Council May Make Some Amendments To Housing Settlement
Borough Council postponed a vote on the Palmer Square Housing Settlement last week after deciding the document needed "clarifying amendments," relating to such items as affordable housing.
Council members expressed concern that wording in parts of the document could be misconstrued. The Council was scheduled to vote on the amendment and the entire settlement on Tuesday, February 10, at its meeting after Town Topics' publication deadline.
"One of the things you learn is that public scrutiny of an important document is better discussed thoroughly," said Mayor Joseph O'Neill late last week. He said he anticipated a vote on Tuesday, following lengthy discussions of the settlement that have taken place both January 13 and February 3.
Mayor O'Neill believed the majority of Council members would vote in favor of the settlement, but if there was a tie, he said he would break it in favor of passing the settlement.
The proposed housing settlement, which includes building 97 to 100 housing units on Hulfish North, could bring approximately $60 million in new rateables for the Borough. The project has been in limbo for the past 14 years, due to a disagreement between the Borough and developer Oded Aboodi over aspects of the project, predominantly affordable housing.
If the proposed settlement is approved, the units must be built within the next five years.
Proposed clarifying amendments made to the seven-page document include a change that states that in the event an affordable housing unit can't be made vacant immediately for a chosen tenant, Palmer Square must immediately provide a temporary unit, where a tenant may remain for up to 13 months.
Council members were concerned that the original wording had inferred Palmer Square had 13 months to vacate a unit and allow a new tenant to occupy it.
Another proposed amendment states that Palmer Square is obligated to pay 54.8 percent of possible sewer repair costs, not to exceed $250,000, which "shall not be changed irrespective of the amount of new units constructed by Palmer." This was changed because Palmer Square has yet to specify whether they will build 97 or 100 housing units on the site.
An additional amendment states that Palmer Square's sewer repair costs are paid no later than five years after the date the first building permit for the housing units has been issued. This was added so that the developer may not build all but one housing unit, in order to avoid payment.
Other minor changes were also made to the document, such as changing "Ad Hoc Committee" to "Landscape Sub-Committee."
According to Mayor O'Neill, these changes to the document don't need to be pre-approved by Mr. Aboodi, as "none of the numbers have been changed." He said that the wording has only been changed to clarify statements, so that there is no misunderstanding by either the developer or the Borough.
"All we've done is move sentences and put in qualifiers," said Mayor O'Neill.
During last week's hearing, additional members of the community spoke up against the passing of the settlement.
"What this proposal lacks is balance, diversity and affordability," said Yina Moore, a representative from Princeton Future.
She said that she was unhappy with the placement of the affordable housing, which will be scattered around the Borough, and not in the new development site. She also said that Council should barter for a longer length of time for the units, as the current agreement states that the affordable housing will only remain in place for a maximum of 20 years.
Former Councilman Mark Freda, who also spoke out against parts of the agreement at the January 13 meeting, said that Council should consider whether building the housing units was really worth the trouble it may cause the Borough down the line.
"I just ask that you look at the tax dollars that are coming in ... and decide if this settlement is really worth it," said Mr. Freda.
Former Mayor Marvin Reed spoke in favor of the agreement, asking that Council consider that this may be the last chance they are given to resolve their differences with Mr. Aboodi.
"What we are doing here is bringing two parties together that have been at odds for a long time," said Mr. Reed. "We're trying to move forward ... and get this thing behind us."
By meeting's end, it was agreed that Council members would submit their concerns to Michael Herbert, Esq., the Borough's attorney, and he would make the changes to the document in an amendment, which would clear up any ambiguities.
"I think you need to list our concerns because otherwise they're going to come back and magnify themselves," said Councilwoman Mildred Trotman.