SHORT HILLS, NJ –Last Thursday, October 24th the Short Hills Association held its annual Candidates’ Forum, an event that invites all candidates seeking a seat on next year’s Millburn Township Committee to discuss contemporary issues affecting voters.
If you missed last week's forum, you also missed a very engaged group of local citizens. There were far too many questions for the time allotted and quite a few have come in since then. Agnes answers a few of the inquiries from residents.
Q: On Monday, October 28, 2019, a Letter to the Editor was published, authored by a resident very critical about your comments at the debate. What are your thoughts?
A: When I first read the letter I was shocked to read that someone who actually attended the debate could so incorrectly misinterpret my comments and responses to questions. First of all, I’m not running for township mayor, I’m seeking a seat on the township committee. Our mayor is selected by and among the five members of the committee. Second, I didn’t discuss, nor was I asked questions regarding national issues, like immigration or the views of President Trump. This is a local, municipal election. Yet, the author of this letter mentioned Trump three times as well as immigration three times. Many of her comments are irrelevant with regard to this election and the issues that concern our residents. Furthermore, she misquoted and took my statements out of context.
My parents immigrated here from South Korea, I was born in Philadelphia. My family and I moved to the township five years ago for many of the same reasons other families moved to Millburn: high-quality education, close proximity to NYC and strong property values. Contrary to Ms. Patel’s opinion of me, I encourage families to consider moving to our town. My issue isn’t with people who want to move here, it’s with the developers wanting to take advantage of our affordable housing obligations to build mass housing units in already congested areas of our small town.
Q: Do you know the author, Ms. Priya Patel?
A: No, I don’t believe I’ve ever met her. The first time I learned of her was from the Letter to the Editor I read yesterday. From what I understand she is a resident in our town and is a member of the Millburn Township Environmental Commission. I don’t know if she has children in our schools. Many residents, who agree and disagree with my ideas, have reached out to me to discuss our town’s issues. In kind, I’ve reached to both sides of the political fence to seek advice and tried to get together with folks. Having meaningful conversations and trying to understand differing viewpoints is the only way we, as a township, will solve our problems.
Q: You reference housing development several times during the debate. Why is this issue so important to you?
A: Well, I’m frustrated like many residents of Millburn, that our township committee has put our residents in the present situation with regard to affordable housing. By way of brief history, the NJ Supreme Court clarified in recent years that municipalities must allow the development of affordable housing for poor and middle-class families. This is not an issue that is unique to our town, but for the very same reasons that we all found Millburn Township a desirable place to live, developers, too, seem eager to come into our town. Thus, the township is now vulnerable to over development, not reasonable development, to meet the mandates issued by the NJ Supreme Court. We have an obligation to poor and middle-class families. This is a fact.
What has our township committee done since these recent court rulings? Now, this township committee voted to settle a lawsuit that would allow a developer to build 62 residential housing units in Glenwood, and only 12 of those units will count toward our affordable housing obligations. There is an expectation that our township will be required to offer at least a total of 946 affordable housing units. So let’s do the math.
As developers are required to build only 15% of their new developments for affordable housing purposes, over time, if we continue to play into the developer’s hands (as we did in the case of the Woodland Road development), we could have more than 6,000 additional units built in our town. For a town with about 6,800 households today, this is a big number!
We need to take control and manage our obligations immediately. We need to explore more options, and contrary to what mayor Eglow said at the debate, perhaps we should look into getting into the management business so we can meet our obligations without having so many additional luxury apartments tied to the affordable ones.
Every newly proposed development in our town will be luxury, market rate buildings. Why can’t we negotiate a higher percentage of affordable units with the builders? Because they can’t make money on them. They have no incentive to build units designated for poor and middle-income families. We need to explore ways to control our own destiny. We have skin in the game, they don’t.
We’re already at a disadvantage, and it’ll be tough. No question about that. But somebody has got to try.
Q: You are accused of “fear mongering” by Ms. Priya. Mayor Eglow mentioned your “fear talk” and Richard Wasserman commented that you “keep on bringing up Chatham Road”, responding to a statement you made about development. Are you trying to scare the residents?
A: Let’s be clear on this. I’m not trying to scare anyone to vote for me. The number one issue facing Millburn Township - the issue that can potentially have the greatest impact to our small town - is over development, NOT affordable housing. Many of my supporters, Republicans and Democrats, are all parents of young children. It’s highly likely that families, like my own, will live in town for at least 10 more years or longer. While it would be great to think that the newer developments will have no impact on our schools, it seems prudent to me to prepare as if there will be at least some impact, and to be mindful of that fact with every new proposal to increase housing in our town. I believe in hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst. We need responsible development.
This is why members of the township committee need to start thinking with a long view and give some serious thought to how decisions today impact our tomorrows. We can’t afford to keep listening to campaign rhetoric hoping for change until the next election. We need to think strategically and act tactically now.
To read Priya Patel's Letter to the Editor, visit https://www.tapinto.net/towns/millburn-slash-short-hills/categories/letters-to-the-editor/articles/millburn-township-resident-accuses-gop-candidate-agnes-sym-of-trumpian-coded-language-and-fear-mongering
Editor's Note: In the interest of full transparency, Agnes Sym is married to Jonathan Sym, owner of the TAPinto Millburn/Short Hills and TAPinto Springfield. All candidates were provided an equal opportunity to advertise on TAPinto Millburn/Short Hills. TAPinto Millburn/Short Hills Editor Matt Kass reports on all government and political news and Jonathan Sym is not involved in any manner in such coverage. Like all TAPinto local news sites, TAPinto Millburn/Short Hills is required to be objective, follow the Society of Professional Journalists ethical code, have no editorial page, and follow all ethics and transparencies policies of TAPinto, which can be read here: https://www.tapinto.net/towns/berkeley-heights/articles/tapinto-reaffirms-strong-commitment-to-objectivity-and-transparency-63