COURT HOUSE – It was a standing room only crowd inside the June 18 Middle Township Committee’s regular work session as representatives of three organizations hoping to build affordable housing in the township made presentations to Committee and to the public.
A deadline date of July 17 has been established by the state in order for municipalities to present their affordable housing plans or lose over $1.3 million that has been set aside. Committee approved a spending plan for the money during its Mon., June 4 meeting.
“There is no action being taken on any of these presentations this evening,” said Mayor Dan Lockwood. “This is an information session to give an opportunity for residents to learn a little bit more about the changes that have occurred since some of the initial ideas about how to solve the affordable housing obligation that we have and where we are today.”
According to state mandate, 454 affordable housing units need to be built within the township. According to Deputy Mayor Timothy Donohue, however, that number should be challenged.
“I do believe most residents support the concept of affordable housing,” said Donohue. “Not very low income housing, but the idea that Middle does have a niche of affordable housing that needs to be filled. I believe that most residents oppose the construction of high-density projects. These projects go against the local concepts of affordable housing as developed in visioning sessions, the Master Plan group and by the Housing Advisory Committee."
Donohue said he believed mistakes had been made in the process, including putting the 90-unit Conifer project into the township’s affordable housing plan.
“I believe we are building our spending plan on a flawed and fragile foundation,” said Donohue. “This foundation needs to be broken down and rebuilt on the best practices and with input of all these committees that have worked so hard. I believe they have presented a clear picture of what Middle Township really expect and want in affordable housing.”
At issue, however, is the need to fulfill the state’s requirement of 454 affordable housing units without using high-density developments.
“I believe COAH (Council on Affordable Housing) and the state have little right to demand adherence to this deadline (July 17),” said Donohue, “When the very existence of COAH and the third round obligations remain in limbo and could be tied up in court for the foreseeable future.”
He said he believed the people of Middle Township should challenge the numbers. “I believe Middle Township has acted in good faith, not perfectly, but in good faith. We have shown good faith to the state. I do not feel that the state has shown good faith to the people of Middle Township.”
Residents listened as representatives from the ARC of Cape May County and Cape May County Habitat for Humanity discussed their plans for affordable housing in the township.
Charles Lewis, Vice President of the Mt. Laurel-based Conifer Realty addressed the audience about his company’s proposed high-density housing in Rio Grande and Court House.
“Ninety-five percent of what we do,” said Lewis, “is the development of affordable housing.”
According to Lewis Conifer has over 12,000 units in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. “We have over 2,300 apartments in New Jersey,” he said.
“The secret to management is getting the right tenant in,” said Lewis, noting his company does rigorous screening of renters. That screening includes a criminal background check, credit check, references, prior landlord check and minimum income requirements.
“We check with prior landlords. We found if you have a troubled tenant and call the current landlord they will lie through their teeth because they want to get rid of them, so we will go back to prior landlords.”
Conifer has proposed 112 rental units in Rio Grande at the corner of Route 9 and Rio Grande Avenue on a site formerly known as the Mattera property.
The proposal includes three-story units with the first-story unit being enclosed on one floor. The second and third stories would have apartments with common living areas on the one floor, and bedrooms on the upper floor. Homes would include porches and balconies. Each home would have a private entrance.
High-density housing at the Railroad Avenue site in Court House would include 48 rental units in two-story buildings.
“I think you won’t be exempt from any property taxes,” asked resident Alfred Puglia.
“We will be paying a payment in lieu of taxes,” responded Lewis, “which means we will pay taxes based on a percentage of our income as opposed to the value of the land. We start out at 7 percent the first year and move up in the third or fourth year to 10 percent.”
“I’m concerned about property taxes skyrocketing because of all these families,” said Puglia.
“Why does Rio Grande get all the crap?” asked Harrison Roach, noting that Rio Grande has just gotten stores that increased traffic. “If you don’t want it up here, you send it to Rio Grande. You put all those shopping centers in, and you’re going to put all this in. You’re going to have Rio Grande looking like Pleasantville.”
Roach asked if the township would conduct an impact study. “I’m talking about the township itself doing an impact study. Not by you. It’s not that I don’t believe you, but I don’t,” said Roach.
“What do you feel has already been agreed to?” asked Carol Mattessich of Court House. “It darkens my heart because it sounds like you think there is already an agreement struck.”
“There has not been a deal cut,” said the township’s affordable housing attorney Michael Jedziniak. “There has to be a deal cut. There have been many conversations about what will work for you and what will work for us. There are terms on the table right now that I personally feel that I am ready to encourage Middle Township to do the deal for many, many reasons, but there has not been a deal struck yet.”