CHATHAM, NJ - In a virtual meeting that lasted more than four hours, the Chatham Township Committee introduced an ordinance to rezone 344 Hillside Avenue; officially preserved the area known as the Skate Park, and presented plans for affordable housing Group Homes on Thursday evening.

The rezoning of 344 Hillside Avenue will pave the way for the acquisition of land that will be turned into a site for one of three proposed Group Homes. With four units in each of the three homes, together they would count as 12 of the 74 units the township has agreed to build on municipal land to meet its third-round obligation on affordable housing. The other 62 are proposed to be built on River Road.

At its May 18 meeting, the planning board had voted, 5-4. to rezone the land at 344 Hillside as an R-3 zone. The move will save the township $600,000 it would have to use for the purchase of land, which is being provided by Sterling-Sun Homes in exchange for the rezoning. 

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The public hearing on the rezoning ordinance is set for the 5:30 p.m. June 11th meeting. Early in the meeting on Thursday, Chatham Township Mayor Michael Kelly had announced that the June 11 meeting would return to the normal starting time of 7:30 p.m. because the 8 p.m. Coronavirus curfew was no longer in effect. But before adjourning on Thursday, Deputy Mayor Tracy Ness suggested that the time remain at its current pandemic starting time of 5:30 p.m. and the majority agreed.

The plans for the 62-unit, two-building affordable housing development on River Road will be presented by the Walters Group at the June 11 meeting. Adoption votes on ordinances concerning the acquisition of property for Group Homes and the River Road development will be voted at the June 22 meeting.

In the one ordinance adopted on Thursday, the committee voted unanimously to reacquire the Skate Park site, thereby, preserving the land for the skateboarders. The move sets apart the Skate Park from the land that will be used to build 24 affordable housing rental units on Southern Boulevard known as Arbor Green at Chatham.

Luciano Bruni of Nouvelle presented the design for the Group Homes that will accommodate special needs adults at 587 Fairmount Avenue and 76 Southern Boulevard. The homes will be run Everas Community Services (Fairmount) and Matheny (Southern Boulevard) with an aide on the premises 24/7, working shifts of eight hours apiece.

Both sites will have four bedrooms and two full bathrooms. There will be turnaround areas built-in so that vehicles can head onto the roads from the homes head-first. Including the purchase of the land and the construction, the two homes will cost the township a total of $1.2 million. Bruni said the timeline would be to have the homes occupied by the fourth quarter of 2021.

Nouvelle has built a total of 35 Group Homes, including 20 over the last four years. Nouvelle has built such homes in Harding, Far Hills, Butler, Parsippany, Denville, and in towns in Union and Bergen counties.

In hopes of avoiding another five-hour meeting, Mayor Kelly laid down ground rules for public commentary and questions, stating that the public would have up to five minutes to ask questions or make comments. After that time, the mayor, committee and the developer would answer. Residents were limited to one shot at commenting per public hearing item.

River Road resident Jacquelyn Ferrito noted that the format put forth by the mayor prevented any back-and-forth discussion because the mayor and committee always got the last word and no response was allowed.

Auditor Valerie Dolan gave her 2019 audit report to the Chatham Township Committee, summing up that it was "really a very clean audit."