HOWELL – Members of the Township Council have adopted several ordinances that are expected to help Howell comply with an obligation to provide opportunities for the development of affordable housing in the municipality.
Affordable housing is defined as housing that is sold or rented at below market rates to individuals and families whose income meets certain guidelines. New Jersey municipalities are under court order to provide opportunities for the development of affordable housing within their borders.
Mayor Theresa Berger, Deputy Mayor Evelyn O’Donnell, Councilman John Bonevich, Councilman Thomas Russo and Councilwoman Pamela Richmond were on the dais at the Nov. 12 council meeting.
Attorney Andrew Bayer, who represents Howell in affordable housing matters, explained that the ordinances before the council that evening would implement a court approved settlement agreement the council members approved in 2018.
“In 2015, the township, in accordance with a state Supreme Court decision, filed a complaint in court asking for immunity from builder’s remedy (developers’) litigation, as the court figured out what Howell’s third round affordable housing obligation was for the period of 1999 to 2025.
“In 2018, the council approved a settlement agreement with the Fair Share Housing Center, where we agreed … the township’s third round affordable housing obligation for that 25-year period is 895 units and the settlement agreement also provides the mechanisms by which the township satisfies that obligation,” Bayer told council members and the public.
The Fair Share Housing Center, Cherry Hill, advocates for the development of affordable housing in municipalities throughout New Jersey.
Bayer said residents should know the council members and the township’s professionals used all the tools available in the regulations which allowed them to minimize the impact of the settlement on residential development.
When it was time for the council to act, an ordinance that creates a Moderate and Low Income Housing Zone by rezoning the FP Howell LLC property on Fort Plains Road to permit the construction of 227 for sale market rate units and 92 multifamily for sale affordable housing units was adopted with a 5-0 vote.
A second ordinance that was adopted creates a Moderate and Low Income Housing Zone by rezoning the Zaback property, a 20-acre parcel on Route 9, to permit 252 market rate housing units and 112 family rental affordable housing units. O’Donnell, Richmond and Russo voted “yes” on a motion to adopt the ordinance, while Berger and Bonevich voted “no.” The motion passed, 3-2.
A third ordinance that was adopted creates a Moderate and Low Income Housing Zone by rezoning a site owned by Tyrpak Road Group LLC. The 237-acre parcel would be bisected by Casino Drive. The zone will permit 325 market rate housing units and 142 family rental affordable housing units. O’Donnell, Richmond and Russo voted “yes” on a motion to adopt the ordinance, while Berger and Bonevich voted “no.” The motion passed, 3-2.
A fourth ordinance that was adopted creates affordable housing regulations and makes changes in the municipal code to allow Howell to comply with the municipality’s affordable housing settlement agreements. The council adopted the ordinance with a 5-0 vote.
Following the adoption of the ordinances, Russo said the affordable housing agreements the council members voted on that evening predated his service on the council and the service of his fellow freshmen council members.
“We have round four (of the affordable housing issue) coming up. It is due, by what I understand, 2025. I have been speaking with our attorneys and trying to find a way to lessen the load or to decrease the amount of overall housing in Howell,” Russo said.
Russo said he believes it is ridiculous for the state to force municipalities to construct housing. He said he believes Howell officials should challenge the next round of affordable housing numbers.
“Forcing a town to build an additional unit when there are already existing units out there that by virtue of the economy are affordable. It is a big fight, obviously, and we spoke about this at length in the last few months. I think it is a fight worth having. I think we should absolutely challenge round four,” Russo said.
Bonevich said municipal officials have to look at the township “as a whole” and start allocating funds for affordable housing attorneys.
“For next year’s budget, we should allocate some money right now toward our attorneys and we need to look at this township, as Councilman Russo said, as a whole. … You have to count (certain existing homes) as affordable (housing units),” Bonevich said.
Russo said he does not see how it is an unreasonable request to count certain available homes toward Howell’s affordable housing obligation.
“I do not see that as a unreasonable request, to say listen, we have these available units already, why build more? Why? I do not understand it. My simple brain cannot understand that,” Russo said.