BERNARDS TWP., NJ _ After hearing presentations by two developers, and hours of critique from residents, the Bernards Township Committee narrowly voted on Tuesday night to select a proposal to construct 62 state-required affordable housing units among 280 apartments and townhouses at the far end of Mountainview Boulevard, near the Memorial Sloan Kettering facility.

The township needed to come up with a solution for closing the gap in order to settle its housing quota with a lawsuit brought by a housing group against Bernards, and other municipalities around the state, seeking to provide zoning for less expensive housing within its borders. 

The alternative was a plan to construct 186 housing units, including the same number of low- to moderate-income units, 62, on just over nine acres on Valley Road, between the Cedars development and three single-family homes. The property now has two homes and is mostly wooded.

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Mayor John Carpenter, who cast one of the 3-2 votes in favor of the proposal, said, "This is one of the least satisfying things I have ever worked on because there's no win." 

Township Committeeman James Baldassare, who also voted yes on the proposal, added, "This is what needs to be done...It's court-mandated."

The three who favored a proposal by SJP Properties for for a maximum of 280 residential units with conceptual plans posted online, said they felt the density of 20 units per acre on the Valley Road property was just too high. 

The SJP development, which would need to be approved by the township Planning Board to be built, is proposed for about 71 acres, now an office zone, situated at the end of Mountainview Boulevard.

The developer has pledged to build the housing in lieu of two office buildings for which SJP already received Planning Board approval in 2007.

Township Committeewoman Carolyn Gaziano said she favored neither proposal. She said that while the SJP property is more hidden than the Valley Road project, "That's a lot of housing and that's a lot of school kids."

Gaziano said she believed a proposal for housing and other development on 180 acres at the now-defunct Millington Quarry would have been a better plan for the township, and would have provided public access to a lake as well as a larger property to accommodate the construction.

Township Committeewoman Carol Bianchi called for the committee vote to be delayed until the Township Committee's Aug. 27 meeting to give time to give some questions to be addressed and for possible changes in the plan, such as changing some of the rental units to owner-occupied housing.

At the next meeting on Aug. 27, the Township Committee will introduce a measure to change the office zoning to permit residential development on the 71-acre SJP property, and to offer the rezoning as a settlement for the housing lawsuit, Carpenter said. The state affordable housing initiative has always been about rezoing to provide an opportunity for affordable housing to be built, not guaranteeing its construction, he said.

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