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CRANBURY: Affordable housing fireworks fly as committee speaks frankly about challenges

By Amy Batista, Special Writer
CRANBURY – Township committee members and professionals discuss affordable housing and update residents during a work session on what has been happening and the latest during its meeting on Monday night.
“We are going to step through what has been happening with affordable housing,” said Mayor Dan Mulligan.
He started off the work session talking about affordable housing terms and discussing members who comprised the Cranbury Township Committee and the Cranbury Affordable Housing subcommittee and their professionals.
The Cranbury Affordable Housing Subcommittee is comprised of township administrator and chief finance officer Denise Marabello, township committee member David Cook, Mayor Mulligan, affordable housing attorney Kevin Van Hise, president of Cranbury Housing Associates Mark Berkowsky, affordable housing consultant Mary Beth Lonergan and township planner Richard Preiss.
“We have worked very closely as a group to ensure that we did what we had to do to protect Cranbury,” said Mayor Mulligan. “I think that’s important to note.”
He said there’s been reports coming out of other towns where local governing bodies have had in fighting and have politicized things like affordable housing for their own political gain.
“We don’t do things that way in Cranbury,” he said. “That’s not how we operate.”
The mayor said that working together with this group was critical in order to protect Cranbury moving forward, he added. He said that some of the group’s guiding principals included protecting and preserving Cranbury.
“Additionally, we wanted to maintain our K-8 school,” he said. “It’s very important to us that we not allow some large-scale development to jeopardize our school and lead us into a situation where we have multiple schools in our community.”
Mayor Mulligan said the group quickly realized that it was important to work within the rules to gain the best possible outcome for Cranbury.
“The reason why I say that is because Cranbury has a target on it,” he said. “The reality of what people perceive us as is not the reality but their perception is that we’re an affluent town. We don’t have enough affordable houses here.”
Mr. Van Hise reflected next on the additional background on the Mount Laurel Doctrine, a state Supreme Court doctrine that drives the affordable housing laws in New Jersey, and the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) being dissolved.
“Cranbury has been a recognized leader actually pre-dating the affordable housing obligations of the Mount Laurel Doctrine of being out ahead of that and actually achieved substantive certification in both the first and second round,” said Mr. Van Hise.
He said that COAH decided to shift away from the quota base system and create a new methodology called growth share.
“The theory behind that was as towns grew, so would your obligations,” he said. “If you did not grow, then your obligations in essence would be staggered.”
He said the committee was very aggressive in the negotiations while recognizing that the courts were also breathing down their throats. He said they are still in the process of finalizing the agreement.
“Those will be entered into next month,” he said, adding there will be a public process for those.
He said that the settlement umbrella in essence would amount to the rezoning basically with an overlay zone for the property that’s on Dey Road, about 79 acres, that could house up to 170 age-restricted units.
“In leiu of constructing affordable housing units they would actually make a contribution of $3 million dollars to the township’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which we could then use to offset some of the on going construction projects that we have and any of the other affordable housing requirements that we have and processes that we have in place,” said Mr. Van Hise.
He said the advantage of the senior restricted projects is we do have less demand on municipal services, reduced to no impact on schools, and it allowed them to really design and at least work conceptually with the project that they think will be compatible with Cranbury and it fit in there.
Mayor Mulligan said that the committee has some qualified professionals and volunteers.
“We were feeling very confident and then the Protinick family from here in town came in and took advantage of that situation and threatened us with a large-scale townhouse or home build out,” he said.
The ultimate settlement would be an over 55 community.
“It’s a fantastic outcome knowing what it could have been. It’s actually a positive net tax impact for the school,” said the mayor, adding that he thinks the school will pick up a $1 million dollars a year in revenue off of that.
“I can say that going through what went on with the Protinicks was one of the darkest points of this whole thing. I really thought at one point we were going to lose Cranbury. I would say the months of January, February, and March were probably the most intense,” said Mayor Mulligan. “It was nothing short of a stick up. We had a gun to our heads. “Protinick’s runs a fruit stand on Dey Road. Think twice about stopping there.”
The mayor said the township worked with the Protinicks for two years to put them in farmland preservation.
“We offered them millions of dollars,” he said. “They jerked us around until the 11th hour and then went for more money in their pockets. That’s the real truth.”
Committee member James “Jay” Taylor said that he is frustrated that a family that is considered a long-time family here in town, the Protinicks, look at all this then chase the dollar.
Ms. Lonergan, associate partner of Clarke Caton Hintz, said that the township has really been in the forefront with addressing its affordable housing obligations.
She said that the township has a 260-unit third-round obligation which was adjusted by virtue of the 20 percent cap again to ensure that a community such as theirs was not drastically altered.
Ms. Marabello discussed the financial impact it would have on the taxpayers.
“The two biggest projects we have going forward are Route 130 D Applewood Court and Paul’s Auto Repair which we are calling the Ingeram site,” said Ms. Marabello. “Estimated right now the costs for those two projects for the township will be approximately $8,600,000 which is a big chunk of change.”
She said that they are going to have to come up with that money over the next couple of years.
“Obviously, we will bond for that money,” she said, adding it will be a 15- to 20-year bond.
Mr. Taylor said during the comments part of the meeting that it was important to note that the township’s affordable housing stock counts in terms of calculating its future need.

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