Board of commissioners move step closer on affordable housing project

Resolutions allow for borough and developer to receive funds for future use.

At its most recent public session, Haddonfield’s board of commissioners passed a pair of resolutions that will allow the borough, as well as its chosen affordable-housing developer, to gain access to state funds that can be used to fulfill state-mandated housing obligations. 

During that June 23 virtual meeting, the three-member body of commissioners indicated that the legislation — called resolutions of need — will allow the borough to satisfy a deadline set forth by the Fair Share Housing Commission (FSHC) on the municipality’s plans for the project known as the Snowden lot. 

The project originally planned for 28 units on a plot of land measuring less than an acre behind borough hall. Nearby residents have raised concerns with borough governance for months, to the point where alternate solutions intended to reduce the project’s footprint have been undertaken. 

“In an effort to reduce density there, we’ve engaged in ongoing negotiations with Fair Share Housing, and they agreed to permit consideration of reducing the lot number at Snowden, if and when we were able to show progress towards identifying other sites throughout the borough,” said Commissioner Colleen Bianco Bezich.

Commissioners have since passed legislation altering zoning in certain portions of the downtown core, in anticipation of placing affordable-housing units within already existing structures in low density. 

Bezich further related that borough governance has been diligent in assessing alternate locations for housing and negotiating with buyers and sellers of borough properties, in order to add to the potential pool of units. But complications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic altered plans. 

“Under negotiations with FSHC, we were under a number of deadlines,” Bezich explained. “The first of which was July 1, to meet our fair-share obligations for Snowden. We had just had our fair share hearing on Feb, 20, not even a month before we went under a stay-at-home-order, and that severely restricted our ability to move on anything.”

The borough requested that FSHC consider an extension, and after a prolonged period of intercommunication, the commission ultimately agreed, per Bezich, as long as borough officials  proved they were working toward meeting the 28-unit obligation. 

Although the borough offered that proof, FSHC’s extension was contingent upon certain conditions and considerations; one of which is the submission of an application for funding from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA).  

“In February, the DCA introduced a pot of money, $60 million, for what’s called ‘balanced housing,’ which did not exist for many years,” Bezich said. “But this money is for projects of 25 units or smaller.

“The announcement of this money was really exciting for us. The problem was, it was announced right before we went under the emergency health declaration,” she added. 

“So we started talking to (appointed affordable-housing developer) Community Investment Strategies Inc. (CIS) on whether or not we could submit an application. We asked them to research the process, connect with DCA, find out if anyone had yet to go in for those funds, and what they thought our chances would be of going for it.

“We have worked diligently with them, to put together a package to access that funding for 25 units, and apply that to the Snowden project.”

In order to submit the application — whose deadline, according to Mayor Neal Rochford, is July 6 — the three-member legislative body and CIS had to first pass resolutions of need for any borough-owned parcels considered for the Snowden project. 

To meet the requirements for state funding, the Snowden plan has been split into two sections: an 18- or 19-unit chunk behind borough hall, and a five- to six-unit chunk on the Boxwood Hall site. 

“It’s not set in stone,” Bezich said. “It would enable us to create a total project that is borough owned, borough controlled, and that we can move forward with new construction.”

One resident at the meeting expressed clear disagreement with the units being planned for Boxwood, the 18th-century structure built by John Estaugh Hopkins, saying: “This is not right, what’s being done here. It’s sacrosanct.”

Bezich responded by noting a political reality faced by the borough: The $60 million offered by the state may disappear if no one in the borough fights for its inclusion, and all affordable-housing projects may be further postponed.

Commissioner Jeffrey Kasko offered further clarification on the resolutions, saying they do not approve a number of units, set any construction or architectural plans in place or create new zoning for the parcels. 

“Those will be for future commissioner meetings, and I anticipate future planning board meetings, and we anticipate there will be plenty of time for public participation and public hearing on this stuff,” he said. “Because I know there may be one or two members of the public who think we might be trying to sneak this in during the summer.”

In other news

  • In accordance with its usual monthly schedule, the board of commissioners will have only one public meeting in each of the next two months: July 20 at 7:30 p.m. and Aug. 17 at 7:30 p.m., with work sessions occurring at 4 p.m. on those dates.
  • Rochford gave his consent to have Borough Administrator Sharon McCullough investigate ways for restaurants utilizing outdoor seating to be allowed a canopy, tent, or other sheltering structure to protect diners from sun, rain and wind. Guidelines will be temporary, until restrictions related to COVID-19 are lifted and dining can again take place indoors. Borough solicitor Mario Iavicoli emphasized that any guidelines should be temporary, lest they run contrary to existing borough laws.