To the Editor,

There’s been a lot said about Affordable Housing in Cranford and unfortunately, not a lot is relying on fact.

As a former candidate for Township Committee one of the issues I made a point of learning about was affordable housing and its impact on Cranford.

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In the mid 2000s under the Democratic majority of Jorn, McDonough and Aschenbach, the Township Committee refused to apply for substantive certification for Affordable Housing. Substantive certification would have allowed Cranford to put together a realistic housing plan and be protected from builder’s remedy lawsuits while the plan was reviewed. Republican Commissioner Ann Darby argued for the application as the only way to prevent builders remedy lawsuits. The Democrats refused and two builder’s remedy lawsuits were filed. One by Lehigh Acquisitions for Woodmont, and one by Hekemian for Birchwood. This information is available in minutes of the Cranford Township Committee.

The courts gave Lehigh over 200 units and Hekemian 366. Lehigh Acquisition negotiated with the town and reduced the number of units to 167, but Hekemian wanted to fight. That fight lasted 8 years and cost the taxpayers over one million dollars.

While this was taking place, several Township Committees and Planning Boards had to come up with a plan to meet the numbers required by Trenton.

In 2016, under a Republican majority, the Township Committee purchased the Birchwood property to reduce the density at that site and have greater control over design standards, quality of construction and financial terms. Cranford offered the property for sale at the purchase price. The offer capped the number of units at 225 garden style apartments, instead of the block apartment dwelling style offered by Hekemian. The only vote against the plan was then Commissioner Patrick Giblin.

The reduction in density at this site, meant a reconfiguring of the affordable housing numbers, but several other apartment and group home credits had become available. This allowed Cranford to balance numbers and reach the same affordable housing goals. The negotiations to make this work have been going on since the Birchwood deal was finalized.

Providing affordable housing to low and moderate income families and individuals with physical and mental disabilities is a worthy goal and Cranford should do everything it can to do our share.

But the numbers being forced on Cranford by Trenton make no sense.  According to Trenton, and we all know it’s the Democrats that control Trenton, Cranford needs to supply over 1000 affordable units over the next rounds of the Affordable Housing rules. We would need to build almost 8000 units. Does that make sense to anyone? Our infrastructure, schools and public safety will never be able to handle that. The typical taxpayer in Cranford will probably not be able to afford the increases that are sure to follow. People will say let the developer make up the difference. That’s unrealistic.

Our housing plan is still in the hands of the courts. I hope they agree with Cranford’s plan and allow us to move forward.

No local candidate can influence affordable housing, but they can determine how we use development tools to reach our affordable housing goals. Eminent domain and condemnation is not the way to go. Riverfront, the most successful redevelopment project in Cranford’s history didn’t need either one.

I know this is a long explanation, and it is still not complete. But there is a way to provide affordable housing without placing an additional tax burden on people who have raised their families and supported Cranford for many years. There needs to be a middle, common ground. We need people who will fight for that in Trenton, and we need to have local leaders here in Cranford working towards that goal. What we don’t need to have is redevelopment plans that take away private property and small businesses to make it happen.

Chrissa Stulpin and Gina Black are the only candidates who seem to really understand this important issue, and have a plan for moving forward with the right approach to development in our town.

 

Sincerely,

Phil Siliato