Through a Facebook Live Town Hall, Mayor Keith Kazmark on July 16 detailed the Borough’s plans to satisfy the municipality’s affordable housing obligation.
Overall, plans call for the possibility of 826 prospective, new units to be added in a number of locations with 15% of those being affordable housing and the remainder being market value units. At this stage, these are proposed plans, the mayor noted, and there are no developers currently attached to any projects.
“Affordable housing is an obligation that we are required to meet. I want to make this very clear that this has nothing to do with Section 8 and is not a social assistance project,” Kazmark said, adding that the affordable housing units that are built would be available to those who qualify via an application and lottery system.
The State Supreme Court ruled in early 2017 that New Jersey municipalities must plan to add roughly 150,000 affordable housing units over the next decade. Woodland Park has reached a settlement that has set its affordable housing obligations.
“We don’t have a choice in the matter,” Kazmark said. He added that the Council and he worked to make the best of a very challenging situation as to how they could meet the obligation, while maintaining the character of the municipality, doing what made the most sense, and have the least impact.
The Mayor clarified what would happen if the Borough did not act on this obligation. The Borough would be left open to a builder’s remedy lawsuit if no plan to meet the obligation was put in place and would have little defense in court. Thus, builders would be able to construct what they wished and where, with little to no regulations or limits.
“We need to act so builders do not get a blank slate,” Kazmark said. “It’s a huge consequence to us taking no action.”
A number of sites in the Borough have been identified for development:
• The Council recently rezoned a commercial business district, which runs the stretch of McBride Avenue and allows for the redevelopment of existing buildings. The Borough envisions that approximately 296 units in various locations could be added through such redevelopment, where a building is made to house a commercial use on the ground level and residential units on the upper level.
• The Kearfott site on McBride Avenue is one that the Mayor and Council envisions to be a mix of commercial and residential similar to The Promenade on Rt. 208 in Fair Lawn. Here, there are plans to have new construction of 413 units, with 62 of those being for affordable housing. Defense contractor Kearfott, a long time commercial resident in town, once had over 3,000 employees on the site, but now only has 140 there, and they are looking to relocate.
• The Bank of America location off Rifle Camp Road has also been identified as one that could be rezoned for residential use. As large “commercial office buildings are going out of style,” Kazmark said. As he further explained, there is a possibility of converting this building at some time down the road. The plan for this site would be approximately 360 units, with 54 of those as affordable housing. The Mayor also said that he and the Council have taken the concerns of local residents into account, and they are including a protected buffer zone which safeguards the forested areas around the property from being developed.
• Finally, the Marino property has been identified for the development of approximately 53 units, with eight of those being affordable housing. The property sits between the Peckman River and Memorial Drive along Lackawanna Avenue. “We are very aware these are flood prone areas,” Kazmark said, and should development occur, it would be following the approvals of the Department of Environmental Protection and the Planning Board.
Those watching Facebook Live posted their comments and concerns throughout the hour about local school district impact, infrastructure, taxes, and emergency services.
“It’s very hard to predict at this point the school impact,” the Mayor noted. He said that the project would depend on a developer’s plans and that each project would be worked out on a case-by-case basis as it came to fruition. “Obviously we want this to have the least impact to our schools.” The school district, he said, is beginning to talk again about the possibility of reopening School #1 for district use. School #1 is currently being rented out to a charter school.
The Facebook Live video is available at www.facebook.com/keith.kazmark.3 .
(The State Supreme Court took over regulation of the state's affordable housing in 2015 after the state Council on Affordable Housing failed to adopt new rules in 1999. In 2015, the courts ruled for towns to manage these needs, and state judiciary has overseen affordable housing obligations since. Towns must now take into consideration the need for housing that existed between 1999 and 2015.)
“If we want to discuss who is responsible for this situation, it’s the New Jersey Legislature and multiple former governors. They’ve failed to lead and failed to legislate this issue. They’ve pushed the responsibility to the courts and it is never good for judges to be legislating from the bench. But on this one, it is what it is and we are working to make a difficult situation fit into our long term vision for the town as best we can,” said Kazmark.