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Opinion: Bait-and-switch on development increases overdevelopment and flooding – enough already!   

New housing development

On Sept. 28, three members of Hillsborough Township Committee passed an ordinance to increase the amount of impervious coverage for a proposed development of 380 single family homes on the current site of the former Glen Gery brick factory and surrounding properties east to Sunnymead Road and from Hamilton Road to Falcon Road.

It boggles my mind that the township could pass any ordinance to increase impervious surface in light of the catastrophic flooding that occurred throughout Hillsborough from Tropical Storm Ida on Sept. 1. But it is even more inexplicable that the township is going to build 380 single family homes on such a site in the first place, ostensibly to satisfy an affordable housing obligation that had already been resolved back in 2019 without any need to build market rate single-family homes.   

In June 2019, the Sherman Tract on Camplain Road was touted as the first affordable housing development that did not require market rate housing to be built with it as a 100% all affordable development on township-owned land. The Township Committee claimed this would save us hundreds of units and thousands of school students. (Hillsborough Township Committee gets first look at proposed Sherman Tract plan, https://centraljersey.com/2019/07/30/hillsborough-planners-approve-first-phase-of-sherman-tract-development/). 

But in no time, the project was divided into two phases and eventually the township settled with M&M Development, a JSM (Edgewood Properties) company, to build the second phase. Suddenly the construction of 380 single-family homes on a site formerly zoned for mining would justify and pay for the 88 affordable apartment units to be built off site, on the Sherman Tract. The properties are not even contiguous.

Did the township really investigate affordable housing developers who could have run with Sherman Tract and not involved all the other market-rate construction? How can we be sure that the project will be inclusionary between the affordable and market-rate components when they are not being constructed together on the same property or in the same form? What does this mean for the JSM property at Cost Cutters which the township promised three years ago would be redeveloped as the gateway to our downtown with a storefront facelift and truly inclusionary affordable housing? Is anyone really in charge here or is this just a runaway process led by developers who seem to have their way with longtime members of the township committee?

Affordable housing seems always to be blamed for the overdevelopment in Hillsborough, but between the increasing cost of housing, COVID-19, and the displacement from Ida, people actually need affordable housing. And the Township Committee does not need to be building thousands of market rate units to make it happen. What they do need to do is level with the people of Hillsborough (and hopefully that “level” is below flood stage) about the following issues:

  • What are the lessons learned from Ida?
  • Where are township roads vulnerable to street flooding and life-threatening hazards?
  • Why has the Township Committee not remediated inadequate stormwater drainage for so many developments in town?
  • How many structures were lost or damaged from Ida?
  • Are our seniors and disabled in safe structures that are no longer vulnerable to mold?
  • How do we keep similar impacts from happening again?
  • How are we going to become resilient against climate change and stay above water?

One answer is clear: It won’t be by allowing more impervious surface.

Committeeman Jeffrey Wright abstained from this vote, and his running mate Roger Koch has strongly supported utilizing non-profit/specialized developers to meet our affordable housing needs and limit the uncontrolled growth of market rate housing. New approaches are clearly needed here, so please support Roger and Jeff for Township Committee on Nov. 2.

Meryl Bisberg


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