RARITAN TWP., NJ – Residents, and a big cat, may change the township’s already convoluted “affordable” housing plan.

As with most municipalities in New Jersey, the township is in court with the Fair Share Housing Center, a consequence of the state’s Council on Affordable Housing failure to enforce “affordable” housing requirements and a 2015 state Supreme Court ruling that then forced municipalities into court to settle the issue with the Fair Share Housing Center.

The Center claims that the township is obligated to build 579 “affordable” housing units just to satisfy its obligation for the period between 1999 and 2015. Township attorney Jeffrey Lehrer said at Tuesday’s Township Committee meeting that several developers are seeking to build the housing in the township and that after discussion, “Lo and behold we have developed a plan” that could be agreeable to the Center and the court.

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That plan includes a township-owned property on Dayton Road that Lehrer said “has a long history” going back to 2001, when Beazer Homes sought to build 64 houses there. After a settlement agreement, the township acquired a 19-acre parcel at 68 Dayton Road from Beazer in 2006, which it then included in its “affordable” housing plan in 2010, Lehrer said, and which is now targeted for 104 units.

“It should not come as surprise to a lot of people that that property was identified as an affordable housing site,” Lehrer said, and it was included in filings with the state Council on Affordable Housing and endorsed by that agency. The filing included a promise by the township to fund up to $3.4 million for the project, he said.

But the project did surprise some nearby residents, some of whom packed Tuesday's Township Committee meeting. And that’s because – as a result of some clerical error – the township in 2011 included the same parcel in its Recreation and Open Space Inventory, also called a ROSI.

On Tuesday, Township Committee rejected a motion made by Committeeman Craig O'Brien, and instead agreed to continue its pursuit with the state to remove the property from the township's ROSI, which Lehrer said would protect the pending settlement with the housing advocates.

“Here’s the good news,” Lehrer told residents. “The township has the right, if it settles its lawsuit with the court, with the other developers and with Fair Share Housing ... to look back ... and say, ‘Do we really want to do this? Is there a better site that we can find?’ The answer is we have the right to do that.”

Resident Catherine Ward told the Committee, “You said we can look back” but she asked it to “look forward first, and to find another option.” She noted that the property is marked with “open space” signs.

Dayton Road resident Elli Kuras said officials should “separate the issues here. I think the issues here are what’s best for the local community, for the residents that have been there, versus what’s best for the township.” She called the explanation that the property could later be removed from the affordable housing plan or could take years to build “an appeasement to all of us ... I’ve been here 24 years ... it’s an insult to me and my family.”

“I’m here because of the ecosystem,” said Staci Schipper. Residents in the Dayton Road area Carriage Gate development, “Are experiencing a tremendous influx of animals that are parading through our development. It is difficult to drive there. I have also experienced recently a bobcat ... that has been travelling Dayton Road and entering  and exiting that protected area ... there is more than one.”

Schipper said she’s submitted the photo to the state Department of Environmental Protection because the cat is an endangered species. “I am very, very concerned for the citizens in my community, for the children, the animals and all of the wildlife there. Please reconsider what you are doing, because it is going to impact everyone.”

Flemington attorney Anthony Koester, representing Johanna Foods, peppered the Committee with questions, and said the company’s concern is that the property “may be developed ... Johanna Foods, in 2001, had wished to asssure that (property) is a buffer. That's very clear and what we try to make clear to the township. That was Johanna Foods' intention."

Johanna Foods, which is located nearby, “has been here a long time,” Koester said. “We’re not going.” He didn’t explain the reason for the concern other than to say “it doesn’t work if you have housing developments located in the wrong areas.”

Company President Robert Facchina declined to allow Koester to answer TAPinto’s questions about the company’s interest in the property.

Committeeman Lou Reiner called the proposed project “government subsidized housing ... it’s taxing one segment of the population to subsidize another with the intent to redistribute population in an effort for the governor and his ilk to buy more votes out in Republican strongholds.

“It’s state-sanctioned extortion,” Reiner said. “This governor has a gun to our head and there’s not a whole helluva lot we can do about it.”

Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify the action taken by Township Committee at Tuesday's meeting.