HOWELL – Some Howell residents have started a firestorm on town-related social media pages and created an online petition after council released its preliminary agenda for tonight’s June 13 town council meeting. That agenda includes an ordinance to create a new zoning district specific to affordable housing– which has been a hot topic in the town.
Mayor Theresa Berger, councilmembers and planning officials have so far held two public meetings to discuss Howell’s affordable housing situation, and are currently awaiting a court decision to determine what their next round affordable housing obligation will be, although Township Attorney Andrew Bayer has pegged it at around 550 units.
The new zoning district, Reserve Mount Laurel District 2 or RMLD-2, is being created to allow for 100 percent affordable housing projects to be built, but says they cannot exceed 72 multi-family units. Out of the 17 developers that have so far approached Howell and offered up their site plans, only two projects have exceeded 72 affordable units.
Another ordinance on the agenda removes a block of land on the southeast corner of West Farms and Fort Plains Roads from the highway development zone and puts it into the RMLD-2 zone, making it ripe for 100 percent affordable housing development. If Howell accepts the project from the Walters Group as it is currently proposed, 72 total units would be built on what is now mostly woods – in its place building 14 one-bedrooms, 42 two-bedrooms and 15 three-bedrooms, with a community center and pool. The project is listed as 98.6 percent affordable.
A group called Howell NJ Strong has started a petition on change.org to protest these zoning changes. So far, the online petition has reached 515 signatures. According to the site:
“As residents who support both the true concept of Affordable Housing and the rural nature of Howell Township equally, we urge you NOT to approve any affordable housing projects until a court decision is made as to how many units we are required or our lawmakers establish the legal framework that sets a formula for the required units.”
The petition will be sent to Deputy Mayor Robert Nicastro, Councilman Robert Walsh, Councilwoman Pauline Smith, Councilwoman Evelyn O’Donnell, State Senator Robert Singer, State Representatives Sean Kean and David Rible, and Mayor Theresa Berger.
Both ordinances are only being introduced at the June 13 council meeting. Public hearing and adoption will be at a July 18 meeting.