Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Summarizing Denville's Affordable Housing Crisis !


  • The State has a Council on Affordable Housing (COAH). They were supposed to give direction to municipalities on what the requirements are for accommodating (zoning, master plans, etc..) developers to potentially build affordable housing options
  • COAH did a poor job determining those requirements and is being challenged in Supreme Court of NJ
  • The Court is now attempting to be the ones to determine what those requirements are 
  • The FAIR SHARE HOUSING Center claims Denville should build 1313 Affordable Units by 2025 (which means over 6000 total affordable and higher end units because developers build 5 non-affordable for every 1 affordable unit.  By that way that is nearly double the amount of households Denville currently has)
  • DENVILLE believes we have met our share of requirements.
  • However, the Court (while it determines what the actual required number of units for Denville are) requires Denville to continue “moving forward” with a plan to accommodate affordable housing (even though we don’t know what that requirement is).  If we don’t “move forward” we are not immune from Developers suing the Township to force us to develop.  This is how the development at Peer Place came about.  If we were sued we could be forced into allowing a developer to essentially build a high density “project” wherever they want.  
  • Denville is “moving forward” with a moderate plan to accommodate around 70-100 affordable units so we can keep immunity from being sued by developers.  That plan would assume about 500 total residential areas by 2025. One of which is a possible Redevelopment along Route 53 which would be about 8 affordable units and the rest mid-high end units.  Keep in mind this would satisfy about 16-18 units of obligation due to various incentives, etc..  I have a lot of concerns about this re-development but we have to look at it.
  • Denville has very little space (if any) for developing anything.  Therefore, we can only look to redevelop areas.  These would be areas that potentially could be developed anyway, most of the time by commercial development like businesses, etc..  We have often looked at submitting these areas as “rehabilitation” zones which allows Denville to more strictly define the aethetics and requirements of the development and allows us to rezone those areas for residentially instead of commercial.  (i.e. we often also ask for other community improvements such as the sewer lines and access road brought in to Estling Lake Villages area)  We do recognize that accommodating for residential re-development impacts traffic, township resources, school resources.  However, this is the predictament we are in due to the above factors.
  • Please stay informed and help the township make the right decisions.  Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation on the topic and naturally some people are playing politics with the topic.  As a councilperson I would love to say “hey let’s not build a thing in Denville ever again” but I realize that’s not going to be possible and would result in massive lawsuits in addition to massive housing development dictated to us.  Some tough decisions have to be made and we have to really stand up to our state legislatures, Governor and others to demand a reasonable solution to accommodate affordable housing fairly.

What's Being Built on Route 53? - My Perpsective

New Development on Route 53?  - Here's My Perspective



ARE APARTMENTS BEING BUILT?
Not necessarily and not for a while and NOT 100.  That has never been discussed.  Early ideas were around 57-60 units and even that is not approved yet.   From this Councilperson's perspective, I (and the rest of the Council) have only approved the area, where the abandoned printing facility on Route 53 is, be submitted as a "Rehabilitation Area".    There will be many public meetings, proposals, reviews and more over the next few years to determine.  ALSO THE REASON WHY THIS IS EVEN A CONSIDERATION IS THE NJ COURTS ARE FORCING TOWNS TO DEVELOP TO ALLOW FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING OBLIGATIONS which is incredibly frustrating and we have a right to be angry.  Denville believes we have met our "Fair Share" housing obligation but the FAIR SHARE HOUSING COUCIL is claiming we need another 1313 affordable units (which mean over 6000 total units. It's INSANE)  We are waiting for the courts to decide but in order to keep from being sued by developers (who can sue to develop anywhere they want to any density), we have to keep "moving forward" to a plan.  The court's have not determined what "moving forward" means.

WHAT DOES "REHABILITATION" MEAN?
The state allows us certain advantages for redevelopment.  I approve of allowing that area to have "redevelopment".  Currently, another factory could open up there tomorrow without requiring any approval.  They could come in and have 150 employees going in and out each day.  So at some point there will be something built there again.  I believe it's best for us to insure it can be the right fit for our town and options where we can have certain requirements.

WHAT ABOUT TRAFFIC?
A MAJOR concern for me.  Traffic on 53 is horrible.  I need to see more traffic studies on how a development there will work.  But again, a factory could open up there tomorrow without any approval and supply 150 people commuting in and out of town everyday.  Traffic is going to get worse everywhere in our state.  And Route 53 will be a challenge especially when something is developed in Morris Plains where the old Warner Lambert facility was. We have more people in this area overall.  The challenge is finding the balance of good traffic flow.  I'm committed to finding that.  Can NJ expand Route 53?  Can we re-route traffic a certain way?  That's what I am hoping to find out and may be contingent on whether I would support this project going forward.

ISN'T THE MT TABOR TRAIN STATION GOING AWAY?
NJ Transit has mentioned it but nothing is official and a new residential area at the station could affect the decision.

WON'T IT BE MORE KIDS IN SCHOOLS?
This is an important question that needs to be answered. Another one, how much will any development affect other Township resources?  Although traditionally, transit villages have had less of an effect to those resources.  I still need to see more info. And again, the total number of units seen so far was around 57-60.

WHAT'S THIS ABOUT AFFORDABLE HOUSING?
Essentially this is the only reason the rehabilitation area and a POSSIBLE transit village complex is even being remotely considered.  DENVILLE IS BEING FORCED BY NJ COURTS TO BUILD A SPECIFIC NUMBER OF AFFORDABLE HOUSING UNITS.  Blame the NJ legislatures, blame the Governor-The NJ Council on Affordable Housing has done nothing to provide guidance to municpalitieis trying to accommodate fair housing. Now the NJ Courts are telling towns how many affordable housing units they need to build but unclear direction on how that formula is being calculated.  A "possible" complex would satisfy some of those obligations due to various factors even though many of the units will be higher priced models.  DENVILLE RESIDENTS SHOULD BE FURIOUS ABOUT THIS AS AM I.   I will be speaking more on this and looking for residents to help us find solutions to combat this.  We have provided the courts our estimate of what we think is a fair obligation and we are awaiting their response.


ARE THESE ALL AFFORDABLE HOUSING?  ARE THEY "PROJECTS"?
No.  Only 8-9 of potentially 57-60 are affordable.  However, those will count double to our affordable housing requirements.  No developer wants to just build affordable units because they want to make money.  Plus, it is wrong and unfair to stick all affordable units and their residents into one complex.  That would essentially be "project" housing which in my opinion is almost unconstitutional. They should be able to have the same quality access to a community.   However, in order to accommodate for potential what the NJ Courts will mandate our affordable unit requirements to be, developers will want to build many non-affordable units.  For every affordable unit the state requires us to build, expect a developer to build 5 higher end units.

WHY BUILD THEM THERE?
We can't dictate to a developer where he wants to build a property but we do have a Master Plan and we do zone areas of our town.  There is not much space left in Denville to build something new.  However, there are places where commercial establishments once were they are zoned for development.  Route 53 is one of those areas.  Keep in mind that an industrial/commercial property could open up in this same location tomorrow and add 150 cars to rush hour traffic along Route 53 and they would not need any approval.  That's why a residential property and rehabilitation zone should be considered.  With that, our Township can specify certain improvements to the area.  We can request certain requirements for parking, sidewalk, traffic flow and more.


IS THIS CORRUPT GOVERNMENT?
First, remember Denville's review of this possible scenario is still just a review. This will take years. Every mention of the proposed area has been done in public meetings.  The Council is made up of volunteers.  I personally have absolutely nothing to gain by a development being built in that area.  As a matter of fact, as a resident who commutes that route every day, I am EXTREMELY concerned about the potential traffic.  Although I do recognize that traffic is not going to get better on Route 53 and if the Township does nothing ever again on 53, more stores, shops and more commuters will still show up on this route.  Anybody who is charging that somehow "Denville officials" are getting some benefit from this is greatly misinformed and frankly a bit ignorant to how government functions.  I encourage all residents to come out to Town Council & Planning Board meetings and get involved.  We've actually had a few residents that have come with many good questions and suggestions.  Please don't just sit back and criticize decisions.  Instead, be part of the conversation and help the town make the right decisions.   Ultimately, no decision on this matter will be perfect but we have to plan something.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Denville Has One of the Lowest Debts in the County


DENVILLE HAS ONE OF THE LOWEST DEBTS IN THE COUNTY


At a recent Republican County Committee Candidates Night in Denville I was surprised by exaggerated remarks by my fellow Councilman, Kevin Scollans.   He claimed Denville has a major debt problem and there was a lack of transparency about it.  That is shocking to because Denville has one of the lowest debts in all of Morris County and Denville has an outstanding credit rating as well as lower municipal taxes.  New Jersey is one of the most densely populated states and Morris County has some of the highest property taxes.  This is a huge problem that all of us our frustrated with.  Denville’s local government has been working extra hard these past few years to dampen tax burdens.  We’ve done it with extensive grant applications, government efficiencies, township improvements that attract businesses and pressuring state reform.

As far as transparency, the municipal budget is discussed publicly for months at the beginning of each year.  The budget is available online and at Town Hall for anyone to review. 

If Councilman Scollans wants transparency, he should make sure he is transparent as well.  His claim left out how Denville bonds at an unbelievably low interest rate, unlike debt that you or I have from credit cards or mortgages,  This year we bonded for less that 1%.  That’s an exceptionally low interest rate!  At rates that favorable, we need to take advantage of responsible lending. Very similar to why it often makes good sense to mortgage a home within your means.  Low interest loans can  make good financial sense.  As well, some of our debt is the result of the damage caused by Hurricane Irene which destroyed the Valleyview Firehouse and other town infrastructure.  Once FEMA reimbursement is finalized, our debt will go down significantly.  That should have been mentioned.

Why does the town have debt?  More expensive items such as fire trucks, ambulances or long term capital projects can be very pricey. It would be irresponsible to hit taxpayers with that cost in one year.   Large Township improvements or a new vehicles benefit residents for many years, sometimes up to 20 years.  It wouldn’t be fair to force current Denville residents to pay a huge amount of money for something that will be used by our Township for many years ahead.    Could you imagine how high taxes would be on years where we need a new firetruck if we paid it in cash?  A current resident footing the bill for an item that many generations will benefit from in the future is grossly unfair.  Some loans are worth it because we have such low interest we can spread that cost responsibly over time without having a bank-breaking tax impact.  Each year during our budget workshops many Council members, including myself, carefully watch our debt schedule. We are fortunate to have a sensible Township finance officer, Mike Guarino, and an independent auditor who help keep Denville’s financial stability one of the best in the county.

Councilman Scollans is good volunteer in our town.  I’ve worked with him on many projects but I was completely surprised at his deceptive comments. As a Councilman he’s voted for every municipal budget, except one, since he’s served on the Council. If he was so concerned with the debt why did he approve all those budgets?

While I agree massively high-interest debts outside our means are reckless, however reasonable loans at historically low-interest rates, from a town with a stable financial structure, are wise.  Let’s not create issues for election-year politics and let’s not mislead residents about Denville’s debt, which is one of the lowest in the County.  


Thursday, March 12, 2015

2015 Municipal Budget

I was traveling on business last week when the Town Council introduced Denville's Municipal Budget so I wanted to post my views on the budget.

THINGS TO REMEMBER ABOUT A MUNICIPAL BUDGET

- About 2/3rds of your property taxes go to our schools (Regional H.S. and Denville)
- The Municipal Budget portion is under 20% of your overall taxes
- The Township is still responsible to collect all the taxes and pay the Schools & County after the collection.  This can obviously be a challenge because whether the taxes are collected or not, the Township still has to pay the School & County portion.  Often it has to front the money.
- There are many predetermined items in the budget due to State and Federal regulations, existing Union Contracts, etc..


I SUPPORT THIS BUDGET

First I support the municipal budget that was introduced.  I continually push for lower taxes and more efficient government.  We are improving greatly.   However, we will be faced with a small tax increase again this year.  It is just under a 2% increase, which is about 30 something dollars to the average Denville household.  However, I believe this is a responsible budget especially looking ahead at future years.  As well, the main reason for the slight increase is something beyond a Councilperson's control.  We had a huge tax appeal by one of our biggest ratables over the last two years.  It is fundamental that we pass a budget or else we can not do anything in town.  The governing body has to pass a budget.  I am very against when a Council member votes against a budget, unless they have shown very clearly how they would change the budget.

TAX APPEAL

Franciscan Oaks, files an enormous tax appeal of several million dollars that was settled a short time ago with Denville's tax assessor.  Most townships could be put out of business from this tax appeal or would be forced to have an enormous tax increase.  However, credit to the Townships Administrator, Director of Finance and our Township Auditors,   we were able to quell that huge storm from conservative fiscal management over the last few years.  That appeal will be paid off this year.  If the appeal didn't happen, Denville residents would have seen a significant tax decrase of nearly $20 on the average household.

EFFICIENT GOVERNMENT

When looking back over the years I have been on the Council, We have had the slightest tax increases in Denville's history, short of some years that there has been no tax increase.  However, nearly every time there was no increase in the municipal budget, the township was hit with a very large tax increase the following year. Generally I am weary of budgets that have no increase whatsoever during a time where so many other costs are going up.  This historically has appeared to be politically motivated in years past from my perspective.  There would be a no tax increase during an election year but then the following year the budget would be in horrible shape and require a huge tax increase.


OTHER COSTS

Many of the other costs of the municipal budget are difficult costs to control such as negotiated union employee contracts, benefits and health care (which is greatly rising everywhere).  Additionally , we have managed to maintain Denville services very efficiently over the last few years without interrupting quality.

THINGS LOOKING GOOD FOR NEXT YEAR

A budget also must be looked at over several years.  While we had a small increase this year, there are signs that next year can be a very positive year in terms of Denville's budget.  I really am hopeful for potentially a budget next year that barely has an increase.  The reason why I think this is possible is because it is likely that Saint Clare's hospital will go private and pay taxes and we will most likely have a large new ratable with the residential area in development by the train station.

The Budget is now introduced and will be open for public comment at the April 7th, 2015 meeting 7:30pm at Town Hall. The budget is available here.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Denville Properties Being Revaluated

The County Board of Taxation has ordered a revaluation of all Denville properties.  This is NOT ordered by the Township, The Mayor or the Council.  The township has not be revaluated in 15 years.  The Administration is required to help facilitate the means of the revaluation.

In the next few weeks you will be receiving letters from Appraisal Systems, a contracted organization that will conduct the revaluation.  There will be field reps coming to your neighborhood.  A rep takes information about your property and then eventually Appraisal Systems will determine a value.  You will be able to see the value from that appraisal and have the opportunity to question or provide information before the final value is set and give to Denville's Tax Assessor.

DO I HAVE TO LET THE REPS IN?

Constitutionally, you do not have to let anyone in your home without a warrant but it is the best way for the appraisal to be completed.  If you are unavailable for an interior inspection, it can be rescheduled.  If field reps are not able to inspect the inside of your home they will assume the highest value of interior conditions.  They will be inspecting in the next few months.  The field reps will be showing ID and you will have know their names and what they look like via notification from the mailing and from Appraisal Systems website.

WILL MY PROPERTY TAXES GO UP?

Some will go up, some will go down, some will stay the same based on the value of your home.

WILL THEY BE FAIR?

Once an estimate is determined by the Appraisal Systems, you can review the estimate via their website.  You will have the opportunity to schedule questions or dispute with them before the valuation is finalized.

WHAT'S NEXT?

There will be several meetings over the course of this process run by Appraisal Systems explaining more details.  The first public meeting will be at Denville Town Hall, Monday April 20th at 7:30pm.

MORE INFO

There is more info available at Appraisal Systems website.  As well, this is a very informative presentation on how the process works.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Rehabilitating an Abandoned Factory

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” Abraham Lincoln

For many years along Estling Lake Road, there has been an abandoned factory.  It has been a constant eyesore for the neighborhood.  As well, it has attracted vandalism, trespassing and environmental issues.

I personally have always been a proponent of cleaning up areas like these.  A proposal came forward to rehabilitate the area through a state program that benefits Denville greatly.

WHY THE ABANDONED FACTORY HAD TO GO

It was an eyesore.
Abandoned, prone to vandalism and an environmental disaster.

It would have never been a park.
The area was zoned for industrial use.  Meaning another factory or industrial facility could relocate there will very little the town or neighborhood could say about it.  I personally don't think we need 100+ employees commuting to that small road and building.  I don't think we need trucks operating 24-hours a day at that location.  And the way it was currently zoned, that could have happened.

WHY THE RESIDENTIAL FACILITY IS THE BEST OPTION

Remaning zoned for industrial is not an option.  Another industrial plant in that location would be far worse.  By doing nothing, an industrial plant could open there with little restrictions.

It allows for greater environmental cleanup.
Zoning for residential use forces the area to be cleaned to a higher environmental standard.  If we kept it industrial, the requirements for environmental cleanup are less.  Having this area cleaned is crucial for the neighborhood and the surrounding waterways.

It allows for an access road to be constructed.
There is only one way in and out of Estling Lake Road blocked by a train line.  And when there is a major crisis like a fire or a major storm that blocks that road, there is no way for emergency vehicles to get through.  By choosing to be part of this state rehabilitation project, we are able to receive money from the developer that can be specifically used for neighborhood improvements.  An access road is a tremendous cost.  There would be no way Denville could afford this without being part of this program.  As well, if this area was kept "industrial", a factory could have moved in adding the same amount of traffic (if not more) but no access road would be created.  This would be a huge loss and danger

Residents take pride in neighborhoods
Again it would be ideal to just have a nice open park in the area but that will never be possible.  It was zoned industrial.  A small residential development is the best option.  I believe having residents living in this high-end apartments will provide neighbors who care more about their surroundings that workers who just come to the area for their industrial job.

An OPTION for the neighborhood to have a sewer hookup
Since a residential development will be constructed there will be a sewer line run to the property for the development.  This also means that area residents can choose to hook up to this line without having a tax assesement for installation of the main line to the area.

Tax Deferment Pays Denville More in the Long Run
As part of this program, Denville will grant the delay of certain taxes to the developer.  However, this doesn't mean a tax break or any kind of favoritism.  It is in a way "a payment program" that actually generates more money for Denville in the long run.   Because of the State rehabilitation program we are able to defer the property tax until further along the development.   However, the taxes which will Denville receives are much greater later, generating a much higher ratable for this property which provides Denville funding for Denville's resources down the line.

A complex with low impact to our schools
This development is only about 100 units and catered towards commuter rental.  That demographic usually means a low impact of added children to our schools, thus adding a burden on our school system.  Years ago, there was a developer that wanted to build nearly 400 unit along the hill.  This is the best option for  development and will keep another worse development from being constructed.

COAH benefits
The development counts towards state requirements for affordable housing.

Obviously, with any decision like this, there is not a perfect solution but weighing the risks vs. benefits I support this rehabilitation program.  I find the benefits are much greater than the risks but acknowledge those risks must be carefully monitored.  As stated, this can't stay an abandoned factory and I don't feel another industrial plant is appropriate either.  There have been large residential developments proposed in the past for this property.   But this one is much smaller and will help prevent large obstructions like that from being at this location.  As well, being able to put a much needed emergency access road could never help without this rehabilitation program and development.

SUMMARY

So in summary, 1) the abandoned facade has to go 2) the environment has to be cleaned  3) the only way to get an access road was this development 4) the best way to provide a sewer option was this 5) an newer industrial plant is also not an option 6) waiting for a larger residential project is not an option and 7) doing nothing is not an option




Thursday, October 23, 2014

Traffic on Route 53


TRAFFIC

Traffic is always a problem.  It's one of the most common issues brought to my attention in Denville. Naturally, as our population grows, we have more people traveling through our town.  You may have noticed an increase in traffic on Route 53 northbound in the early commuting hours.  I have.  I sit in it everyday.  It is awful.

This is most likely due to the increased and endless construction on Route 80 and Route 287.  However, Route 53 is a State road so any traffic remediation would have to come from them. Traffic studies would be performed by them as well.  Denville has requested studies along Route 53 but these were mostly towards the Morris County VoTech.

GRIDLOCK BY INDIAN ROAD

In response to a few comments regarding the intersection of Route 53 and Indian Road I have asked Denville's Administration to mention the issues to our contacts at the Department of Transportation.  As well,  I asked that the Denville PD keep a monitor on the "gridlock" that has been occurring.  Perhaps the State could simply add a "Don't block the box" sign along Route 53.   I also encourage residents to reach out to their State Representatives, Assemblyman Bucco and Senator Bucco.  They have always been extremely helpful in representing Denville's concerns.  The more avenues we approach about this situation the better.  The Township and residents will see better results if all of us reach out through our various means and channels.

DEVELOPMENT ON ROUTE 53?

As far as the rest of Route 53, there may be traffic challenges ahead.  There are properties that will be sold, occupied and rented that may increase or decrease traffic.  We are unable to forbid existing structures from occupying or even developing at certain locations that are already planned and designated for use.  There will be an additional development by the Denville Train Station where the abandoned cardboard factory once was.  But traffic studies and modifications were required and we can not cease a property owner from selling a property designated for use to a buyer to occupy.  I personally think a residential property at the factory was a much better option than it becoming another operational industrial building flooding our town with outsider commuter traffic that often has little regard for a neighborhood they don't live in. (I will outline that in a separate entry on this site)

As well, I'm sure there are developer's and investor's proposals with potential plans for various spots on Route 53, as there are for most roads.  That's business.  However, that does not mean that just because a developer has an idea for something along that road it will ever happen.  To immediately dispel a rumor, there is nothing officially proceeding via Denville's government for the old Redmond Press location !  As with any available property, I'm sure there are plenty of people with plans but nothing has gotten to the Town Council, Planning Board or Board of Adjustment. Be cautious of rumors based on hearsay.  No need to create unnecessary hysteria :)  I'll continue to keep everyone updated about Route 53 on this site and Facebook  and Twitter.