HOWELL – A recent meeting that was advertised as a continued discussion on the township’s affordable housing plan was a repeat of an earlier meeting on the topic held back on April 6.
It began with Township Attorney Andrew Bayer giving a brief presentation of why Howell is in its current situation with affordable housing. It all boils down to COAH, or the Council on Affordable Housing, which Bayer referred to as the most hated agency in the state.
COAH is responsible for ensuring that all New Jersey municipalities provide their fair share of low and moderate income housing.
Under COAH, the township has two options:
- Follow the program and get to decide where in Howell affordable housing is built. Retain immunity from builders’ remedy – or potential lawsuits from developers whose projects are not chosen for development.
- Do not follow the program and face builders’ remedy – or potential lawsuits from developers whose projects are not chosen for development. Have the government force you to build high density housing wherever they decide.
What’s throwing Howell and other townships a curve-ball is that COAH failed to issue new affordable housing obligations in 2015. Howell was forced to file a lawsuit and is waiting on a court decision to decide what its next round obligation will be, although Bayer predicts that it will fall somewhere around 550 units.
Community Development Director Jim Herrman showed a map of 17 site plans that developers have offered to Howell Township to help satisfy its COAH requirements. Although most of the proposed projects are on the west side of town, near an already congested Route 9, officials made it clear that they are still a long way from any groundbreaking.
“By and large this is the first step,” said Township Board Planner Jennifer Beahm.
The locations were chosen by developers – not Howell Township. Out of the 17 site plans, only two offer 100 percent affordable housing: An 82-unit apartment complex on Route 9 South at the Estelle Lane jughandle and a 140-unit project on Four Plains Road just south of West Farms Road. If officials choose to build either or both of these projects, they will receive double COAH credits, and potentially end up with less overall impact on the town.
Another proposed project sitting on the southeast corner of Fort Plains and West Farms Roads is 98.6 percent affordable and offers 72 total units. It’s the same development from The Walters Group that residents came out in droves to protest back in 2015, citing they did not receive adequate notice of the township’s zoning plans. The issue culminated in a lawsuit and a judge ultimately siding with Howell residents. The project was never built.
This time around, the township has been increasingly transparent about the affordable housing process. The 17 site plans from developers are posted on twp.howell.nj.us and town council and planning officials listened to public comment on the topic from residents at the April 6 meeting for almost three hours.
That feedback so far has been overwhelmingly against the process, as residents feel they have seen enough development in the township and feel that officials should be doing more to fight back against state requirements.
One resident brought up neighboring Marlboro Township and said they are choosing not to follow the program and fighting back against their COAH requirements, even though officials said they currently have 10 builders’ remedy lawsuits against them. He suggested the township add a surcharge to his taxes to fight the lawsuits in court, rather than build the high density housing.
“The cost of not participating will be far greater, in my opinion,” said Beahm.