Government

Summit Council Unanimously Backs Affordable Housing Agreement; Community Center Renovation Budget Now North of $6 Million

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The budget for the project to update and renovate the Summit Community Center now exceeds $6 million, an increase of 18% over previously projected costs. Credits: Summit Department of Community Programs
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SUMMIT, NJ—The City's proposed agreement with the Fair Share Housing Center, designed to provide a local blueprint for affordable housing in Summit while protecting the City from so-called “builders’ remedy lawsuits” at least until 2025, was given the unanimous endorsement by the Summit Common Council at its first meeting of February.

Approved by the Summit Planning Board on January 23, the agreement must still receive final approval by state courts at a hearing currently slated for April 17. According to information provided during the January 23 planning board hearing, an additional 50 to 75 additional affordable housing units could be created in the City under the pact.

The agreement also would provide for a number of credits for existing housing, already-proposed housing and the rehabilitation of existing residences.

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Affordable housing advocates, as they had at the planning board meeting, again praised the agreement as continuing Summit’s long tradition of providing affordable housing.

Prior to the vote, council president Michael McTernan recounted the history of the City in providing shelter for those of more limited means.

He noted that the Summit council, in 1938, approved creation of the Summit Housing Authority to take advantage of federal funding provided in a 1937 law. Although 100 units were planned with the funds made available to the city, the funding to tear down existing homes to make way for the affordable units did not materialize and members of the housing authority resigned en masse.

In 1950, the Summit Substandard Housing Board was created to deal with deficiencies in some of the run-down dwellings then in existence in some parts of the City, but neighborhood and council opposition to that effort led to its failure and the housing commissioners again resigned.

McTernan said that another effort at addressing affordable housing was spearheaded by members of the clergy in Summit in 1960 and, in 1966, the Summit Housing Authority was again established, with construction of Glenwood Place in 1972 and the City’s Weaver Street building in 1976.

At the February council meeting approving the agreement, Vito Gallo of 17 Sheridan Road, who spearheaded the City’s senior citizen housing development, praised the City’s persistence in meeting the needs of its diverse population and addressing the rehabilitation of substandard dwellings in the Hilltop City.

He called the agreement a “significant achievement,” and cited all those who helped in the effort, pointing to Mayor Nora Radest’s efforts in updating the Master Plan, in which the housing element will be included, and “leading Summit into the 21st Century.”

Gallo said attorneys from other communities, with whom he works in his professional life, look upon the Summit agreement as a “template” for affordable housing, and he praised the creativity needed to establish eight “overlay” zones, which would set aside areas of existing zones for affordable housing in the event that existing structures in those zones are torn down.

He also cited the cooperative efforts of members of the clergy, developers and non-profit organizations, which, he said would aid the effort along with a spending plan for land acquisition, redevelopment and rehabilitation that would come from a fund established through developer fees.

The Reverend Dr. Denison D. Harrield, Jr., pastor of the city’s Wallace Chapel, noted he has been working on affordable housing in Summit for 27 years, and called the agreement, “the pinnacle of what we have been hoping for.”

Harrield added that the accord enables Summit to control its own destiny without the need for expensive litigation, noting he was glad to have seen the demise of the earlier regional contribution agreements through which Summit and communities like it would have been compelled to pay for affordable housing is less economically-advantaged communities.

“Those agreements would not have allowed Summit to do what Summit should do on its own,” he said.

Don Steele, president of the Summit Interfaith Council, said Summit’s strength is in its diversity and the agreement validated the fact that “anyone can find a home here.”

He added that, if the Council wanted partnership with other city organizations, non-profits could provide access to volunteers and community support.

Resident and business owner Annette Dwyer said the agreement proved the will of the people in Summit to provide variety and choice in housing options for those living and working in the Hilltop City. She added local businesses rely on the demographics of both young professionals just starting out in their careers and senior citizens who did not want to leave the City.

Affordable housing, she noted, would provide dwellings for teachers and City employees to live and work in the same area, which is ideally suited with its railroad connection and within 15 minutes of a major airport.

However, Summit City planning contractor Joseph H. Burgis noted that a number of steps still must be taken before the fair share plan can approach reality:

  • February 27—The Planning Board is scheduled to hold a meeting during which it will begin reviewing drafts of proposed ordinances associated with the agreement.
  • March 31—The final day for objections to the agreement to be presented.
  • April 7—The final day for responses to the objections.
  • April 14—The final day for the court master to review the agreement.
  • April 17—The court compliance hearing on the plan. However, Jeffrey R. Surenian, whose firm negotiated the agreement, indicated the judge may delay the hearing because Burgis will be on vacation on that date.

The proposed ordinances, once introduced by the Council, will go back to the Planning Board for review to make sure they comply with the master plan. The Council then will hold a second reading on the proposed ordinances.

All related Planning Board and Council hearings would be open for public input.

All ordinances would have to be finally adopted 45 days after the court compliance hearing -- placing the final adoption date around the end of May.

In order to speed the process, Surenian said, the ordinances could be passed “subject to court approval.”

However, a few residents of the area near 25 DeForest Avenue, although praising the agreement and Summit’s commitment to affordable housing, expressed reservations that the density of affordable housing in that area could be detrimental to their neighborhood.

A Woodland Avenue resident said the overlay zone should not allow the owner of the site to build a structure with additional density just to enhance what he already owned at the site.

Area residents successfully fought a concept proposal by developer Mark Yeager about a year ago to expand the Gateway Zone to the Bouras Building at 25 DeForest Avenue and, in the process, make way for a combination four-level parking garage and townhouse complex.

Resident Bill Little of 47 Hawthorne Place said he gave the City tremendous credit for coming to the agreement on affordable housing, but reminded the Council how other City residents helped he and his neighbors rise up against the Yeager proposal.

Little added that, when the Yeager proposal came to light, about 18 month ago, it “sent shockwaves through our area.”

He cautioned the council and Burgis to not give up their vigilance and let the court master’s involvement overturn what they had accomplished.

The Hawthorne Place resident said City officials could make sure either nothing further could be built on the current site as long as the current building remains, or push for allowing the City to find an alternative to the current overlay zone proposed at 25 DeForest Avenue.

Burgis replied that the regulations for the overlay zones were being framed so that nothing new could be built in the zones until current structures are removed and the overlay zones would have more strict coverage and density restrictions than the current “B” zone in which 25 DeForest is located.

On another matter, the governing body adopted a 2017 capital budget that allows for additional, continued funding of the Summit Community Center renovation project.

The proposal calls for $800,000 more to be spent on the project -- in addition to about $5.7 million already planned to be spent because, according to Council general services committee chairman Patrick Hurley, costs came in higher on the project than those originally projected.

in addition to increased construction and materials costs, an estimate $500,000 worth of site work was not included in the original plans, submitted in 2012 by Rosen Kelly Conway Architecture & Design, and soft costs including architecture fees, construction management, outside professional estimator, and required testing -- totaling an estimated $300,000 -- were also not included in the original plans.

In a companion measure, the Council introduced a bond ordinance appropriating $6,500,000 for the project, which is 18 percent more than originally approved.

Council members and the mayor praised local corporations -- such as Investors Bank and Celgene -- and private citizens who they noted are expected to raise more than the $1.2 million in private funding originally projected for the project.

Hurley said the amount of private funds raised would be deducted from the City’s cost for the project.

The public hearing and possible final adoption of the ordinance are scheduled for February 14.

In another measure, Council authorized a maximum of $40,000 for professional engineering services to be provided by Premier Product Development, LLC in connection with the improvement project on the Investors Bank Field bleachers and Tatlock Park renovations.

The grandstand seating and press box structure is about to be replaced at a cost of $740,823.

According to City Director of Community Programs Judith Josephs, demolition of the existing bleachers on the visitors side of the stadium has begun and, when that is completed around March 15, spectators all will be seated on the visitors side for the duration of the spring sports season.

Work will then begin on the home team side bleachers and the press box, with the entirety of the project expected to be completed in time for Summit High School graduation.

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