As local towns try to satisfy their affordable-housing requirements, sometimes just finding suitable land can be challenging.
Absecon’s Planning Board is in the process of locating sites to build affordable-housing units to satisfy the state’s Council on Affordable Housing requirements. State politicians have tried to overhaul or abolish the council, but it has endured through multiple court decisions.
Gov. Chris Christie sought to abolish the council last year, but a state appellate court decision in March determined that would not be permitted.
After the ruling, Absecon began to work on a plan to satisfy its requirement of 29 units to rehabilitate and add 144 units. City Administrator Terry Dolan said the process is challenging as officials try to locate sufficient land and discuss various options, including single-family and multifamily units.
“From what I can see with COAH, they give you a wide latitude to satisfy your goals,” he said. “When you have a lot of variables, you need a lot of latitude.”
Beyond finding a developer and adequate land, securing money for the project and getting the community to support it, some towns struggle with the threat of builder’s remedy lawsuits.
If a town does not have an affordable-housing plan in place, developers can file suits seeking to allow certain projects to move forward.
Attorney Jack Plackter filed such a lawsuit in March, as his client Amboy Bank has an application in front of the city’s Zoning Board to remove the senior housing designation for their property Visions at the Shore on Pitney Road and instead build 400 units for all ages — of which 60 would be affordable housing.
Plackter said the developer needs to have 340 market-rate units to be able to subsidize the 60 affordable units.
The attorney said the city does not have adequate land for that many units and would have to “shoehorn” the properties in among single-family homes, which would not work.
It’s more compatible to build the units near multifamily complexes, he said.
The Zoning Board is scheduled to vote on Amboy’s application at its Dec. 18 meeting, and Plackter said his client will appeal the case through the courts if the ruling is not in their favor.
City Council has passed a resolution to hire an attorney to defend the lawsuit. Council has allocated $150,000 to defend it and so far has spent more than $100,000, Dolan said.
Plackter said those expenditures would not be necessary if the city had worked with Amboy on its plan.
“We are here, ready to assist you. Why would you exclude our property?” he said. “It’s not a good way to spend money. We are willing to make a reasonable deal.”
The lawsuits have forced some towns to pay closer attention to fulfilling their COAH needs and make sure they are on top of it. This year, Egg Harbor Township announced plans to designate township-owned land near the Shore Mall for 60 units. Galloway Township set aside $550,000 — about half of the money in its affordable housing trust fund — to build eight homes across the township.
“I don’t know if it’s hard (to plan for affordable housing),” said Galloway Mayor Don Purdy. “It depends on the units or if the infrastructure can handle it.”
Middle Township dealt with builder’s remedy lawsuits in previous years and now has projects in place to build 160 units in Rio Grande and Cape May Court House.
Mayor Dan Lockwood said the courts determined the township had to make a plan for affordable housing or it would be forced to accept developers’ plans.
The township worked to develop a plan over the past few years, but Lockwood said that even if the plan is done well, the township could still face lawsuits due to the ambiguity of the regulations. For example, it’s hard to determine what constitutes affordable housing due to the current economy, he said.
“It can be very complicated. COAH has a one-size-fits-all concept,” he said. “You just have to make sure there is not more affordable housing than the need or it will not benefit the community.”
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