HOPEWELL TOWNSHIP: Township to have special meeting on affordable housing

By Frank Mustac, Special Writer
HOPEWELL TOWNSHIP — A special meeting on affordable housing has been scheduled by the Planning Board for tonight, Aug. 20.
Four special meetings in total are being scheduled prior to an early-December deadline set by a state court for towns in New Jersey to submit new plans for low- and moderate-cost housing in their respective municipalities.
A proposal Hopewell Township submitted about seven years ago to make provisions for more than 400 affordable housing units was rejected by the state’s Council on Affordable Housing.
As part of new procedures set in place earlier this year for municipalities to provide housing for low- and moderate-income buyers, Hopewell Township, like many other towns in New Jersey, now is required to submit a new plan.
The procedural changes come on the heels of a state Supreme Court ruling back in March affecting COAH and how local affordable housing plans are certified by the state.
Figures recently released by the Fair Share Housing Center organization indicate Hopewell Township should provide 1,000 new affordable housing units.
As a means of obtaining its own numbers, perhaps much lower than 1,000, the Hopewell Township Committee back in early July approved a cost-sharing agreement with hundreds of other municipalities in New Jersey to finance the preparation of a statewide fair share affordable housing analysis being undertaken at Rutgers University through Dr. Robert W. Burchell.
The objective of the first special meeting in Hopewell Township “is to review all of the properties that are currently in the Master Plan that have been designated for affordable housing,” Township Committeewoman Vanessa Sandom said by phone on Aug. 17. “Obviously, the public is invited and encouraged to attend.”
The next few special meetings, Ms. Sandom said, likely would include discussions about whether Planning Board members want to keep those locations in the new plan or whether they want to look at alternative locations in town.
The old plan COAH rejected listed about 70 affordable housing units slated for the former Pennytown shopping center site at Route 31 and Pennington-Hopewell Road, according to Ms. Sandom. About 180 units were earmarked in the old plan for what is known as the Zaitz-Hutchinson property between Route 31 and Reed Road, near the ShopRite grocery store.
Seventy affordable housing units, which were part of the old plan, already have been built for some time now as part of the more than 400-unit Project Freedom complex near the Pennington circle. The complex was built to provide accessible living spaces for people with disabilities.
Hopewell Township is in litigation in Superior Court in Trenton, in part, to get a ruling on to what methodology to use to determine how many affordable housing units it will take to meet the municipality’s constitutional obligation.
“As we plan for our obligation, we also have to define what that obligation is,” Ms. Sandom said. “All that has to be done by early December.” 