Hazlet affordable housing issues expected to be addressed in court

 Municipal officials in Hazlet are continuing to attend court mandated meetings after tabling a compliance plan officials said would have satisfied the township’s affordable housing obligation.

In August, Mayor Scott Aagre and members of the Township Committee postponed the consideration of a compliance plan that called for the development of affordable housing on two neighboring parcels in Hazlet.

The plan that could have helped the municipality fulfill its state mandated obligation to provide opportunities for the development of affordable housing included the development of the 17-acre Holy Family School property on Route 36 and Stone Road Meadows farm, which is across the highway.

The matter has since advanced to the state level after a builder’s remedy lawsuit was filed by the developer, Highview Homes LLC. The developer would have overseen the construction of affordable housing on the neighboring parcels.

Affordable housing is defined as housing that is sold or rented at below market rates to individuals and families whose income meets certain guidelines.

Members of the Township Committee pulled the compliance plan from consideration after residents displayed what the mayor referred to as “overwhelming resistance” on the matter.

In an interview on Oct. 2, following a meeting of the governing body, Committeeman Michael Glackin discussed the nature of the court mandated appearances he said municipal officials will now attend.

At present, Glackin said, three motions have been filed by the developer and the township for summary judgement. He said the developer has filed a motion for scarce resources and a second motion to stop members of the governing body from opting to pursue a motion of bad faith.

Members of the Township Committee then filed a motion of bad faith to counter the developer’s initial request, Glackin said.

“We are saying (the developer) shouldn’t even be allowed to sue us because they acted in bad faith, that they didn’t do what they were supposed to do,” he said.

The motion for scarce resources, Glackin said, is the developer’s attempt to call upon state officials to take over Hazlet’s Land Use Board. The board combines the town’s planning board and zoning board of adjustment in one entity, Glackin said.

State officials “could make everything about affordable housing. That is not good. I believe in affordable housing, but I also believe Hazlet has done more than its fair share,” he said.

At previous committee meetings, officials said Hazlet’s affordable housing obligation has doubled from 400 units to 800 units since a revision in January. Existing mobile homes in Hazlet will no longer satisfy the municipality’s affordable housing goal, officials said.

Glackin said a deed restriction is necessary for individuals who reside in affordable mobile homes. Without a deed restriction, Glackin said, state officials do not count mobile homes toward the town’s affordable housing obligation.

“These are market rate mobile homes that are 90 percent inhabited by people of low or moderate income. (These residents) just did not go through the state to do it,” he said.

Attorney James Gorman, who represents the Township Committee, said members of the governing body were scheduled to address the motions in court this month. The motions have since been adjourned by the judge.

Gorman said a pre-trial conference will be held in late November or early December to further address the matter. He said committee members attended a court conference on Sept. 29, but said there were no public proceedings in court that day.

According to a document provided by officials, the compliance plan included the 17-acre Holy Family School property that would have been rezoned to accommodate 172 housing units, of which 26 units would have been designated as affordable housing, with the remainder of the units available at market rates.

The second property, Stone Road Meadows, is a 26-acre property that could have accommodated the construction of up to 312 housing units, of which 63 units would have been designated as affordable housing.