Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 35
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
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Planner Asks Township to Consider COAH Requirements in Development

Matthew Hersh

Even though the state's Council on Affordable Housing is in the process of redrafting a growth share formula that municipalities can use to tie new development into state-mandated affordable housing plans, Princeton Township Committee could be asked to implement an affordable housing component if it chooses to rezone a key tract of Township land, currently zoned for office/research use and age restricted housing.

Earlier this month, when a prospective developer approached Township Committee looking to relax the zoning governing the resident age requirement along a Bunn Drive tract from the minimum 62 years to 55 years, saying the land would be more saleable and marketable if the zoning allows for housing to be open to a wider demographic, Township Hall was faced with a critical decision that could not only change the scope of senior housing, but also the Township's growth share plan per the state's affordable housing requirements.

The original zoning outlined a regional contribution agreement, or RCA, where a developer would give a cash contribution to the municipality that would go to finance affordable housing, but while outlining the possibilities in redrafting zoning on the Bunn site, Princeton planning director Lee Solow said that the Township could consider building a growth share plan in with the zoning, which would require a developer to construct affordable units either on site, or at a predetermined location.

"If we're changing that zoning, we should look at changing the affordable housing requirement so that rather than there being a cash contribution, it would meet the state mandate," Mr. Solow said, pointing to the potential requirements outlined by the Council on Affordable Housing, or COAH. In January of this year, a state appellate court rejected 2005 COAH requirements for municipalities, ruling that COAH, had used outdated or altered criteria for determining the low income housing mandate for 382 municipalities.

And while there was no material threat to the town's proposed affordable housing plan, devised in response to the recalled 2005 plan, "it gives a chance to stay tuned and see how the COAH people are going to respond to this decision," Township attorney Edwin Schmierer said at the time.

Meanwhile, however, the Township could get a jump on satisfying a part of its housing requirement by potentially working that requirement into any new zoning. "Basically, if we change the age requirement, we should take a look at the impact that it could have, because it's going to be different than it was in 2001, when the [senior housing] zones were created.

Developer K. Hovnanian, who had been slated to develop the 20-acre Bunn Drive parcel with 140 62-and-up, units, before pulling out of the project in 2006, would have been on the hook for either a 20 percent affordable housing set-aside, or a $25,000 in-lieu payment to the Township.

If the Township ends up following the Planning Department's staff recommendations, a new developer could be asked to include some of the units on site, or to build elsewhere, Mr. Solow said.

That "elsewhere," remains to be seen, however. There is potentially available space near Princeton Community Village, across the road from the Bunn parcel that could be used for additional housing.

J. Robert Hillier, the architect who is contracted to purchase and develop the Bunn Drive site from a private Short Hills-based firm, Chatham Capital Investors, indicated in an early August presentation to Committee that some affordable housing could be included on site. While Mr. Hillier, a shareholder at Town Topics Inc., has not submitted a formal site plan, it is likely that his proposal could include the same number of units as the Hovnanian plan. His previous concept, however, was to develop only a portion of the 20-acre site, favoring a higher density development rather than a more spread out project.

Township Committee is slated to further discuss the Hillier proposal, and any subsequent zoning change, starting in September in closed session, according to officials familiar with the project.

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