by Leslie Murray
October 10, 2008
CRANFORD -- The Township of Cranford has a significantly lower affordable housing obligation than had been previously estimated by the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH), but must still consider options for meeting future affordable housing requirements according to a report from planning consultant Stan Slachetka of T&M Associates this week.
During the Monday, Oct. 6 meeting of the Township Committee, Slachetka presented the Fair Share Housing Plan, a section of the township Master Plan which deals with a plan to handle affordable housing that was worked on separately outside the ongoing effort to redraft the Master Plan.
Through a landmark New Jersey Supreme Court case -- known as the Mt. Laurel decision -- municipalities in the state must provide low and moderate income housing options. COAH sets the formula through which a municipality's required amount of housing is calculated and is also the body that can certify a town as having a plan to address the need for affordable housing.
Cranford has already committed to a legal challenge with the New Jersey League of Municipalities of the latest round of COAH rules.
In September, Slachetka, Mayor Bob Puhak and other township officials met with COAH representatives in Trenton. While Puhak said that he was disconcerted by the confusion he found in the meeting, Slachetka said that the meeting "assured (him) that we're headed in the right direction."
Offering the Fair Share plan that he had come to by performing a vacant land analysis and calculating the realistic development potential based on COAH standards, Slachetka said that for the first and second rounds of COAH the township still has an 11-unit obligation, as well as a 55-unit obligation to rehabilitate existing affordable units.
The first and second round obligations are in line with what Slachetka had predicted for the township after he reported in May that COAH had erroneously included acres of property bordering the Garden State Parkway along with school lawns and athletic fields as vacant land available for development.
The current third round "growth share" obligation from COAH, which includes growth until 2018, was also based in part on the original incorrect land analysis.
"COAH had established a substantial obligation, and really an unrealistic obligation for the township," Slachetka said of the initial third round obligation. "We're confident that the township has a 58-unit growth share obligation," he said.
The third round was a marked departure from early projections by COAH indicating that Cranford would have been required to provide 392 affordable units; 148 units from prior rounds of COAH rules, 189 units under the latest set of rules and 55 rehabilitated units.
In moments of levity, members of the Township Committee and Slachetka poked fun at the widely vacillating rules of COAH, however Slachetka said the lower obligation would be a relief because "COAH has a much higher growth share (estimate)."
"That's because they were counting the Parkway," quipped Deputy Mayor David Robinson.
Adding to the issues of affordable housing facing the township is the Builder's Remedy Lawsuit filed by Lehigh Acquisitions earlier this year. In the suit, the result of a disagreement between township officials and the developer over the number of units at a proposed project, the developer claims the township has not met the affordable housing obligation.
Lehigh filed suit in January stemming from a disagreement about the appropriate density for a five-acre site at 555 South Ave. East. The developer wanted to construct 126 condominium flats, while the Township Committee would agree to only 90. The case is still before the state Superior Court and township officials have made almost no public comments on the project since the lawsuit was filed.
While the previous round of COAH obligations are smaller and can seemingly be handled through credits for existing projects, such as the Lincoln Apartments for senior citizens, Slachetka recommended that the township allow for a study into "municipally sponsored construction," a provision under COAH law that allows a municipality to grant land to a not-for-profit agency to build "supportive and special needs" group homes.
Adding that the township-owned land along Myrtle Avenue is among some of the only municipally-held empty land in Cranford, Slachetka told the committee that "municipally sponsored construction" would be worth investigating for the township as a way to meet future growth share requirements.
He was given the go ahead by the committee to investigate the proposal after explaining that the township would not be responsible for owning, maintaining, or financing such a project were it built.
The Fair Share Housing Plan has to be reviewed and approved by the Planning Board before being endorsed by the Township Committee and sent to COAH for consideration, a process the committee had intended to finish before year's end.
Slachetka said that the committee would have to stay focused on planning for future growth and the affordable housing obligation that would come with it.
"You've got to have a plan in place -- a full plan -- to address the overall need," he said. "The important thing to understand is that there will be a fourth COAH round," Slachetka said.
Leslie Murray is a staff writer for The Chronicle. She can be reached at (908) 464-5214 or email@example.com.