Colts Neck officials face day of reckoning on affordable housing settlement


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COLTS NECK – Municipal officials may decide on March 18 to agree with the Fair Share Housing Center and settle issues related to Colts Neck’s obligation to provide opportunities for the development of affordable housing in the community.

Affordable housing is defined as housing that is sold or rented at below market prices to individuals and families whose income meets certain guidelines.

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On March 11, Township Committee members held a special meeting to bring residents up to date on their pending decision.

The March 18 meeting agenda is expected to include an item of business that will ask the members of the governing body to agree to a proposed settlement that would permit the construction of 1,280 housing units in Colts Neck. Officials said 1,051 units would be available at market rates and 229 units would be designated as affordable housing.

The Fair Share Housing Center, Cherry Hill, advocates for the development of affordable housing throughout New Jersey. The organization has litigated the issue with many municipalities.

Municipal officials said Colts Neck’s obligation in 2016, according to the Fair Share Housing Center, was 2,765 total units (2,212 market rate units and 553 affordable housing units).

Following a decision in state Superior Court, Mercer County, that helped redefine a municipality’s affordable housing obligation, Colts Neck’s estimated obligation was reduced to 1,530 total units (1,224 market rate units and 306 affordable housing units).

The settlement that is now proposed with the Fair Share Housing Center reduces that obligation, however, Colts Neck officials said they are concerned that in order to have affordable housing built, they will have to permit developers to construct more than 1,000 market rate units.

On March 11, Elizabeth McManus, of Kyle & McManus, and Thomas Trautner, of Chiesa, Shahinian & Giantomasi, PC, who represent Colts Neck on affordable housing matters, discussed the pending agreement for new homes and emphasized what could happen if officials do not to settle the issue.

McManus said there are three proposed locations in Colts Neck at which new housing could be constructed:

• The first location is on Route 34 north, south of Route 537. The 13.5-acre parcel would contain 100 market rate units and 20 affordable housing units.

• The second location is on Route 537, opposite Five Points Road. The 39-acre parcel would contain 288 market rate units and 72 affordable housing units.

• The third location is on Stone Hill Road. The 16-acre parcel would contain 53 market rate units and 15 affordable housing units.

McManus explained who would qualify for affordable housing based on income and the number of people living in a unit. In broad terms, annual income could range from about $21,600 to about $103,000.

According to the presentation, if Township Committee members do not approve the settlement agreement, the court will hold a case management conference on March 23. Municipal officials said “opting out” of the affordable housing issue is not an option.

Trautner said if committee members reject the settlement agreement, representatives of the township will be required to litigate the matter.

According to the presentation, if the issue is litigated the township will risk a loss of “immunity,” or protection from “builder’s remedy;” an increase in its affordable housing obligation and number of units; the court will override Colts Neck’s planning and zoning functions and existing regulations, allowing for building anywhere,

Officials said no municipality has prevailed through extended litigation. They said there would be millions of dollars in legal expenses, delayed action and an eventual loss.

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