NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ - Each week leading to the November 5 election, the candidates running for New Providence Borough Council have the opportunity to answer question(s) that will be run in a series by TAPinto New Providence.
The following answer is from Republican Borough Council Candidates Robert Muñoz and Michele Matsikoudis for Week 2.
Week 2 Questions: In February, the Borough Council approved the borough’s affordable housing settlement, which allows for the construction of 1209 residential units, 316 of which will be affordable units. At their September 9 meeting, the council approved an ordinance amending zoning requirements to allow developers to build residential units in designated areas.
What is your recommendation for an infrastructure plan to handle the impact of the addition of approximately 1,200 new housing units as part of the Affordable Housing Settlement? (Please include scope of impact on roads, services and infrastructure.)
Before we can make any infrastructure plan, we have to know what we’re potentially facing. Currently the borough is conducting various studies to assess the impact of the affordable housing mandates on our infrastructure, taxes and municipal services. Our tax assessor is preparing a report outlining the affects the affordable housing developments will have on our tax base and the revenue this potential housing will generate. Our borough engineer is preparing a report on how the potential housing will affect our municipal services such as the sewage treatment plant and whether we have the capacity to handle the waste flow from additional housing units. An increase in population will also necessitate an increase in our police force. A rough ratio to use is 2 officers per 1,000 people. So if our population goes up by 4,000 new residents, we’ll need approximately 8 more police officers. We may have to hire a full-time professional fire department and EMS crews. Currently those emergency services are staffed by volunteers; but if the calls for service for fire and EMS increase beyond what our volunteers can handle, we will have to hire full-time fire and EMS crews. The estimated costs for those services could potentially be in the millions. Our waste water treatment plant is running at about 70 to 80% capacity. If we add an additional 4,000 people, we could very easily be over its flow capacity and we would have to upgrade the facility to handle the increase in flow. This upgrade to the treatment plant would cost in the millions. Our borough engineer is also looking at the potential impact the new residents could have on traffic. They just completed a traffic study in the downtown and are recommending traffic calming measures on Gales Drive and the optimization of the traffic signal timing at the intersection of South and Springfield. If we have 4,000 new residents, it will affect traffic and parking in the downtown.
Fortunately, not all of the housing will get built; and it won’t all be built at once. As of this date, no developer has submitted any plans to the borough to build any housing in the area that we zoned for affordable housing. One piece of property was sold recently, the Bard or Beckton Dickinson property on Central Avenue. That parcel is zoned for 192 housing units. The board of education hired a demographer to study the impacts of the increased housing on the school population. They recently had their demographer present his findings. He said that if all the housing were built, it would increase the student population by approximately 222 children. The Bard property represents about 1/6 of all the affordable housing that we’ve zoned for. So the impact on the school district if the Bard property were to be built with 192 housing units won’t be that significant.
We need to complete the studies that are currently being worked on. Understanding that not all the housing will be built, and that it will be built in phases, we need to plan accordingly. Understanding that any potential development will take a couple of years to be built, we still need to be ready to address how it will affect us. We need to know how much a paid full-time fire department and EMS squad will cost, and whether we will have the tax revenue to cover this expense. We need to know at what point our volunteers will no longer be able to keep up with the calls for service based on an increase in population. We need to know at what point we will have to spend millions to upgrade our waste water treatment plant.
Before we can begin the discussion of what infrastructure improvements we’ll need, we first need to let the experts do their jobs and complete their assessments. There is a possibility that no housing will ever be built, or that only some of it will be built. It doesn’t make sense to start spending millions on infrastructure improvements when we don’t even know the impact of the affordable housing mandates on the borough just yet.