WARREN, NJ - The Warren Township Committee approved a settlement agreement with Fair Share Housing Center, the advocacy group that negotiates affordable housing for the state, on Wednesday morning, Oct. 10. The agreement establishes a definite number of affordable and market-rate housing units the Township will be obliged to provide for by 2025.
More than 100 residents were on hand to hear the Committee vote 4:1 in favor of the settlement.
The New Jersey State Supreme Court ruled that New Jersey municipalities have an obligation to provide affordable housing. And municipalities have two options- settle or sue.
The vote means the Township agrees to a compromise with Fair Share Housing Center (FSHC) to provide for, but not necessarily build, 362 affordable units and 616 market-rate units by 2025. That ratio, approximately 2:1, minimizes the impact new development will have on the character of the Township over the next seven years compared to 6650 total units that FSHC initially sought.
Several of the units are geared to special needs and group homes with a population that does not drive or have children and 80 of the 362 affordable housing units are being built by Warren Township on land where taxes were never paid.
With the settlement, builders will have an "opportunity" to build these units. It does not mean that they will necessarily build them all. They must still go through the planning board. All development is still subject to the approval of Warren’s Planning Board and, in some proposed locations, also the Somerset County Planning Board and the State Department of Transportation.
During a public comment period preceding the Committee’s discussion of the resolution and the vote, more than a dozen residents expressed disapproval of the proposed settlement, chiefly because of concerns regarding individual developments and their locations in the Township. Some residents were also frustrated that details of the plan had not been made fully public ahead of the vote.
The majority who spoke expressed dismay and disapproval of the two proposed developments on Hillcrest Road near the I-78 interchange: 192 total units on east side and 176 total units on the west side. Increased traffic and impact on the environment are major concerns.
“I have lived on Hillcrest for 45 years,” said resident Fred Brugmans. “The town has changed from a single stoplight community to a small city. Let’s keep the development under control.”
“My concern with high density housing is the flooding issues,” said resident Janet Estenes.
Hillcrest Road resident Samuel Ring offered options for the committee to consider.
Several members of the Committee addressed those comments and expressed similar frustration, including Committeeman Lazo, who said, “we couldn’t share all the information because (the settlement) was in litigation.”
They also explained that the township did not choose the sites. The FSHC and the developers who own the sites chose the locations, not the Township Committee.
Committeewomen Garafola and Committeeman Marion formed the Township subcommittee that negotiated the proposed settlement with Fair Share Housing Center over the course of three-and-a-half years. “At the end of the day,” Committeeman Marion told the audience he considered the process a “sham,” adding, “we did not decide where these places go or where they would be developed at all. We did as much as we could to fight that.”
Committeeman Lazo agreed. “Our fight was a brutal fight,” he said. “It was a sham. This was determined by the Supreme Court… the power was taken away from elected officials. And all we can do as elected officials is negotiate the best darn deal that we could. And I believe we did,” he said, after “hours and hours and hours of arguing and negotiating.”
Committeeman DiNardo, who participated in the meeting by phone, said a retired New Jersey Supreme Court judge told him the Committee shouldn’t fight it in Court. “We’ll be stuck with more than the original number,” he said.
“My colleagues are 100% correct,” the Mayor said. “We have a low probability of success,” he said, with a likelihood of a high cost.
But, the Mayor said, “I do not accept those in power — Fair Share Housing, The State House and the Courts — telling us what our community should look like. It’s absolutely wrong.” He said he could not in good conscience support something that is being forced upon the Township.
“I’d rather fight and lose than not fight at all,” the Mayor said before voting No.
Committeewoman Garafola said after the meeting, "Mick Marion and I have been on the subcommittee for three-and-a-half years, and I personally lived through Rounds One and Two of the Affordable Housing movement. This brought us Rolling Hills, Whispering Hills with a 3:1 ratio (of market rate units to Affordable units) in the center of town and Greenwood Meadows, at the western end of town, with a 13:1 ratio. We have done much better on this agreement and those projects brought in wonderful people who have made Warren a richer community.”
“We took all of your thoughts into consideration,” Committeeman Lazo told the audience, calling the settlement, “second to none in the State of New Jersey.”
Before casting her vote, Committeewoman Garafola said, “I think this is the best settlement we can get. The only way we can change this (outcome) is to go to the Supreme Court. This is the best deal in New Jersey.”
Fair Share Housing initially sought to have the Township provide for a significantly higher number of affordable housing units and a 4:1 ratio of market-rate to affordable units. That would have called for the potential development of 6,650 total units, practically doubling Warren’s current housing stock.
Deputy Mayor Gary DiNardo, Committeemen George Lazo and Mick Marion, and Committeewoman Carolann Garafola voted to approve the settlement. Mayor Victor Sordillo cast the sole vote against it.
Had the Committee rejected the agreement, it would have had to fight the imposition of the higher number in court, which would open the Township to expensive litigation that might result in an even greater number of units and possibly a much more negative impact on the town.
The potential results of not settling the Affordable Housing litigation would be:
Committeeman Marion expressed his own frustration with the process, saying he cast his Yes vote, “reluctantly and unwillingly.”
Mayor Sordillo said his major concerns, for the 1,048 new housing units to be built in Warren, were the concentration of the developments, the increase in traffic, the impact to our schools and public services, and damage to the environment.
“We want to say this final meeting is not an end, it will be a start of our joint fight, said Northridge Way resident Iris Ye. “We’ll continue our discussions, we’ll file a petition, and we’ll raise money to hire professionals who can speak for us.”
The map of locations
Fair Housing Act
Where it all started, Mount Laurel:
A list of completed or proposed projects for Somerset County is:
For more see: Warren Township Discusses Potential Affordable Housing Settlementhttps://www.tapinto.net/towns/warren/sections/government/articles/warren-township-discusses-potential-affordable-housing-settlement-and-the-number-is
Residents can find maps and other details of the proposed developments on the Affordable Housing page of the Township website.