March 3, 2021

Municipal Attorney Releases Memo On Affordable Housing Set-Aside

By Anne Levin

A memo that aims to clarify the conditions surrounding the terms of Princeton’s Third Round Affordable Housing Settlement has been posted on the municipal website (princetonnj.gov).

The 13-page memo by municipal attorney Kevin Van Hise, which was posted on Tuesday, details reasons why the 20 percent set-aside for affordable housing that was in place in the former Princeton Borough now applies only to properties that have five units or more, are rezoned, or are in zones designated for redevelopment. An ordinance passed by Princeton Council last April eliminates that set-aside for all new developments, a fact that became evident during a meeting of the town’s Site Plan Review Advisory Board last month.

The board was reviewing a proposal to build eight apartments at the parking lot on Witherspoon Street, across from Princeton Public Library, known as Griggs Corner. Officials, unaware that the set-aside had not been extended to consolidated Princeton, were surprised when representatives from Palmer Square, the developer of the property, said they did not plan to include any affordable units because they were not required to do so. The issue has generated much discussion.

“That public discussion has understandably caused significant consternation because of fears that the former Borough’s set-aside ordinance was eliminated, that the municipality does not actually have a set-aside ordinance, and that there are ‘loopholes’ in the ordinance,” Van Hise wrote in the memo. “Rumors and conspiracy theories have been exacerbated in news reports and on social media based upon incomplete facts and inaccuracies that continue to be spread.”

Van Hise said Tuesday that the town worked closely with Fair Share Housing on the agreement. “Princeton has a very good relationship with them. Council was committed to providing affordable housing. There was nothing that was done to negate the efforts of the former Borough,” he said. “Amending the ordinance was necessary to bring it up to date with current legal requirements [from the State of New Jersey]. It was not intentional by Council or staff or professionals. This is not something we intentionally adopted to dis-incentivize affordable housing. The town went above and beyond to create overlays [extending zones where more affordable units can be created]. The language was deliberative and went through all the court requirements. It is accurate.”

In the memo, Van Hise wrote, “As an initial matter, despite some of the (incorrect) assertions in the public, please be assured that Princeton does in fact have a municipal-wide mandatory affordable housing set-aside ordinance in place.”

He further goes into the background of the town’s affordable housing obligations to explain why it was necessary to bring the former Borough’s ordinance into compliance with current legal requirements, and to expand it to the entire consolidated municipality.

The memo concludes by recommending that a planning study be undertaken “to evaluate any further sites that could develop without providing an affordable housing set aside. While the ordinance meets the necessary legal requirements, a planning analysis is necessary to determine what
other sites, if any, are likely to develop outside of the mandatory set-aside provisions of Ordinance 2020-15.”

“I believe Council will be doing a more formalized study. Their overall goal is to capture as many affordable units are possible,” Van Hise said.