HOPEWELL TOWNSHIP: Affordable housing trial slated for December


By Frank Mustac, Contributor
The often postponed affordable housing trial involving Hopewell Township is tentatively scheduled to begin this December.
Planning Board attorney Ronald Morgan recently updated officials on the trial’s status at the Oct. 19 Planning Board meeting.
“Judge (Mary) Jacobson has set trial dates for six days in December, which can extend into January,” he said.
Hopewell Township will be in court before Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson to determine the number of low- and moderate-income housing units that should be built to meet the municipality’s legal obligations.
Late last year, the township formally told the court it could make available about 890 affordable units.
However, the Fair Share Housing Center, a nonprofit affordable housing advocacy organization, determined the prospective need for affordable housing in Hopewell Township to be a minimum of 1,200 units.
“Frankly, I’m not quite sure why she set these trial dates in December because the oral argument before the state Supreme Court on the gap issue is Nov. 30,” Mr. Morgan said. “It’s very doubtful we are going to have a decision on that before she starts a trial, and we’re all going to incur a lot of cost, because if the Supreme Court overrules the Appellate Division, that changes the whole ball game and numbers are all over the board again.”
The “gap’ issue Mr. Morgan referred to is a ruling rendered by the Superior Court Appellate Division on July 11 that says “municipal affordable housing obligations do not include a separate and distinct ‘gap period’ calculation.”
The appellate ruling overturned a decision issued in February by Judge Mark Troncone in Ocean County.
In that case, Judge Troncone’s ruling concerned the “gap period,” a stretch of 16 years from 1999-2015, when no affordable housing regulations were approved by COAH or approved by the courts, according to Michael W. Herbert, another attorney for Hopewell Township.
COAH is an acronym for the Council on Affordable Housing, a state agency.
Had Judge Troncone’s ruling stood, it would have meant that the number of affordable housing units that towns in Ocean County and the rest of the state would be constitutionally obligated to provide could increase substantially.
However, the successful appeal of Judge Troncone’s decision is now being challenged in the state Supreme Court.
Mr. Morgan told the Planning Board that he would raise the issue of the trial date schedule with Judge Jacobson. He said he would ask the judge why she is “pressing this so much knowing that we’re waiting for the Supreme Court decision.”
He said the Supreme Court “can issue a decision very quickly, and I think they understand the importance of it, so I would hope for a quick decision, but I’m not so sure … particularly if there is a split among the justices.”
Mr. Morgan seemed to suggest that Hopewell Township’s trial, which groups several other towns in Mercer County with Hopewell in a single court case, may have to be delayed due to a possibly protracted Supreme Court decision. 