WESTFIELD, NJ—The settlement reached between the town of Westfield and Sunnyside Senior Housing Corporation this week was the result of nearly three years of back-and-forth between the two parties and various judges, according to Councilman James Foerst.
The lawsuit filed on January 3, 2009, by Sunnyside argued that the town’s plans denied the corporation its right to develop property which included affordable housing. These plans by the town set aside various tracts of land around town zoned to provide an opportunity for affordable housing in what was believed to be in accordance with the state’s Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) rules. The town argued that Sunnyside’s plans to build a multi-storied building where it wanted to on the “Springfield Ave. tract” did not fit the character of the neighborhood.
Much of the frustration that council members dealt with over the years comes from the unclear laws that Foerst refers to as “moving targets.”
“We’ve been required to comply with COAH regulations without knowing just what those are,” he explained. “The rules were established, amended and then found to be improper by the Court requiring everyone to essentially start over. We believe we have complied, but since there are no actual final rules, we cannot be sure.”
At one point, the case was dismissed by the Court as improper only to be reconsidered by another Judge at the request of Sunnyside. One and a half years of negotiating since then, “We finally were able to come to a conclusion,” said Foerst.
The Springfield tract is now approved for 24 townhouses, four of which will be designated as “affordable.”
To prevent similar future lawsuits, “We’re have requested that the court review and certify our entire affordable housing plan,” said Foerst. “When certified, we will be immune from further similar litigation.”