Secaucus Town Council members unanimously approved an amendment to their master plan that will bring the town closer to compliance with the state Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) Round 3 rulings.COAH is a state agency that was formed in response to the federal Fair Housing Act in 1986. The Act was meant to ensure affordable housing for low- and moderate-income households in towns throughout the country, including New Jersey. It provided guidelines for municipalities, housing providers, non-profit developers, and for-profit developers under constitutional obligations for comprehensive planning. However, New Jersey has also been affected by the Supreme Court's "Mount Laurel" decisions in the 1970s that determined that each town must include a certain amount of affordable housing. However, under the "Fair Share" approach, towns in New Jersey are protected from builders seeking to sue under the Mount Laurel decisions if towns adopt COAH requirements for affordable housing. That way, towns can have a greater degree of freedom. Under Round 3, a town can ask for a "vacant land adjustment." This means that certain vacant areas in town won't be included in a formula determining how much land needs to be built upon. For instance, one such area is Mill Creek Point Park, which is classified as a wildlife reserve, and is a New Jersey Meadowlands Commission mitigation site. "With Growth Share [of Round 3 rulings], COAH uses a new concept to determine municipal obligation," Secaucus Housing Authority Executive Director Bill Snyder said last week. "Round 2 used a complicated formula developed by Rutgers University which considered available land, job growth and population. It did not take into account some of the particular features of Secaucus." The Growth Share COAH Plan, or Round 3, links the production of affordable housing with municipal development and growth. Round 3 provides a big change from the previous method of calculating affordable housing goals. The upcoming Transit Village developments will house 2,000 units, with 230 of those affordable. Therefore, the town will have its COAH obligations nearly satisfied. This would mean a halt to the possibility of builders taking advantage of COAH's "builder's remedy" which would mean builders could have come in and built many extra units in order to comply with COAH's affordable housing requirements - then been protected from town zoning or planning laws. "Under Round 2 rules, we were not in compliance for the amount of affordable housing units needed - we were not certified, so developers could come in and do what they wanted," said Mayor Dennis Elwell. "After we sent the new plan for certification to COAH, we are protected by that agency from developers."
What the town did
When the Round 3 rulings came in from COAH this year, the town hired Trenton architectural firm Clarke, Caton and Hintz to design the town's master plan for development to make it comply with current COAH rulings. The Secaucus Affordable Housing Board and the town Planning Board reviewed and approved it, as did the mayor and Town Council. "The revised master plan shows COAH we are following their requirements as best we can," Elwell said.