A Fairness Hearing will be held to determine whether to approve Hopewell Township’s proposed Affordable Housing settlement. The hearing will be held before Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobsen on Monday, Aug. 28 at 10 a.m.
Hopewell Township has reached a settlement with three separate landowners who are interested parties in its Affordable Housing litigation, including two intervenors and the Fair Share Housing Center. These agreements follow settlements in other Mercer County towns—including Ewing, Hamilton, Robbinsville, East Windsor and Lawrence—and are intended to help end the litigation at a trial in Mercer County Superior Court.
The settlement agreements are part of a broader Affordable Housing plan that seeks to address Hopewell Township’s present and prospective need in COAH’s third round, which covers the 26 years from 1999 to 2025.
As part of the agreement, the parties agreed that the township has a prior round obligation of 520 units (which it has fully met) for the 12 years ending in 1999, and a 26-year third round prospective need and expanded present need obligation of 1,141 units.
After credits from prior rounds and anticipated bonus credits, the township anticipates being responsible for 653 affordable housing units, of which up to 164 may be age-restricted. This includes a new Continuing Care and Rehabilitation Center, which will be constructed adjacent to Capital Health and enhance the services offered to township residents and others in the region.
The settlements have been filed with Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobsen. She will review the proposed settlements, and determine at the fairness hearing whether they meet the court’s requirements. This hearing will be open to the public, intervenors and other interested parties.
Hopewell will have a number of years to fulfill its obligations, and will continue to provide a realistic opportunity for building affordable housing in the township by keeping in-place any site-specific zoning adopted or relied upfront in connection with the compliance mechanisms approved as part of this settlement agreement through 2025 and beyond.
By reaching settlements with all intervenors in sewer-service areas, Hopewell will have greater control of the development process moving forward and will be immune from Builders Remedy lawsuits which otherwise could be allowed.
“Hopewell Township has worked hard to preserve its rural character and we wanted to ensure that we maintain control of the development process moving forward,” township attorney Linda Galella said. “This settlement achieves that, and also helps avoid the unchecked development associated with Builders Remedy lawsuits.”
The Hopewell Township Committee has been defending the township’s interests in this trial and significantly increased its 2017 budget allocation for Affordable Housing. However, 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, these costs would now be split amongst the remaining municipalities. An extended appeals process would also be expensive.
“Importantly, standard settlement agreements typically provide a provision for reducing a municipality’s obligations and/or giving credit towards future COAH rounds, if either the court or legislature ultimately takes action to reduce the required number of affordable housing units,” Galella said. “Hopewell Township will benefit from these decisions, without incurring substantial additional litigation expense.”