Freehold Township approves properties for development of affordable housing

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FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP – The Township Committee has adopted an ordinance that is intended to help Freehold Township meet its obligation to provide opportunities for the development of affordable housing in the community.

During a June 30 meeting held at the Freehold Township Senior Center, which residents were permitted to attend in-person, all five committee members voted to adopt the municipal legislation.

The public hearing and the adoption of the ordinance were required by the end of June through a state Superior Court settlement agreement that reduced Freehold Township’s affordable housing obligation and granted the township immunity to builder’s remedy lawsuits, according to municipal officials.

“This is about survival,” said Township Administrator Peter Valesi, who explained the affordable housing issue to residents before the ordinance was adopted. “It’s about helping Freehold Township survive an abrupt change in zoning for affordable housing.”

The obligation to provide opportunities for the development of affordable housing has been mandated by New Jersey’s courts.

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

According to municipal officials, Freehold Township’s obligation is 878 affordable housing units. The number was reached through the settlement agreement with the Fair Share Housing Center, Cherry Hill, which advocates for affordable housing throughout New Jersey, and with developers who entered the township’s affordable housing litigation.

“Why do we settle? Because if you don’t, you lose and you lose big,” Valesi said during his presentation.

He cited Englewood Cliffs and South Brunswick as municipalities where officials chose to fight their mandated affordable housing obligation in court instead of settling through negotiations.

Both municipalities lost in court, resulting in Englewood Cliffs receiving a requirement of 1,000 affordable housing units and South Brunswick receiving a requirement of 1,533 affordable housing units.

By settling the matter through negotiations, Freehold Township reduced the mandated number of 1,509 affordable housing units to 878 affordable housing units, Valesi explained.

The amendments in the ordinance that was adopted on June 30, such as zoning changes, will allow for the development of proposed projects that will help Freehold Township meet the obligation. Currently, the township has 575 units.

According to municipal officials, three entities are interested in developing affordable housing in Freehold Township:

• Land Bank, LLC, plans to develop 23 affordable housing units on a 50-acre parcel on Route 9 south (south of Three Brooks Road);

• K. Hovnanian plans to develop 12 affordable housing units on a 23-acre parcel on Three Brooks Road (east of Halls Mill Road);

• M&M Macerich Corp. plans to develop 100 affordable housing units and provide 100 bonus credits on a 72-acre parcel between Route 9 and Route 537 (across from the Trotters Way entrance to the Freehold Raceway Mall).

Three additional parcels have been identified by municipal officials as locations for affordable housing:

• 34 affordable housing units are planned to be developed on the Brock Farms property at the corner of Route 537 and Siloam Road;

• 45 affordable housing units are planned to be developed at the Freehold Mall strip mall (not to be confused with the Freehold Raceway Mall) on Route 9 north;

• 30 affordable housing units, along with 30 bonus credits, are planned to be developed through an expansion of the Chesterfield apartment complex on Route 537, east of Freehold Borough.

Through these six projects, Freehold Township officials said they would meet the 878-unit obligation by having a total of 902 affordable housing credits.

By exceeding the 878-unit obligation, Valesi said Freehold Township was better protected in case plans for a specific project fall through.

“This gives us some cushion,” he said.

Some of the proposed projects drew concern from residents who cited the potential negative impact new construction could have, such as an increase in traffic, reduced property values and less available parking.

Resident J.J. Mistretta, who lives in the Chesterfield apartment complex, voiced concern about the planned expansion of that community.

Mistretta said the area is already densely populated and told township officials anything larger than a two-story building would have a detrimental impact.

“We are a quiet community,” she said about the Chesterfield apartments. “Everywhere else is spread out, but we are not. We are densely populated. We can’t have a three story-building where we are. Three people got so nervous, they sold and left.”

While resident William Linton commended the governing body for rezoning the Three Brooks Road area as residential, he expressed concern about new homes increasing traffic intensity on the road. He noted the area does not provide any activities for children.

“There are no public areas,” Linton said. “There is nowhere for the kids to go.”

In response to Linton’s comments, Valesi said the governing body did not know if a playground would be installed on Three Brooks Road, but mentioned it is a possibility.

As a result of the settlement agreement, municipal officials must also designate three overlay zones for future affordable housing on Route 9 properties that are currently developed.

The three overlay zones will be 10.6 acres at the Chadwick Square strip mall and adjacent parcels on Route 9 north; 7 acres at the Bank of America building on Route 9 south (adjacent to the Brookdale Community College Freehold Campus); and a Red Roof Inn and 7 acres at a former Verizon building on Route 9 north, according to municipal officials.

The overlay zones will permit 12 units per acre, with the permitted use as mixed use commercial and residential, and the commercial component not required.

Any residential developments that are constructed in the overlay zones will be required to have 20% of the units that are available for purchase and 15% of the units that are available for rent designated as affordable housing.

Prior to adopting the proposed ordinance, the committee members passed a resolution which set forth their reasons for its adoption after the Freehold Township Planning Board reported the legislation is inconsistent with the township’s master plan.

The resolution states the ordinance will encourage compliance with the township’s affordable housing obligation by implementing the affordable housing settlement agreements; further implement an updated development fee ordinance and mandatory affordable housing set-aside requirements; and encourage development compatible with surrounding uses and developments.

The resolution also states the ordinance is consistent with the guidelines for affordable housing development and will be further addressed in future amendments to the housing plan element and the land use plan element of the master plan.

Those elements were not able to be addressed in time before the ordinance’s adoption because of the June deadline.