Delran reaches affordable housing settlement agreement

Celeste E. Whittaker, Cherry Hill Courier-Post Published 11:44 a.m. ET Oct. 13, 2018

DELRAN – The township will build nearly 200 affordable housing units in the next decade or more under a settlement agreement with the Fair Share Housing Center.

The agreement approved on Tuesday night establishes a 365-unit obligation, and will be met by the construction of hundreds of homes in specific, designated projects as well as reforms to the town’s zoning code in order to include affordable housing with certain projects.

Technically 192 brand new units will be built, added to the 85 that already exist for a subtotal of 277. Delran also received bonus credits from past affordable housing development and bonuses expected from building new units, officials said.

“We’re pleased to reach a strong agreement with Delran Township that expands opportunities for seniors, people with disabilities and working families in South Jersey,” said Anthony Campisi, a spokesman for Fair Share housing. “Delran now joins about 250 other towns throughout the state who have fair housing plans in place that are putting shovels in the ground to address our state’s housing affordability crisis.”

Campisi said the Stellwag’s Farm project, at 116 Hartford Road, was key in getting the deal done with Delran.

The redevelopers had secured preliminary subdivision approval from the Delran Township Planning Board, but Fair Share Housing Center challenged those approvals in a lawsuit last year.
The revised redevelopment plan calls for a total of 111 residential units, including 14 detached single- family homes, and 77 attached single family units. Ninety-one will be market-rate, fee simple age- restricted homes; and 20 will be age-restricted affordable condominium units, which may be marketed as either for sale or rental. A legal ad states that the township, in its sole discretion, shall have the right to ask the redeveloper of the Stellwag’s project to reduce the number of affordable units from 20 to 16.

“We’re pleased that Delran has revised its plan for the Stellwag Farm site to help meet the township’s constitutional fair housing obligations,” Campisi said.
According to Delran town council President Gary Catrambone, in addition to 20 affordable units being part of project at the old Stellwag’s Farm property, vacant land being developed by Atlantic Delta Corp. near the Home Depot on Route 130 would include 240 units, 43 of which will be affordable.

Chester Avenue Developers LLC is interested in developing into multi-family housing on 23 acres on Chester Avenue. The land is currently owned by the Diocese of Trenton and would include 265 units, 53 of which are affordable. About 62 affordable units are planned for the former site of Abrasive Alloys, he said.
There are also 10 units that will be converted from market-rate to affordable in town as well, he said, plus they’ll get 88 bonus credits. There is a surplus of 14 from prior rounds and 75 existing units at Garden Club.

“We didn’t go looking for any of this,” Catrambone said. “This was all part of a suit. We negotiated long and hard for this. I’ve said from Day 1, it’s not about the affordable element, it’s about how much more housing can we support.
“Our 365, some of that are new units, some of that is this all-inclusive section at Abrasive Alloy. That was an old industrial site that’s kind of in one of the neighborhoods. We’re in the process of testing to make sure there’s no environmental hazard and if so we can remediate it before this moves forward.” Catrambone said council is pleased with the affordable housing agreement.

“Their (Fair Share Housing) original number was north of 800, then it crept up to above 1,100 and we settled at 365,” he said.

Hundreds of towns across the state — including Medford, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, Cherry Hill, Winslow, Harrison, Maple Shade, Delanco, Edgewater Park, Willingboro and Florence, among others — also have reached settlements with the Cherry Hill-based nonprofit.

This stems from the Mount Laurel doctrine, a court ruling prohibiting municipalities from engaging in zoning practices that exclude low-income residents from attaining affordable homes.
In rulings in 1975 and 1983, the state Supreme Court “declared that municipal land use regulations that prevent affordable housing opportunities for the poor are unconstitutional,” according to the Fair Share Housing Center website.

The Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) was created to implement the Fair Housing Act, but more than three years ago, the state Supreme Court ordered municipalities to draft new affordable housing plans because things had slowed to a crawl over the years.
A March ruling by Superior Court judge Mary C. Jacobson in Mercer County stated municipalities must take steps that could allow for about 155,000 affordable housing units to be built in the state in the next decade.

Delran Mayor Ken Paris has recused himself from matters dealing with affordable housing in town, Catrambone said. There was an anonymous ethics complaint filed against him due to his connection with a commercial real estate salesperson who represented the developer of the Stellwag property. Paris and the broker Jeff Lucas both have a stake in a company, Hadley House LLC, that also owns Ott’s Tavern in Voorhees.

“He had to recuse himself from all of this settlement because all of it involves Stellwag,” said Catrambone, who said Paris did not disclose that Lucas was also a partner at Hadley House and “therefore the mayor in sitting in on the negotiations with council was sitting across the table from his business partner. He never told us until years into it.”

Catrambone also sent a letter to the New Jersey Ethics Commission last month making a request that they investigate previous negotiations involving Paris, Lucas and the developer.
“It took me a while but in the beginning of September, I filed a letter personally,” Catrambone said. As far as Stellwag, Catrambone said the town will enter into a five-year tax abatement with the developers.

“It literally is one year of not paying taxes on the improvements of the fair market value homes,” Catrambone said. “We’ll continue to collect the $30,000 that we collect now for the land. In the fair market value homes, it will be zero the first year then 20 percent, 40 percent, 60 percent, 80 percent then 100 percent. At that point we’ll go from the $30,000 on that land that we collect now to over $1 million. It’s also age-restricted so this will not have any impact on the schools.”

Campisi said the agreement lasts through 2025, but, although the township is required to have the zoning and plans in place, not everything contemplated in the plan needs to be built by then.

Celeste E. Whittaker: @cp_CWhittaker; 856-486-2437; [email protected]

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