Township Council Approves Deal Meeting Affordable Housing Obligation Through 2025

Mark Healey, the township’s principal planner, said Franklin will meet its current fair share obligation of affordable housing through projects already approved or in the pipeline. (File photo).

The township has already provided for more than enough low- and moderate-income housing to meet its Mt. Laurel obligations through 2025, a township official said in the wake of an affordable housing agreement approval.

An agreement between the township and the Fair Share Housing Center, approved at the Township Council’s Oct. 10 meeting,  sets Franklin’s “fair share” of affordable housing through the next eight years at 2,076 units, and inoculates Franklin from so-called “builder’s remedy” lawsuits.

The agreement spares the township from as many as 3,000 new homes, township attorney Louis Rainone said.

The township won’t have to change any zoning ordinances to meet its latest obligation because housing units planned, approved or already built, plus other credits, more than satisfy Franklin’s “fair share,” according to Mark Healey, the township’s principal planner.

The agreement now awaits a “fairness hearing” and approval from a state Superior Court Judge, after which the township Planning Board and council have 120 days to pass a housing plan incorporating the agreement’s terms.

New Jersey towns have been required to provide for the construction of low- and moderate-income housing since the state Supreme Court’s Mt. Laurel decision in 1972. In 1983, the court weighed in again with Mt. Laurel 2 – mandating that each town had a “fair share” obligation to meet and establishing penalties for towns that did not comply – and the state Legislature created the Fair Housing Act and the Council on Affordable Housing in 1985 to move the process along.

COAH, as it was known, established fair share obligations for towns twice, covering the periods 1987-1993 (Round 1) and 1993-1999 (Round 2). Since then, legal challenges and intervention by Gov. Chris Christie – dismantling COAH – delayed the creation of the third round of obligations.

In the meantime, one of the remedies created by the Mt. Laurel 2, the builder’s remedy suit, has been effectively used across the state. Under a builder’s remedy decision, a judge can order a town that did not have a certified affordable housing plan to permit the creation of housing at a higher density than the zoning for a targeted tract of land would normally allow.

As a result of the COAH dissolution, the state Supreme Court required all towns to submit affordable housing plans for Superior Court approval. Franklin did so in 2015, which spurred this agreement.

Approvals already in place and other mechanisms mean that Franklin doesn’t have to do anything to meet its agreed-upon third-round housing obligation of 2,076 units, Healey said.

Healey said in an email that the township provides for the 2,076 units in the following way:

  • 97 surplus credits from prior round (Round 2)
  • 519 bonus credits, the maximum allowable under the rules
  • 1,544 existing/approved/ already planned units

“Of the 1,544 actual units, 1,137 already exist, 239 already have development approvals and/or are under construction and 168 units would result from sites that already have zoning/ development agreements in place that require a certain percentage of affordable units,” Healey said in an email.

“Once the settlement is finalized by the court it will prevent builder’s remedy lawsuits and the township will retain control of its zoning,” he wrote.

The two redevelopment projects underway along the Route 27 corridor – RPM and Leewood – will also provide affordable units for future rounds, Healey wrote.

A Fair Share Housing Center spokesman praised the township’s efforts and said the agreement “meets the needs of working families in Central Jersey and addresses our state’s housing affordability crisis.”

“This agreement recognizes the outstanding work Franklin Township officials have already done to meet their fair housing obligations,” spokesman Anthony Campisi wrote. “Agreements like this give both people looking for a decent place to live and municipal leaders a certain path forward over the next decade, which is why about 150 towns statewide have reached settlements like Franklin now has.”

“As part of this plan, Franklin Township is pursuing a number of strategies to open up opportunities for working families, seniors and people with disabilities,” Campisi wrote. “In addition to inclusionary zoning, the township has worked closely with local non-profits that have deep ties to the community, such as Habitat for Humanity, to build developments that are 100 percent affordable. The township is also working to expand supportive housing opportunities so that people with disabilities can live close to their friends and families.”

Under the agreement, at least half of the third-round units must be available to very-low-income and low-income households and must be available to families, and at least 25 percent of the units must be rentals.

No more than 25 percent of the third-round units can be age-restricted, according to the agreement.

The agreement also mandates that the township include the Fair Share Housing Center, the New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP, the Latino Action Network, and the New Brunswick, Plainfield Area, Perth Amboy, and Metuchen/Edison branches of the NAACP in all of its affordable housing marketing efforts.

The township also has to pay $5,000 to the Fair Share Housing Center for reimbursement of fees.

“There are municipalities where they are getting $40,000 or $50,000,” Township Manager Robert Vornlocker said.

The agreement reduces the potential number of affordable homes for which the township would have to provide by “500 or 600,” township attorney Louis Rainone told the council at its Oct. 10 meeting. The council went into executive session at the meeting’s conclusion to discuss the settlement, then emerged from executive session to approve it.

Rainone said 600 affordable homes would have resulted in “five times that number in market-rate” homes.

“We have four intervenors, all of whom own substantial pieces of land in the township … all of whom believe they have developeable land,” he said.

Rainone said the properties in question were land in front of Bunker Hill Golf Course, in a project called “Starlight Meadows;” land on Veronica Avenue/Bennetts Lane, and a parcel across Mettlers Road from Canal Walk.

“The Bunker Hill Golf Course itself is a couple hundred acres,” he said. “All of the property owners have indicated to the court that they are properties” appropriate for building.

The agreement “allows us to stay in control of our fate, to continue on with what has been 20 years of very sound planning principals in the township without an affect on infrastructure or loss of open space,” Rainone said.

“I think this is a very favorable settlement, because it would protect the township for at least the term of the third round of affordable housing consideration from any builder’s remedy suits without requiring us to allow developers to develop any land which is not currently zoned for development,” said Township Councilman Ted Chase (D-Ward 1).


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