HILLSBOROUGH, NJ - The pieces are beginning to fall in to place as the Township Committee assembles a collection of market rate residential/retail developments that will all contribute to the township's obligations for affordable housing as mandated by the New Jersey Supreme Court.
Several of the projects have yet to submit a formal application to the planning board, but preliminary discussions have been held a well as meetings with the township's professional engineering, building and planning staffs, according to Mayor Doug Tomson.
The township reached a settlement in May with the statewide housing advocate, Fair Share Housing, approved in Somerset County Superior Court. The agreement restructures the township's affordable housing obligation and reduces the number of affordable housing units to be built by developers. The settlement with Fair Share Housing means the township will only have to build an additional 195 affordable housing units beyond those that have already received approval, according to Tomson.
Residential projects that will help satisfy the affordable housing mandate include:
1. Larken Associates has broken ground on Hillsborough Village Center, a mixed-use project comprised of 191 luxury apartments and ground-level retail stores.
Roughly 25 percent of the apartments will be designated as affordable housing units, according to Tomson which will be rented at below-market rates to those who qualify,
Slated for occupancy in mid-2021, the project will consist of 12 buildings in the heart of Hillsborough’s business district, just south of the Route 206/Amwell Road intersection.
2. At its virtual meeting in late April, the Township Committee gave its approval to an ordinance to rezone the Glen-Gery brick works property on Hamilton Road.
The unanimous vote rejected arguments submitted by several towns, former Gov. Chris Christie and the League of Municipalities, who contended local government should not be required to provide affordable housing for poor and middle-class families.
Most of those towns impacted, including Hillsborough, have been negotiating with the state-appointed housing “masters” to lower the mandate; Hillsborough’s obligation was pegged at 2,000 units, many of which already exist at apartment complexes throughout the township, including New Center Greens, Sunnymeade Run and Brookhaven Lofts.
The state classifies a moderate-income household as earning between 50 percent and 80 percent of the area median income.
A low-income household earns less than 50 percent of the area's median income, and very low-income households are classified as earning less than 30 percent of an area's median income.
The township has been entangled in litigation and negotiations over its fair share housing obligation for well over two decades, according to Tomson.
The township had been involved with ongoing negotiations with Fair Share Housing in an effort to minimize the impact of the mandate. Hillsborough was the final municipality in the Vicinage to settle with Fair Share Housing, out of 55 that had filed an appeal.
Fair Share Housing Center, founded in 1975, is a New Jersey public interest organization devoted to defending the housing rights of New Jersey’s poor through enforcement of the Mount Laurel Doctrine, the landmark 1970s decision that prohibits economic discrimination through exclusionary zoning and requires all towns to provide their “fair share” of their region’s need for affordable housing.
“Throughout the process, the Township's underlying theme was to minimize the obligation while addressing the responsibilities that the State of New Jersey has mandated upon us as to affordable housing,” Tomson said.
“This unfunded mandate without diligent negotiations on behalf of Hillsborough Township would have led to further exacerbation of school overcrowding and residential development on our open space. I call upon the Governor and the State Legislature to address affordable housing,” Tomson added.
Hillsborough Township’s final number is lower than that of municipalities of comparable size in Somerset County as a result of the Township’s efforts working with the Court’s Special Master, Fair Share Housing Center and various interveners.
“The Township has been working with many interveners throughout this arduous process,” added the township's Special Counsel on Affordable Housing, Eric Bernstein.
One of the strategic moves that the Township employed while negotiating with developers was to require sites to provide a 24 percent affordable obligation versus the 10-20 percent requirement utilized by most other municipalities, Tomson said.
This meant that developers would be required to set aside 24 percent of their housing units to be allocated to the Township’s affordable housing obligation instead of only 10-20 percent which would have resulted in more market rate and overall residential housing development having to be built to meet the affordable obligation, according to the mayor.
Most recently, the Township has taken several steps to protect the community and preserve the bucolic character of the town, which has been so attractive to residents and newcomers earning many accolades over the past several years, including its designation as “One of the Best Places to Live in America” in national publications, Tomson explained.
Hillsborough has been consistent in its efforts to preserve as much open land as possible. In 2018, through a joint purchase agreement with the Somerset County Improvement Authority, the Township acquired 335 acres, contiguous to both Ann Van Middlesworth Park and Mountain View Park. Through this strategic purchase, nearly 2,000 residential homes were prevented from being built, which in turn also reduced the Township’s affordable housing obligation by at least 400 units.
The Township’s strategy did not end with land preservation in mitigating the number of affordable units, Tomson said.
Through a relationship with Premier Development and Midland School the Township continues the development of housing for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities; the Township has been able to assist in providing such needed housing, while receiving additional credits towards its affordable housing obligation, according to Tomson.
“Throughout the state of New Jersey, there continues to be a tremendous need for quality housing for adults with developmental disabilities. Many of these individuals reside at home with their aging parents, on a waiting list that stretches into the thousands. Parents are desperately seeking a solution that will afford them some sense of confidence and security that will stand the test of time,” said Shawn McInerney, president and CEO of Midland School.
“Premier Development is very pleased to work in partnership with Midland Adult Services to provide high-quality new housing for the adult clients they serve. We have teamed up with Midland to develop this concept, said Andy Nowack, executive vice president of Premier Development.
"These new homes we will build for Midland will be a part of a new larger residential community in Hillsborough. This will allow individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to be truly integrated within the community," he added. "Midland has an outstanding reputation, and we are very excited to be partnering up with them to provide this great new opportunity for their clients in Hillsborough,”
Another aspect of meeting the obligation was the development of age restricted communities within the Township, which also afford credits towards the final obligation number, according to Tomson. The creation of such communities provides housing for the senior citizen population; addresses affordable housing concerns within that community and lessens the impact of school-aged children residing in the new housing, the mayor added.
Finally, as a result of the successful negotiation with Fair Share Housing , Hillsborough Township will have met its quota for affordable housing through June, 2025, according to Tomson.