The top priority in New Jersey for every single town is to address the issue of the Affordable Housing Obligation in terms of how many number of low-low and low income units will be built in each town. Along with this will come additional building of market rate housing units as that is the system. Developers will build the affordable units and in return developers get to build market rate units. The landmark Mount Laurel Decision in the courts and then the Fair Share Housing Act (1985) has governed the required building of units all over New Jersey. Interestingly, some towns have not met their responsibility to follow the law. Warren has and will continue to do so as this is the right thing to do as an Inclusive community and in the long run will enable us to grow over the next ten years with smart growth planning.
The wrinkle in the fabric of the present system is there is a lot of misinformation in the public arena, different interpretations by judges, by Fair Share Housing, by Developers and by towns as to HOW DO WE DETERMINE THE NUMBER OF UNITS TO BE BUILT. COAH’s (Council on Affordable Housing) Round One for 1987-1993 and Round Two for 1994 – 1999 used a methodology to determine the number of units each town had to build and that worked very successfully, we thought. In 2007, the courts, NJ Appellate level, told COAH to change the system. In 2013, the NJ Supreme Court invalidated the NJ Appellate Decision. Thus in 2014, COAH did not adopt the changes in the rules. Once again in 2015, the NJ Supreme Court ordered COAH to use a methodology from Round One and Round Two.
It is now 2017 and every single town continues to struggle to get to an end decision. What has Warren done so far? We met our duty and obligation for Rounds One and Two, unlike other towns.
We have been meeting for close to two years with developers, with Fair Share Housing, with planners, with each other in Executive session, with attorneys, and with other township officials to look at how we can meet the letter of the law. We hope that other towns are working as diligently as this is a New Jersey Statewide issue, not just a Warren Township issue.
The problem is: Our ‘obligation’ is elusive due to the law not being very clear. The courts all over the state have the option to use various standards; and Fair Share Housing is dealing with intensive pressures from developers in the settlement process.
1. The Home Rule of Township Growth and Planning has been taken out of the hands of Warren Township officials and every other town in New Jersey.
2. We will do what we need to do and that is to plan and support the building of Affordable Housing as Warren has met the letter of the law on this issue since 1987 and it is the right thing to do. This expectation and standard needs to occur in every town in New Jersey.
In 1987 I sat on The Planning Board; listened to the developers and worked on the planning for our Affordable Housing Responsibilities. Our intent was successfully accomplished, and included the building of apartments and townhouses, now located all over town. In addition, during my time as an elected official, we have supported the building of an Over-55 community with 240 units, senior apartments, assisted living facilities, independent living for over 60, apartments for special needs adults (all private entities which pay millions of dollars in taxes every year without increasing the school population), and four stand-alone group homes for adults with special needs.
It was smart of the Warren Board of Education to keep a school open as these will receive more of our children over the next ten years. It was smart that our Warren Police Department has continued to plan for appropriate communications equipment as they will need it. It was smart that the Township bought a new ambulance and a new fire truck as we are going to need those two vehicles to safeguard everyone. It was smart that our Township Committee has taken hold of “the elephant in the room” i.e. meeting our Affordable Housing Responsibility with smart growth planning. Our community stands tall and is a role model for the rest of the state. Once we know what the “obligation” is after sorting out the parameters, there will be public information so that all our residents can celebrate with us, can reflect and speak to us, to the developers and can welcome new people to our town, just like I was welcomed 42 years ago, in 1975.
Carolann Garafola, Mayor
Victor Sordillo, Deputy Mayor
Gary DiNardo, Township Committeeman
George Lazo, Township Committeeman
Mick Marion, Township Committeeman