Eye On Riverdale

NJ State League of Municipalities Weighs in On COAH’s Revised Third Round Rules

By on September 22, 2014

If you read EOR’s history lesson on Affordable Housing in NJ, you may recall that the COAH release their Revised Third Round Rules on May 1st, 2014. The deadline for the public to submit comments on the Revised Third Round Rules was August 1st. Complying with this the NJ State League of Municipalities submitted their comments in letter form on July 31st.

The rules are divided into 2 sections; Procedural Rules and Substantive. The Procedural Rules pertain to how municipalities and other stakeholders in the affordable housing arena, submit plans, information, objections, and the timing for which each must be completed. The Substantive Rules pertain to how a municipality’s affordable housing obligations are calculated and how they can be met. In all the League commented on 47 specific rules and included 6 additional general comments. For the purpose of this article, we will discuss just a few of the more important comments. You can obtain a PDF copy of the actual letter by clicking here.

In the Procedure Rules, I noticed 2 things that the League identified and seemed be very important to the over process.

The first was request to include requirements for all parties wishing to add or remove their property from a municipality’s affordable housing plan to submit an economic feasibility study. Although the letter does not explain why they want this included, it is apparent that they are concerned, as the rules are written, an objection could be submitted without supporting data. This could significantly delay a execution of an affordable housing plan and result in unnecessary costs. This is important to Riverdale because, as I understand it, 2 of the 3 affordable housing sites in our current plan are privately owned with operating businesses on them. The third is the old Verizon site on the Newark-Pompton Turnpike which was already acquired by the borough using our money from our COAH Trust Fund.

The second was regarding the timing to fill stated obligations. Current the proposed rules indicate affordable housing requirements for each municipality that must be fulfilled by December 31, 2024. The League is asking that a municipality be granted a 10-year period of compliance from the date that COAH approves their affordable housing plan. In other words, if a municipality receives approval on their plan from COAH in 2020, they would have until 2030 to complete the plan. As the rules are written today, they would have only 4 years to execute the plan; an impossible task for any municipality. This is something that I believe the League cannot compromise on. Knowing how lawsuits from objectors and the historical slow responses from COAH itself can delay plan approvals (think about how long it will take for this small agency to approved 565 revised plans), most municipalities would be left with far too little time to complete their proposed developments.

The Substantive Rules is where the rubber meets the road, it includes a list of each municipalities obligations as calculated by COAH and provides the allowable means, procedures and restrictions for meeting these.

The first comments cover objections for the means in which a municipality can fulfill it’s obligation. The prior Third Round Rules, which we thrown out by the courts after 12 years of lawsuits, included such means as accessory apartment programs, market to affordable programs, assisted living residences, affordable housing partnerships, the extension of expiring controls as well as others not cited. The Revised Third Round Rules cites only zoning as the preferred means.  As inadequate as this sounds, its important to note that alternate means such as those listed above were at the center of a number of lawsuits that lead the demise of the prior version of the Third Round Rules. The League claims that narrowing the scope discourages innovation in the manner in which municipalities can meet their obligations.

The next series of comments targeted how the Unanswered Prior Round Obligations are calculated. This is the starting figure which COAH uses to determine the COAH obligation from 2014-2024 in the Revised Third Round Rules. It examines all prior obligations and makes adjustments based on the current proposed rules. Many municipalities received affordable housing credits by complying with prior round rules only to see them voided in the new proposed rules. Logic would dictate that these credits should remain in place, but logic doesn’t always find a home in the world of law and politics. There are too many means for establishing credits that have been removed to address here but one worth noting is Region Contribution Agreements (RCAs). This is where one municipality could buy credits (transfer obligations) from a nearby municipality for a fixed amount through a written agreement. RCA’s were abolished by Governor Corzine just before he left office but the fate of the credit had already obtained through them have been unclear. Now it seems that COAH does not intend on recognizing them. This does not affect Riverdale but many others would be adversely affected; contracts were executed, monies were transferred, and now the credits are being voided.

EOR does not yet have a written document from COAH showing our previous obligation but, at the June 17, 2013 Council Meeting, Mayor Budesheim stated the borough’s remaining obligation was 139 units; this was documented in an article in the Suburban Trends.  According to the proposed Revised Third Round Rules, if adopted, Riverdale’s Unanswered Prior Round Obligation would be 68 units.  After all adjustments Riverdale’s projected obligation for affordable housing from 2014-2024 would be 26. Click the link below to see how COAH calculated Riverdale’s projected obligation from 2014-20124.

Riverdale’s COAH Obligation

As you can see our projected need started at 97 and, after adding and subtracting units, arrived at 84 before the “Cap Limit Adjustment”. The Cap Limit Adjustment sets a limit to the number of units any municipality can be required to develop in a 10 year period at 1000, something that would only come into play in much larger municipalities. It then takes into account a municipality’s real estate available for development, this is where Riverdale really benefits.  The big question is, if our projected need is reduced to 26 because of our a “buildable limit”, how then can we answer our prior unanswered obligation of 68?  My understanding is that this also being reviewed and will be addressed before the final rules are adopted.

As I said before, the Third Round Rules were delayed by 3 years then tied up in the courts for 12 more. We can fully expect the lawsuits to be filed the day the Revised Third Round Rules are adopted. The affordable housing advocates say the numbers are too low, many municipalities say the numbers are too high. The good news is, all of our neighboring states have affordable housing legislation that takes into consideration the amount of real estate municipality has available for development. This clause only benefits Riverdale as we have very little land left to develop. Keep your fingers crossed and your eye on Eye on Riverdale for the latest COAH news.

Posted in: COAH & Riverdale

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