Borough moves ahead with affordable housing agreement

Photo Courtesy of Lessard Design
Site plan of the proposed 98-unit apartment building on Baldwin Street. A 188-space parking facility is part of the plan.

GLEN RIDGE, NJ — The public at the Glen Ridge Council meeting on April 24 heard an updated report from Special Master Elizabeth McKenzie about negotiations between the borough and the developer of a proposed apartment building on Baldwin Street. The borough, she said, had to come to an agreement with the developer and the Fair Share Housing Center.

McKenzie said the overall number of proposed apartment units was 98 with 15 being affordable housing and 83 at market rate. Court-appointed to oversee a settlement, McKenzie said those numbers were something she could comfortably recommend to the judge. The developer’s lawsuit against Glen Ridge is before Newark Superior Court Judge Robert Gardner.

“I am pleased with the diligence that the mayor and council have focused on their constitutional obligations,” she said. “In my opinion, a good use of the site.”

McKenzie had spoken at the Dec. 12, 2016, council meeting. At that time, the developer had proposed a 125-unit apartment with 19 units being affordable housing units. The project, she said, was an outgrowth of the 1983 Mt. Laurel affordable housing decision which obligates municipalities to provide housing for low-income families.

The developer, Glen Ridge Developer LLC, after acquiring five, contiguous private residences on Baldwin Street, sued the borough in order to raze the buildings and construct an apartment building that provided affordable housing units. The amassed site on Baldwin Street is 1.12 acres.

According to its website, the Fair Share Housing Center, a nonprofit organization founded in 1975, defends the rights of low-income families to have affordable housing. It does this by seeking the enforcement of the Mt. Laurel decision.

As the negotiations between Glen Ridge and the developer now stands, of the 83 units at market rate, 42 would be a one-bedroom and no more than 41 would be a two-bedroom. There would be no three-bedroom, market rate apartments.
Of the 15 affordable units, three would be one-bedroom; nine would be two-bedroom; and three would be three-bedroom.

There were also conditions attached to the use of bedrooms in the affordable units. Because of these conditions, McKenzie said the number of children added to the Glen Ridge School District was being addressed. She said boys and girls could not sleep in the same bedroom and there could not be more than two children in a bedroom.

“That will help keep the children population down,” she said.
A parent could also not share a bedroom with a child.

She thought there would be a maximum of 15 school children living in the proposed apartment building. Borough Administrator Michael Rohal said if the site had nine single-family homes, that would equate to about 15 school children, too. Mayor Stuart Patrick said it was his understanding that in Bloomfield, 1,000 new apartment units added 17 school children.

McKenzie said she would want veterans to be given preference to the affordable units. She thought the cost of the affordable units would be about $1,100 for moderate-income families; $700 to $800 for low-income families; and about $500 for very low-income families.

Although Glen Ridge had no choice but a settlement once the developer sued for a “builder’s remedy,” the borough will not have to face any similar affordable housing straits until July 2025, if at all, because of a so-called judgement of repose. This will protect the borough from any possible builder’s remedy lawsuit for eight years.

In a telephone interview earlier this week, Patrick said the borough was faced with an extremely difficult situation with no leverage at all.

“The builder can pretty much do what he wants to do,” Patrick said. “If you fight him, the outcome wouldn’t be good. And even if you agree with the builder, the special master can say no, or fair share housing or the courts can say no. You’re up against a number of parties second-guessing each other. Fee shifting is another sword.”

Patrick said the courts could compel the municipality to pay for the developer’s legal costs.

“Once a suit is filed, a town has limited options in a fight,” he said.
But he thought the borough did well in the negotiations.

“Betsie felt the negotiations were very good and amicable,” he said.
But Patrick said from the start the borough did not want any apartment units.
“But at the end of the day, the negotiations were driven by the affordable housing proponents,” he said.

He said except for the five properties on Baldwin Street, Glen Ridge had no other place to have the apartments built.

“The builder manufactured the land,” Patrick said. “This was an opportunity to meet our affordable housing requirements.”

“The next step for the council is to finalize our understanding with the developer and the Fair Share Housing Center,” he said. “My guess is that we’re very close.”

Patrick hopes the council will be voting on the proposal in a few months.
“We feel we’re all on the same page,” he said.

In an email, Rohal said after a council approval, the proposal would go to the Glen Ridge Historic Commission and the Planning Board.

In a telephone interview last week, Hughes said the concerns of the school district were brought into perspective by Rohal’s comment that nine private residences would have as many children as the proposed 98-unit apartment building.

“A lot of families are young,” Hughes said. “As their children reach school age, they move out looking for space and a yard.”