WESTFIELD, NJ – With no new appeals, the Westfield Planning Board held a brief meeting on Wednesday to introduce an Affordable Housing Development Fee ordinance likely to be implemented at some point this year.
The ordinance is based on the state’s model ordinance with only minor deviations, according to Westfield town planner Don Sammet. The motion to establish a fund for affordable housing projects comes three years after the town repealed the third round COAH rules which had previously accomplished a similar goal.
The development fee will be collected for both residential and non-residential projects based on a percentage (1.5 percent for residential units, 2.5 percent for non-residential units) of equalized assessed value. According to the state’s model ordinance, equalized assessed value is ‘the assessed value of a property divided by the current average ratio of assessed to true value (24.62) for the municipality in which the property is situated."
According to Sammet, exceptions to this fee include any homeowner looking to make an addition or improvement to a one- or two-family dwelling, homes that are destroyed by natural disaster, non-profit hospitals, places of worship and schools.
“Costs of this affordable housing obligation include not only legal fees, but we have to market these units once they’re built, we have to manage the units once they’re built, we have to monitor that the folks living in these units are qualified to live in the units and unsurprisingly, that all costs money,” board member Sam Della Fera said. “It was either going to be the taxpayers of Westfield who paid for it, or passing those costs on to the developers.”
According to the model ordinance and several board members, the ordinance is not effective until final approval by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, and the town "shall not spend development fees until the department has approved a plan for spending such fees."
With a unanimous vote in favor, the board will make a recommendation for said ordinance to the town council. It is expected to be included in the agenda for the town council meeting on Aug. 9.
Similar ordinances exist in Montclair and Hightstown, NJ.
The fee would not affect projects already underway.
“No taxpayer money is being used to build any of the apartments,” Della Fera said. “That is all private investment. There are funds available from the prior fee charged to developers to cover the affordable housing costs incurred by the town to date, but that fee was repealed as part of the affordable housing litigation resolution, and those escrow funds are dwindling. The new development fee ordinance takes its place so that taxpayers will continue to avoid footing the bills relating to the affordable housing obligations imposed by the state.”