Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 13
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
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Township Urged to Comply With COAH Guidelines; Task Force Is Expected

Matthew Hersh

A consultant has recommended to Princeton Township Committee that the municipality comply with the state-crafted affordable housing formula, factoring in the long-term housing goals of the Township and creating a task force that would examine the guidelines in order to draft new housing code.

The recommendation, given Monday night by housing consultant Elizabeth McKenzie during a Committee work session, effectively said the Township should look at all housing possibilities — from “pie-in-the-sky” possibilities to more immediate plans, such as advocating for the construction of 40 new units at Princeton Community Village.

Under the recommendations by the state’s Council on Affordable Housing, or COAH, the Township is responsible for 382 new and rehabilitated affordable units retroactive from 1999 through 2018.

COAH’s prior recommendations were thrown out in January 2007 by a state appellate court for using what the court ruled as outdated housing formula. A new formula surfaced late last year, when COAH released its latest plan.

COAH, an arm of the state’s Department of Community Affairs, recommends a growth share regulatory affordable housing mechanism with a building approach where residential and nonresidential market-rate growth in a town triggers the construction of affordable housing. Fundamentally, the regulations require on affordable unit for every five market-rate residential and nonresidential units, and one affordable unit for every 16 jobs created.

COAH is calling for 115,666 affordable housing units statewide for new and anticipated construction built between 1999 and 2018. The proposed regulations still permit towns to transfer up to 50 percent of their affordable housing obligations to other municipalities within each town’s respective COAH region. In the Princeton region, the cost for that arrangement, a regional contribution agreement, is $70,000 per unit.

But Ms. McKenzie, the Township’s contracted consultant, called the Township’s required number under COAH “unfathomably high” in a memorandum issued to Committee. “It is undoubtedly the result of bad data concerning vacant land and a poorly designed methodology for projecting employment and household growth in each county and then assigning it to each municipality,” the memorandum read.

But unlike Princeton Borough Council, whose members expressed serious reservations about the latest COAH recommendations and who spoke of opting out of the state’s plan altogether, Princeton Township was urged by Ms. McKenzie to opt in. Specifically, Ms. McKenzie referenced a total of 112 units that could put a dent in the Township’s 382-unit obligation. The Township’s credits include 53 senior units at Elm Court II, the aforementioned 40 potential PCV units, five senior units at Acorn Glen, two Habitat for Humanity units, and 12 senior housing units that have been zoned for, though not explicitly approved, on any residential development on a 20-acre Bunn Drive tract.

The Township, Ms. McKenzie said, would be starting off with nearly one-third of its projected COAH obligation.

However, the consultant did say that the latest changes in COAH formula “will not cover nearly as much growth as we had previously counted on” when the Township prepared its existing COAH plan — the plan that was devised before the COAH regulations were tossed out by the courts.

Ms. McKenzie warned that opting out of the requirements expose the Township to builder’s remedy lawsuits, as well as potentially encouraging developers to buck the Princeton Community Master Plan’s goals of leaving the Township’s large available parcels eligible for lower-density development.

Municipal Planning Director Lee Solow has prepared and submitted a letter to COAH objecting to parts of the proposed new formula, Ms. McKenzie said, adding that the New Jersey State League of Municipalities could file a lawsuit against COAH challenging the new rules, but at this point, she added, Township Hall should find ways to comply.

“The numbers are not realistic,” said Township Administrator James Pascale, “but we have to plan for those numbers.”

A municipal subcommittee or task force that would help to draft an ordinance complying with the new COAH numbers is likely to be put together.

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