Jackson Approves Affordable Housing Project

Photo by Jennifer Peacock

JACKSON – Describing it as a bad choice versus a “really bad choice” members of the Jackson Council voted on March 13 to approve a contentious affordable housing project.

The site plan for the property is located on block 10401, lots 5.01 and 5.04 off of Perrineville Road and block 17802, lot 57.01 which is located between Prospertown Road and West Veterans Highway.

This affordable housing zone will permit non-age restricted mixed residential dwelling unit buildings, including detached single family and two-family dwellings, as well as multi-family development.

The zoning permits up to 1,100 dwelling units and requires 20 percent of the units to be set aside for low and moderate-income households, with 17 percent of the affordable units to be set aside for very low-income households.

The project must be heard by the Township Planning Board in the near future.

Residents and council members spoke out concerning their frustration about the plan mandated by the state thru the Mount Laurel doctrine, named after the Burlington County community and which dates back to 1975. The decision was based on a controversial judicial interpretation of the New Jersey State Constitution.

The doctrine requires that municipalities use their zoning authority in an affirmative manner to provide a realistic opportunity for the creation of housing affordable to low and moderate income households. In other words, towns have to provide places for less fortunate people to live.

John D. Maczuga of JDM Planning Associates, left, discusses affordable housing with local attorney Kevin N. Starkey, Township Attorney Jean Cipriani and Councilman Scott Martin during the March 13 Jackson Township Council meeting. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

That case involved the Southern Burlington County N.A.A.C.P. versus Mount Laurel Township in which the plaintiffs challenged the zoning ordinance of that township, on the grounds that it operated to exclude low and moderate income persons from obtaining housing in the municipality.

Present at the recent Jackson meeting was John D. Maczuga of JDM Planning Associates who represented the township in the matter as did attorney Kevin N. Starkey, Starkey, Kelly, Kenneally, Cunningham & Turnbach.

Resident Sheldon Hofstein asked the governing body if a fiscal study had been made as to the financial impact the town would see with the added population and how it might require the township to hire additional police and department of public work personnel.

Maczuga questioned Hofstein’s figure of 5,500 units.

“What is the impact on our schools? A fiscal study needs to be done,” Hofstein said.

Township Attorney Jean Cipriani said that it would not be legal under the ruling to dismiss the project due to such criteria.

“I’m not arguing against affordable housing but I do feel we may need more police and DPW. Was a study done?” Hofstein asked.

“The answer is no,” Maczuga said. “The genesis to this affordable housing number was opposed by the council but unfortunately we don’t get the choice of the number. This was a reduced number.”

Starkey added that while the township has 1,250 credits “we could have had 3,800 credits which would give us 15,000 units. A lot went into this.” Credits cut down on the amount of homes the state requires based on what’s already built or approved.

Council Vice President Robert Nixon and Councilman Barry Calogero both voted against the measure.

“This is no reflection on the work Mr. Maczuga and Mr. Starkey who fought like crazy on this but I was elected to vote my conscience,” Nixon said.

Councilman Scott Martin called the Mt. Laurel decision “a bad law. We all agree on that here but this is bad choice or a really bad choice. We can lobby for change but we currently have a Democrat governor and a Democratic legislation. We can oppose it and be appalled by it but we can’t ignore it. We can’t do that without accepting the consequences that go along with it. It can jump in number and the economics of it could get a heck of a lot worse.”

“No one wants to make this choice but I have to vote yes,” Martin added.

Councilwoman Anne M. Updegrave also voted in the affirmative.

“Scott Martin is 100 percent correct but this is not something that benefits this community. We don’t have an affordable housing town. We are a very affordable housing town. I understand the risks in voting for and against this,” Nixon said.

“There are always different numbers and so many things that should be addressed on this but aren’t,” Nixon added concerning the Mt. Laurel law.

Council President Kenneth J. Bressi broke the tie reviewing the township’s past history concerning the law and litigation to fight it. “In the 1990s we got protection in the courts. We could lose that protection, and with the open space we have we are a prime target for a builder’s remedy.” A builder’s remedy lawsuit forces towns to allow more affordable housing.

Bressi also said that were the township not to approve the plan, it could lead to a situation of additional units being required by the state.

“The courts would fine us. In the 1990s we hired a guru expert on this and we got court protection,” Bressi said. He noted that this action led to the 1,250 unit figure which could have been worse. “I vote yes.”

In other business the council voted unanimously to appoint Joe Sullivan as the alternate number 2 member of the township’s zoning board of adjustment and discussed revising documents for the township’s Rent Leveling Board. Cipriani said she welcomed the opportunity to review the revisions.