As a member of the Scotch Plains Affordable Housing Committee who is fighting against the current process of the court-mandated affordable housing projects, I want to clear up the recent misinformation I’ve seen about the process.
Under the leadership of Mayor Al Smith, Scotch Plains was able to negotiate one of the best affordable housing settlements in the state. Mayor Smith was able to lower the affordable number to be more reasonable than what the courts and developers originally wanted. A key example is Parker Gardens. Developers originally wanted 352 units on the site, and Mayor Smith was able to reduce the number to 228 units, with the overwhelming majority of those market rate, while also obtaining 2.5 acres for new fields on the property. Unfortunately, the court would not allow the Township to go below the number of 228 units.
Despite this all being on the public record, some people in our town have recently been spreading false information, trying to undo not only the Mayor's efforts but the efforts of the community members who volunteer their time against an unjust mandate imposed on our town. What the spreaders of this misinformation aren’t saying is that they stand to personally benefit from high density housing themselves.
After Mayor Smith led his bi-partisan council to an agreement, additional property owners came forward, trying to sue the town themselves to allow for the construction of more units, on their own land, but were denied because the town had already settled with the court. Some of this land was directly across from Parker Gardens, which would only add more of an impact to the over-development these same people now claim to be against. Property owners like this are at partial fault for the overdevelopment in Scotch Plains.
There have also been charges that the town made a “secret deal” with developers. The truth is that Mayor Smith publicly discussed, against the advice of attorneys, the Parker Gardens project over the course of 2 years while it was being negotiated for the purpose of transparency. The Mayor was not legally required to discuss this before the settlement was completed but did so to keep our residents informed. There is public record of such.
The Parker Gardens project was discussed publicly at several Town Hall meetings, Township Council meetings, and Planning Board meetings from 2017 to 2019 using legally required notices. The Parker Gardens plan has also been posted on the Township website for several months. The Affordable Housing Committee has been discussing this since it was organized in 2019.
Now, to clear the air on some other misinformation on the Parker Gardens project. The lawsuit was settled to allot the land for building, however that doesn’t finalize the project. The developer is responsible for producing studies on the soil and traffic at their own expense. Everything then must go through the appropriate channels, whether it be the Environmental Commission, Zoning Board, or Planning Board.
I fully agree with the many residents who say that environmental, traffic, and school impacts should have been discussed as part of this process. However, the courts do not allow us to bring up these issues, which is why we need change. That’s exactly what the Affordable Advisory Committee is doing, pushing for change in the court process.
Please join the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee at our next meeting on September 19, 2019 at 6:00 p.m. at Scotch Plains Town Hall. Join us in our fight to get Governor Murphy and the State Legislature to stop the madness. The only way we can stop overdevelopment is if the Governor and State Legislature act now. We have a plan, so please come to the meeting to learn more! See you there!
Scotch Plains, NJ