The second reading of an ordinance to amend the township’s zoning districts to add a section entitled “Affordable Housing Districts” was passed at its meeting Monday, July 22, after having been tabled at the previous week’s meeting at the request of Voorhees Township residents who live nearby the proposed affordable housing units.
Township residents who had attended the Monday, July 15 meeting had requested the additional time to discuss the project with representatives of The Michaels Organization, with whom they later met with prior to the July 22 meeting.
The Council on Affordable Housing is in the third round of its rules for determining how many “low- and moderate-income homes” are to be available across the state each year, which each municipality being assigned a certain number while being able to negotiate that number down.
The Mount Laurel II decision, made by the state Supreme Court, determined that states must provide a “realistic opportunity” for such housing within its borders.
According to multiple township officials, the original number of units that Voorhees Township was set to be responsible for was more than 2,000 when first discussed over two years ago. However the number has since been negotiated down to approximately 500 to 525 units. Of the units required, approximately 200 are to be newly constructed.
Voorhees Township Committee passed the second reading of an ordinance to approve amending the township’s zoning district by a 4-1 vote July 22. If the township does not allow for such projects within the time span of this round of COAH units, developers would be able to potentially bring litigation against the township in an action titled “Builder’s Remedy,” allowing for the construction of housing projects without discussion from the township.
Committeeman Michael Freidman voted to pass the ordinance, although he said it is not something he agrees with.
“I will vote ‘yes’ on this ordinance, but begrudgingly,” said Freidman. “It is state law that we comply with our COAH requirements, we don’t have a choice.”
Freidman stated he would support state legislation that would take a look at individual municipalities to evaluate proposed affordable housing units’ effect on traffic, crime, schools, population and other components.
“New Jersey is already the most densely population state in the country, and what they’re doing [with this] is wrong,” said Freidman. “But, having said that, we have two options, one worse than the other, because if we say ‘no’ and that we’re not complying … we lose all control over what goes where and the management of it. We would have many, many more housing units as opposed to just 81.”
Deputy Mayor Michelle Nocito was the only committeeperson to vote “no” on the ordinance, stating she would have liked to have taken a better look at other locations in the township for the affordable housing units.
According to Committeeman Harry Platt in an interview with The Sun after the meeting, the committee is not opposed to affordable housing, however the potential construction of any new developments in general poses a serious problem within the township.
“It’s not a question of not wanting to build affordable housing, but at this point in the township’s development, we don’t want to build any new housing because we’re so lopsided in how this town is developed,” said Platt. “[Voorhees] is about 76 percent residential, with a mix of commercial and industrial.
“The biggest problem is that people who know nothing about Voorhees, know nothing about our town and know nothing about the fact that we are 98 percent developed already, are telling us that we have to build hundreds of units of housing as required by law,” added Platt. “That’s not realistic in a planning aspect for a state, or a court, they shouldn’t be able to have the power to make a town do that, which is basically overdevelop the town.”
At the township’s Planning Board meeting Wednesday, July 24, Michaels Organization presented its plans for the project, which is to construct nine two-story affordable housing units on the roughly eight-acre property.
According to Director of Community and Economic Development Mario DiNatale, in discussions with Michaels Organization, it is estimated that an additional 30 to 50 students may be added between Voorhees Township Public Schools and Eastern Regional High School due to the complex. The township has reportedly already met with each school district, and no additional staff changes are expected to be needed.