CRANFORD, NJ — In a small back room of Kilkenny House Restaurant and Pub in Cranford on Wednesday, Oct. 18, state Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick told about 40 Cranford residents who gathered there that the answer to their anguish about the proposal to build 900 apartments at the old Hartz Mountain property ultimately lies in Trenton.
Bramnick, a Republican, represents the 21st District, which includes Cranford.
“Let the state litigate these issues — don’t let the council and mayor hire lawyers. This should be on the back of the state,” Bramnick said at the question-and-answer session.
The proposed project, known in Cranford as “750 Walnut,” refers to the property’s address near the border with Clark, and has riled many in town. The issue has become more fraught as Hartz Mountain has invoked the spectre of a Mount Laurel housing “builder’s remedy” lawsuit to get the project approved.
“After the builder gets millions, we are left with crowded schools, streets and aging infrastructure,” Cranford resident, Lois Morrow told LocalSource on Oct. 23. “Our landscape and community ravaged. “We, the stable taxpayers of Cranford who work so hard to make our town as outstanding as it is, are crushed by the Democrat New Jersey legislature.”
Affordable housing units, sometimes referred to as “Mount Laurel housing,” were mandated in all municipalities decades ago by the New Jersey Supreme Court. Subsequent rulings have encouraged high-density housing complexes in suburban towns, allowing developers to override municipal zoning laws.
It has become a particularly hot topic in some towns during the last year as the court has reclaimed the authority to set the number of housing units each town must provide. The courts have stepped in due to the collapse of the state Council on Affordable Housing, which formerly made those decisions.
Bramnick made it clear to Cranford residents he is not against affordable housing.
“That’s not my position,” Bramnick said. “My position is that there has to be a reasonable solution and there has not been one.”
He handed out literature to Cranford residents about several legislative proposals that aim to reduce the demands of affordable housing on municipalities. One proposed bill, Assembly Bill No. 5030, prohibits the imposition of builder’s remedy in certain municipalities, providing other remedies instead.
Others include a constitutional amendment to require a statewide calculation of affordable housing obligation and the establishment of an Affordable Housing Obligation Study Commission.
Bramnick is in favor of spreading Mount Laurel requirements around, suggesting that the state Legislature “post a bill to make it regional and let the state defend the cases and argue where the units should go.”
He contended that “instead of assigning a number (of affordable housing units) to each town, it should be a regional decision.”
Bramnick said a Superior Court judge in each county decides how many affordable units each town is obligated to provide, and is prohibited from considering how they could affect the schools, police and fire departments, and property taxes.
“This is ridiculous,” the assemblyman said.
While Bramnick proposed more long-term solutions for Trenton to consider, in the immediate and short term, Bramnick urged residents to seek the advice of a land use attorney.
Inspired by Bramnick’s advice, Morrow told LocalSource that Cranford residents “need to mount a statewide campaign, with possible legal land use consultation and representation down the road.”
In previous years, Cranford spent $3 million for litigation to settle a builder’s remedy suit filed by Cranford Development Associates on the Birchwood project, an apartment complex on Birchwood Avenue near the border with Kenilworth. A settlement resulted in plans for a 225-unit complex that included 30 affordable units.
Although Hartz Mountain Industries has not yet argued for their proposed development under builder’s remedy, Bramnick contended that to push against 750 Walnut, Cranford residents “need a land use attorney to tell you what your options are. It is almost essential to hire one for a few hours.”