In Bernards Township, residents ready to fight affordable housing rules

Bernards Township has a reputation for activism, especially on questions of zoning and redevelopment, having fought against a proposed mosque and the redevelopment of the quarry property into a mixed-use project. The wealthy Somerset County enclave, where residents are not shy about showing their aversion to state government rules, is now taking aim at what it says are onerous affordable housing mandates. At a town hall meeting with Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, they were beginning to plot a course of action.

“What should we as a township do?” asked one resident. “We’d love to see the legislation changed, but in the meantime, we’re dealing with builders that come in and say, we want to build 300 housing units so you get 45 affordable housing units, and using that to their advantage. So, what do we do?”

“Just like any grassroots organization, we need to stand together and meet in Trenton and rally the reasonable to show the kind of momentum we have because otherwise the Legislature will not care,” replied Bramnick.

Bramnick would like to see legislation that would place a moratorium on affordable housing and create a bipartisan commission to study an alternative solution to court-mandated affordable housing requirements. He called the bills “Dracula Bills” because they never see the light of day.

“There are Democrats that represent a lot of suburban towns and they are deeply concerned that if those suburban towns realize that they’re not moving this reasonable legislation that there can be some momentum against that incumbent. That I do know,” he added.

In March, the courts set a goal of a 155,000 affordable housing units statewide by 2025, a decision that has left many small suburban towns scrambling to create affordable housing zoning on the one hand, and fighting developers who see a potential windfall in building market-rate housing with a relatively minor affordable housing component.

“Most of these units will be a result of ‘inclusionary zoning,’ which is a mix of market-rate and affordable housing units, which usually mean a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of market-value verses affordable housing units,” complained another resident. “This means that the most densely populated state in the nation will be building between 462,000 and 616,000 total housing units through 2025.”

Turning rural towns into bustling suburbs and suburbs into bustling cities and posing an existential threat to a way of life in Bernards Township. Bramnick’s solution?

“We will not solve it by suing. We will not solve it by joining together with legal action. We need to join together politically, Democrats, Republicans, Independents and say to Trenton, enough,” concluded Bramnick.

Bramnick said today that his staff is already preparing for a Rally of the Reasonable, aimed at forcing the majority party to take a look at the affordable housing issue from a different perspective.