February 27, 2013

AvalonBay’s Charge of Bias, Evasion Of Mt. Laurel Statutes Is Pure Nonsense

To the Editor:

AvalonBay’s ill-considered lawsuit has prompted much public handwringing and many “I told you so’s” — usually from solons whose identities are concealed behind initials and pen-names.

Most of the critics make plain their view that the Planning Board should have waved through a site plan that even its most ardent supporters would describe as ill suited to the neighborhood into which its proposed buildings were to be dropped. Craftier critics chide our former Planning Board for disregarding “the law,” as if we do not have an abundance of evidence to remind us that sitting judges can do just about anything they please — and usually do.

AvalonBay’s charge of bias and willful evasion of the requirements of the various Mt. Laurel statutes is pure nonsense. Only a sophist would suggest that a desire for lower density and/or less intrusive design is prima facie evidence of a bias against “affordable housing.” In fact, housing does not need to be dense and ugly to be affordable, nor must reduced density and pleasing design imply a reduced commitment to affordable housing. Council might find it helpful to know — and to let the presiding judge know — that some of us are working to finance a locally sponsored development scheme, one that would reduce density by at least 50 percent but deed-restrict 56 of the new units for affordable housing.

The real issue — the only issue — is AvalonBay’s attempt to bully our town into imposing excessive density and poor design on one of our core downtown neighborhoods — with the certain result that existing affordable housing in adjacent neighborhoods (e.g. the Witherspoon Jackson neighborhood) will be made unaffordable as land values are driven skywards.

We will now discover whether or not our town’s leaders have the backbone to defend a vote that a brazen developer has chosen to challenge as arbitrary and capricious — a vote that never would have been needed had our town’s paid staff vetted the proposed project more thoroughly at the outset. Those who insist that AvalonBay was legally entitled to proceed might do well to review Peter Steck’s masterful critique of the application’s many deficiencies. His critique — perhaps the best single presentation I have ever seen — made clear that the application should never have reached the planning board.

Let us hope that Council votes to persevere, and that the town’s attorneys will not be too proud to cite Mr. Steck’s findings in their formal response to AvalonBay’s pleadings. And let us hope that, in the future, it will not be necessary for a citizens’ group to engage and pay outside experts to expose the blunders of the town’s paid staff.

Peter Marks

Moore Street