The Mansfield Township municipality and a developer, Tower Gate Associates, will present their draft settlement to a Superior Court judge in a fairness hearing at the Burlington County Courts Facility in Mount Holly.
The scheduled Dec. 19 meeting comes after Tower Gate and municipal officials settled on 74 affordable housing units proposed to be built in the township. The agreement requires court approval.
As the proposal currently stands, the settlement agreement could potentially allow a mixed-use development with 74 affordable housing units in the township along Route 130 and Kinkora Road on a 118.53-acre land parcel.
Officials said this matter stemmed from a builder’s remedy lawsuit that Tower Gate filed in August 2018, when Tower Gate challenged the township’s satisfaction of its affordable housing obligations and sought to build an inclusionary development on the property.
The township and planning board later entered into a settlement agreement with Tower Gate to facilitate the production of affordable housing in the third round, which spans a 26-year period from 1999 through 2025.
Pursuant to the agreement, the township agreed to adopt a housing element and fair share plan with a prior round obligation to provide 221 units, and provide 74 affordable units as well.
In a resolution passed by the township committee at an Oct. 16 meeting, the document states, “the township has, for a number of years, identified this property as an appropriate location for the provision of affordable housing units, and accordingly, the parties have entered into a settlement agreement regarding the future development of the site, which will ensure the Township of Mansfield a mixed use (residential and commercial) development, and also assist Mansfield Township in satisfying its constitutional obligation to provide a realistic opportunity for affordable housing in this municipality.”
According to the fairness hearing notice for the court date, the December meeting is expected to address three matters: A planned evaluation and determination of whether the terms of the settlement agreement entered into between the township, planning board and Tower Gate is fair and reasonable to the region’s low and moderate income households; a determination of whether the terms of the township’s draft housing element and fair share plan is also a fair and reasonable approach by the township in meeting its affordable housing obligations for the period 1999-2025; and to review and approve the township’s spending plan for its affordable housing trust fund.
When the township committee fielded discussion about the upcoming fairness hearing at a Nov. 26 meeting, multiple residents voiced their opinions on the matter of development on the Kinkora Road land parcel.
Although residents expressed their concerns with development on the property in regards to site plan issues such as stormwater runoff and environmental concerns, officials said that the issues would instead have to come before the planning board for a public hearing once the developer submits a site plan.
“It still has to go to the planning board. There is no site plan,” attorney John Gillespie said. “The only thing attached to this document is a concept plan.”
When residents accused township officials, as well as previous governing bodies, in failing to take action in order to meet its affordable housing obligations with a potential to stymie past and potential builder’s remedy lawsuits, Gillespie explained the background of municipality’s role on affordable housing to counter their claims.
“Our protection against future builder’s remedy lawsuits will not expire in 2025,” he said. “Towns are going to be seeking extensions of that, and my expectation is that those will be granted routinely because in 2026, you still don’t have an idea of what the fourth-round obligation is going to be.
“Keep in mind that in 2000, we had the Council of Affordable Housing (COAH), but COAH was so dysfunctional that they had third round rules that were adopted and voided by the court to the point that up until a few years ago, the Supreme Court returned jurisdiction to the courts. So, from 2000 to maybe 2016, towns were left to wonder, ‘What do we do?’
“In fairness to the governing body and previous governing bodies, for 15 of those years, there was nothing it could do. There was no formula or calculation to rely upon and determine a reasonable number that we can feel comfortable with that satisfies our affordable housing obligation.”
The next township committee meeting is scheduled for Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. Meetings are held at the Mansfield Township municipal building, which is located at 3135 S. Route 206, Suite 1, Columbus.