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Rezoning drops site from affordable housing plan

Council acts on one of five ordinances

By Bob Fleming

Staff Writer

MARLBORO — Following a raucous three-hour hearing during which residents addressed only one of five proposed re-zoning ordinances, Township Council members voted unanimously to adopt the ordinance without any public discussion.

Approximately 250 residents attended Thursday’s council meeting at the Marl-boro Middle School expecting to voice their objections to the various rezoning ordinances during five separate public hearings on the agenda items.

At the start of the meeting, Stephanie Luftglass, the township’s public information officer, and Fred Raffetto, Marlboro’s special counsel regarding its affordable housing plan, presented the council and the public with an historical account of Marlboro’s involvement with the state Council on Affordable Housing (COAH).

Luftglass traced the litigation commencing prior to 1985 involving the township and several builders seeking a "builder’s remedy" to rezone properties to permit the construction of new housing, with a 20 percent set aside for low- and moderate-income housing. The developers were seeking a 4:1 or 5:1 ratio of regular market units for each affordable unit.

"Under the terms of the 1985 consent order the township’s affordable housing obligation was initially established at 680 units through 1991," Luftglass said. "Following the extension of a period of repose and immunity from any additional litigation, Marlboro, as well as the region, experienced significant population growth, which resulted in the township’s fair share housing being increased to 1,056 units."

Raffetto said approximately 372 of the 680 affordable housing units were transferred out of Marlboro through Regional Contribution Agreements (RCA) with other municipalities. Those municipalities agreed to provide for the units within their boundaries in exchange for a monetary payment from Marlboro to transfer those units.

According to Luftglass and Raffetto, the township applied to COAH in 1995 for substantive certification of its affordable housing plan. Marlboro was notified by COAH in 1998 that its fair share plan would need to be amended based on the number of amendments made to the plan since its origination.

The Planning Board adopted an amended fair housing plan in August 1998 and the council repetitioned COAH for substantive certification, Luftglass said.

Following that action, four objectors to the amended plan contacted COAH for redress of certain elements of the plan. Mediation sessions were then conducted for more than a year to resolve the objections to Marlboro’s affordable housing plan, she added.

"The proposed rezones and the new affordable housing numbers will permit Marlboro to amend its plan in order to achieve a six-year period of immunity and meet its affordable housing obligation," Luftglass said.

Council President Steven Gustman called for a vote from council members to open the public hearing on the first of five rezoning ordinances, that of a 20-acre tract of land known as Rosewood, near Route 79 and Tennent Road.

Under the terms of the 1995 fair housing plan, 178 residential units, with a 40-unit affordable housing set-aside, was planned for Rosewood, according to township officials.

The rezoning ordinance now calls for the current multi-family development zone to be returned to an R-60 zone, permitting 13 single-family homes to be built on the site, with no affordable housing units to be located there.

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esidents waited their turn at the microphone to voice their objections to that particular ordinance, which many acknowledged was an upzoning of that property, at the expense of downzoning other properties within a 2-mile radius in the Morganville section, to meet COAH requirements.

Controversy ensued when several residents asked if the subject property, Rose-wood, was a contaminated site.

Township Engineer William Schultz said based on a Phase I report, which he likened to a walk-through of the property, it could be concluded that the Rosewood site was contaminated.

"How can you vote on rezoning a site and allow for 13 units there if it is contaminated?" asked Susan Grossman, of Perry Street.

Steven Lang, of Perry Street, asked the council not to rezone the Rosewood property and received no response to his request.

"The perception is that this is a done deal," Lang said. "We’re not even getting an open hearing."

However, Matthew J. Cavaliere, the attorney representing the owners of Rosewood and Valley Brook Meadows, an adjacent property also subject to a rezoning ordinance on the meeting agenda, said there was no contamination on the property .

"Developer Anthony Spalliero was the contract purchaser of the property who applied for zone changes and intended to sell the property to another developer be-fore he backed out of the sale," Cavaliere said. "My clients obtained a Phase II report, which is a comprehensive environmental study of the property, which substantiates that there is no contamination there."

Cavaliere informed the council that he represented the property owners in litigation against the township in 1997 and 1998 that resulted in an out-of-court-settlement.

"I’m irate you’re not aware that the settlement states these properties cannot be rezoned without permission from Superior Court or approval from COAH," Cavaliere said. "To the extent that the township has not received these approvals, to rezone these properties amounts to breaking the law."

Gustman called for a brief recess, followed by a return to the public hearing.

Fran Szczesny, the president of a residents group known as Citizens Against Political Exploitation (CAPE), addressed the council regarding what she said was the appearance of impropriety of having the township attorney, state Sen. John O. Bennett III, representing Marlboro at the COAH mediation sessions when he re-ceived campaign contributions from de-velopers Spalliero and Michael Weitz, both of whom are objectors to the township’s affordable housing plan.

Bennett was absent from the dais during Szczesny’s remarks.

She urged the council to seek indepen-dent legal counsel on the COAH matters to remove any appearance of impropriety.

Attorney Dominic Manco, a member of Bennett’s law firm, replied that the mediation sessions were conducted in a proper manner and independent counsel had been obtained during the second round of mediation sessions regarding the township’s affordable housing plan.

Bennett was unavailable for comment on Szczesny’s allegations at press time Monday.

"If you adopt these ordinances there will be litigation again," Szczesny said. "Mr. Spalliero’s objections to the contamination of the property was a charade and renders his objection as invalid."

Spalliero, who was seated in the audience, shouted to Szczesny after she re-turned to her seat, "Sit down; the election