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COURT TO MIDDLETOWN: ‘COAH AWAY’

Middletown has no standing to challenge, in court, the state’s approval of an affordable-housing-obligation swap involving Red Bank and Manalapan, a state Appeals Court has ruled, according to an article posted today on the Asbury Park Press website.

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The decision concerns a 2004 agreement under which Red Bank accepted $2.5 million from Manalapan in exchange for fulfilling some of Manalapan’s affordable housing obligations under state Council on Affordable Housing rules. Red Bank was to rehabilitate residences of low- and middle-income homes throughout the borough under the deal, known as a regional contribution agreement, according to another story in the Press archives.

The deal followed a similar 2000 agreement between Red Bank and Middletown, under which Middletown transferred its obligation regarding 98 housing units to the borough.

From the latest Press article:

But Red Bank later terminated that agreement after “several years elapsed” without COAH taking action on it. COAH in 2005 approved a regional contribution agreement between Manalapan and Red Bank, the decision states.

Middletown filed an appeal of that decision arguing COAH was wrong in “unreasonably delaying Middletown’s petition for certification of its affordable housing plan” and by suggesting Red Bank could terminate its agreement with Middletown without providing notice to the township.

But the appeals court ruled that an appeal of the Red Bank-Manalapan agreement, approved by COAH, was not the proper means for Middletown to address its previous issues with the housing council.

The decision comes amid uncertainty about the direction of the COAH program. In January, a state appeals court invalidated a 2004 COAH plan, finding the Department of Community Affairs agency had used bogus math and arbitrary rulings in determining the obligations of nearly 300 New Jersey suburban and rural towns. The court gave the state six months to fix the flaws.

From a Phildelphia Inquirer story (archived) on the decision:

The 2004 rules called for towns to build one affordable home for every eight new market-rate homes, and one for every 25 new jobs created — an approach known as “growth share.”

Housing advocates noted that this approach does not take into account a town’s current need for affordable housing, and argued that towns could restrict low-income housing by passing ordinances to restrict growth. The court agreed.

“Any growth share approach must place some check on municipal discretion,” the court wrote in its 127-page opinion. “The rules, as they currently exist, permit municipalities… to adopt master plans and zoning ordinances that allow for little growth, and thereby a small fair share obligation.”

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