Dear Editor:

I have seen the uproar on social media over the town’s affordable housing settlement specifically for the Parker Gardens property. Our affordable housing settlement resulted from several builder’s lawsuits against the Township that were mandated and handled under the auspices of the Union County Superior Court. Due to the lack of action on the part of various state legislatures and governors to fix a broken affordable housing process over a 15-year period, the Courts have stepped in to run the process. 

As a result, builder’s remedy lawsuits allowing for high density projects like the one for Parker Gardens have been forced upon us by the Courts.  As many of us Mayors have said: “I negotiated with a knife to my throat and a gun to my head.”

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However, I led the Scotch Plains Town Council in fair and tough negotiations, and I believe we achieved the best possible settlement we could for the residents of Scotch Plains.

Claims that the Parker Gardens “deal” was done in secret are not true. The Parker Gardens suit has been going on since 2015 before I took office. When I took office in January of 2017, I realized the enormity of the impact of the court’s involvement, and I started to get out the details publicly of what was going on in April of 2017, despite legal counsel telling me I was not required to do so. 

Since then, there have been many public discussions and votes on the affordable housing settlement including several town and committee meetings all with legally required notices. You can view many of these meetings on the Township’s website and Facebook page. 

For Parker Gardens, we were able to negotiate the architecture and general layout of the units. The builder was suggesting over 350 units. We settled on 228 with a donation of 2 1/2 acres of land to the township contiguous to Terrill Middle school for badly needed municipal sports fields. 

Under the court rules things like traffic, contamination, impact on schools are not allowed in the negotiations. Just how many units and how many affordable units would result from the new units, usually 15% of the total project, is determined by the Courts. The presumption is that engineering and planning items would be addressed when the Planning Board reviewed an actual site plan from the builder.

Sound unfair? Well it is!

So, late in 2018, I led the Town Council in establishing a new committee to lobby for state legislators to fix the affordable housing process with existing proposed legislation. The proposed legislation would go a long way to correcting the unfairness of the current process to municipalities while situating affordable housing where it can best succeed. 

Please come to the 9/19/19 Affordable Housing Reform Committee meeting at 7:00 p.m. in Town Hall for an in-depth understanding of what needs to be done to fix this broken process, and then join our efforts to make it happen.

If you want to fix the affordable housing mess, I need your help. Hope to see you on the 19th.

Al Smith
Mayor of Scotch Plains