ROSELAND, NJ — After nearly four-and-a-half years since filing the Borough’s Declaratory Judgment action seeking judicial confirmation of its compliance obligation in order to meet the court-imposed housing requirements established by the Council on Affordable Housing (“COAH”), the Borough of Roseland has reached a final proposed settlement tally of 322 units to be offered to low-to moderate-income families.

Approximately 30 residents attended a special meeting on Tuesday, where borough-approved COAH Professional Planner Shirley Bishop and Derek Orth Esq., presented to the public a PowerPoint explaining the process and proposed settlement specifics. The PowerPoint presentation is available on the borough’s website in its entirety.

Since 1988, the Borough of Roseland has sought to meet its burden, and 182 units were previously accounted for. 

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In order to meet the proposed obligation of 322 units, 206 existing or previously approved affordable units (including 81 rental bonus credits) have been accounted for as follows:

  • 12 units at Roseland Glen;
  • 16 units at Eagle Rock;
  • 27 units at Roseland Green;
  • 42 units at 6 Becker Farm Road (Mack Cali Project); and
  • 28 units at 85 Livingston Avenue (Mack Cali Project).

Moving forward, the 116 new affordable units being proposed include:

  • 42 rental units at 65 Livingston Avenue (Mack Cali Project);
  • 32 units at 146 Harrison Avenue (K & K Project);
  • 12 affordable senior units at the Bobst Senior Project; and
  • 30 additional units at JMF Project, which is located at 117 Harrison Avenue.

The origin of the litigation dates back to the early 1970’s, when the Southern Burlington County NAACP challenged the zoning ordinance of Mount Laurel Township claiming that the law excluded low-and moderate-income persons from obtaining housing. There have been numerous protracted court decisions and challenges, according to the presentation.

Today, nearly 50 years later, approximately 300 municipalities across New Jersey are finalizing settlement agreements with the Fair Share Housing Center.

Some of the highlights of the settlement that the borough negotiated for Roseland are as follows: 

  • There will be no additional PILOTs for projects.
  • There will be a limit on the number of three-bedroom units in all projects, and four-bedroom units will be eliminated in order to reduce impact to community.
  • The borough will maximize the number of senior units being provided in these projects.
  • The JMF project will result in the remediation and removal of an existing concrete plant, which will remove tractor-trailers and heavy machinery from road network.
  • The K&K and Bobst project will also result in the removal of tractor-trailers from road network.
  • The settlement will eliminate the possibility that the court will impose a higher obligation on the Borough of Roseland.
  • All projects will still be subject to the site plan application process.

Earlier in the meeting, Mayor James Spango expressed the opinion that this obligation from the courts is “an inequitable one.” He explained that the governing body called this special meeting in order to be “as transparent as possible with our community” and to provide an opportunity for residents to “ask questions and become as informed as possible on this court ordered mandate.”

“At the end of the day we are all residents like each of you and want the best for our community,” said Spango. “To force municipalities across the State of New Jersey to develop vacant land is something that should lie with the legislature and not the courts,” said Spango. “To force municipalities such as Roseland to develop land with no regard for infrastructure, traffic and school is egregious. Notwithstanding this unconscionable mandate, this administration and the past administration have done a yeoman’s job in placing these developments in locations with the least impact on the residents of Roseland…

“Simply put, no one in this borough—including the people sitting before you tonight—want to develop, but we are making the best of a bad situation. As you will see, we have substantially lowered our initial obligation and have done it keeping in consideration as much as we legally could.”

Regarding the proposed settlement for Roseland, Spango also noted that the removal of a concrete plant and its industrial traffic of tractor-trailers and cement mixers “is a clear quality-of-life improvement.”

Council President Christopher Bardi added that the settlement proposal presented on Tuesday has “been in the making for several years” and that “countless hours, meetings and discussions have taken amongst both this governing body and the previous administration.”

“Being a part of this administration and the previous administration, I can tell you that the end goals remained the same, and those were to comply with state-mandated affordable housing and negotiate plans that will minimize the impacts to Roseland’s residents, school system and infrastructure,” said Bardi. “While we did get the total number of affordable units down considerably from where Fair Share Housing estimated our obligation, I can tell you that nobody sitting up here wants to develop Roseland and increase Roseland’s population at this pace. 

“The expectations of Fair Share Housing and the State of NJ are unreasonable. Every available piece of land is at play, with no regard to the impacts to the town. Look at the towns around us; look at what East Hanover, Florham Park, South Brunswick and others are required to build. We must move forward and settle with Fair Share Housing. This is the only way that we stay in control.”

Bardi reiterated that the borough has “made the best out of a bad situation” by limiting the number of three-bedroom units, having mostly one-to-two-bedroom units in the plans and maximizing the number of senior units.

“These two items lessen impact on the schools with increased students,” he said. “With the exception of the Mack Cali projects approved last year, none of these projects were approved with PILOTs. PILOT programs are highly controversial due to the impacts to the school system and this governing body was not in support of additional pilot programs.”

Regarding the 65 Livingston Avenue Mack Cali project, Bardi noted that this particular project “also provides the opportunity to have retail space amongst the Becker Farm office complex and residential area.”

“This project combined with the previously approved hotel and restaurant revitalize the office park and will drive up values and make that whole area attractive,” he said. “Concentrating the bulk of the redevelopment in this area ensures minimal impact to traffic in our residential areas…Although this plan is not perfect, it does minimize the impact on Roseland compared to what it could have been.”

During the meeting, the presenters explained that in order to qualify for COAH, housing income limits are based on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD's) Section 8 income limits according to COAH's six housing regions. In 1994, COAH started using regional income limits rather than county limits.

The current regional limits were presented as follows:

Maximum Gross Income by Family Size

Household Size       Very Low              Low             Moderate

2                                $24,184            $40,307           $64,491

3                                $27,207            $45,345           $72,553

4                                $30,230            $50,384           $80,614

5                                $32,649            $54,414           $87,063

6                                $35,067            $58,445           $93,512

Members of the public commented on various aspects of the proposal, including former Councilman Richard Leonard, who announced that he was “thrilled that there will be no PILOTs.”

“The council did a great job,” he said. “I think this is something Roseland can live with.”

Former Roseland Councilwoman Michelle Bucci, a 45-year resident of the borough, was also supportive of the proposal.

“I was scared before I came here tonight,” she said. “You did a great job.”

Resident Don Ershow was also satisfied with the settlement, but remarked that there would be “some form of depression of the current housing stock.”

Roseland Board of Education member Laura Savarese questioned the timeline of the projects and whether there is an estimated start and end date for construction.

Spango clarified that the governing body is currently only voting to approve the number of units and the location of the units in order to reach the settlement. An approval would not necessarily mean that these units will definitely be built, he added. However, developers looking to move forward with a project following the approval would need to submit site plans between mid-2020 and 2025 in order to gain the borough’s approval.

The council will vote on the proposal at its next caucus meeting on Nov. 7.