HOPEWELL TWP.: How much housing for COAH? Is 900 units OK? 1,200? 

By Frank Mustac, Special Writer
HOPEWELL TOWNSHIP — Planning Board officials are working to meet the next deadline in the township’s ongoing affordable-housing court case.
A number of municipalities in Mercer County are also enmeshed in similar litigation known as a “declaratory judgment action,” as are many other towns throughout New Jersey.
It’s part of a court process to determine the number of housing units Hopewell Township has to make available for low- and moderate-income buyers and renters to meet its constitutional obligation. Mercer County Judge Mary Jacobson wants to receive a summary of the township’s affordable-housing plan by Dec. 7.
The judge has set the same deadline for other towns in the county involved in declaratory judgment cases she is hearing.
Professional planner Frank Banisch is preparing Hopewell Township’s summary, also being called an “outline” or “matrix.”
According to Ronald Morgan, attorney for the township Planning Board, the reason for submitting a matrix is so the judge can make sure municipalities are making a “good faith effort” at providing affordable housing.
For Hopewell Township to complete its matrix, however, the number of affordable-housing units the township is obligated to make available must be known.
Because further litigation seems likely to take place before Judge Jacobson determines that number, she has essentially provided a choice between two interim numbers the township can use to craft its matrix.
As one option, the township can select a number produced by Princeton-based planning consultant David Kinsey for the Fair Share Housing Center, a nonprofit affordable housing advocacy organization.
Dr. Kinsey calculated Hopewell Township’s prospective need for affordable housing to be a minimum of 1,200 units, according Mr. Morgan, who spoke before the Planning Board last week.
The second option is to choose a number prepared by Richard B. Reading Associates, a consulting firm also in Princeton. Dr. Richard Reading is a court-appointed special regional master tasked to advise the court and analyze the affordable housing calculations produced by the Fair Share Housing Center.
The number for Hopewell Township calculated by Dr. Reading’s staff is 891, according to the Planning Board attorney, who also said Reading’s numbers for other Mercer County towns were lower compared to those from the Fair Share Housing Center.
“The numbers were reduced significantly, but I don’t think they’re reduced enough,” Mr. Morgan said.
Following the attorney’s explanation of Judge Jacobson’s instructions, the Hopewell Township Planning Board directed its professional planner, Mr. Banisch, to complete the affordable housing matrix based on the lower number of 891.
“I’ll make sure you have it before Thanksgiving,” Mr. Banisch told the Planning Board.
He also reminded board members that another purpose of the matrix exercise is to justify continued immunity from builder’s remedy lawsuits. When Hopewell Township filed its declaratory judgment action earlier this year, the court granted the township temporary immunity for at least five months from such litigation.
In losing a builder’s remedy lawsuit, a municipality it could see a developer constructing market-rate-priced housing units along with affordable units in numbers much greater than can be sustained, taking into account available classroom space for additional public school students, existing sewer capacity, and other infrastructure and public services constraints.
At least one developer called CF Hopewell has filed as an intervener party in Hopewell Township’s declaratory judgment action case. CF Hopewell owns a large tract of land on the west side of Scotch Road in the township, opposite the Merrill Lynch office complex. 