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Howell council zones tract for affordable housing

HOWELL – The Township Council has adopted two ordinances that pertain to a planned affordable housing development in the community.

One ordinance that was adopted in a 4-1 vote on July 18 rezones property at the intersection of Route 9 and West Farms Road from Highway Development 1 to Reserve Mount Laurel District 2 (RMLD-2). The parcel is on the southbound side of the highway and near Fort Plains Road.

The second ordinance adopted that evening describes the RMLD-2 zone and states that the purpose and intent of the zone “is to provide for the development of a 100 percent affordable project not to exceed 72 multifamily units.”

Accessory uses in the RMLD-2 zone will be recreational facilities, off-street parking facilities and utility structures, according to the ordinance.

Municipal officials have said that by providing for a 100 percent affordable housing development of up to 72 units, Howell will receive credit for 144 affordable housing units toward the total number of affordable housing units it must provide. The total number of units is not known at this time, according to municipal officials.

Affordable housing is defined as housing that is sold or rented at below market rates to people whose income meets regional guidelines.

Council members Bob Walsh and Pauline Smith said rejecting the ordinances could land Howell in court battling lawsuits filed by developers.

“I would love to say go away or just say no, but that does not work. Jackson just settled for 1,000 affordable homes,” Walsh said. “There is no saying ‘just say no, we do not want to build them, there will be too much traffic.’ It does not work that way.

“It is not our decision on how many affordable housing units our allotment is. It comes from the state and we have to make decisions on where they get built or leave it in the courts, where the courts will decide,” Walsh said.

Smith addressed the issue before voting on the adoption of the ordinances and said, “It is unfortunate we have to do these things, but this is the best we can do anywhere. I am sorry for the impact it has, I know myself, I live in the shadow of four (affordable housing) developments where it use to be country.

“So I know how (residents) feel, I feel for you and with you, but believe me, this is for the whole township. … as my darling husband said, a vote against this is a vote against Howell,” Smith said.

Deputy Mayor Rob Nicastro said, “I know this project has caused a lot of division in town, but it is 72 affordable housing units for 144 affordable housing credits vs. (possibly having to permit) 720 units.

“I can understand people do not want things in their backyard, I can understand people have fears. I think we have taken an extraordinary number of steps to explain things.

“Some people after listening understood, some people chose not to understand, but we represent the entire town and no one could convince me that 720 (housing) units is better than up to 72 units. I cannot be convinced of that, so to protect the entire town I am voting yes to 72 vs. 700,” Nicastro said.

Mayor Theresa Berger, who voted no when the ordinances were introduced several weeks earlier, voted no on the motion to adopt them.

“It seems I am the odd ball out. I believe we need to have some building here in Howell, but I do not agree with this development. I did not agree when I ran (for mayor) and I am voting no. That does not mean I am against Howell and I take offense to that,” Berger said.

Motions were made to adopt the ordinances regarding the RMLD-2 zone and Walsh, Smith, Nicastro and Councilwoman Evelyn O’Donnell voted yes. Berger voted no on the motions.

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