Bond decision put on hold

By AUBRIE GEORGE | The Moorestown Sun

Council will take a break from considering a $1.4 bond ordinance to purchase land at Main Street and Marter Avenue after officials voted to withdraw it from the agenda at last week’s meeting.

Township Solicitor Thomas J. Coleman III advised Council to remove the ordinance, which has been up for final adoption for the past two Council meetings, while the Council explores alternative sites and continues to discuss options in fulfilling the third-round COAH obligations.

“I would ask that until you look at the various options, that you not move forward on this particular bond ordinance,” Coleman said.

Mayor Dan Roccato said officials were not yet ready to make a decision until they sift through new information and get the facts about all of their options.

“We’re not ready just yet,” Roccato said. “We have a variety of options on the table.”

Officials said Council would continue to discuss the township’s COAH obligations and plan in closed session later that evening.

In the meantime, Roccato urged residents to visit the township’s Web site, where a fact sheet about COAH and Moorestown’s obligations has been posted.

“Our goal is to make sure that we get all of the facts out,” Roccato said. “We have one agenda and that is doing the right thing for Moorestown.”

The township first considered the bond ordinance at its Aug. 31 meeting, where officials said it would put the funds in place to potentially use the nearly three-acre parcel to build approximately 50 units toward its obligation to build 412 affordable housing units by 2018.

The township already owns the Maybury tract and the Nagle tract, both of which were purchased in the late 1980s. The township originally hoped to build about 180 units on both tracts.

However, engineering studies initiated by residents in the Wexford neighborhood indicate that the Maybury tract may not be as developable as the township thought due to environmental constraints.

In addition, the township recently lost 18 units of its proposed plan when COAH only approved 78 of 96 requested credits that it had reviewed on Beech Street.

To help fulfill the obligations, Council had planned to use 96 existing units owned by MEND (Moorestown Ecumenical Neighborhood Development) as credits toward their requirements. However, COAH officials only deemed 78 of those units as eligible — leaving the plan 18 units short.

Council was looking at purchasing land at Main Street and Marter Avenue to potentially build on if they needed to.

The township did not have an agreement to purchase the land, but had been in talks with a developer who has plans to purchase the property from the owner.

Some residents protested using the site, which is currently owned by the DeMarco family, for residential use because it is currently zoned as commercial and tax ratable properties could be built on the land instead.

Council members said they have reviewed at least a dozen other sites this year to build additional units on.

The township does not yet have an approved COAH plan but officials said they continue to explore options to meet the 412 until obligation before the Dec. 15 deadline to amend and submit Moorestown’s plan.

While discussion last week was halted, Roccato told residents that Council would “absolutely be discussing affordable housing” before the township’s Dec. 15 deadline to submit an amended plan.

Before the meeting ended, Roccato reiterated residents that Council would comply with their COAH plan, and also that members are very sensitive and plugged in to any impact the plan will have on existing neighbors, that they are interested in seeking locations that are in proximity to services and also that they are focused on the plan’s impact to taxpayers.

In other news:

n Council is examining its options in delivering health care to township employees with the help of AJM Healthcare Consulting Services.

Council members explained that they have recruited AJM’s help to sift through their options and examine the different methods of delivering health care and benefits.

Currently, the township is part of a trust with other municipalities, but other options could include using insurance brokers, jumping onto the state health-care plan or employing a self-funded health-care system.

AJM associates are currently gathering information, and depending on how that phase goes, could issue a report to Council in as early as 30 days.

Roccato said that Council’s goal was to reduce the costs of health care while not impacting the quality of township employees’ benefits and health care.

“Our employees have a very good health plan, but the reality is that comes at a very high price,” he said. “This is a journey, this is not a destination and we will be on this road for a long time.”

Council is scheduled to meet again on Monday, Nov. 9 at 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium of the William Allen Middle School.