Where is Citizen’s Remedy for affordable housing plans?

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 To the editor:

Recently, we attended a meeting of the Middle Township Planning Board regarding a reexamination of the Master Plan that was completed in 2010.

 Since Gov. Christie had done away at that time with COAH (the Council on Affordable Housing), new zoning ordinances were written that did not provide for some of the housing requirements of COAH. Now it appears that the courts have found that the governor could not abolish COAH.

Part of the COAH conditions required that a plan for affordable housing be submitted by July 17. Middle Township was aware of this deadline long before now and now that the courts have rejected the governor's edict, officials here are now scrambling to meet the deadline. If it is not met, then the state says it will reclaim the $l.6 million that Middle has collected for affordable housing. Never let it be said that our officials plan ahead, since they knew this matter was in court and we might actually have a plan ready....just in case. Crisis management is the normal way of doing business here, or so it seems.

So now the Middle Committee has instructed the Planning Board to prepare a new plan that will allow less restriction on a couple of sites in Middle as an inducement for affordable housing contractors to build. (Plus a cash payout) One of the sites was rejected by the Zoning Board two years ago because of an outcry from residents that the construction of multi-unit housing would cause traffic and environmental problems in downtown Cape May Court House, as well as increasing the tax burden on Middle residents due to an added inducement of not paying property taxes. This is known as the PILOT program (payment in lieu of taxes) which is a payment negotiated by the governing body and the owner of the housing units. Since more services (police, firefighters, trash collection, etc) and children of school age would be brought in the area, it is almost certain that more money would be needed for these expenses. In earlier meetings, so many residents attended that the township was forced to hold the hearing in a larger facility since the municipal meeting room would not hold the over 300 people who wished to be part of these hearings.

Now we are being told that if we do not meet this deadline by July 17, that we will have to give the state $l.6 million. The New Jersey League of Municipalities has asked that towns be given more time since there are aspects of COAH that need to be reexamined, such as being able to count residences in trailer parks as affordable. This would decrease the need to immediately approve 400 new housing units in Middle. What is being held over our heads so that the committee can approve this housing against the wishes of taxpayers is something called the Builder's Remedy, which allows contractors to sue the municipality if they can't build affordable housing. So the powers that be say that we must approve the projects and that even if we give the money to the state, we can be hit with lawsuits.

Seriously, this feels like blackmail.

So, the question might be asked: Where is the Citizen's Remedy in this formula? And what makes our officials think that these contractors would even build if they were not given cash incentives and the PILOT?

Most of us agree that affordable housing is needed, but our own residents have no priority in obtaining housing. It's first come, first serve, so many people who live here might not even get affordable housing but persons outside our town or county will. It seems like the only persons who profit may be the owners of these projects, not the local taxpayers. Shouldn't we “follow the money”? It's already expensive to live here in Middle. What we need is our elected officials to fight for the rights of the people they work for. Is that too much to ask?

Eileen Fausey

Bette and Mike McGurk

Cape May Court House

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