Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 31
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
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New University Building Creates New Housing; COAH Remains Sidelined

Matthew Hersh

A Princeton University development project resulting in the rehabilitation of five affordable rental units in Princeton Borough was hailed last year as the premier school project for its compliance with new state mandates requiring new affordable housing commensurate with the degree of development. And while Borough Council signed off last Tuesday on a project where the University would contribute to the Borough's affordable housing stock, the Borough, along with municipalities throughout the state, again finds itself in limbo as the state looks to revisit those mandates.

In January, a state appellate court overruled the state's recently adopted formula for determining affordable housing, saying that the state's Council on Affordable Housing had used outdated and altered criteria for determining the low-income housing mandate for 382 municipalities.

Under the recently rejected mandates, the Borough was obligated to produce about 97 affordable units over the next 10 years. There are four mechanisms that induce an increased level of affordable housing: an existing 20 percent affordable housing overlay zone in the Borough; the cash contribution requirement at the rate of one unit for every eight built if a developer builds four or fewer units; the stipulation that one unit be built for every 25 jobs created; and that any new zoning districts created by the Borough will have to include a 20 percent set-aside for affordable housing.

In June, a state appeals court judge gave the Corzine administration until December 31 to complete new formula for determining affordable housing. And while it's unlikely that Princeton Borough and Princeton Township, two municipalities that spent exhausting time and staff dollars in 2005 on devising methods to comply with COAH's requirements, will be adversely impacted by any revised formula, the Princetons, along with other potentially affected towns, find themselves in a holding pattern until they can fully implement the plans they had devised.

Both Princetons have petitions pending before COAH for its third-round certification, among more than 200 petitions whose reviews have been stayed by the appellate court's January decision.

The University project, a 45,000 square-foot academic building slated to house the Operations Research and Financial Engineering Department (ORFE) planned for the school's Engineering Quadrangle east of Olden Street, received municipal approval this year.

An aging affordable rental complex located at 101-104 Leigh Avenue that currently contains five housing units will be demolished and reconstructed by the University. The new units will be habitable before ORFE receives a certificate of occupancy. The University has indicated that the new ORFE building will be complete by late 2008.

In the meantime, COAH has spent millions of dollars doing research and has planners waiting for a new affordable housing mandate that was slated be implemented as far back as 1999. "Here we are, eight years later," said David Kinsey, a Princeton-based planner who specializes in affordable housing. "This is a constitutional housing obligation," he told Town Topics in June. "This is not just statutory law. Our state constitution says that we have this responsibility, and it's been passed on and on and on.

"Coming up with a fair share formula is a challenging thing to do, but it's not impossible," he said, adding that the Borough's already installed overlay providing 20 percent affordable housing "is a good concept."

While towns like Princeton Borough and Township wait for revised COAH regulations, and for their affordable housing plans to be rubberstamped, COAH has reportedly engaged in meetings to gather public input and has obtained a Philadelphia-based consultant, Econsult Corp., to assist in a new plan, according to a Star-Ledger report.

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