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Affordable housing bill benefits New Jersey developers

titteljeff021110_optBY JEFF TITTEL
COMMENTARY

S1 (Lesniak)/ A3447 — This legislation is poised to pass the legislature and then to the Governor's desk. Under this bill we have gotten rid of COAH and have gone backwards giving the power to developers, attorneys, and the courts. This bill will not only mandate zoning in towns, but through designating all affordable housing as inherent beneficial it puts a target on many rural and environmentally sensitive parts of New Jersey. More than 75% of towns in New Jersey will not be compliant, which means they will be at the mercy of developers. We believe this bill will cause more sprawl and over development in New Jersey.

The cure maybe worse than the disease. Under the revisions to S1 we have gotten rid of COAH and given the power over to the developers and their attorneys. We believe that this legislation over turns local zoning and good planning. It gives developers a mandate to build what they want, where they want, at the expense of the environment and tax payers.

In noncompliant towns this bill mandates zoning, which in certain parts of New Jersey where there are over 5,000 people per square acre they have to build between 10 and 50 units per acre and areas under 5,000 people per square acre they have to build 6 to 20 units per acre. Under this bill, all projects in areas in non compliant towns would go to the Board of Adjustment, giving power to developers. The fact that these projects are one inclusionary, meaning having affordable housing as an opponent and two being inherently beneficial makes it hard for towns to turn down projects. Second, it makes it hard for judges to turn down projects that are both inherently beneficial and inclusionary, making it a double hit for developers. This applies to most of the towns in state, mostly those in rural and environmentally sensitive areas. For example if a developer has 100 acres and is zoned 1 house per 5 acres that would give them 20 houses with 2 being affordable. The developer instead could apply for D variance to build 200 houses under this bill with 40 being affordable. The town cannot turn down that change because it would be deemed inherently beneficial. Therefore developers will be able to overturn local zoning and push through high density projects. Developers can use this to sue to be able to run sewers into environmentally sensitive areas to serve those projects, meaning more sprawl and pollution. Towns that comply with their affordable housing requirements under COAH had a legal shield, but this bill takes those rights away.

Under this legislation 10% of housing in New Jersey has to be affordable, which is almost 4 million units and ten percent of that is 400,000 minus the 50,000 already built. New Jersey needs to come up with about 350,000 units. Based on giving developers inclusionary projects between 10 — 20% affordable housing New Jersey would have to build up to 3 million market rate units to meet this obligation.

This bill will also raise properties taxes because towns need to hire a planner to review the plan and another set of planners review and sign off on the plans. Before COAH would sign off for free now they have to hire two sets of planners.

This bill undermines good planning environmental protection, pushes for more sprawl and over development with weak environmental criteria. Sierra Club supports affordable housing and there are parts of the bill we like, but these two pieces override whatever we see positive in the bill. The only thing inherently beneficial about this bill is it benefits the developers and their attorneys. We are concerned this legislation will lead to more sprawl and over development.

Jeff Tittel is the Director of the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club.

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