Alternative Millstone COAH plan proposed


MILLSTONE — Committeeman Elias Abilheira has submitted a different plan for the township’s Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) obligation.

The plan prepared by Township Planner Richard Coppola would put 85 of the township’s 169 COAH unit obligation on a 32.8-acre parcel on Route 33 and Bergen Mills Road. The plan would require the development of a sewage treatment plant, which residents including Abilheira believe would open the gateway to more development in town.

The township must submit a plan for fulfilling its new COAH requirement to the state by Dec. 31. If the township does not approve and submit a plan, the community could fall prey to a builder’s remedy lawsuit, according to Coppola.

At the Dec. 3 Township Committee meeting, which Coppola did not attend, Abilheira said that the township’s COAH plan does not have to identify specific properties. He suggested that the township use inclusionary zoning for its COAH obligation. For example, under the township’s 10-acre zoning, a 100- acre property could yield 10 houses. Inclusionary zoning would allow the same parcel to yield 14 homes, of which 20 percent would be COAH housing.

New COAH regulations require a ratio of one affordable unit for every four market-rate units. Abilheira said the construction of 425 market rate homes throughout town over time would yield the necessary 85 COAH units.

The Township Committee agreed that Abilheira should put his plan in writing and show it to Coppola.

Noting the large crowd in attendance to oppose the Route 33 COAH project, Mayor Nancy Grbelja commented that more residents would be up in arms about Abilheira’s plan for inclusionary zoning, which would allow for 6-acre and 7-acre lots as opposed to the township’s 10-acre zoning.

bilheira said on Monday that he revised his proposed plan to eliminate the inclusionary zoning option. He maintained that the COAH units should be integrated throughout new community development over the next 10 years instead of being built in mass on the Route 33 property. He said the committee would discuss his new proposal Dec. 10, which was after the Examiner deadline.

Grbelja said it was a disadvantage not having Coppola at the Dec. 10 meeting. She said that Abilheira did not attend any of the public meetings about COAH this year and that the same was true in previous years. She said that Abilheira has not lived up to his responsibilities and was trying to create an uproar in the crowd at the meeting.

Abilheira said, “I will accept full responsibility

for coming up with an alternative plan by myself, without a planner. I will work whatever hours are needed to take the cyclet treatment plant out of the plan.”

Township Attorney Duane Davison said that the

Bergen Mills/Route 33

property developer has no issue with diminishing the number of units on the tract if the township’s COAH obligation decreases due to litigation or other factors.

Davison, who has been involved with affordable housing issues since 1983, said the township’s COAH obligation could likely decrease. He also said that a treatment plant on the Route 33 site would not open the door for other plants to be created in the township, as it would solely be built to fulfill a constitutional mandate.

Committeeman Mike Kuczinski said a lot of work went into the township’s COAH plan and the governing body has no choice but to comply with the Dec. 31 deadline. He said he has faith in the township’s professionals and asked Coppola if the plan is the best they could come up with. Coppola told Kuczinski that the plan is flexible and the best for right now, according to the committeeman.

“Elias Abilheira presented a plan a dollar short and a day late,” Kuczinski said. “I want everyone to know he is not the caped crusader.”

Kuczinski questioned why Abilheira is presenting an alternative COAH plan now if he reviewed tapes and transcripts of the COAH meetings.

“We don’t know if Elias Abilheira’s suggestions are viable, but Rich Coppola does this day in and day out,” he said.

According to COAH spokesman Chris Donnelly, municipalities can meet their obligations through a variety of measures, including inclusionary development, special needs housing, and/or 100 percent affordable housing developments. He said it would be inappropriate for COAH to comment on specific questions regarding Millstone until the agency has had a chance to review the township’s plan.