An attorney for the Town of Secaucus has issued a formal response to a motion filed by an affordable housing group that wants the town to put housing near the Hackensack River instead of a public waterfront walkway.
This response, submitted to the New Jersey Council of Affordable Housing (COAH) by the town’s legal counsel on Feb. 12, came two weeks after the Fair Share Housing Center filed a motion to prevent the town from purchasing two privately owned parcels of land on Oak Lane and Farm Road for its River Walk project.
The town’s response states that the Fair Share Housing Center’s motion “concerns two parcels [of land] which are not suitable for development under COAH’s eligibility criteria. The motion should therefore be denied.”
The current dispute between Secaucus and Fair Share – there have been others – stems from a $3.1 million grant the town received from the Hudson County Open Space, Recreation, and Historic Preservation Trust Fund. At its Jan. 8 meeting the Secaucus Town Council announced its intention to use this grant to acquire a 1.86-acre plot of land on Oak Lane and another 1.1-acre parcel on Farm Road. Within days, Fair Share filed a motion with COAH and the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (NJMC) to block this move.
Fair Share stated, “The Town of Secaucus is attempting to use its municipal powers to frustrate the development of affordable housing by purchasing available, developable parcels in Secaucus that are under the jurisdiction of the NJMC.”
At its most recent meeting on Feb. 12, the Town Council made no mention of Fair Share’s motion, simply voting unanimously to move forward with its plans to use the $3.1 million grant to purchase the Oak Lane and Farm Road sites.
The town is now girding itself for a battle with Fair Share and has identified three lines of defense.
In its six-page response to Fair Share’s motion, the town’s attorney first noted that the Oak Lane and Farm Road properties have long been identified as key links in the chain of parks from Laurel Hill to the Meadowlands walkway that is to be River Walk.
Second, the town’s response pointed out that these properties are both located within a flood hazard area where residential development is “highly regulated.”
“The construction of any private residential structure, parking area, or road must be at least one foot above the base flood elevation,” the town’s letter to COAH stated. “Farm Road…as well as Oak Lane…are below the flood elevation and therefore do not comply with the regulations for residential development.”
Finally, the town noted that Oak Lane and Farm Road would not be able to accommodate street and roadway improvements that would be needed if new residential housing were constructed in the area.
Secaucus has retained the Parsippany-based law firm of Weiner Lesniak to represent the town in this matter.
“I think our record shows that we’re advocates for affordable housing when it’s done right,” said Town Administrator David Drumeler. “However, we are also advocates for open space and we think we should be building linear parks in those areas where we can. We certainly don’t think the open space on Farm Road and Oak Lane are appropriate for affordable housing.”
Right now, there are old warehouses on the two sites. The town is negotiating with the owners to buy them.
Fair Share does not agree with the town’s assessment of the land and stated in its motion “the two parcels…have already been determined to be appropriate for affordable housing.”
A spokesperson for COAH acknowledged that the agency received Secaucus’ response, but the agency will not comment further on the mater.
A spokesman for the NJMC also refused to comment, but said that the state attorney general is reviewing that matter.
Affordable housing administrator weighs in
In conjunction with the town’s legal reply, Secaucus’ Affordable Housing Board Administrator, Bill Snyder, submitted a letter to COAH addressing what he called the “many untruths and misrepresentations contained in Fair Share’s motion.”
In response to Fair Share’s allegation that the town has not made affordable housing development a priority and has failed to cooperate with COAH and the NJMC on the issue, Snyder noted that “we have implemented an affordable housing obligation against every development that has come before our…Board. Our major problem has been our lack of control over 88 percent of our zoning [which the NJMC regulates] and the NJMC’s failure to require that developers address their obligation prior to their issuance of a zoning certificate.”
In New Jersey, the required number of affordable housing units in a town or city is tied to overall job creation and building construction in that municipality.
The NJMC controls zoning throughout most of Secaucus. Despite this, Snyder said 361 units of affordable housing have either been created or rehabilitated in town, and another 230 are currently under construction. Snyder said, “We have diligently and consistently tried to address our affordable housing obligation in the Town of Secaucus. And I would add that we have the best affordable housing record of any municipality in the Meadowlands District.”