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COAH Votes to Propose New Rules Virtually Sight Unseen

"It lets developers in wealthy urban areas off the hook," he said. " This is going to promote sprawl and overdevelopment while hurting the environment and affordable housing.

Ultimately, Doherty cast the only vote against proposing the rules for publication in the June 2 New Jersey Register, as required by law, because "these regulations do not fully address what we need for affordable housing." None of the five members who voted yes explained their votes.

Many municipal officials abhor COAH because of its role in ordering the rezoning of land for construction. Bill Dressel, executive director of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, did not so much address the rules he had not had time to read but instead called on the Legislature to enact a replacement for the COAH process.

"We cannot emphasize strongly enough the need to accept the Supreme Court’s invitation for an alternative to our current laws on affordable housing, as set forth in the Fair Housing Act," he said, noting the court's ruling last September left the door for lawmakers to enact different housing rules as long as they meet the Mount Laurel doctrine.

"The Fair Housing Act passed in the mid-1980s, he said. The regulatory program proposed today is based on methodology developed in the mid-1990s. COAH is acting within a box, bound by its previous methodologies, which did not fully consider policies such as the State Plan, environmental constraints, other stat- planning priorities, and those imposed by the courts. It’s time to reform the Fair Housing Act. ”

Lawmakers tried to do that, but Christie vetoed legislation that was a compromise between Senate and Assembly bills, saying it would have created even larger affordable-housing obligations for some municipalities.

Prior to the unveiling of the rules at yesterday's COAH meeting, several advocates urged the council to implement rules that pass constitutional muster to help provide housing for New Jerseyans who can't afford a place today and to meet regularly to conduct the business that will see that units actually get built.

William Scott, a member of the Montclair Housing Commission, said the township has an affordable-housing waiting list of more than 600 people and the lack of regulations has hampered its ability to provide homes for people. Gail Levinson, executive director of the Supportive Housing Association of New Jersey, agreed, saying it has a "long waiting list of people" but that many projects have been in limbo due to COAH being in a "perpetual state of flux."

The Rev. Craig Hirshberg, executive director of the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of New Jersey, also criticized the council for not meeting regularly to conduct business.

"It's alarming it took a court decision to force COAH to meet and now has only half its members," she said. "This is a moral and ethical failure on the part of the state."

A majority of the council members ignored the pleas and voted to hold only two more meetings this year -- on August 13 and October 21. Doherty, who had urged at least one meeting a month, voted against that schedule. COAH also has scheduled a public meeting on the rules for July 2.

"We used to meet as a board every month," said Doherty, who has been on the council since 2008. "I don't understand why we are now not able to meet as a board."

Walsh, who won court challenges to overturn COAH's last two attempts at writing obligations, did not rule out another lawsuit if his organization determines the rules don't meet the Supreme Court's order.

"What they did today so plainly does not comply with what they have done in the past," he said. "The governor has been a barrier on this issue in the past and I don't expect that to change."

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