CHATHAM, NJ - Both Chatham Township Mayor Michael Kelly and River Road residents predicted lawsuits on Saturday over the pending March 13 court decision that includes the agreement to construct 62 affordable housing units on River Road.
Mayor Kelly was greeted by about 60 River Road, Huron Drive and Van Houton Avenue residents at his Saturday morning "Coffee with the Mayor" held at the municipal building. The unexpected crowd prompted a move to the larger conference room where planning board hearings are held.
At the 10:30 am. gathering, Kelly announced that he had to leave at 12 p.m., but he stayed until 12:30 at the "coffee" that was more like a "grilling" of the mayor over the mediated affordable housing plans that will meet the township's third-round obligation.
Kelly told residents that if the current plan is not accepted and there are further delays initiated by the township, "I would bet with almost certainty that they would assign 250 units at Dixiedale with at least 50 being affordable housing. We don't have that flexibility now."
Kelly also said that if that happened, the developers of Dixiedale and Arbor Green (Skate Park) would surely sue the township to get back the "$2 million investment" they've made in the projects.
On October 21, 2019, the Chatham Township Planning Board held a 5-hour, 30-minute meeting where it approved the site plans for the connected projects at Dixiedale for 53 multi-family luxury townhomes on the 30-acre property located between Hillside Avenue and River Road, and the 24 affordable housing units on Southern Boulevard at the site or the Skate Park.
None of those warnings about court rulings mattered to the River Road residents who said that the committee's plans hurt their property values and made it "personal."
Frank Plantemoli, a 34-year resident of River Road, said that even though homes are not in the price range of other Chatham Township neighborhoods, "We're not toothless and barefoot on River Road."
Resident Vince Ferrito asserted that because the committee picked what he considered the "worst option" of River Road for affordable housing units, he doesn't believe a "builders remedy" lawsuit could make the situation worse. See his remarks to Mayor Kelly in the video below.
The Chatham Township Committee reconsidered its November decision to hand over the municipal building for the construction of 65 affordable housing units when it received fierce opposition to the plan from residents of Candace Lane and homes near the Meyersville Road site. A tentative agreement was reached with the court mediator to place 62 affordable housing units on River Road, which was made public on Feb. 26.
The next day at the regular meeting of the Township Committee, River Road residents spoke up to say they were blindsided by the decision, much like the residents of Mountainview Road and Candace Lane expressed when the November announcement about the municipal building was made.
The current negotiated plan will go before Superior Court Judge Michael Gaus on Friday, March 13 and, if approved by the judge, Chatham Township will have to show that it is in compliance with the December 2018 affordable housing settlement at a court date in mid-June 2020.
Candace Lane residents Ashley and Chris Felice filed a civil lawsuit in January against the township's decision to name the municipal building as the site for 65 affordable housing units. Kelly said the Felice legal action was a "nuisance" lawsuit and said, "You're not going to win that lawsuit, in my opinion."
But Joseph Dryer of Huron Drive was counted among a number of residents who said a lawsuit was the best way to fight the committee's decision. He suggested that residents pool their money in the video below.
Susan Zwick, a resident of River Road, said that building on the steep slope is an "assault on the neighborhood" and would affect every Chatham Township resident because of the liability it will cause. (See her remarks in video below).
Kelly explained that "steep slope" restrictions put in place by Chatham Township can be ignored by the state when making decisions about affordable housing sites. See his remarks in the video below.
When questioned about when they could see the reasoning behind the selection of the River Road site, Kelly said that it would be detailed in a power-point presentation at the Thursday, March 12 Chatham Township Committee meeting (see video below).