CLARK, NJ – Affordable housing was the subject of a special television presentation conducted by Clark Mayor Sal Bonaccorso and Business Administrator John Laezza on TV-36 Wednesday night.  

The presentation, which ran about 45 minutes, touched on a variety of issues the township faces in meeting its court-ordered affordable housing obligation.

Bonaccorso began the event by addressing a flyer that had been distributed to homes in Clark and circulated on social media sites. Calling the flyer “imbecilic in nature,” Bonaccorso blasted the anonymous author, who he believes is politically motivated.

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“This [the flyer] is designed, in my opinion, to try to get the community riled up and upset,” Bonaccorso said.  “As far as I’m concerned this [affordable housing] is not about politics, this is about government. We are following the law of this state and we are working hard to make sure what’s done here is going to be appropriate and something that every citizen, myself included, can be happy about in the end.”

Laezza spoke about the recent history of affordable housing in New Jersey and the road which led to the township’s current settlement pending with the New Jersey court.   

The settlement calls for the township to provide a total of 263 affordable housing units for low to moderate income residents through 2025, Laezza said. He called the settlement a “realistic development plan” that was acceptable to both the Fair Share Housing Center and the courts.

The units can be new construction or upgrades to existing homes in which the eligible homeowner is paying more than 35 percent of income for mortgage or rent, he explained.  In the case of new construction, 15 percent of units would be dedicated to meeting the affordable housing obligation, while the remaining 85 percent would be market rate units, Laezza said.  

“It has to be basically profitable for builders or they’re not going to be building it,” Laezza said. “So they’re going to be building beautiful apartments, complexes, and then put in the 15 percent that’s required for Fair Share Housing.”

As part of the plan, the township identified nine sites that could possibly be developed over the years.

“Just because these sites are on the list, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to be built,” Bonaccorso said. “Or maybe they’re going to be built in five, 10, 15 or 20 years from now.”

Although the Schieferstein farm has been on a list of possible sites since 1992, Bonacorrso said the farm is not currently for sale and the current owner has no intention to sell.

“So there’s a site that’s in the plan because, when it gets sold, it is suitable to do something there in the eyes of Fair Share and the court,” Bonaccorso said.  “We can’t put it (the plan) on something that would never be built. It wouldn’t work, the courts wouldn’t accept it.”

Laezza outlined income levels to qualify for affordable units. Moderate income levels range from $22,000 to $78,000 per family.  Anyone from age 18 to 80 could qualify under the program guidelines, he said.

Bonaccorso dispelled fears that low to moderate income housing would automatically draw “gangbangers from Newark and Irvington.”

“If there is any positive to pick out of this pot, one of them would be, you could have a young man or lady coming out of high school who goes or doesn’t go to college who starts out at a job for $30,000 to $35,000 a year,” Bonaccorso said. “One of our own children, one of our neighbors, could be, would be, eligible for one of these apartments.”  

Bonaccorso did not hide his disdain for the affordable housing requirement, saying it would – and in nearby communities already has – contributed to overcrowding.  He cited oversized apartment buildings currently under construction in nearby Westfield and Cranford.

In addition to the Shieferstein farm, Bonaccorso said the following properties are included in the affordable housing settlement:

  • Westfield Avenue and Terminal Avenue – these units are built and occupied as part of the Woodcrest development
  • Raritan Road – vacant gas station near Madison Hill Road is eligible for development, zoned for 12 units
  • Raritan Road – near the intersection of Westfield Ave; across from Manny’s Diner,  vacant for some time, wetlands near the rear of the property
  • Jack’s Tavern – Westfield Avenue and Brant Ave. Current plan is for a CVS drugstore with apartments above.   Should CVS not wish to include residential, they have the option to buy out the obligation, Bonaccorso said.  That money would be used for the private home rehabilitation component of the affordable housing plan.
  • Temple on Valley Road – “I surely hope the temple is going nowhere in any foreseeable future,” Bonaccorso said. “It’s an asset in town. I don’t see that as an area in play.”
  • Walnut Street and Valley Road (Evening Realty) – currently slated for development.  15 percent low to moderate income units; 85 percent market value.
  • A & P Site on Westfield Avenue – potential for mixed-used construction; retail/restaurant on first floor, residential above with 15 percent allocated to low/moderate income units. Bonaccorso hopes development of this site will drive rehabilitation of Westfield Avenue corridor.
  • Westfield Avenue “Downtown Village” -  as properties sell, potentially developed as mixed-used buildings with 15 percent allocated to low/moderate income units.   “For that to happen, people would have to sell,” Bonaccorso said.

In all cases, Bonaccorso said aesthetic requirements would be strictly mandated and regulated through the planning and zoning board application process.

“We’re going to have a standard of design when these areas, if and when they are erected someday,  to make sure they have the quality and standard that we have,” Bonaccorso said. “We’re not looking to develop projects here and by no means will it be that way. So please don’t be scared into thinking that type of stuff is going to happen.”

Bonaccorso discussed the concept of “builders remedy,” legal action builders can take to force municipalities to permit large-scale construction projects.  He outlined one proposal the township had previously rejected for the Hyatt Hills property that would have included big box retail.

The affordable housing settlement plan currently under consideration will protect the township from builders remedy lawsuits, he said.

“We have to protect our community and go through with this plan that I am chewing on like it’s an old piece of leather,” Bonaccorso said. “Believe me, it’s nothing that I welcome or am happy about by any stretch, nor is my council members, nor are the volunteers who sit on the planning board who, by the way, are your friends and your neighbors.  We’re all living with this.”

The Clark Planning Board will hold a public hearing on April 6 at 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium of the Arthur L. Johnson High School.

“Those that are concerned about it (the plan) should come in, call us, show up at the meeting and express their concerns,” Laezza said.  “By and large the process has been done, the courts are approving of our plan, and unfortunately, or fortunately, the planning board has to adopt it and we think it will be beneficial to meet our obligations and still make Clark the place to live in New Jersey.”

The televised discussion will be rebroadcast on TV-36.  The viewing schedule will be published when it is available.

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