Housing report

Morristown delivers report on affordable housing, after non-profit threatens to demand development halt

After a nonprofit lawsuit to stop all development in Morristown, city officials have provided an overdue report they say proves the city is meeting its affordable housing obligation.

In a civil suit, the Fair Housing Center of Cherry Hill last month asked a Superior Court judge to prohibit current and future Morristown projects until a progress report, due last July, is filed that shows the town fulfilled commitments made in a 2017 settlement.

Morristown provided this update this week, according to the center’s lawyer Bassam F. Gergi, who is now asking the court to push back a hearing this month so he can review the document.

“I think we hope this will be resolved amicably and quickly,” Gergi said on Friday.

city ​​administrator Jillian Barrick said Morristown is in compliance and on track to exceed its obligation through a variety of projects, including a potential development that could produce 21 affordable units on the remaining 2.3 acres of the M station office/retail complex rising up Morris and Spring streets.

The vacant plot faces Spring Street off Bishop Nazery Way, the administrator said. To date, no request has been filed, she said.

Barrick also defended the mayor Tim Doughertywho cited his affordable housing record during his successful primary campaign last month. He is seeking a fourth term.

“Morristown is proud to have been one of the first municipalities in Morris County to settle with the Fair Share Housing Center,” said Barrick. “Tim Dougherty is the first mayor in Morristown’s history to propose and implement an affordable housing plan to meet Morristown’s constitutional obligation.

“Since the settlement, Morristown has approved additional sites not even contemplated by the settlement agreement to provide even more affordable housing,” Barrick said.

She did not explain why the four-page report, now posted on the the city website, was a year late. The center says it sued because the city ignored its requests for an update.

The nonprofit Fair Share Housing Center has been advocating for housing for New Jersey’s poor since 1975.

WRENCH?

If the court sides with the center, the lawsuit could potentially prevent M Station from proceeding.

He could also throw an adjustable wrench into a apartment offer pending on South Street, the city plans to condemn an old lumber yard to be used as a park and a massive redevelopment considered for vacant storefronts along North Park Place near Morristown Green, among other projects.

Morristown made a commitment in 2017 to provide affordable housing in several redevelopment projects by October 2019.

“When cities or Welsh deviate from these commitments, they must be prepared for the consequences and swift and resolute judicial intervention. What’s at stake is nothing
less than the constitutional rights of low-income New Jerseyans to have a safe, decent, and affordable place to live — and the dignity that goes with it,” Gergi said in the lawsuit.

Part of that welshing, according to the lawsuit, involves the city’s approval of M Station to replace a strip mall at Spring and Morris streets. A 2008 redevelopment plan called for apartments, which were to produce 40 affordable units.

The city never presented plans to compensate for those lost units, the lawsuit alleges.

M Station developers pledged to pay $2.5 million to the city’s affordable housing trust fund. City officials hailed the project as a boost for the city. It is expected to bring a Blue Chip tenant (the Big Four accounting firm Deloitte), hundreds of employees, millions in tax revenue and road improvements.

Additionally, the lawsuit questions why the city is only requiring a 12.5% ​​affordable set-aside for proposed station apartments, instead of a minimum of 15%, as mandated in 2017.

Until Morristown abides by this court-approved settlement, the lawsuit says, the court should impose “limits on scarce resources” – curbing new developments to prevent more affordable housing opportunities from disappearing.

Lawsuit could halt development of Morristown by seeking to…

  • “suspend vesting” in all land use and site plan approvals
  • prohibit the city from developing land and from acquiring, disposing of and disposing of land and interests in land
  • prevent municipal authorities and councils from approving subdivisions, site plans, variances, variances and substantial alterations to private or public land.
  • prohibit the city from rezoning any public or private land and from adopting or modifying any redevelopment or rehabilitation plan.

The Fair Share Housing Center is also asking the city to reimburse its legal and court costs.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING: IN NUMBERS

The courts assumed oversight of municipal compliance with Mount Laurel’s housing obligations after the state Supreme Court declared the state Affordable Housing Council moribund in 2015.

Morristown and many other cities then asked for rulings on their compliance, triggering negotiations with the Fair Share Housing Center.

The center’s 2017 deal with Morristown, AHS Investment Corp. and Homeless Solutions Inc. determined that the city’s “fair share” obligation was 369 affordable units or credits.

Morristown claimed there was only enough vacant land to accommodate 141 of these units. To begin to meet the remaining obligation, the city highlighted proposed redevelopment projects for Spring Street, Morris Street, the station car park and Speedwell Avenue.

Combined, those plans were to produce at least 90 units, via a “builder’s remedy” stipulating affordable set-asides of 15% of rental projects and 20% of housing developments for sale, the lawsuit says.

A phase of the Speedwell redevelopment is embroiled in litigation. But Morristown’s report says 142 promised affordable units are built or under construction, with another 80 planned.

These include 16 units in four developments that were not contemplated by the 2017 settlement. Nominations are for 190 South St./31-33 Market St., 45 Morris St., 28 Schuyler Place and 5 South Park Place / 2 and 10 South St.

Advance Morristown projects and their affordable units. Source: Morristown Mid-Term Review, July 2, 2021.