CLARK, NJ - The Clark Planning Board recently approved designs for a 177-unit apartment complex to be constructed at the intersection of Walnut Avenue and Valley Road.   

Mayor Sal Bonaccorso kicked off the meeting reminding attendees that Clark negotiated a deal several years ago with arbitrators of the state for the number of affordable housing units the town would be required to build as required by Fair Share Housing.  He additionally reminded attendees that having a finalized agreement on its affordable housing obligations, protects Clark from “builder’s remedy” lawsuits. 

Builder’s remedy lawsuits are filed by developers claiming a town is not meeting its affordable housing obligation, suggesting to the courts that the project must be permitted, even if only the minimum affordable housing is included.

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Fair Share Housing Obligations

In 2017 the town adopted an affordable housing resolution.  It included possible sites for development if they become available in the future.  The finalized deal fulfills state requirements and gives the town immunity to builder’s remedy lawsuits.

Bonaccorso said, at the time, he saw what was happening in other towns and saw the Hyatt Hills Complex, which has been for sale for many years, as susceptible to major development if the town did not negotiate a deal for affordable housing.  He estimated 1600 apartments could have filled the Hyatt Hills site along with big-box retailers.

 “We think we did a good job for the town …. (through negotiation) to try to keep the impact (of fair housing) as minimal as possible,” said Bonaccorso.  

He then explained to meeting attendees that due to Clark’s agreed upon fair housing deal, which included the Walnut Avenue/Valley Road property there wouldn’t be debate during the meeting about whether the development should happen.

“This is basically a done deal through our negotiation…we could vote no, and we will be sued by the builder,” said Bonaccorso.  “He (the developer) started when he came in at 250 units and we negotiated 177.  If we went back on our mediated work, he would sue us and go back (to courts) with probably 350 units and get negotiated down to 250 or 300.”

Fees, Taxes and Revenues

Bonaccorso said he finally got a windfall for the township budget out of this project.  He explained that as part of this deal, the town could either apply taxes to the site or fees based on the rent collected.  He said the town chose fees. “The property right now brings in about $209K in tax revenues, with this project it will bring us about $600K (in fees).”

In addition, Bonaccorso said during the meeting that the developer has agreed to pay a one-time half million dollar impact fee…(later corrected by Bonaccorso in a discussion with TAPinto Clark, to be a $750K fee).  The mayor said that is money the township can use to pave roads, pay down debt to the new police station being built or other such projects.  

Bonaccorso said the fees-based approach allows Clark to limit what they give Union County to 5% versus the 25-27% they get through traditional taxation.   He did assure residents, “the schools will be made whole,” meaning the tax revenues normally given to schools on a property this size, will still be given to the schools.

Bonaccorso compared the fees model to the traditional tax model at the Clark Commons saying most of the revenues from that development are split between the schools and the county.

He said that although he can’t say this will lower taxes, he expressed confidence that this revenue structure could continue to fund Clark Township.  Bonaccorso said this could help Clark maintain their 20-year record of some of the lowest tax increases in Union County.

What the Complex Includes

Various professionals appeared in front of the Planning Board on behalf of the developer.  According to architect Avelino Martinez, the site will consist of two buildings of similar size with different geometry. There will be three levels of residential over ground- floor parking for residents, with additional parking throughout the complex for visitors or residents. 

Martinez said the 8.4-acre development includes, 149 market-rate apartments and 28 affordable units.   He said the majority of units are two bedrooms. He described the building design as contemporary suburban architecture. He also pointed out the property will have a gazebo, pool and a community center.   

What About Traffic

Adam Gibson the developer’s Traffic Engineer said a traffic study done in February 2018 had been updated recently after input from the Clark Police and the Clark Township’s Traffic Engineer. According to Gibson, there will not be a “significant difference between use-trips.” 

Gibson said he used industry-standard protocol for measuring traffic impact on the site that looks at the amount of traffic that would be entering and exiting the site if it were fully reoccupied.

“But that’s not reality, it’s going from zero to whatever this building brings,” challenged Planning Board member Matt Casey as he pointed out that the site is currently vacant. Casey made it clear that in his view the current use-trips are zero.

Gibson simply reiterated his stance that he had measured and analyzed as is consistent with industry standard which required him to measure the difference as if the site were fully occupied as it was last used.

Using this methodology, Gibson concluded that there would 10 less use-trips in the a.m. hours and 20 more during p.m. hours.  In closing this section of the meeting Casey restated his position that there are no use-trips on the site now. 

About traffic, Gibson said there will be two driveways, one on Walnut and one on Valley.  Traffic at the Walnut side will only be permitted a right turn when exiting.  Entry to the driveway is unrestricted and can be made from either direction on Walnut.

The Valley Road driveway will have no restrictions giving drivers the right to make left or right turns coming in or exiting on that site of the complex.  Gibson did say that the Valley Road side of the complex will undergo a street widening. 

As part of the build-out westbound Valley Road will have three lanes of traffic.  One for an exclusive left to Walnut, one to head straight toward the traffic circle and an exclusive right-turn lane to Walnut too.  

Gibson rounded out his testimony saying all four lights at the intersection of Walnut and Valley would be upgraded to included left-turn signals. 

Public Comments

Several Clark residents that live close to the site, asked questions of the board and the various professionals that presented.  Some suggested the Valley Road driveway being unrestricted would be problematic.  Others expressed concern about the stress of this property on town resources like schools and the fire department. 

Bonaccorso addressed each resident as they spoke and said that Clark’s Fire Department has sufficient firefighters and the support of mutual aid from other towns when needed.    He also said that apartments don’t tend to bring lots of children, as most people as they start to have kids want a home with all it offers in which to raise them.  

The mayor did say he is concerned about the potential impact of Special Education costs. He said that the Clark Public Schools struggle with rising costs in this line of their budget annually and if folks choose to come to Clark for services, this could be a challenge.

He rounded out the evening reminding residents that he doesn't want to see the town overdeveloped or looking like Queens, New York as he has repeatedly said in various meetings.  He reminded residents that he and all the board members live in the town too.  Bonaccorso took the opportunity to remind voters the blame for this belongs to  NJ Legislators that have been unable to get the affordable housing conversation out of the courts.