Belleville adopts affordable housing plan



Over the objections of several residents, the Township of Belleville took a first step toward implementing an affordable housing policy last week.

Mayor Raymond Kimble was joined by Councilmen Joseph Longo, Vincent Cozzarelli and Dr. John Notari in voting to adopt an ordinance that compels developers – except in certain instances – to pay fees to a locally-administered affordable housing trust fund.

Absent from the special meeting due to prior commitments were council members Steven Rovell, Marie Strumolo Burke and Kevin Kennedy.

(INSERT: See related story, Pg. XX)

One of the public speakers, former Councilman Lou Pallante, advised the governing body to “table this until you get seven people – that’s the responsible way to do it.”

But his plea was ignored.

Residents Vincent Frantantoni and Jeff Mattingly urged the mayor and council not to rush into something that, they said, would, ultimately, lead Belleville on a path of urbanization, with increased demand for municipal and school services and higher taxes.

“The bottom line,” said Frantantoni, “is that we’re fearful of new residential development” which, he said, the township could not afford. “This ordinance is a time bomb. This town is already overdeveloped. We’ve got tons of Section 8 [federally-subsidized apartments]. This ordinance is unnecessary.”

And Mattingly worried that it would open the door to misguided efforts to “shoehorn high-density residential into the Valley section,” which, he said, could be inferred by a draft version of the township’s Housing Element and Fair Share Plan that has been submitted to the Essex County Superior Court for review.

Both Mattingly and Frantantoni also griped that, until last Tuesday, the public has been excluded from discussions on the subject held by the council in private session.

But Township Attorney Tom Murphy countered that Belleville had simply complied with a March 2015 state Supreme Court order to file a development fee ordinance by July 2015 with the county Superior Court – and that court approved the proposed ordinance on May 15.

Copies of the ordinance were sent to the Fair Share Housing Center, the state Dept. of Environmental Protection and the state Dept. of Community Affairs, Murphy said, and “not one opposed it because they know it was a properly drafted ordinance.”

Murphy went on to say that the township is still awaiting the court’s review of an Affordable Housing Trust Fund Spending Plan and a Housing Plan Element that, he said, the township provided the court last December.

“The next thing to roll out [for introduction by ordinance] is the Spending Plan, probably by July or August,” he said. “The court is supervising our progress and those plans we have submitted are public documents.”

What Mattingly and Frantantoni find objectionable are references in the draft affordable housing document to the potential development – assuming zoning changes – of some 2,500 housing units in the township’s northwest area in the Valley – in particular, the long-vacant Finkelstein & Sons tract – and along the length of Washington Ave., the main business district. Unless the township deletes the references to the massive apartment dwellings – or amends the language – it will open the door to a possible “builder’s remedy” lawsuit which, they said, could compel Belleville to accept this type of development.

Much better, they said, to secure a commercial project for the Valley location that would not place the same kind of burden on the township that could be expected from a large-scale residential development. Plans for one such project were approved by the Belleville Planning Board but then scrapped by the mayor and council.

The township produced a letter from the Finkelsteins’ legal representative stating, in part, that the owners “are actively in discussions with [potential buyers] who have expressed interest in a mixed-use development.”

But Murphy said the township “can’t tell [the Finkelsteins] what to do.” Besides, he added, “the days of the big-box stores are declining.” Meanwhile, he said, “The draft plan can change … Let’s see what the final plan says. It’s not necessary to amend the [draft] at this time.”

Anyway, Murphy continued, at this point, “Belleville has no obligation to build affordable housing units,” and “we have temporary immunity from a builder’s remedy suit,” but, if the draft plan adopted, the township “will have an obligation to rehabilitate” affordable housing units.

Another possibility, he added, is “to create a Belleville Housing Authority.”

According to the draft plan, of the approximately $3.4 million it expects to collect in development fees between now and 2025, the township figures to dedicate about $1 million “to render units more affordable, including $344,811 to render units more affordable to households earning 30% or less of median income …” Over the same time period, about $88,000 is earmarked for professional fees. A total of 336 housing units are slated for rehab.

However, the draft plan goes on to note that “if the anticipated revenues [from development fees] are not sufficient to implement the plan, the Township of Belleville will adopt a resolution of intent to bond.”


Learn more about the writer ...