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NJ Superior Court Grants Robbinsville Twp. Temporary Immunity From Builder's Remedy Lawsuits
ROBBINSVILLE, NJ - (August 27, 2015) – New Jersey Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson on August 24, 2015 granted Robbinsville Township temporary immunity from “Builder’s Remedy Lawsuits” for five months starting retroactively on July 8, 2015.
No builder’s remedy lawsuits shall be filed against the Township of Robbinsville during this period of temporary immunity.
On August 21, 2015 the court reviewed briefs and heard oral arguments from Robbinsville Township attorney Robert Beckelman of Greenbaum-Rowe-Smith & Davis LLP, along with attorney Kevin Walsh representing the Cherry Hill-based Fair Share Housing Center.
“We are pleased with the court’s decision granting Robbinsville temporary immunity, and appreciate Judge Mary Jacobson’s acknowledgment of Robbinsville’s historic and continued efforts in providing its fair share of affordable housing,’’ Mayor Dave Fried said. “We respect the legal process and will continue to vigorously advance our position that we are meeting our lawful affordable housing requirements."
On July 8, Robbinsville Township attorneys filed a Declaratory Judgment Complaint with the court seeking to insulate the township from the lawsuits. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) and related affordable housing regulations require municipalities in New Jersey to provide affordable homes. However, a recent Supreme Court ruling could be problematic to Robbinsville because the town is almost completely built-out, and Robbinsville residents already bear a high tax burden.
FSHC is seeking to raise the total number of affordable housing units that the township will be required to build by 2025 to 1,000 units. Affordable housing rules contemplate the construction of up to 20 percent of a housing development to be affordable. This is referred to as an "inclusionary development." Under this scenario, developers would be allowed to construct an additional 4,000 (approximate) market rate units, which would bring the total number of proposed new housing units in Robbinsville to 5,000 at a rate of 500 new units constructed per year.
Such a number would have devastating impact on the Robbinsville community, as it would flood an already overburdened school system with approximately 10,000 new students over the next 10 years. That type of student influx would lead to a sharp spike in school taxes in order to build new schools, or expand existing structures and thus make Robbinsville unaffordable for many residents, in direct contradiction of what the affordable housing laws are designed to accomplish.
“Our goal is to keep the number of new affordable housing units built in Robbinsville to a realistic number based on the existing conditions in the township,’’ Mayor Fried said in an open letter to residents in June. “The figures proposed by the FSHC, a group which has strong backing from the New Jersey Builder's Association (for obvious reasons), are unrealistic and untenable.’’
WHAT IS A BUILDER’S REMEDY LAWSUIT?
A “Builder’s Remedy Lawsuit” is simply legal action taken by a property developer in an attempt to force a municipality to change its zoning requirements to permit construction of a large, multi-family housing structure or complex.
Typically, the developer’s will make specific mention of the Mt. Laurel decision, a landmark case that holds municipalities responsible for providing affordable housing to low and moderate income households.
“Builder’s Remedy Lawsuits” are used by developers to force the construction of higher density, market rate units so long as a percentage of the housing is reserved as affordable.
Prior to the Court decision this year, by filing an affordable housing plan with the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH), the State of NJ office responsible for determining affordable housing requirements, municipalities could protect themselves against “Builder's Remedy Lawsuits.”