Mayor to Hold Town Hall Meeting on Housing Lawsuits
Will be held in Orange Avenue School.
A quiet corner of what used to be an office park at 215 Birchwood Avenue is currently the object of an affordable housing lawsuit – a developer is suing the township to gain the right to place more affordable housing on the plot.
Cranford Township Committee is holding a town hall meeting today at 7:30 p.m. in the Orange Avenue School auditorium to hear what residents think about the possibility of a mixed-income development being situated there.
"I want to make sure the community is on the same page," Mayor Aschenbach told Patch. "I want to inform residents about what their options are."
Although the lawsuit is still being hashed out in court and the township committee does not yet know the outcome, Aschenbach added that he'd be in favor of appealing the judge's decision if residents are upset.
The Paramus-based S. Hekemian Group bought the property in October 2008 and proposed 356 market rate units and 63 units of low- and moderate-income housing. It then filed a suit in New Jersey Superior Court claiming that Cranford is in violation of its constitutional duty to create sufficient opportunity for the construction of low- and moderate-income housing.
One year ago, a special master appointed to study the case and present findings to the judge released a report stating that the project should go forward. The special master, Elizabeth McKenzie, said that she did not give much weight to residents' concerns about traffic and density, given the township's constitutional obligation to provide affordable housing to its residents.
That's not the only affordable housing suit in which Cranford was mired. The township settled a lawsuit last year, allowing a developer to build 163 housing units, including 24 affordable housing units, on the 5-acre site at 555 South Avenue East.
In voting to approve the settlement, then-Mayor Mark Smith said that if the township did not settle, it could face more legal fees and the ruling might require Cranford to allow the developer to place even more units on the site.
The suits stem from a series of Supreme Court decisions known as the Mt. Laurel decisions and the state's Fair Housing Act of 1985, that created the Council on Affordable Housing. Municipalities have the option of seeking certification with COAH by filing a plan that outlines their obligations and how those obligations will be met.
Municipalities that do not file such a Housing Element and Fair Share Plan leave themselves open to "builder's remedy" lawsuits. Cranford however submitted its plan after it was named a defendant in the 555 South Avenue and Birchwood Avenue suits.
Another step was the appointment of a bipartisan Affordable Housing Task Force at the Cranford reoganization meeting. The committee is charged by Aschenbach with recommending a proactive approach to ensure Cranford moves forward with other affordable housing opportunities that meet community needs.
Serving on this committee is Ann Darby, Phil Morin, Lynda Feder, Lou Koehler, Bill Montani, Kevin Campbell and Kevin Illing.