Dear Editor,

I loved LEGO as a kid.  I still do.  The beauty of LEGO is that you can put back together whatever is destroyed.  Those blocks are pretty much indestructible, especially the ones from 30-ish years ago.  Although Lego towns can be built and destroyed and rebuilt, the decisions that Chatham Township is currently making with regard to affordable housing are permanent and set a precedent for future decisions. 

With regard to the Township’s latest decision on affordable housing, I agree wholeheartedly that all the Township did was, in the words of a River Road resident, “pick it up and move it.”  My kids use the same strategy when cleaning their rooms.  But just because you moved it from the top of your dresser to the top of your desk, you still didn’t solve the problem and you still have a mess.  Based on the turnout to the committee meeting last night, and the fact that the Township faces yet another lawsuit with regard to its choices surrounding the site for affordable housing, Mayor Kelly and his committee still have a pretty good mess on their hands as well.

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Both 58 Meyersville and 476-490 River Road are properties surrounded by single-family homes.  Putting a rental apartment building with 62-65 two or three-bedroom units bordering lots containing single-family homes does not fit the landscape aesthetics of any town, especially not our quaint three-mile-wide town.

Neither 58 Meyersville nor 476-490 River Road is within walking distance to shopping, restaurants, etc.  If you’re providing only 98 parking spots for 60 plus two- to three-bedroom units, you have to assume there will be residents who will rely on being able to walk to the grocery store.

And yet we’re considering destroying residential areas of town and denying some residents of the affordable housing access to basic necessities, like the grocery store, for a tax credit that may or may not be awarded?   There is no guarantee that the project will be awarded the 9% tax credits it will be seeking to finance the majority of the construction.  If the 9% tax credit is not received, the next best option is 4%.  That creates a 55% decrease in the value of the expected financing, leaving the Township on the hook to cover the shortfall.  This could be in the millions of dollars.

I welcome that the residents of River Road and Huron Drive feel blindsided by the committee’s most recent actions; the Meyersville community felt the same way four months ago.  For 58 Meyersville and 476-490 River Road, the prospect of a 100% affordable housing apartment building bordering single-family properties is significantly worse than any loss of builder’s remedy immunity.  Builder’s remedy would allow a builder to purchase, on their own dollar, a plot of land to put 80% market-rate units and 20% affordable housing.  In order to cover the cost of the 20% affordable housing, the developer would increase the cost of the market-rate units.  Land’s expensive enough in Chatham. 

A redevelopment zone near Hickory Square, with mixed commercial and residential use, is the best option for the town, the current residents of single-family homes, and ultimately, the residents of the affordable housing.  There are real creative solutions that can work in and around this location, but it takes a Committee that is willing and capable of creative thinking and proper negotiating.  Unfortunately, our current Committee has proven their ineptitude in both of these areas. 

If our committee doesn’t want to put in the effort to do the work required to come up with a feasible plan that doesn’t place high-density affordable housing on our town constituents’ personal property lines, they should resign and allow for someone else who is competent and willing to do it.  If they aren’t willing to resign, we should be open to forcing a recall election for their seats.  A recall election would force them to campaign to the town on their affordable housing solution and let us decide.  This would be a welcome change from what happened in 2019.  The candidates said nothing and waited for the election to pass.  And then at the first meeting after the election, the Committee informed the public of their previously made decisions by voting to give away the municipal building and allow affordable housing to be built on the site. 

Why is our Township Committee seemingly ignoring a next best solution, the current site of the Skate Park and the Chatham Township Police Department? This area is already zoned for affordable housing; it is within walking distance, via existing sidewalks, to shopping and restaurants, and, best yet, it doesn’t border one single-family home. 

The Skate Park is falling apart and the majority of users come from outside the town.  At the Township Committee meeting when the decision to move the units to River Road was announced, Deputy Mayor Ness stated she was meeting the very next day with developers to discuss future plans for the Skate Park. Further, at last night’s meeting they voted on a resolution to keep enough of the land that they were previously turning over for affordable housing at the Skate Park site so they can preserve the Skate Park.  Why is preserving this park a priority over our town’s taxpayers’ personal property?  The current Skate Park has outlived its usefulness in its present location.           

Moving the police department to the Municipal Building “WOULD NOT AFFECT SAFETY.”  Mayor Kelly stated this himself in the last Township Committee Meeting.  Yet we’re not considering any additional affordable housing at the police department site because, according to the committee, moving the police department “was not well received by the majority of the people that spoke out about it.”  Who exactly is this group of concerned citizens, because I’ve either attended or watched every meeting since 11/14/19 and I haven’t heard that much of an outcry, unless of course, that too is happening behind closed doors.  Perhaps in private meetings with the select citizens for which the Committee is willing to go to bat.

Why is the committee so willing to appease a small group of citizens on the police station issue and upset a large group of citizens over its designation of a site for affordable housing?  Our Township Committee is willing to sacrifice the landscape aesthetics, property values, and traffic safety of yet another residential neighborhood without even giving those citizens the chance to be heard.  With the municipal building plan, they were willing to spend $10,000,000 (and we all know that number is not at all close to realistic) to calm the irrational fear of moving the police station.  With the River Road plan, they were going to deploy eminent domain to pump the poop uphill to calm that same irrational fear?

Although LEGO Friends didn’t exist in my Lego heyday, I knew, at 10 years old, that the Grand Hotel didn’t belong anywhere it would border a single-family home.  Near a shopping center, absolutely.  And there was no Mayor Kelly in my LEGO town, we would not have stood for it.

Ashley Felice

Chatham Township