A deal to settle the town of Princeton’s requirement for state-mandated affordable housing is expected to be finalized in the next few days. That’s what the town of Princeton’s attorney, Kevin Van Hise, told Judge Mary Jacobson at a hearing on Wednesday. The town will brief municipal committees on the outline of the deal next week, with a public hearing expected before Christmas.
In early 2018, Judge Mary Jacobson ruled that the town of Princeton must plan for the construction of 753 new affordable homes, to stay within New Jersey state laws that require every town to provide their ‘fair share’ of affordable housing. The town could not find a suitable way to do this, and has ended up in a lengthy process of mediation with Fair Share Housing Center, an advocacy group for affordable housing that is party to the case.
After discussions lasting more than a year, the town of Princeton now seems set to make a deal. On Wednesday, Judge Jacobson heard that the two sides were basically agreed on almost every point. The only outstanding issue is the amount of density that would be permitted for redevelopment at the Princeton Shopping Center site on North Harrison Street. Van Hise advised that this was a small issue, and that he expected an agreement “within 48 hrs”, i.e. by today (December 6, 2019) or early next week at the latest. Princeton Council will discuss affordable housing in closed session at their meeting on Monday. The Affordable Housing Board has scheduled a special meeting to discuss the issue on Tuesday. The Princeton Planning Board will discuss the issue on Thursday, December 12.
Mr. Van Hise was joined on the call by Adam Gordon, an attorney for Fair Share Housing Center, and Robert Kasuba, an attorney representing the owners of potential development sites at Thanet Circle and Princeton Shopping Center. Nobody disputed the idea that an agreement was very close. According to Mr. Van Hise, a final settlement is likely to be presented to the public in “the week beginning December 16”, with December 19 being the most likely date for a public hearing. At this meeting, members of the public would finally find out what sites will be designated for affordable housing. Princeton Council would also vote on a motion to accept the plan, which would then be the subject of a ‘Fairness Hearing’ before the court, tentatively scheduled for February 7, 2020.
Judge Jacobson expressed concerns that the timeline might be disrupted if the town of Princeton and Fair Share Housing Center failed to come to an agreement, or if protestors from the town objected to the deal. The town walked away from a previous affordable housing settlement in 2017, and an expected deal in July of this year also failed to materialize. Nonetheless, Mr. Van Hise expressed strong optimism that a deal would be reached this week, as remaining concerns are minor.
The town is also facing strenuous objection from residents near a planned affordable housing site on Mt. Lucas Road. On Monday, Council is expected to authorize $27,500 in funds to fight a legal challenge by the ‘Old Orchard Village Association’, who are aiming to stop or downsize an affordable housing proposal on the old SAVE animal shelter site. Mr. Van Hise noted that Princeton has many “activist citizens who are interested in housing matters”, but believes that they will not disrupt the currently-planned timeline. Judge Jacobson advised Mr. Van Hise to contact her with final terms of the settlement deal as soon as they are available.
Link to download full audio of the discussion with Judge Jacobson (.mp3 file).