WAYNE, NJ – Mayor Chris Vergano hosted the first public informational presentation on Wayne's Affordable Housing Obligation and said: "None of it is good news."
To put the matter into perspective, Fifth Ward Councilwoman Fran Ritter described the situation as: “These are the biggest land use decisions we have faced in generations, and it will affect generations to come.”
According to a New Jersey Supreme Court Decision, every municipality is forced to provide its share of low- to moderate-income housing. See previous story for details.
This means that, by New Jersey Law, Wayne MUST add a large number of residential units to the Township. How many units and how this will all be accomplished was what everyone came to learn.
Wayne Mayor Chris Vergano opened the evening’s presentation by introducing the team that sat at the front of the chamber. On the left were John Fiorello, Matt Cavaliere and Brian Chewcaskie, the three attorneys representing Wayne in court cases involving affordable housing. Wayne’s Town Planner Chris Kok sat at the center seat and on the right side were two town planning consultants who represent Wayne: Caroline Reiter and Beth McManus.
Together, this team presented an overview of Wayne’s history and current obligations under the New Jersey law regarding affordable housing.
Wayne’s obligations to are broken down into three parts:
- Rehabilitation Obligation – Which means the Township must present the opportunity for up to 285 units to be rehabilitated.
- “The way to satisfy the obligation is to participate in the Passaic County Housing Rehabilitation Program,” said McManus. “Doing so will allow us to generate the Rehabilitation Credits.”
- The County program is only open to owner/occupied units. According to McManus: To also cover rental units, which is required under the law, the Township is required to supplement the county’s program, by creating its own Rehabilitation Program.
- “The Township is not required to rehabilitate the requisite number of units,” said McManus. “It only has to create the opportunity for that number of units to participate in the program.” Simply advertising a program and making it available will satisfy Wayne’s obligations, according to McManus.
- Prior Round Obligation of 1,158 units –Wayne has already met this obligation in the past through developments such as Sienna village and Brittany Chase condominiums to name a few.
- Third Round Obligation. This is Wayne's current obligation, the most complex part and the subject of most of the evening’s talk.
The number of units that Wayne must provide in the Third Round Obligation has changed significantly since 1999. That number has still not been officially established and is still under negotiation. These negotiations are happening in court and so the attorneys were not able to speak fully about this.
The estimate of Wayne’s obligations are based on several different methodologies and range from 2,271 – 3,809 units, according to Town Planning consultant Reiter.
However, there is an anticipated reduction in these numbers based on a ‘Vacant Land adjustment.’
“It is anticipated, or hoped, that there will be a reduction of about fifty per cent of the obligation from this process,” said Reiter.
The downward adjustment in these numbers is a calculation that will be based on available land that can be developed, and is called the Realistic Development Potential, or RDP.
The final number of units that will end up being Wayne’s official obligation has not yet been determined, but Chewcaskie believes they should have a better idea as to where the numbers should be by the end of March. “But don’t hold me to this,” he said.
Fulfilling the obligation
Whatever the final numbers are, there are two ways to fulfill Wayne’s obligation:
- Wayne Township spends millions of dollars to buy a large property and build an affordable housing community that would completely fulfill their obligation. This would mean the town would have to take on substantial loans and/or drastically increase taxes.
- Wayne is NOT going in this direction.
- This leaves only one other way, and this is the option that Wayne has chosen: Have private developers come in and develop vacant land into residential units. Developers are only willing to do this if most of the units they build will be sold at ‘market-rate.’
- Developers are only willing to set-aside twenty per cent of their units to be sold as low- to moderate- income properties.
This means that whatever the final number of units needed to meet Wayne’s affordable housing obligation, five times that number of units will need to be built by developers to meet that need.
For example, If Wayne’s obligation ends up as a hypothetical 1,000 affordable housing units, then 5,000 units will be built by private developers.
Wayne currently has 17,000 Residential units. 5,000 more would be nearly a 30% increase in the number of residential units.
Consequences of non-compliance
If any municipality does not show a ‘good faith effort’ to fulfill its obligation, they leave themselves vulnerable to a Builders Remedy Lawsuit. This means that a developer can sue the municipality to force them to accept their proposed development, as long as the plan includes affordable housing units.
Wayne currently has an “immunity” to the Builder Remedy. That immunity has expired, and the courts have extended it. Now, this immunity expires on April 21, according to Cavaliere.
Builder’s Remedy lawsuits can result in developments with 20-30 units per acre, even high-rise apartments in municipalities who have never zoned for this, according to Chewcaskie.
Cavaliere says: “As long as we continue to show good faith efforts to meet our obligations the immunity should be extended.”
To meet these ‘good faith’ requirements, the Township must seriously consider EVERY development plan that includes an affordable housing aspect.
Along this vein, Wayne has nine development plans that are being considered by the Town.
Two have been settled and will more than likely come to fruition:
1. The GAF property on Alps Road has a plan for 449 units of which 90 are low- to moderate- income properties.
2. The Rockledge Property behind Monello Landscape Industries on Hamburg Turnpike that has been sold to K Hovnanian and will likely result in 105 units with 21 considered ‘affordable.’
Three developments are considered to be: “Becoming part of the plan.” According to Cavaliere.
1. Bristal Assisted Living has provided sixteen units to Wayne’s obligation
2. Brightview Assisted Living will provide ten units
3. A new project called the “Galreh project” is a development looking to open on Route 23 South near Kohls that will have 232 units of which twenty-four will be affordable.
Four Development plans couldn’t be talked about fully by the team, because they are under negotiations. This is what was shared:
- “Dobco is the purchaser of the Toys R Us Campus,” said Chewcaskie. “It’s a very large concern for Wayne, because of the sheer size of the property.” The owner of that site has no concrete plan for its development and Chewcaskie believes that they do not want to develop the entire site.
- The Valley Bank Headquarters on Valley Road Extension. Avalon Bay has a contract to purchase the property. Wayne has been ordered to mediation with Avalon Bay in their litigation, but “we are not close to resolution,” said Chewcaskie.
- Preakness Shopping Center has recently received some approvals by the Township for commercial changes, according to Chewcaskie. “They are also proposing a residential aspect,” said Chewcaskie. “It appears that the site is a very suitable site and they are in very good discussions, however that issue has not been resolved.”
- Waynbridge site on Hamburg Turnpike. “We have been required to mediate with Waynebridge, so we are in discussions regarding residential use,” said Chewcaskie. “It’s a possibility with any compliance plan that Waynebridge will be included.”
“This is the first of many public sessions,” said Chewcaskie. “We wanted to get out to the public where we were with what we are settling.”
For the next hour of the meeting, residents were allowed to come to the podium and ask questions. There were many concerns and complaints.
Gail Okun asked the committee to consider how a growing population would affect the schools, as well as the volunteer fire and ambulance squads.
Traffic issues were brought up by citizens who feared their streets would become much busier by residents Judith Cavallo and Jeff Ritkes.
“450 units at GAF?” asked Ritkes. “Do you know what that will do to Alps Road? In the middle of the town, that’s way too much!”
Mayor Vergano finished the night off by saying: “None of the news you heard tonight was good news. This is being forced onto the Township by the State of New Jersey.”
“We talked about schools. We talked about traffic. We talked about congestion,” said the Mayor. “None of those things matter under the affordable housing regulations. None.”
“So, we are going to do our best to reduce our obligation and bring it down to as low as we can,” he said, and finished with: “We will have additional public information sessions as information becomes more public.”