Old Bridge officials explain affordable housing options

By KATHY CHANG
Staff Writer

OLD BRIDGE — The settlement of 3,109 dwelling units as part of Old Bridge’s Fair Share Housing obligation is in the hands of the Township Council.

A meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Oct. 14 in  the council chambers for a public hearing and final vote on the ordinances required for implementing the 1999 to 2025 Housing Element and Fair Share Plan.

The settlement that was introduced to the council in August and further discussed at a meeting that lasted more than five hours on Sept. 26 has been met with public opposition. The Planning Board approved the plan in August.

Former Councilman Dennis Maher said, “Even with the best-case scenario of 3,000 apartments, it is a death wish for Old Bridge Township.”

“You guys are in a difficult position,” he continued. “I have been living in Old Bridge for 55 years. Old Bridge is built out. I encourage you, the council, to fight this. I’d rather litigate this than move forward on this. This is a death wish for the town.”

Township Attorney Mark M. Roselli said there have been a lot of rumors and innuendos swirling around.

“Something is going to be built. We can lessen the burden [with this settlement]. We want to be part of the process,” he said. “My job is to follow the law to ensure Old Bridge Township comes up with the best housing plan that it can that benefits its residents and then allows for future growth in an orderly fashion rather than us be controlled by developers.”

The Township Council had four “yes” votes, four “no” votes and one abstention for the second reading of the ordinances at the meeting on Sept. 26.

The ordinances were amended from six ordinances to five and were reintroduced at a special meeting on Oct. 4 after an executive session that lasted about an hour. The council approved the first reading of the ordinances by a vote of five to four.

In March 2015, through a court order on the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH), municipalities were given a certain amount of time within which to develop a housing plan and a fair share plan to meet housing obligations.

If a municipality fails to do so, Roselli said the municipality would be subject to builder remedy lawsuits.

Roselli said officials are scheduled to appear before Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Douglas K. Wolfson on Oct. 17 for final court approval awaiting the Township Council’s decision.

The township’s obligation of 1,396 units was worked out through different avenues including providing township-sponsored housing for disabled veterans.

The developers that would primarily build include AvalonBay, Alfieri, Fair Share Housing Center, Traditional Developers, Foxborough Associates and the Brunetti Organization.

“Not one developer came up to us and said they wanted to build single-family homes, and there were no interested parties that indicated that,” Roselli said. “With single-family homes, you don’t get rental bonuses.”

In a presentation officials presented to the council, the settlement includes an obligation of 1,396 housing units, with receipt of 702 less bonus and credits; the building of 694 affordable units; and the building of 2,415 market-rate units, for a total of 3,109 units.

With no settlement, officials said the township’s obligation could be as many as 2,899 housing units, with receipt of 725 less bonus and credits; the building of 2,174 affordable units; and the building of 8,696 market-rate units, for a total of 10,870 units.

Mayor Owen Henry said the settlement minimizes the impact on Old Bridge.

“I believe Old Bridge can absorb the impact of the settlement,” he said.

Officials said it is a risk factor without the approval of the Township Council. The court could send it back to the council for a revote, order the settlement or in a worst-case scenario give developers free reign to request any amount of housing units they want.

Roselli mentioned that South Brunswick decided not to settle with the courts and South Brunswick lost.

“They are now going to be sued by the builders,” he said.

Roselli said the ordinances adopted are set zones created to establish density, distance between buildings, where buildings are placed, where signs are placed and more.

The attorney said it is important to note the adoption of the ordinances is not approval of developer applications; it merely enables the developer to move forward with applications in these zones.

“So, if a developer wants to build to [the ordinances] at some future date, they will file an application like any other applicant,” he said. “They still have to go through an approval process and still have to go back to the Planning Board to submit their plans.”

All the housing in the settlement is inclusionary housing developments with the certain percentage of affordable housing. The ordinances outline four zones.

“These zones are placed strategically in town — they are placed next to mass transit and close to growing sectors,” Henry said.

The mayor added that with the recent Meridian and Hackensack takeover in the hospital industry, there is a need to offer housing to the people who want to live close to work. Old Bridge is home to Raritan Bay Medical Center.

The zones include Mixed Use-Inclusionary Housing of inclusionary development with a mix of commercial and office uses on approximately 94 acres along Matawan Road near Garden State Parkway Exit 120 and Laurence Parkway.

The inclusionary development will consist of 529 multi-family apartments of which 423 will be market-rate units and 106 will be affordable family rentals. Fifteen percent of the affordable units will be very low-income affordable units.

Officials said the developer Alfieri and the township have had a long history in the area through many years of litigation on proposed development of the site.

Roselli said the proposed development is 100,000 square feet of commercial space that will be built first, and then the market-rate unit construction will begin.

“This will not be all built at once,” he said, adding that with approval of the settlement, the developer is committing to $4 million of road improvements sorely needed in the area and to helping neighbors at the Bridgepoint residential community with their water system issues.

Officials said the development is scaled down from the previous proposed development.

Henry explained that in 2013 officials were pressing New Jersey Transit for a train station, which would be located on the Alfieri property.

“In the Master Plan, our goal was to show NJ Transit we are serious about providing a transit village,” he said.

Henry said NJ Transit denied the request, relaying that representatives did not believe two office tower proposals were going to generate enough people to get on and off the train. Henry said now with people living in the area, NJ Transit can take another look at their request.

Inclusionary Housing Zone 1 (IH1) contains approximately 101 acres along Ferry Road consisting of 252 multi-family apartments of which 214 will be market-rate units and 38 will be affordable family rentals. Fifteen percent of the affordable units will be very low-income affordable units. This is the Avalon Bay community development.

The zone adjacent to the IH1 zone is the proposed hospital zone district.

Inclusionary Housing Zone 2 contains 6.7 acres along Old Amboy Avenue consisting of 150 multi-family apartments of which 120 will be market-rate units and 30 will be affordable family rentals. The owner of the property is Foxborough Associates.

Officials added into the proposed settlement plan the developments that are already moving along, which include the Oaks II development containing 2,148 total units, of which 430 units are affordable units on Route 9 as well as commercial/industrial-type use on site; the Northwood property of 30 units, which includes six affordable units on Jake Brown Road; and the OBRA Marlboro Road site of 72 units, which are all affordable units on Marlboro Road and East Greystone Road.

With the settlement plan, officials said they tried to reach many of the township’s unmet needs looking into the future. The township obligation includes township-sponsored housing for disabled veterans.

Mark Remsa, special counsel on COAH and a professional planner, said the biggest needs are housing for the physically disabled and people with mobility issues.

Residents raised concerns about how many children would be generated from the housing units and the tax impact on the residents of the township.

Officials said through studies, one- to three-bedroom housing units do not generate as many children as single-family homes.

Henry said he believes Old Bridge is large enough to absorb this type of development over the next 10 to 20 years.

“History has proven that,” he said. “Affordable units that were approved [as part of COAH’s second round] in the 1990s are being built in 2016.”

Henry said the developments will have a positive impact on municipal finances.

“I say that because these are all self-contained developments,” he said. “We are not going to be plowing snow, paving roads, we are not providing typical services that we would have to supply for single-family developments.”

Henry added that data will prove that the amount of children coming out of these developments will not have a negative impact on the school system.

“Right now Old Bridge loses 700 students as they exit [the school system],” he said. “We are sustaining smart growth and controlling where it goes [with the settlement plan], which is in the best interest of every resident in Old Bridge.”

Roselli said the Brunetti developer, through the settlement, is expected to provide a location for an additional school.

A copy of the Fair Share Housing Obligation presentation is on the Township website at www.oldbridge.com.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@gmnews.com.