Long Branch to seek COAH certification

BY KENNY WALTER Staff Writer

Long Branch officials announced last week the city’s master plan will be revised to provide for affordable housing, and for the first time the city will seek certification from the state Council on Affordable Housing.

Robert Beckelman, of Greenbaum, Rowe, Smith and Davis, Woodbridge, discussed the coming master plan revision at the Oct. 27 City Council’s workshop meeting.

Beckelman said that the master plan would be broken down into parts, with the first being the housing and fair share portion of the plan.

That element was introduced by the Planning Board last month and is scheduled for adoption Dec. 15.

Beckelman explained at the meeting what the document entailed.

“In addition to the updated portion of the master plan, the most significant part is the fair share [housing] plan,” he said.

Beckelman said that the city initially did not agree with the requirement for affordable housing that COAH set but has since analyzed the plan.

Under COAH guidelines each municipality is required to provide its “fair share” of affordable housing.

“We did not accept COAH’s estimated numbers,” he said. “We did an analysis and we actually feel that the city’s fair share would be higher than what COAH estimated.

“It initially sounds like it could be a problem,” he added. “Having run through the numbers and the estimates on what’s supposed to take place, it actually looks pretty doable.”

Since its inception in 1985, COAH has had two previous rounds that the city has not participated in.

According to the master plan, the city’s obligation is to create 254 units of affordable housing from 2004 to 2018. This includes 119 units of affordable housing from the projected 593 market-rate units that will be created, according to the master plan.

It also includes an additional 135 affordable units based on projections that 2,164 jobs will be created, or one affordable unit per 16 jobs as per COAH regulations.

Beckelman said that some of the city’s housing might retroactively apply to COAH.

“The housing authority has done quite a bit of affordable housing already that we can capture credit for toward that fair share obligation,” he said. “The fair share plan is what we prepared as suggestions as to how to actually address that obligation.”

Beckelman also said that the current proposals would most likely change.

“This is all proposals and suggestions that are going to be vetted by the Planning Board,” he said.

Beckelman described strategies that would help the city meet its housing obligations.

“Some of the proposals are fees to be collected in redevelopment zones that can be put toward affordable projects,” he said.

He continued, “An exclusionary zoning ordinance over some of the residential zones that would permit for density, height and bulk variances.

He also said there are incentives that would allow Long Branch to facilitate more affordable projects.

“[There is] something called a marketto affordable program that the city can operate, which would essentially be subsidies to those fees,” he explained.

Also, “accessory apartments … would be a city-subsidized program that would allow people to change an accessory building into an apartment for affordable units,” he continued.

Beckelman went on to explain the plan that he believes will satisfy all of the city’s COAH obligations.

“I think these will probably be sufficient for the city to meet its obligations,” he said. “It’s going to be vetted out, but I proposed the R-4 and R-5 zones.

“That is also based on the actual availability of the land,” he added. “There is not a whole lot of land to be developed.”

In an interview last week, Long Branch Business Administrator Howard H. Woolley Jr. explained why the city is moving forward with this plan.

“With the recent changes in the laws on affordable housing, municipalities have to develop and adopt a plan for them to achieve the fair share of affordable housing in a municipality as mandated by COAH,” he said. “They set up quotas for every municipality in the state. COAH is the driving force behind it.”

Woolley said that while Long Branch has never participated in COAH, affordable housing has not been an issue in the city.

“Long Branch for years has had more

affordable housing than what was required,” he said. “We stepped up to the plate big-time for years.”

Beckelman agreed last week in an interview that Long Branch has had a good history with affordable housing.

“Historically Long Branch has not participated with COAH because it was never perceived to be a city lacking affordable housing,” he said.

“It was actually a community that has made great efforts to create affordable housing and improve upon it,” he added.

Woolley said the city administration has decided that it still needs to move forward with COAH despite the positive history.

However, he said the mayor and council realize that affordable housing is still a need in the city and are seeking to create affordable housing.

Woolley said that the affordable housing would go where it would make the most sense for the city and developers.

“What we did was say we have a lot of zones in the city where we have smaller requirements and permit multifamily development. So … when you build a development make one of them affordable,” he added.

Woolley said that this is just the next step in continuing the redevelopment of the city.

“We’ve been trying to keep things moving,” he said. “This is just another step in trying to develop the city in a way that benefits everybody.

“Once this plan is adopted by the Planning Board, then we will review all the city’s zoning ordinances to see what needs to be changed,” he added.

Woolley explained that the master plan has been updated annually, but this is the first time it has been overhauled in over 20 years.

“It has been updated statutorily every year, but I think the last revision was in the late ’80s,” he said. “This thing has taken about a year to do and a hundred and some odd thousand dollars in professional fees and a lot of time from Carl Turner [assistant planning director] and Michelle Bernich [zoning officer] and myself. It is a necessary thing to do.”

Woolley said that there will most likely be two or three public hearings on the plan and that the final decision will be with the Planning Board.

He also said that the Planning Board is working with the council so that the master plan can be cohesive with the goals of the city.

Woolley said the master plan is the guide the council will use to adopt zoning ordinances.

Beckelman explained that when a community is not on board with COAH certification it is subject to lawsuits.

“If you are not participating with COAH, you are subject to getting sued in what is called a builder’s remedy lawsuit,” he said. “Where a builder would come in and say, ‘I want to build affordable housing and your zoning doesn’t permit that.’

“It is not a fun process to go through,” he added. “Generally the result is a development that might not get approved by the city gets forced on them.”

While a builder’s remedy lawsuit is something the city wants to avoid, Beckelman said that it is not really a concern.

Once the city is under COAH’s jurisdiction, it is no longer subject to a builder’s remedy lawsuit.

Beckelman also said that in order to get endorsement for the master plan, the city needs COAH certification.

“The determination was to go with the COAH process because the city wants to do affordable housing,” he said. “As part of its plan endorsement, the COAH certification was required.

“The motivation initially was to get plan endorsement,” he added. “The city did not think it was vulnerable to builder’s remedy.”

Beckelman doesn’t foresee problems with getting COAH certification, although he said it might take some time.

“COAH’s busy and understaffed like most state agencies,” Beckelman said. “They may have some … things they want us to do differently. We have the obligation, it’s just how we are going to do it.”

Beckelman said that since 2004, there have been several hundred affordable housing units built in the city.

Beckelman also said that the city will not try to meet its COAH obligations by building a large high-rise housing project.

“COAH doesn’t want to see us build a giant tower, and the city doesn’t want to do that either,” he said.

While the fair-share portion is the driving force behind this document of the master plan, Beckelman said that the other portion is an overview of the city’s housing situation.

“The housing element is essentially a snapshot of the housing situation,” he said. “It addresses everything related to housing.”

The housing element includes demographics like age, income level and population trends, housing conditions and house values.

COAH was established in 1985 by an act of the state Legislature in response to a series of state Supreme Court rulings com- monly known as the Mount Laurel Doctrine.

According to the Department of CommunityAffairs, COAH has the power to define housing regions, estimate low- and moderate-income housing needs, set criteria and guidelines for municipalities to determine and address their own fair-share numbers, and approve and review housing elements and fair-share plans for municipalities.

Since its inception, COAH has had three iterations of its fair-housing plan. Round one of the plan focused on creating reasonable opportunities for affordable housing through municipal zoning ordinances. The second round focused on the rehabilitation of existing housing stock. COAH’s thirdround focuses on the establishment of a uniform growth share element for New Jersey municipalities.

Affordable housing, as defined by the state, is housing that can be bought or rented with 30 percent or less of an individual’s income.

Contact Kenny Walter at

kwalter@gmnews.com.