Cranford resident seeks Mount Laurel help from nonprofit

Photo by Jenny Goldberg
The Cranford Zoning Board of Adjustment approved a variance request from the Elizabeth-based Community Access Unlimited to permit the organization to use its office space for training purposes despite a query from a resident who asked the charity to agree to deed restrictions on three other properties.

CRANFORD, NJ — A longtime Cranford resident was hoping to assist the township with its Mount Laurel housing obligations, and wanted the zoning board to use some leverage with a nonprofit organization to do so at the board’s recent meeting.

Community Access Unlimited, an Elizabeth-based charity that provides services for the disabled, is currently applying for a variance to convert its office space at 70 Myrtle Ave. to a training facility. At the March 26 meeting of the Cranford Zoning Board of Adjustment, Rita LaBrutto suggested that CAU agree to deed restrictions on some properties in exchange for the variance.

She pointed out that since CAU has not provided deed restrictions on their three properties at 54 and 48 Johnson Ave., and at 112 Glenwood Ave., the three group homes cannot be included into the township’s affordable housing plan.

“If we had a deed restriction on those properties, we would be getting credit on our plan,” LaBrutto said during the public comment portion of the meeting, attended by CAU attorney Stephen Hehl.

Mount Laurel housing obligations are the result of a 1975 Supreme Court ruling mandating that every town in New Jersey zone for its “fair share” of low- and moderate-income housing. The share is determined at periodic intervals, which most towns are now planning for, or recently negotiated, in a third round.

While she was in favor of CAU’s current application, LaBrutto said it is critical that the township acquire such deed restrictions, such as limiting a property to a specific use, which could be included into Cranford’s third-round housing obligation.

“You get double the credits for group homes, so we are looking at 26 credits that we have not gotten. That is equivalent to building 180 units in the township of Cranford,” Labrutto said. “That is a big amount, it is not one or two credits.”

Saying that Cranford has embraced CAU throughout the years, LaBrutto highlighted that the organization should help Cranford in return.
Ronald Marotta, chairman of the zoning board, said it would be inappropriate to discuss the deed restriction in the context of CAU’s application on another property, and the board subsequently approved CAU’s application.

“The township has repeatedly asked CAU for deed restrictions, but they have refused,” township attorney Ryan Cooper told LocalSource after the meeting. Cooper assists the municipality with its Mount Laurel housing plan.

LocalSource reached out to CAU attorney Harold Poltrock as to why the organization has consistently declined such deed restrictions, but received no response before press time.

In midst of working on Cranford’s third-round housing obligation, Cooper told LocalSource that a recent ruling by Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson in another case may substantially lower Cranford’s third round number.

“In using Judge Jacobson’s decision, our round three numbers have dropped from 990 to 440,” Cooper said.
Anthony Campisi from the Fair Share Housing Center previously told LocalSource that the center is still trying to figure out what individual towns’ obligations are under Jacobson’s methodology.

“Some towns might see their numbers go up, while others might see a decline,” Campisi said.
Cooper noted that the township will “continue to work on developing the third-round housing plan, and reach a plan that is acceptable.”
“It is a complicated process,” he said.