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Councilman Robert Barr

OCEAN CITY – Ocean City Council introduced two ordinances related to its settlement under New Jersey’s affordable housing laws. While the vote was unanimous, council members made clear they would’ve rather not said yes.

“I am adamantly opposed to all this fair share housing stuff,” said Councilman Robert Barr, who also serves as chairman of the Ocean City Housing Authority. “I think back a few years ago when Gov. Christie tried to abolish COAH (Council on Affordable Housing) and all of that. He was right on to do so, and it’s a shame that we are here today doing this now.”

Christie failed to dissolve COAH. A court ruled he did not have the power, but COAH essentially dissolved anyway. The council was formed as the state sought to meet the requirements of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s 1975 Mount Laurel decision, which found that municipalities have a constitutional obligation to provide affordable housing.

For years, COAH sought to accomplish that with a series of rounds of housing obligations, which proved controversial throughout the state. With COAH functionally out of the picture, the courts have turned to the Fair Share Housing Center, an outside advocacy group, to work out recommendations.

In 2018, Ocean City negotiated an agreement with the Fair Share Housing Center, which will include $15-$20 million in city spending, including on projects in cooperation with Ocean City’s Housing Authority, while amending its zoning to make it easier to create affordable housing. It also requires new development over a certain size to include a percentage of affordable housing units.

In return, the city gets immunity from certain challenges to its zoning ordinance.

Barr said he would support the ordinance Oct. 24, but wanted his comments on record.

City Attorney Dorothy McCrosson described the first of the two ordinances, about which Barr commented before the vote, as strictly housecleaning. It would amend the city zoning ordinance, but in ways already accomplished in an earlier vote.

The earlier ordinance included extensive texts describing the overlay zones that would expand the area where affordable housing can be constructed. Those were extensive and redundant, McCrosson said. The amendment, instead, refers to those descriptions by title, which would be cleaner when the ordinance is codified, she said.

Barr’s comments drew praise from others on council.

“I agree with Bobby (Barr) 100%,” said Councilman Michael DeVleiger.

He added that the changes would help people.

“We could find ways to help people as well without all of this…” he said, trailing off. After a pause, he added, “I’m looking for the proper word that’s not mean. Without all this, let’s just say.”

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Councilman Michael DeVleiger

Barr praised McCrosson’s efforts, as well as those of Mayor Jay Gillian, in working out the affordable housing settlement.

“This isn’t good, but it’s the best of a situation that we are forced to deal with,” he said.

Others on council also supported that part of his statement.

“It’s also important that if you’re going to be put in this situation that you do it correctly and right,” said Councilman Keith Hartzell. “This is going to be a good thing in that it’s going to be done correctly, and eventually it will help people.”

Another ordinance introduced at that meeting, also approved unanimously, would establish criteria for development projects which would be required to include a fraction of an affordable housing unit, under the city’s formula.

If the formula results in less than half a unit, the developer can contribute. At more than a half-unit, a whole affordable unit must be built.

“They can't make a payment in lieu. They have to create an additional unit,” McCrosson said.

“Who gets that money?” asked Councilwoman Karen Bergman.

“It goes into our affordable housing trust fund, and it will be used to create additional affordable housing," McCrosson answered.

Both ordinances are set for a public hearing and final vote at 5 p.m. Nov. 26, held early due to Thanksgiving.

To contact Bill Barlow, email bbarlow@cmcherald.com.

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