HILLSBOROUGH: Committee paves the way for more than 120 new housing units

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Andrew Martins, Managing Editor
More than 120 new housing units could pop up near Amwell and Stienmetz Roads in the future, as the Hillsborough Township Committee passed an ordinance amending the zoning features of a more than 28 acre plot of land.
During the governing body’s meeting on December 12, officials unanimously approved the ordinance, allowing for the creation of a new “multifamily inclusionary overlay district” in the township code book that would facilitate the construction of 126 residential units.
According to Hillsborough Planning Director David Maski, the measure was needed in order to incentivize the construction of “affordable multifamily housing” on the property.
“This ordinance would create an overlay district, which does not change the underlying district…which allows several uses, commercial, offices, etcetera,” Maski said. “Currently, that zone does not permit single-use residential buildings. This ordinance would provide a district that would allow that to happen on this particular tract of land.”
The tract of land spans three properties, delineated as block 200.01; lots 4, 5, 6 on the municipal tax map. Of the 126 new housing units potentially slated for construction on those properties, Maski said 31 would have to meet the affordable housing criteria.
According to the ordinance, the minimum tract size for each unit will be 9.3 acres, with at least 430 feet of frontage on Amwell Road. Minimum front setbacks will be 80 feet from Amwell Road and 100 feet from Steinmetz Road, with side yard setbacks required to be at least 20 feet from the tract or lot boundary.
The maximum height for each multifamily building is also set at 45 feet, or three stories, tall, with a 20 foot buffer “adjacent to any residential district or existing residential use.”
With the proposal having made its way through the township planning board, some residents from Steinmetz Road said they felt they were “under attack” with this and other previous changes that took place in their community.
“First, the bypass bisected our street and split up long-time neighbors, then with the bypass opening, we are battered everyday with the constant noise of the jay-breaking of the large dump trucks, tractor trailers, what have you that enter at Amwell Road onto the bypass,” Bob Kennedy, a Steinmetz Road resident, said. “My fear is that the three stories are a bit much and will come back and encroach on our neighborhood. We have pretty private backyards, it’s a pretty quiet neighborhood when the trucks aren’t around.”
“I think it’s just one more major inconvenience for Steinmetz Road,” he continued.
Though some residents offered suggestions for alternative properties nearby that may work better for proposed affordable housing, including the vacant Cost Cutters lot along Route 206, Committeeman Frank DelCore said the municipality was limited in where it could try to locate suitable locations for affordable housing.
“We don’t have the luxury of telling people with their property what they should do with it. We have to look at areas where development may be possible, but ultimately the owner of the property would have to comply with the zoning requirements,” DelCore said. “The owner has to be willing to build something.”
Committeeman Doug Tomson, a long-time critic of state-mandated affordable housing requirements, pointed to failed legislation in Trenton that could have allowed for vacant commercial properties to be used to help meet those requirements.
“Senator Ray Lesniak had legislation that would have allowed properties like the Cost Cutters to be taken over by eminent domain, rebuild and cleaned up into affordable housing structures,” Tomson said. “That bill went nowhere in the legislature. It sat there even though the senator was the chairman of the committee.”
“The legislature and the governor did nothing to save us from affordable housing mandates,” he continued. “It’s crazy…we’re being forced to build affordable housing without the infrastructure to take care of it…no one is accounting for that at the legislative or governor’s level.”