Township defends affordable housing plans

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UPPER TOWNSHIP – Officials defended township plans for affordable housing Monday, saying senior mobile home parks with some COAH (Council on Affordable Housing) units provide the best way to meet state requirements.

Zoning board member and township committee candidate Hobie Young said at the Monday meeting of Upper Township Committee that zoning allowing for senior mobile home parks with affordable housing units will end up costing the township. Mobile homes are not subject to property taxes, he said, and affordable housing could bring in more students to the local school district.
“You can’t tax a trailer because it’s not a permanent structure,” said Young. “You have potentially two kids per COAH unit, that’s another $30,000 a year into our school taxes without getting any property taxes in return.”
The township has approved zoning in recent years that would allow for two new mobile home parks. Zoning for the former Shaw Farm on Tuckahoe Road was changed to mobile home zone in 2007. It would be mostly senior housing, with 20 percent of units set aside for affordable housing. Another area in Seaville, behind the CVS on Rt. 9, has also been rezoned for mobile homes. Twenty percent of those units would also be affordable housing.
Young said realtors will have trouble selling mobile homes to seniors with affordable housing units in the same park. Eventually, the parks will have to become all seniors or all affordable housing, he said.
Mayor Richard Palombo said the township owes more than 400 affordable housing units under current COAH regulations. The township’s affordable housing plan has maximized the number of senior housing credits it can use, and includes “very limited” affordable housing in mobile home parks, he said.
“We took care to make sure it has the least impact possible on our schools and taxes,” said Palombo. “The fact is, we put this plan together concurrently with a builder’s remedy lawsuit. If this zoning wasn’t in place, a builder could have come along and sued us to build affordable housing anywhere in the township. We would have lost all opportunity to have any say on what was built. It was too much of a gamble.”
A builder’s remedy lawsuit allows a developer to sue a municipality that does not have an affordable housing plan. Winning the lawsuit allows them to build affordable housing regardless of local zoning.
Palombo said the township won a builder’s remedy lawsuit concerning a high rise in Tuckahoe, but was only able to win because the property included wetlands. The judge in that case advised the township it was unlikely to win another lawsuit without an affordable housing plan, he said.
Palombo said a failure to approve an affordable housing plan would have also affected Upper Township’s state aid, potentially leading to increased taxes. The affordable housing plan was also important in getting CAFRA (Coastal Area Facilities Review Act) approval for the Marmora ShopRite.
“ShopRite is a large commercial ratable that’s very important,” he said. “We had to have an affordable housing plan in place in order to get approval for that.”
“The ShopRite was held up without it,” said Committeeman Jay Newman.
Palombo said COAH regulations are mostly up in the air, as Gov. Chris Christie, the state legislature and courts battle over the agency’s future. A Senate bill passed last year, called S-1, would have changed regulations to count all of Upper Township’s mobile home parks toward its COAH requirement. That bill was conditionally vetoed by Christie, however.
“Right now we are limited in the amount of senior housing we can count towards our requirement,” said Palombo. “If Christie and the legislators can come together on something like S-1 again, we would get credit for all of our exiting mobile homes. That would put us very close to the 400 units we owe.”

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