Hopewell Township officials adopt ordinance to provide zoning for affordable housing

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The Hopewell Township Committee has adopted a land use and development ordinance that amends an existing ordinance.

Mayor Kristin McLaughlin, Deputy Mayor Michael Ruger and Committeeman Kevin Kuchinski voted “yes” to adopt the ordinance.

Committeeman John Hart voted “no” and said, “What you are doing with this ordinance is giving the builders a builder’s remedy. I vote ‘no’ because I want baby steps.”

The ordinance establishes a new inclusionary multi-family commercial zone in place of the current Valley Resource Conservation (VRC) zone. The VRC zone is aimed at preserving farmland and conservation.

According to Mark Kataryniak, the township’s community development director, the ordinance is part of an ongoing affordable housing settlement, one of the last remaining pieces in a court compliance, and involves rezoning a series of blocks and lots which are bound between the east side of Scotch Road and the southern side of Nursery Road.

In its settlement agreement with the Fair Share Housing Council, Cherry Hill, which sued Hopewell Township and many municipalities across the state, the township had to provide a total obligation of 653 units of affordable housing on all the sites for very low, low and moderate income households.

The solution is for a developer to build a large housing development that includes affordable housing units, at a 4:1 ratio – four market rate units for every affordable unit.

This could result in the construction of as many as 3,000 new housing units in Hopewell Township, including the affordable housing units.

“By putting this zoning in place, we will be finishing our job of creating a reasonable opportunity for affordable housing in Hopewell Township. This will end a number of years of a lengthy legal process and we can give residents a level of certainty that nothing more will come at us,” McLaughlin said. “It will be up to a potential developer to deal with the water and sewer (issues) and up to the market on the numbers the area could absorb over time.”

She said the offer of having age-restricted housing on the table takes away a number of children from taxpayers, which ended ongoing litigation and seemed a reasonable solution to many problems.

McLaughlin was referencing complaints that were received from residents about new children being added to local schools as a result of more housing units that could have required a new school to be built.

“However, depending on market conditions, this may or may not be coming. We are required to create a reasonable opportunity (for affordable housing),” she said. “We do not pay for the sewers or the water. We just have to make certain the zoning is in place and the developer has to solve the rest of the problems. If they can’t, Hopewell Township has done its job.”

Hart said he believes the plan has to be done slowly.

“I like the idea of having exclusionary zoning for a hotel on one of the lots. The rest of this is too extreme. I am surprised the Planning Board members did not question this thing,” he said. “I think we need to take baby steps. There are developments like this that did not pan out. If we approve this, this will speed things up for potential development.”

The zoning would permit retail, grocery stores and a bank that would support additional residents, according to municipal officials.

In response to Hart’s comments, the township attorney said the committee was under a time constraint due to a judge looking at the settlement agreement and the ordinance to make a determination if the township was being fair and reasonable in regard to affordable housing.

“By adopting this ordinance, we will have provided a reasonable opportunity to provide for affordable housing. If for whatever reason there are environmental issues on the properties, not just this one, or a recession, or the developer decides not to build, the Fair Share Housing Center cannot come back and force us because we have provided for a realistic opportunity,” Ruger said.