Mayor Higgins’ 51-second, 805 housing-unit massacre

How long does it take to add 805 new housing units to Clinton Township, if the mayor and council don’t tell anyone they’re doing it?

How long does it take to add 400 new housing units just in the tiny Village of Annandale?

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How long does it take to massacre the character of semi-rural Clinton Township with Mayor John Higgins’ new policy of Bring On The Sprawl! — without a word of warning to the public?

The 51-second massacre

On Dec. 13, 2017, at the last Clinton Township council meeting of the year, in the last minute of the meeting, Mayor John Higgins — who just got re-elected — and the council took exactly 51 seconds to vote to sign a legal settlement deal with the Fair Share Housing Center (FSHC) obligating the town to add 805 new housing units at any cost necessary to Clinton Township.

(The full recording of the meeting is available on the Clinton Township website, but there is no mention of the settlement deal until the very end of the recording.)

No details about the deal were ever discussed in public.

“I didn’t.”

At the January 3, 2018 meeting, Mayor Higgins was asked:

“When did you present this settlement agreement to the public in any meaningful detail prior to taking action on December 13?”

Higgins answered, very softly:

“I didn’t.”

That’s not how open, transparent government is supposed to work.

How many new housing units?

Under State law, like other New Jersey municipalities, Clinton Township has an obligation to provide a certain number of affordable housing units.

Under the FSHC settlement deal, the Township has agreed to provide 373 actual, new affordable housing units, above and beyond any affordables it has already earned credit for. That’s supposed to settle the obligation without any extra housing the Township doesn’t don’t need or want.

To put 373 housing units in perspective, The Mews in Annandale, behind Cryan’s Tavern, is 221 units.

The Mews — An “inclusionary” development. 221 housing units, Only 35 are affordable.

So why did Higgins and his council sign up for 809 new units?

Smart towns avoid inclusionary sprawl

For the past decade, New Jersey towns have diligently focused on building their own municipal affordable units, usually in cooperation with a special affordable-housing builder who builds just those units and nothing more.

Previously, towns got suckered into letting commercial housing developers — think Hovnanian, Pulte — build their affordable units. Such inclusionary developments require towns to give a bonus to those developers. For every affordable unit they build, the developers are allowed to build 4 or 5 more units of market-priced housing. That’s 80% market and 20% affordable.

(The Mews is a >5:1 market:affordable development put up by Charles Kushner, who later went to jail. Yes, that Kushner — the father.)

Clearly, that kind of deal sucks for a town. But it’s actually worse. To provide that kind of unit yield to the developer, it often means re-zoning a property that might be allowed to have just one house on 5 acres to accommodate 50 housing units on the same land.

You get the idea — such inclusionary  developments are where sprawl comes from.

It’s what previous mayors for the past 10 years have fought hard to avoid. So why did Mayor Higgins and the council sign a deal to add 805 new housing units when all we need to satisfy our obligation is 373?

Protecting Clinton Township?

While the mayor has published a statement and a FAQ about the settlement deal, the truth and details are buried in the settlement agreement itself.

Here’s what Higgins wrote in his statement about how his “settlement deal” is going to protect his town:

Oops! Higgins said he was avoiding deals that slam Clinton Township with 4 market units for 1 affordable, but it’s exactly what this deal does. The deal sneaks in hundreds of market housing units Clinton Township doesn’t need.

The 805-unit massacre

Here are the numbers, which can be found on the indicated pages of the settlement agreement.

The Truth: 4X and 5X more housing than Clinton Township needs

Clinton Township needs 373 new affordable units. The mayor’s “FAQ” does not answer this question, which will be asked frequently: How come you agreed to 809 new units?

  • The developer of the CRC Longview and CRC Headley Farm projects, where the township needs 105 affordable units, gives the developer 75% market units — or 311 market units. That’s housing almost 2.5 times the size of The Mews — market housing Clinton Township doesn’t need. These brand new 416 units will be tucked up in Annandale, right above The Mews.

The Headley Farm site was previously approved for only 21 units. Now it’s 400+.

  • The developer of Alton Place gets a bonus of 110 market units for 28 affordables, a 4:1 ratio, for a total of 138 new units.

Wait a minute — Higgins said he’s “protecting” the township from “80% market” and “20% affordable” deals!

Wait a minute — hasn’t Clinton Township already done this before? Yep: John Higgins is paying tribute to Marra & Imbriaco: The Windygate Legacy.

Mayor Higgins isn’t “protecting” Clinton Township against developers. He’s just making it easier for them. They don’t have to bother suing Clinton Township for a “builder’s remedy” — Higgins is handing it to them.

Shhh…

But Mayor Higgins and the council didn’t breathe a word about the deal to the public before executing it.

At a recent Hunterdon Freeholder meeting, Higgins complained developers have it too hard. He said it’s important to consider the “viewpoint of the developer.”

Higgins said towns need to make development easier for developers:

“Where do they run into roadblocks? Where have we cost developers time and money?”

The deal that council members Higgins, Brian Mullay, Amy Switlyk, Dan McTiernan and newcomer Tom Kochanowski approved sure helps developers.

The deal Higgins touted last week at the Republican Club meeting, and in private to his supporters, has not been fully disclosed in any council meeting, nor has the council taken comments from the public.

But it sure helps developers.

Higgins To Residents: You can all go to…

In his written statements, Higgins has informed Clinton Township residents that on February 12 they can drive to the New Jersey Superior Court in Somerset County if they want to comment on or object to the 809 housing-unit massacre that will fulfill Clinton Township’s negotiated obligation to provide 373 affordable housing units.

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But first you have to submit written comments to the Court no later than January 29, if you want to qualify to speak to the judges on February 12.

There’s no indication whether Higgins, Mullay, Switlyk, McTiernan and Kochanowski will be on hand to respond to you.

That’s your government in action — serving you!

The “FAQ” and the “Statement” don’t begin to tell the whole story about the extreme penalties Clinton Township has agreed to swallow.

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