Local officials were concerned last week about a proposed New Jersey Meadowlands Commission resolution that would change the number of affordable housing units that commercial developers would have to build in Secaucus, and where they would build them.
At Wednesday's NJMC meeting, the resolution drew the presence of attorney George Hanley along with Secaucus Housing Authority Executive Director Bill Snyder and Deputy Executive Director Mike Altilio.When commercial developers build in Secaucus, the town has to make sure that an amount of affordable housing is built as well. But a new NJMC resolution will make the requirements stricter. In December, Secaucus, along with five other towns, submitted affordable housing plans to COAH, the state Council on Affordable Housing. Secaucus officials feel that the new NJMC resolution could lead to regulations that would challenge their current plan for compliance. "I'm not here as an adversary. We are just concerned with some of the specifics of the resolution - it is less flexible than the property rule set forth by COAH," said Hanley. "As you know, the devil is in the details." Hanley handles legal issues affecting affordable housing in Secaucus.
Affordable housing issues
Snyder said that Secaucus' current plan, which complies with COAH, is flexible and would allow for developers to provide payment in lieu of affordable housing on site. This would allow for new buildings like assisted living facilities to be constructed off-site of a proposed commercial site.
However, the NJMC regulations would require the developers to build affordable housing next to their new office building or other commercial project.
"If a commercial developer opts to pay for the required affordable housing units instead of building them onsite, our plan allows that," said Snyder. "In the case of an assisted living facility, we could then build a facility next to the hospital [which is offsite of a commercial development]."
In 2003, the NJMC partnered with COAH to enforce affordable housing regulations in the 14 Districts that are under NJMC's zoning jurisdiction. The jurisdiction includes 88 percent of the property in Secaucus. The NJMC Master Plan was amended that year to include regulations that are supposed to coincide with COAH rules. But some town officials don't feel that they do.
"Our plan is much more flexible than theirs," said Snyder. "It is developed to meet the guidelines as well as respond to the town's needs."
Commercial and residential
One affordable unit must be provided for every eight market-rate residential units. As for commercial property, one affordable unit must be provided for every 25 jobs created, as measured by the square footage of new or expanded nonresidential construction.
In order to qualify for COAH's Third Round ruling, the town's future development plans had to be submitted by Dec. 31, 2005. The Third Round is a state housing plan ensuring housing for families and seniors in a way that is environmentally sensitive, and creates incentives for very low-income and rental units.
The other towns that have submitted plans to COAH are Lyndhurst, Rutherford, North Arlington, Ridgefield, and Teterboro.
Why another regulation?
NJMC Executive Director Bob Ceberio told Hanley at Wednesday's meeting that the resolution was initially proposed because of issues in other towns. He said that his staff would investigate the issues both Hanley and Snyder brought to his attention.
In the past, the Commission has focused on getting the 14 Districts to comply with residential rules set forth by COAH, said Director of Communications Chris Gale.
"[NJMC] proposes new regulations as a kind of backup, if you will, to enforce the rules," said Gale. "I think there has been a misunderstanding of what this resolution would provide in terms of requirements." Snyder said, "All of this is just another level of bureaucracy. It's unfair to those who have met the deadline."