On March 8, the New Jersey Superior Court of Mercer County issued a decision that could have far-reaching implications for local zoning boards and boards of education. The decision, “In the Matter of the Application of the Municipality of Princeton and In the Matter of West Windsor Twp.” is important because it is the first case to apply a specific methodology for the apportionment of low- and moderate-income housing obligations within the state.
In 2015, the New Jersey Supreme Court concluded that the Council on Affordable Housing was incapable of functioning according to its mandate when it proved unable to adopt rules establishing third-round affordable housing obligations of local municipalities. Accordingly, the Supreme Court directed individual trial courts to establish local affordable housing obligations and certify plans to meet those obligations through legal filings. Following that decision, a number of local municipalities entered into settlement agreements to avoid lengthy and costly litigation. However, in the present matter, eleven of twelve Mercer County municipalities sought a ruling establishing their fair share housing obligations.
In the present decision, the Superior Court acknowledged that the New Jersey Supreme Court has found that municipalities are each obligated to create a realistic opportunity for producing their fair share of low- and moderate-income housing needs. The Superior Court determined that the pivotal question was not whether specific municipal affordable housing numbers were too high or too low; rather, the question was whether the methodology producing the numbers was reasonable. After conducting a thorough analysis, the court concluded that aspects of proposals from both the towns and the fair share housing advocates were reasonable, as modified by the recommendations of a special court-appointed master.
Because the decision is an initial determination from a trial court which may be appealed to the Appellate Division, NJSBA encourages local boards to consult with their board attorney as to the potential impact of the decision. NJSBA further encourages boards to consult with local municipal officials regarding plans to fulfill low- and moderate-income housing needs that are compliant with the Mt. Laurel line of decisions.
These municipal low- and moderate-income housing obligations, as well as plans to satisfy those obligations, will impact board of education long-range planning. Therefore, consultation with local municipal officials is encouraged.