Hopewell Township says it has reached a settlement “in principle” with three separate landowners who are interested parties in its affordable housing litigation, according to a statement from the township.
The agreements are intended to help end the township’s ongoing litigation at a Mercer County Superior Court trial with the Fair Share Housing Center over their obligations to zone for affordable housing. The Fair Share Housing Center, a Cherry Hill-based nonprofit appointed by the state to litigate on behalf of people who need affordable housing, is arguing that many towns need to act more urgently and decisively to satisfy their fair share obligations.
Many other Mercer County towns—including East Windsor, Robbinsville and Lawrence—have recently settled with the Fair Share Housing Center. If Hopewell joins these towns in settling, West Windsor will be the only Mercer County town left fighting the Fair Share Housing Center in court.
Hopewell’s settlement agreements are part of a broader affordable housing plan that seeks to address the township’s present and prospective need in COAH’s third round, which covers the 26 years from 1999 to 2025.
Hopewell already has a number of credits towards its third-round affordable housing needs, according to the township’s statement. It will have approximately 10 years to fulfill the balance of its obligations.
By reaching settlements with all intervenors—landowners who meet criteria for properties that could serve as affordable housing sites—in sewer-service areas, the township retains control of the development process moving forward.
Township attorney Linda Galella said these settlements will help ensure Hopewell maintains control of the affordable housing process to preserve its rural character, something that has been a major point of concern for town officials.
Another growing concern for township officials was the mounting trial costs. According to the township, Hopewell’s Committee has been defending the town’s interests in the trail while also significantly increasing its 2017 budget allocation for affordable housing.
Each day of the trial has cost the five participating Mercer County municipalities approximately $15,000, split five ways. With Lawrence and East Windsor agreeing to settle in recent months and bowing out of the trial—and Princeton in the final stages of settlement discussions—these costs are now split amongst the remaining municipalities.
Galella added that standard settlement agreements also typically provide a provision for reducing a municipality’s obligations or give credit towards future COAH rounds, if the court or legislature takes action to reduce the required number of affordable housing units.
“Hopewell Township will benefit from these decisions, without incurring substantial additional litigation expense,” Galella said.
The township committee has also asked the planning board to determine if the three aggregate parcels meet the state standard of “areas in need of redevelopment.” This designation would give the township greater control over any resulting development, and it would also deliver a 33 percent bonus credit for each affordable housing unit, according to the township’s statement. COAH’s rules require that municipalities expedite the municipal development reviews for affordable housing.
Hopewell’s settlements will be filed with Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobsen, who will review the proposed settlements and schedule a fairness hearing if they meet the court’s requirements. This hearing will be open to the public, intervenors and other interested parties, and the public will be notified in advance of the hearing date.