To the editor:
In 2008, while I was mayor of Clinton Township, we organized 20 towns and sued the state of New Jersey to stop the crushing "affordable housing rules" imposed on our towns. Those rules calculated our obligation to build loads of new housing based on "available land" – including highway medians, school play yards and cemeteries. They said we couldn't win, but the court upheld our legal action and invalidated the state’s absurd rules. Under Clinton Township's leadership, 200 other towns and the NJ League of Muncipilaities filed their own suit.
Nine years later, last December, Clinton Township Mayor John Higgins and his Council also joined a large group of towns. Together they caved in without a fight and agreed to the newest insane "rules" and indefensible new housing obligations. The “housing models” on which New Jersey’s calculated obligation is based have not been validated or peer reviewed. Odds are that your town has “signed on” to the obligation, so ask your officials to explain how your town’s number was really arrived at. They cannot, except for gibberish and “it’s too complicated for you to understand.” They don’t understand it themselves. The “number” for all of N.J. is well over 150,000 affordable housing units. But that’s not all. Under the “rules” and the “models,” the developers who construct those units get a “bonus” – our towns will have to rezone for very high density to accommodate 600,000 more market-priced units that reward developers for building the affordable ones.
Clinton Township alone agreed to build 805 new high-density (10 units/acre), unnecessary new housing units, including 373 new "affordables." Meanwhile, Hunterdon County is experiencing a mass exodus and our school population continues to drop dramatically.
The Clinton Township Council again took a leadership role. It caved and "settled," as have many other spineless Hunterdon officials, with a private group of lawyers called the Fair Share Housing Center (FSCH) to whom the courts assigned the task of beating N.J. towns into submission. Curiously, those lawyers make their money by building and renting affordable housing under another name, Fair Share Housing Development, Inc.
All the elements of a powerful new court case to defend our towns should be evident to any taxpayer, but our officials found it easier to fold without a fight – and without telling us.
Higgins and Council members Brian Mullay, Amy Switlyk, Dan McTiernan and Tom Kochanowski unanimously approved a settlement agreement that they never disclosed publicly until after Higgins signed it. There was no public hearing at a Council meeting. (Did your town hold a public hearing? It seems someone negotiating with these officials told them it was a bad idea to get the public involved until after the deals were signed.)
Clinton Township also agreed to sue neighboring Readington Township "if needed" to forcibly take its sewer capacity for the new affordable housing in Clinton Township. My officials also agreed that if federal funding doesn't materialize and developers fail to deliver the units as promised, "municipal funds" and "bonding" without limit will be used to pay for construction. They even made a $30,000 donation of our tax dollars to the FSHC to seal the deal. All without a Council hearing. (One town agreed to a $50,000 payment to FSHC.) Our town’s own lawyers, Trishka Waterbury Cecil and Jonathan Drill, wrote the agreements and blessed it all. It was easier than going to court. A lot of municipal lawyers in Hunterdon are getting paid an awful lot of money to negotiate rather than fight.
Does anything smell bad to you?
Mayor Higgins later announced this is "a really good thing for the township." The Council claims it had no choice. But that's not true. In 2008 we made the choice to fight for our towns rather than approve sprawl and pay extortion money to our attackers. And we won, because we tried.
Most important, we told the public what was going on. Original documents, recordings and source materials are at www.exmayor.com. When hundreds of new housing units go up in your back yard, don't say you had no idea. You voted in the people who approved it all.
Nick Corcodilos, former mayor