Oceanport to consider Habitat proposal

Staff Writer

OCEANPORT — Facing a deadline, the Borough Council is considering a proposal to allow Habitat for Humanity to build two single-family homes on Pemberton Avenue in an effort to satisfy affordable housing requirements.

The council discussed the proposal during the Dec. 17 meeting, but cited concerns over allowing construction on the property, which is currently used as overflow parking for the nearby Oceanport Senior Center and Oceanport First Aid Squad.

“It is for the good of the first aid, for the good of the community, for the good of the seniors,” Councilman Stuart Briskey said. “Nothing against the homes, but we should be able to find other properties.”

The proposal by Habitat for Humanity is to construct two 1,200-square-foot singlefamily homes on the corner of Pemberton Avenue and East Main Street.

Borough planner Elizabeth McManus said the Pemberton lots are included in the borough’s 2015 affordable housing plan for the first two Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) rounds, and the borough is still awaiting approval of the third round.

The borough’s history with COAH began in 2005 following a builder’s remedy lawsuit, a lawsuit filed on behalf of a developer complaining a municipality does not do enough to fulfill affordable housing requirements.

Recently the borough was granted immunity from future builder’s remedy lawsuits while the courts consider the borough’s third-round COAH obligation.

However, the borough must decide quickly on the Pemberton proposal as the court has stipulated that the Borough Council pass a resolution by the middle of January committing to the project and a resolution within four months entering into a developer’s agreement with Habitat for Humanity or an alternate developer.

McManus said it would be difficult for the borough to substitute the Pemberton project with two housing units elsewhere in Oceanport.

“In order to substitute those properties, the borough would need to adopt a revised housing element and fair share plan,” she said. “It would be a complicated process.

“Municipalities do have the option to amend the plan, but this would be a complicated process.”

Borough Attorney Scott Arnette also said the decision to substitute the properties could open the borough up to future litigation.

“The judgment says this is the circumstance,” Arnette said. “Is everything set in stone? Perhaps not, but you would need to acquire two properties.

“Then you would need to go back and open this judgment, which means opening the litigation. This is what was agreed to. You run the risk of reopening litigation that is settled.”

However, Councilman Joseph Irace said when the council adopted the affordable housing plan in 2012 they intended to switch the housing project slated for Pemberton Avenue with affordable housing at Fort Monmouth.

“It was never intended to be built there, it was always intended to be built somewhere else,” he said. “That’s the impression we were given.”

Residents and first aid volunteers voiced concerns over the proposal, citing increased traffic and safety concerns for pedestrians with additional street parking as the main concerns.

The Borough Council will discuss the issue during a special Jan. 7 council meeting where action may be taken.