South Brunswick officials ‘begrudgingly’ rezone properties for affordable housing

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SOUTH BRUNSWICK – Members of the South Brunswick Township Council “begrudgingly” adopted an ordinance rezoning areas of the town for affordable housing, mostly because they were mandated to do so by a court order.

Officials said Ordinance 2020-8 creates the court’s Third Round Affordable Housing District and rezones certain builder’s remedy properties under protest.

Municipal officials do not agree all of the properties are suitable for housing, but said they had to approve the sites in accordance with a court order and would rezone the parcels as such under protest.

Deputy Mayor Joseph Camarota “very begrudgingly” voted “yes” to adopt the ordinance during the June 23 council meeting, as did Councilwoman Ann Glover and Mayor Charles Carley, “under protest.”

Council members Jo Hochman and Kenneth Bierman were not present during the virtual meeting.

Carley explained the state Superior Court in New Brunswick wanted 15,000 housing units built throughout South Brunswick, causing building to be doubled by 2025.

He said the burden on the town “is not sustainable. It’s madness.”

Township Attorney Don Sears said according to the township’s third round affordable housing obligation, the total number of affordable housing units is almost 3,000 from 2015-25.

From now to 2025, there will be 5,000 total units planned, with 1,417 of those units deemed to be affordable housing units and the rest designated as market rate units. Initialy, the third round affordable housing obligation was 5,000 units.

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

Sears said the obligation for 2025-35 will be determined once the process begins in 2025. He said he expects additional obligatory units to be required at that time.

However, at this time the township has to comply. Another hearing will be held on Aug. 31 at 9 a.m. in New Brunswick before the Hon. Michael Cresitello. Then, the township has the ability to file an appeal with the Appellate Division, which could take years. If the case is remanded back to the trial court, South Brunswick’s obligations could be lessened.

“During the first two rounds (of New Jersey’s affordable housing mandate), South Brunswick was recognized as a leader in affordable housing,” Camarota said.

Then, the township was mandated to build 15,000 total housing units with 5,000 of those being affordable housing units.

“We have to also blame … our state legislators who refuse to litigate or legislate. … The judges were not looking out for the best interests of South Brunswick and therefore we are given this heavy obligation,” he said.

Resident Cathy Dowgin said she fought plans for Route 92 and a New Jersey Turnpike expansion project from 1994 to 2006 because “this rural area has been used as a bargaining chip.”

She said Matrix proposed constructing a 1 million-square-foot warehouse on Friendship Road, but instead was granted a strip mall, a few large homes and dedicated open space after a lawsuit was settled in 2008.

Representatives of Matrix filed a builder’s remedy lawsuit and the court supported Matrix instead of the township, Camarota said.

Now, Dowgin said the 2007 land use and zoning agreements were thrown out and instead 300 townhomes are proposed. She said there are environmentally sensitive lands with wetlands and wildlife in the area, so high density housing should not be built.

Resident Maria Certo said blocks 79 and 80 have 260 acres rezoned within a 2-mile vicinity from South Brunswick High School. She said that could add 5,000 people to the area, affecting school enrollment and traffic.

“We want the affordable housing, but we want to make sure it’s properly distributed across the site,” resident Anand Chockalingam said.

“It’s an issue of unfair allocation to these two lots,” resident Amit Jain said.

“We understand the importance of this. We are going to go down fighting. We can’t say it any clearer, we don’t want this,” Camarota said.

Sears explained that one special master oversees all of South Brunswick’s planning; that person is a professional planner appointed by the trial judge.

There are also two current, active special hearing officers appointed by the court who take the place of the South Brunswick Planning Board to hear applications for site plan approval.

Several residents said they want to see blueprints and plans before any sites are redeveloped.

Sears said if and when a property owner moves forward with an application, homeowners within a 200-foot radius would be legally noticed.

He also noted, in response to a resident’s question, that soil testing, remediation, an environmental assessment and a wildlife assessment would be conducted.