It seems that the Bernards Township Committee continues to point and blame rather than listen and respond to the residents with respect to meeting the township’s Affordable Housing obligations. First came the Millington Quarry redevelopment plan mentioned by Mr. Carpenter at the Candidates’ Debate last October. He boasted that the Township Committee (TC) would be unveiling a great plan which would serve not only to attract millennials but also to solve the township’s Affordable Housing obligations. When the enormous scale of that high-density “Quarry City” was actually revealed, residents revolted. So, as Election Day neared, the Township Committee “listened”; hit the brakes; and shelved “Quarry City.
Did they learn from this mistake? No. Not at all. In March, after approving a 222-unit development, the Township Committee learned that the town would still fall short of its Affordable Housing obligation. When Joan Harris asked for an estimate of that obligation in June, the TC remained silent until pressed again in July, when they insisted that they couldn’t provide it. Then, out of the blue, the TC announced two contestants and hosted a reality game show where the outcome had already been determined, with the winning developer being fast tracked to rezoning approval for an even larger development.
Residents complained of this process so the Township Committee once again passed the buck. They rewound the tired old tape and blamed the courts and the legislature. They cried that they were forced to rezone prime commercial property and adopt a builder’s remedy-like solution for the 280-unit development at Mountainview. More recently, a committee member blamed a bipartisan, grassroots group of citizens called, “Stop the Quarry Plan,” for the 502 new housing units approved this year. Of interest, however, she admitted that the Township Committee had been well aware of the range of affordable housing units more than a year ago, and the developer of the Quarry had agreed to accommodate whatever the final number might be. Unfortunately, this range wasn’t shared with the public. Rather, it was discussed behind closed doors, first with the committee’s hand-picked Quarry developer, and then with other developers–all of whom were vying for approval to build 186-200+ unit developments.
Joan Harris stated, “Now, don’t get us wrong; we believe the Affordable Housing Statute requires improvement, and we are all for bipartisan review and amendment. However, we disagree that this statute is all about bringing ‘outsiders’ into our town. We see it as a means to allow moderate-income members of our community, such as teachers, seniors and police officers, to live here. We believe a balance can be achieved to reach the goal of affordable housing without over-developing our town in a manner that unduly burdens our community or harms our environment.” Harris continued, “It seems clear–the Township Committee doesn’t believe they need to fully inform us or allow us to participate in the process. It appears they believe they know what’s best for us. They put all their eggs in the Quarry basket; and when it wasn’t embraced by the community that they had left out of the process, they had to scramble to come up with a last minute ‘over-development’ plan.”
Robert Mascia added, “The Bernards Township Committee seems to just want to blame Trenton. But the reality is that it’s up to municipalities to understand the rules and what residents want for their town; then plan accordingly and implement to avoid the builder’s remedy solution. Our Township Committee did none of that. They held tight to try and avoid a certainty and failed. Then they negotiated poorly with a developer to avoid the ramifications of not meeting the quota. And now, once again, our town is stuck with their bad decisions. We need a better way and a fair process, because ‘rinse and repeat’ is only good when you’ve perfected the process.”
The settlement will not be finalized until there is a fairness hearing in Somerville.