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Monday March 19, 2018


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Rocky Hill Affordable Housing Hits The Ground Running

At the December 18 meeting of Rocky Hill Borough Council, Affordable Housing Coordinator Tamara L. Lee presented the results of endless discussions among Borough Council, the Planning Board, the Borough attorney and finally, the Courts.

Rocky Hill like every municipality in the state, has been under the gun to have an approved plan for affordable housing. Affordable housing is a slippery target for a home affordable by a person making less than the average income for the municipality.

This concept has been at first ignored, then forced by the Courts in an series of steps, resulting in what Ms. Lee called "Mt. Laurel 4," in which a municipality could decide to ignore any such requirements, or devise their own affordable housing plan, with the approval of the Court.

Some municipalities have chose to let the chips lie where the fall, resulting in a "builder's remedy," in which a builder sues the town and ends up with 20% of his homes "affordable." In that solution, the four "fair market" homes subsidize the one "affordable" home.

Rocky Hill chose the latter path, under which the Borough, with Court approval, shapes the way a builder can proceed with development.

In this case, Rocky Hill chose to combine this development with the 2018 Master Plan, which Ms. Lee noted, "We don't expect a whole lot of issues with the Borough." The one big change is the Schafer Tract. on Princeton Avenue, currently zoned R-1C (age restricted/traditional neighborhood) which had been approved for as many as 35 units, each massive 4,500 square feet.

Under the new Plan, those would be replaced with as many as 60 units, each 800 to 1,200 square feet, in something called "Cottage Zoning." Ms. Lee noted that Cottage Zoning has never been tried in New Jersey, but it has been successfully done in a few other states.

Under Cottage Zoning, four to 12 units would be tightly clustered together in a group covering under an acre, with some five to seven clusters scattered across the 15.7-acre Schafer Tract. She noted, "Strict architectural standards will be necessary to insure that the design of the cottages as well as the site plan complement the character of Rocky Hill."

The homes shown during the December 18 Borough Council meeting where extremely attractive, and the goal of the architecture is to provide homes that were, "Small, quaint, and adorable." Ms. Lee noted the increasing demand for such homes among Millennials as well as retiring single persons.

The homes would be built on a slab with no basement or garage. There would be a common covered unit available for anyone willing to pay for it. Cars would have to park on the street or in a small parking lot. Most homes would be one or two bedrooms. Three units would be three-bedrooms, as required by the affordable housing rules. The thinking is that the units would be too small for most families with school-aged children.

Ms. Lee said that naturally, she consulted with the Schafer's and that Mr. Schafer, "Thinks he's going to do just fine," with the result.

The of the 60 units, 12 would be affordable housing and the rest fair-market priced. However, Ms. Lee says that the Borough will still have an "unmet need" of 44 units, which is the difference between the previous COAH requirement of 56 units, and the 12 provided by the Schafer Tract rezoning. That will have to be met over time.

One way is to require owners of unlawful apartments, living units converted on the sly and uninspected, to declare them under amnesty, bring them up to code and then be able to rent them as "affordable" for ten years, after which they then become free-market priced.

Borough Council and Ms. Lee said that Court seems ready to sign off on this, pending the changes in the 2018 Master Plan, which is yet to be approved by Borough Council and the Planning Board. However, Borough Council liked it enough to authorize the Clerk and Mayor to sign a settlement agreement fixing the Borough's Affordable Housing Fair Share Obligation from 1987 through 2025.

In any event, the Borough would not be the actual developer. The developer, as yet to be determined, would be responsible for the final architecture and building of the homes, as well as vetting the buyers. All the homes would be in a condo-development system, with common fees for landscaping, etc. The affordable units would be deed-redistricted for 30 years

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