NORTHFIELD — City Council passed an ordinance Tuesday night to rezone 22 acres behind the Tilton Shopping Center off Cresson Avenue to a commercial multi-family zone.

The owner of the land, Max Gurwicz Enterprises, can now move forward with plans to build a 265-unit rental housing complex there, with 40 units set aside for low- and moderate-income housing.

Previously the area had been zoned for senior citizen housing.

City residents had come out to several City Council meetings and the Dec. 4 Planning Board meeting to oppose the zoning change, saying a family development would add too many students to the school district and force tax increases. But city officials have said the city has no choice but to rezone and accept the Gurwicz development.

Since the city had no affordable housing plan in place, Gurwicz could have filed a builder’s remedy lawsuit, which the company would have been likely to win, they have said.

At its Dec. 4 meeting, the Planning Board voted that the change in zoning was consistent with the city’s Master Plan.

At that meeting, Planning Board Chairman Richard Levitt said the board and planner Tiffany Cuviello discussed if the city should do a Council on Affordable Housing, or COAH, plan in 2008.

“We decided against it because we felt it was not in the best interest of the city,” Levitt said.

The city’s affordable housing obligation was then 293 units, Cuviello said, so it would have had to plan for that number.

“Our obligation is much lower now,” Levitt said, at 190 units, and may fall further to about 116 if COAH votes on a new plan.

However, a housing group has filed suit to get the affordable housing issue into the courts and out of COAH's hands. That group wants to increase Northfield’s obligation to about 486, Cuviello said Tuesday night.

He said some in Northfield have unfairly blamed him and the Planning Board for the city having no COAH plan and having to accept the zoning change on the Gurwicz property.

City Council President Jim Travagline has said that, had the city had a COAH plan in place, it probably could have kept the Gurwicz property off Cresson zoned as a senior citizens development.

But Cuviello has said that only about 25 percent of a city’s obligation can be senior citizens’ housing, so the city may have had to consider rezoning the Gurwicz property even if it had moved to create a plan in 2008.

The city has until Jan. 29, 2015, to pass an affordable housing plan that identifies sites where 190 units of low- and moderate-income housing could be built, to meet state COAH requirements, under a ruling by a state Superior Court judge. If the city doesn’t make that deadline, it could face fines and be vulnerable to lawsuits to force zoning changes.

Sites being considered for zoning changes to allow high-density housing that includes an affordable housing component include Tilton Road Golf on Tilton Road, the seven-acre Arthur Henry Inc. property on Wabash Avenue between Tilton and Mill roads, adjacent to the city library; and some city-owned property on Dolphin Avenue, Levitt has said.

Contact Michelle Brunetti Post:

609-272-7219

@MichelleBPost on Twitter

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