CHATHAM, NJ - Despite the advice of Gov. Phil Murphy to avoid public gatherings in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, Chatham Township residents came out in large numbers to oppose the designation of two lots on River Road for a 62-unit affordable housing site.

Despite tearful testimony from longtime River Road residents and pleas from the audience to "Fight them (Fair Share Housing Center), not us," the Chatham Township Committee voted to approve three resolutions that will make two lots on River Road the focus of its plan to meet its third-round affordable housing obligation.

Albert Cruz, the Chatham Township attorney, said he did not specifically ask for a continuance of the Friday, March 13th court hearing scheduled before Superior Court Judge Michael Gaus despite the state of emergency declared because of the Coronavirus pandemic.

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Chatham Township Mayor Michael Kelly (see below), who led the negotiations that resulted in a mediation agreement with the Court Special Master, refused to budge from the River Road plan in a meeting that started Thursday at 7:30 and lasted more than five hours into Friday morning.

After listening to hours of public commentary asking for the committee to choose a different site other than River Road, Kelly predicted (see video below) that any further delay would result in the judge nullifying the 53 luxury townhomes at Dixiedale and the 24 affordable housing units at Arbor Green and forcing 250 units to be built at Dixiedale with 50 of them set aside for affordable housing.

Resident Mark Hamilton reasoned that since there was going to be a legal battle, either way, it would be better for Kelly and the committee to fight on the side of the residents rather than against them in the litigation with the Fair Share Housing Center (see video below).

Patrick Murray of Huron Drive argues that River Road is a "poor decision" and that the committee should stand up for longtime residents such as 83-year-old Carmela Sagendorf, a 60-year resident of River Road (see video below).

Attorney John J. Delaney Jr. read a portion of a letter written by his client, 83-year-old Carmela Sagendorf, whose home is right next to the proposed affordable housing site on River Road. Delaney urged an appeal to Judge Michael Gaus for a delay in the proceedings.

Committee member Karen Swartz was forced to recuse herself from the votes on affordable housing after it was revealed by Cruz that Swartz had done business with Delaney, the lawyer representing Sagendorf. 

Without Swartz, that left four votes with Mayor Kelly, Deputy Mayor Tracy Ness and committee members Stacey Ewald and Celeste Fondaco voting 4-0 in the passage of the resolutions authorizing appraisals of the River Road sites and an amendment from the original settlement agreement that designated River Road as the site for affordable housing.

The silver lining for residents was the amended language in the authorization of the planning board to study whether the River Road site was suitable for redevelopment. At the urging of Ewald, the committee voted 3-1 to remove Lot 74 and Lots 25 and 26 from consideration for eminent domain or condemnation of the properties for acquisition by the township. Ness, Fondaco and Ewald voted yes and Kelly voted no.

Longtime River Road resident Michael Boyd said that the municipal building, originally selected by the committee for 65 affordable housing units, was the better site (see below). 

Harrison Szot, a 10-year-old resident of Huron Drive, told how he recently learned about ecosystems in school and asked the committee how it would feel if they had to leave their homes (see video below).

Former Chatham Township Mayor Nicole Hagner, a member of the planning board and a resident of River Road, asked the committee to include language that would make the affordable housing settlement more flexible when it came to choosing the site (see video below).

Drew Payne of Huron Drive said that the plan to put affordable housing on River Road "makes no sense whatsoever" (see below).