COAH: The tax escalator’s going up

This is Paul  Mulshine’s analysis of the COAH decision and its impact on property taxes and the suburbs. He is columnist for the Star-Ledger.

The tax escalator’s going up

Sunday, January 28, 2007

On any given morning, you can safely assume that by the end of the day the Trenton crowd will find a way to make things worse. But Thursday was special.

I had hardly had my morning coffee before I turned on my computer and learned that the state courts had carried out yet another successful attack in their long war on the suburbs. It was a complicated decision, but I can sum it up for you briefly: Property taxes will go up. Sprawl will get worse.

At issue was an aspect of the affordable housing law called “density bonuses.” The theory behind the density bonus is that many towns do not have enough open space left for the construction of cheap housing. Therefore a builder can come into town and demand the right to jam so many condos into such a small space that he will be able to sell a small number of them at a below-market price.

You can see where this will lead. Sooner or later virtually every remaining buildable lot in suburbia will be developed to the highest possible density.

It was for that reason that Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Susan Bass Levin drew up new regulations that did away with density bonuses. Levin knew what she was doing. In her prior career, she was mayor of Cherry Hill. In that job, she was sued and called a bigot by affordable housing advocates because she didn’t want the town’s small remaining open space covered with condos and townhouses.

So when she became DCA commissioner, Levin pushed for regulations to prevent that sort of thing. So of course she was sued. She wasn’t called a bigot this time around, but the court did get in the usual digs at small-minded suburbanites.

“History has shown that many municipalities believe that it is in their best financial interest to exclude low- and moderate-income households, especially households with children,” the appeals court decision said.

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