplication of the municipal portion of the budget. Future affordable housing obligations will only increase the financial burden on Chatham Township taxpayers, already one of the highest property tax burdens in the entire country. With these facts in my mind, it was particularly disappointing to find out that the current and prior administrations had neither a robust nor well-analyzed plan to address this long-term community planning and financial issue.
Ashley Felice shared these same concerns and felt compelled to step up and lead an effort to organize residents and work for a better solution for the Township as a whole. We were part of that effort. We observed firsthand Ashley using her skills as a lawyer, business professional, leader, homeowner, and parent of small children, to organize a large group of concerned citizens to challenge the decisions that were made. We were impressed with the way in which she researched issues and continuously communicated with the group. Ashley not only kept us informed of the actions she was taking on our behalf, but also continually asked for feedback on those actions and possible solutions. Her collaborative approach of information sharing and gathering was appreciated by all and should have been the approach taken by the Committee at the outset.
We need leaders that will be able to tackle these strategic long-term issues with a willingness to roll up their sleeves and do the research on all the issues and potential solutions. Only then will we know the best decisions are being made for the community.
Ultimately, voters must hold elected officials accountable. The time is now. When you receive your Mail-in-Ballot, VOTE FOR ASHLEY and MARK for Township Committee!
Sean and Susie Leonard, Chatham Township