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On Wednesday, April 12 Moorestown received a final Judgment of Compliance and Repose on our Housing Element and Fair Share Plan. This is great news for Moorestown, but affordable housing is a complex topic, and there is a lot of confusion about the plan and what it means for Moorestown.
The Judgment of Compliance and Repose is critically important for our town for two reasons. First, it means we have met our constitutional obligation to provide a realistic opportunity for the development of affordable housing in our community. But significantly, it also means that we are protected from “builder’s remedy” lawsuits. A builder's remedy is imposed by the courts when municipalities fail to provide opportunity for sufficient affordable housing and results in the municipality, planning board and zoning board losing all control over zoning. In other words, a builder’s remedy could mean high-density, many-storied housing complexes being added ANYWHERE property can be obtained, regardless of how that property has been used in the past and what nearby property is used for. Historically, municipalities almost always lose builder’s remedy lawsuits, so this judgment provides critical zoning and economic protection for the future of Moorestown.
Our affordable housing plan is substantially based upon the March 2018 settlement between the Township and Fair Share housing Center (https://bit.ly/MoorestownAHSettlement). It includes existing affordable housing, proposed new development, and mechanisms to address the need for housing over and above the available land for development. The settlement agreement set Moorestown’s affordable housing obligation at 1,167 units. However, because the Township does not have sufficient vacant land available to develop that number of units, the settlement set a reduced number of 633 units that can be produced from available land, which is referred to as the realistic development potential (RDP). The difference between our obligation (1,167) and RDP (633) is 534 units; this difference is called our “unmet need."
Legally, the Township has an obligation to create a realistic opportunity to meet RDP (633 units) by the year 2025. Our plan to meet this obligation includes seven new development sites, community housing options, homes that will be sold at below market rates to qualifying families and the option for homeowners to add accessory rental apartments to existing homes. Of the new developments, most will be a mix of market rate and affordable, or workforce, rental housing.
Our 2018 settlement addresses unmet need through the creation of overlay zones that permit the development of residential uses as an option to the existing commercial use at the Moorestown Mall, the KMart Plaza and the Lenola Town Center. Residential development in the overlay districts is not required, but if it does occur, one in five of the new residential units must be set aside as an affordable unit. Critically, residential development in the overlay zones ONLY counts toward unmet need; it does not count toward the 633 units of RDP. So even if we added 534 affordable units to the 3 overlay zones, we would STILL have an obligation to add an additional 633 units to meet RDP.
Residential development at the Moorestown Mall will likely start later this year. There are a total of 375 units planned, 75 of which will be set aside as affordable, reducing our unmet need to 459. The overlay zoning at the mall permits additional residential development ONLY if significant portions of the mall are demolished. The owners of the mall (PREIT) are investing in developing new commercial opportunities at the mall and Cooper Health is building a new facility where Sears used to be, so that level of demolition is not happening in the foreseeable future. We’ve seen misleading articles stating that there will be over 1000 units built at the mall, but we want it to be clear that that level of development will not be permitted until and unless most of the mall is demolished.
One of the new RDP development sites planned is the property near the corner of Borton Landing and Hartford Road. That property is owned by Lockheed Martin and, although currently leased for farming, it is zoned for industrial use. This property was proposed to the Township in exchange for the Nagle tract (corner of Hartford Road and Centerton Road) after Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Navy identified national security risks with developing residential units at that location (letters available here.) Plans for that site include 152 units, 76 of which would be affordable units if the Township can obtain appropriate funding. If we are unable to obtain funding, the total number of units won’t change, but only 46 will be affordable and the Township will need to purchase more homes to sell at below market rate, at significantly more expense to the taxpayers.