SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ — The Scotch Plains council meeting on Tuesday featured a presentation on the township's affordable-housing obligations.
"Thirty-something years ago, the courts determined that every community has a Constitutional obligation to provide affordable housing," explained Township Attorney Bob Renaud. "As long as we come up with a compliant plan, the township gets to decide where the affordable housing would go."
Otherwise, the state or COAH, the Council on Affordable Housing, can tell a municipality what its need will be and where it should be placed.
"Municipalities provide hypothetical numbers that probably won't be final numbers, but may be in the ballpark," Renaud added. "We don't know if it will involve litigation."
Scotch Plains' plan is being drafted by Jill Hartman, who advises municipal governments on affordable housing. She was uncertain what the township's final number of affordable housing units will be at this point.
During her presentation, Hartman explained that Scotch Plains has senior housing in place, as well as six affordable units at Lamberts Mill Village. She was not able to provide the exact number of the township’s affordable-housing obligations.
COAH used to allow for RCA (Regional Contribution Agreements) that enabled a developer to pay a municipality money. The local governing body could then enter into an agreement with another municipality to develop affordable housing units. (Scotch Plains arranged with Linden for 175 units to be built.) Such agreements are no longer permitted.
Hartman explained that 75 percent of affordable units must be for families, while just 25 percent can be set aside for seniors. She also said that there are some group homes in Scotch Plains that are considered affordable.
Potential sites discussed as possible locations for affordable housing units in Scotch Plains include the properties currently owned by Parker Gardens (Terrill Road) and Bowcraft (Route 22). There is also a 1.2-acre parcel on North Avenue that could potentially be used for affordable housing.
Deputy Mayor Colleen Gialanella expressed dismay that Scotch Plains had rejected a developer's plans to make what is now Parker Gardens into a community for senior citizens. She said the development could have included affordable-housing units that would have helped the township to meet its obligations without significantly impacting the Scotch Plains-Fanwood school district.
"We had an opportunity to build at Parker Gardens. It would have taken long-range foresight, a long range plan, rather than short sighted responsiveness," Gialanella said. "We could have significantly increased the amount of tax revenue coming into the community. It would have been age-restricted, and it would have met part of the affordable housing requirement we are now going to be faced with."
Mayor Kevin Glover defended the decision to reject the Parker Gardens proposal following input from the Scotch Plains police and fire departments and rescue squad about safety issues.
Currently, an age 55+ community is being developed at Shackamaxon Country Club. Gialanella emphatically noted that none of the Shackamaxon units will be set aside for affordable housing. She also warned that the public should be well informed about affordable housing units (so that residents would not surprised when units are set to be built in their neighborhoods).
To view the entire council meeting from Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, click here: