WESTFIELD, NJ — The Westfield Town Council endorsed the Housing Element and Fair Share Plan and voted to approve nine ordinances on final reading during Tuesday’s town council meeting  in accordance with the settlement that the town reached with the Fair Share Housing Center in November.

Seven of the ordinances create “overlay” zones that allow property owners to develop multi-family housing. According to the town’s FAQ, the overlay zones are located along the North and South Avenue corridors east of Central Avenue, adjacent to the South Avenue traffic circle, on Central Avenue and on Ross Place. Realistically, the overlay zones can produce about 100 affordable housing units, according to the FAQ.

The other two ordinances changed the density requirements in two other zones, allowing a maximum density of 25 dwelling units per acre. Those zones are North Avenue adjacent to the Garwood border and the Williams Nursery site, according to town planner Don Sammet.

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Residents questioned if the council could vote against approving any of the ordinances or change aspects of the ordinances. But if that happened the town could be found in contempt of court, Town Administrator Jim Gildea explained, and the entire settlement could be thrown out, “which would be detrimental to the entire town,” he said.

Several residents of Carleton Road expressed dismay with an overlay zone that will allow a developer to build a multi-family development on Ross Place that would back up to their yards. The property would contain no affordable housing units, but instead the owner would make a $111,000 payment in lieu that would go into an affordable housing fund.

During the court process, “This particular property owner intervened, which is their right to do, and we were forced by the law to consider their property,” Gildea.

The design ultimately agreed upon was negotiated, “And if you had seen what this developer and property owner had wanted to do, before where we got where we are today, you might have a better understanding of it,” Gildea said.

“Our hands were tied,” Councilwoman Jo Ann Neylan said of the Ross Place plans. “We had no choice.”

“And I can’t stress to you enough how important it is that Westfield is taking the lead on this as opposed to other towns that have been victims, I would say, of decisions that are out of their control,” Neylan said. “We have what we like to call controlled of growth and development. We have the same population as Princeton. They were told that they had to build 752 affordable housing units — that is a component of thousands and thousands of other units.”

In comparison, Sammet explained earlier in the meeting that Westfield’s obligation according to the settlement is 100 affordable units, which would be part of 691 total units.

Mayor Shelley Brindle said that the immunity clause in the settlement really resonated with her. The clause protects Westfield from “builders remedy” lawsuits.

“We are very, very fortunate through the hard work of people who have been here for a long time — attorneys and masters and professionals — who went to great stakes and great pains to make sure we’re leading this effort and developing Westfield so it remains the desirable town that it is,” Neylan said.

For more information, a “Land Use Ordinance FAQ” is posted on the town’s website. To read the House Element and Fair Share Plan, click here.

Related story: Westfield Planning Board Accepts Affordable Housing Obligations, Hears Testimony for Subdivision of 667 Fourth Avenue