NIMBY Strikes Again

Affordable-housing options provoke fear, dissent in Upper Twp.

By MICHAEL MILLER Staff Writer, (609) 463-6712
(Published: June 1, 2007)
UPPER TOWNSHIP — The Planning Board’s solution to the township’s affordable-housing conundrum proved controversial during Thursday’s meeting.

Several residents painted a grim picture of beer-swilling, drug-addicted criminals filling the schools with their special-needs children. The influx of low-income residents would lead to crippling property taxes, drained educational resources, higher crime rates and congested roads, they argued.

But not even the Planning Board was pleased with its options. The board was still considering changes to its zoning ordinance at 11 p.m.

The township must find a way to provide about 341 affordable homes or face lawsuits by builders who offer to solve the problem at the expense of local zoning rules. The township successfully defended itself against one builder’s lawsuit already, but only because the housing project would have encroached on wetlands in Tuckahoe.

Another proposed development called Shaw Farms would provide about 134 homes, 20 percent of which would be dedicated to low-income residents. The board and Township Committee are considering many other options and at least 12 other locations for low-income homes, assisted-living centers and other ways to meet the obligation under state law.

“I feel for everyone in this room. I wish we didn’t have this burden, but we do,” Mayor Richard Palombo said.

Some residents in neighboring Shore Acres balked at the idea of low-income residents moving next door where the board is creating a Mobile Home district. They suggested that low-income families would be more likely to have special-needs children requiring triple the educational resources and costs. And they questioned whether the township would have to create its own police department to address the higher crime rate they anticipated.

Township Engineer Paul Dietrich interjected, “There are good rich people and good poor people, just as there are bad rich people and bad poor people.”

But for some residents, the issue was the possibility of school taxes skyrocketing with an influx of children.

“I’m going to be taxed out of my home. That scares the hell out of me,” resident Linda Jones said.

Palombo acknowledged the residents’ concerns about school taxes. Upper Township does not have a local-purpose tax. But educating a single child costs significantly more per year than a typical family pays in property taxes.

Tuckahoe resident Stephen Martinelli suggested rezoning the township’s campgrounds to allow for year-round habitation by low-income residents. Palombo said he would keep that option open.

Likewise, he said he would consider paying a poorer town for affordable-housing credits as nearby Ocean City is doing with Salem City.

Palombo noted that this rural township has traffic problems now. The township has been lobbying for more than a decade for a full interchange off Exit 20 of the Garden State Parkway. And one of its busiest highways, Route 9, has become a cul de sac with the closure of the Beesleys Point Bridge.

Not everyone was opposed to providing more affordable homes in this bedroom community. Shore Acres resident John Frame said he would accept more affordable homes as long as the new development had its own street access to take pressure off his narrow roads.

“We’re not all doctors and engineers and mayors,” he said. “This is the only place we can afford. We have teachers with $500,000 homes who are knocking us.”

More than 100 people packed Township Hall, parking on the berm of the county road and on the dirt access road behind the building.

To e-mail Michael Miller at The Press: MMiller@pressofac.com