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Unhinging Affordable Housing Component from United Water Property

Although the 2004 master plan parked the town's affordable housing obligation here, a fact that is the crux of Hekemian's argument before the zoning board, can it be moved elsewhere?

This is the topic that pushed Monday's mayor and council meeting well past midnight as zoning board planner, Paul Grygiel of the firm Phillips, Preiss, Grygiel, presented his  to the Mayor and Council.

In calling for a rezoning study at the mayor and council's May work session, Mayor Ann Subrizi specifically asked the planner to address the location of New Milford's affordable housing requirement under COAH that the 2004 master plan rests solely on the United Water property.

Gyrgiel reported that COAH's affordable housing requirements are not site specific despite the fact that the 2004 master plan places the town's entire obligation on the United Water property. The affordable housing component, the crux of Hekemian's argument before the zoning board, can be unhinged from that property and placed elsewhere. 

Although Hekemian expert has argued that New Milford has a COAH requirement of 40 units, Grygiel said that all of New Milford's prior round COAH obligations have been fulfilled except for six units. The 34 affordable housing units Hekemian included in his plans have yet to be ruled on by COAH. 

Grygiel said that Brookchester can be considered as a viable location to place the town's affordable housing requirements as long as those units were rehabilitated to meet COAH's requirements. This would be considered "market-to-affordable" which is acceptable under COAH for up to 20 units.  

Regarding rezoning the United Water property, Grygiel recommended designating the property an area in need of rehabilitation. This option applies to property that contains, in part, a water and sewer infrastructure that is at least 50 years old and is in need of repair or substantial maintenance. 

A rehabilitation area can be designated by resolution of the governing body without having to have a public hearing before the planning board. The municipality could designate the property as a rehabilitation area and develop a simple redevelopment plan pursuant to a redeveloper agreement. This option gives the governing body more leverage in dealing, and negotiating, with a potential developer.

Grygiel suggested this option as the one that will give the governing body the most control over what could potentially go there. He said that because the property is already zoned (residential) something is going to be built on the site.  

Grygiel said that rezoning the property would not affect the current application being heard by the zoning board regarding the development of that property. 

"It would be up to the applicant if they wanted to push forward or agree to the council's rezoning," Grygiel said. 

As for SOD's push to have the town purchase the property for open space, Councilwoman Hedy Grant said that because United Water and Hekemian are in the middle of a private land sale, the town is not in a position to make an offer on that property, even if money for purchase became available.

miriam pickett July 26, 2012 at 06:19 PM
Thank you for a concise recap of the rezoning portion of Monday night's meeting. I think it's fair to say that if the UW property is rezoned to multi use and Hekemian's application fails, the property will be opened up to any developer with a plan. I urge the people of New Milford to let the mayor and council know that this is not the solution to what to do with this property. Keep the zoning residential. When the application fails we can have funding in place from a consortium of environmental groups to purchase the property thereby keeping it undeveloped. Our elected officials have no vision. We must help them, in this election year, to see the light.
Nancy July 26, 2012 at 09:45 PM
Our elected officials better listen to what the people say and want or they will not be our elected officials anymore!
Rosemary Fuhrman July 26, 2012 at 11:09 PM
Thank you for this clear recap. While the 2004 master plan placed the COAH obligation primarily in the United Water property, the recent disastrous flooding events should make our town officials reconsider this plan. We are not locked into this plan to meet COAH obligations. Other viable solutions exist and were offered at the meeting.
Ulises July 26, 2012 at 11:49 PM
Tonight's meeting was one of longest I've been to. We had a good turnout but the mayor made us wait forever because she was having here meeting with the planner, which they spent $5k on, to rezone the United Water property, upstairs while the public waited downstairs. So a few of us decide to go upstairs, it's about 8:30 at this point (we'd been there since 6:30 because we had our SOD meeting too), and the mayor decided they should go downstairs once we all started to gather there. If we didn't go upstairs they would have had their entire meeting without the public upstairs. That's really what politicians love to do, make all the decision without public knowledge. This Mayor is not one I trust anymore. This property could have been purchased by the town without using tax payers money. The Riverkeeper contacted Howard Berner with $1.5M as a down payment to help buy the UW property and he'd get the rest from other groups. Berner tells a few other members and that was the end of the story. I asked the mayor tonight or this morning (I left at 12:30am) if Berner told her about the Riverkeeper and she looked down and said she doesn't recall. Knowing a little about body language she was lying and I called her a liar on the record. I didn't vote for DeBari because he wanted to develop this land (there were other issues too) and I voted for the Subrizi Team because people like Berner were campaigning on no development by the high school. What liars they've become! SOD!
Ulises July 26, 2012 at 11:51 PM
The M&C could careless about what NM residents want (Democrats & Republicans), they're in for themselves.  During the election they promised the world for your vote and they outright lie. The Subrizi team campaigned on no development by our high school and they lied.  They say they exhausted all possibilities with this property and they lied because environmental groups approached them and they ignored their help to purchase this land.  After the last mayoral election I met with the Mayor on Columbia St and I asked her where she stood on the property by the HS and she told me she's on the planning board and can comment, another lie.  She told my friend Barbara all her intentions because she doesn't want to lose her base, mind you, as Mayor she's head of the Planning Board and she told me she's not allowed to comment... Here's what she told Barbara; she wants the Shop Rite by the HS and a new fire department where the Shop Rite is now.  I will never vote for her again because she's lied to me all the time... We need an Indepentant party that's honest with it's constituents, not these jokers...
Joe Petrolia July 27, 2012 at 12:07 AM
The messages you are sending to the people of N.M. Are so valuable keep up the fight. Signed up and behind SOD 100% great job to all involved. Please let me know when you will be meeting next.
Barbara July 27, 2012 at 12:59 PM
New Milford's mayor stated " the only way to stop overdevelopment is to stop people from coming here". This is not a statement I want to hear from a leader of the town I live in. It sounds like she has given up.  It sounds like a cop out to me. It sounds weak and not inspiring. It sounds like she has no fight left. ( Oradell beat Walgreens. I want Mayor Murray as our leader!) I want a leader who is willing to take the responsibility for land management. A leader who knows what is right and wants to protect the well being of all citizens. I want a leader who holds the vision of all the citizens not just the few or her own. I want a leader who is forward thinking in protecting the size of our town and the development of its land. We are taught at a young age to be smart about what we are responsible for. Remember the story of the three little pigs? The ones who did not act responsibly lost everything. The one who was smart and responsible kept everything and the rest looked to her for support. It is foolish to build by a river, whether it floods right now or not. This is basic common sense. I spoke with an eleven year old girl at the swim club and she stated the same. It does not make sense to build where it floods. The developer wants to make money. Our current mayor is giving into the developers. What is the real reason for our leadership's weakness?
Denise July 27, 2012 at 04:01 PM
There is a house for sale, 162 Prospect right next to the brook. Doe's anyone really thing someone will buy this!? Will FEMA or whoever is in charge of buying up homes make an offer or anyone in their right mind buy next to the brook when they hear the history of the floods?
Mark G July 27, 2012 at 04:11 PM
Ulises, where did the riverkeeper get this money? Is it donations, or is public money grants? If it is public money grants, it is taxpayer money. What is the contract price of the UW property? Where will the rest of the money come from to purchase the property from UW or the contract purchaser? From the tax records, the property is currently assessed at $2.5M. Just trying to understand the lay of the land and to understand the grandstanding and offers of $1.5M for a down payment from the riverkeeper. A down payment would not help, becuase there is no way anyone would hold a note on this property for the purpose of buying it for open space. If there was to be a note it would be a public bond, at the expense of the taxpayers. I can see there is a lot of frustration and finger pointing, but the fact is, as the planner stated, the property is zone residental and something by right, can be built. So an offer of building you a half a bridge by the riverkeeper will not get you to the otherside. This issue is much larger then then 16 arces at question, this is a regional issue that will not be so easily resolved. I think you are doing the correct thing, but where does it end? What will you do when Brookchester puts in an application for five 6 story apartment towers? or the old Washington School property is being sold to WalMart? Obviously, these things aren't happening.................. yet.
miriam pickett July 28, 2012 at 01:31 PM
Mark, had Berner shown any interest at all in the Riverkeeper's offer, there was another environmental group, SWAN, ready to step up with additional monies. By combining the two it was possible the rest of the money could have come from grants. This mayor and council threw in the towel and rolled over for the developer to come in with this insane development project. And now, instead of letting what will be an absolute turn down by the ZBOA, they propose to rezone this property to mixed use so that this developer or any developer can come in and build on this highly sensitive land. They are myopic, without any vision at all. Our mission is to stop this dead. We are not dreamers. We understand the political and financial realities of what is happening here. We are exploring all avenues, including recall of the mayor and other elected officials who ignore the public's outrage that this has been allowed to happen SOD!!!
AML July 28, 2012 at 03:10 PM
Could not have said it better Miriam! It is quite obvious that the ball was dropped by Howard Berner and the Mayor. Either there was no interest to keep the property as open space from the onset, & hence, no initiative was taken to pursue the Riverkeeper's $1.5 million offer, or, sheer ignorance and ineptitude. The $1.5 million offer by the Riverkeeper only came to light during the public forum at the M & C meeting this past Monday by a member of SOD. The attempt to "wiggle" out of the jam failed, and now the residents of New Milford have knowledge of what should have been made public at the time. For the Mayor to have said that a check was not in their hands is the most ludicrous statement to date. The initiative to follow-up with the offer should have been the responsibility of the governing body. If someone approached me, & said that he/she had 2 Accounting positions to fill in his/her company, & I am currently unemployed, wouldn't it be my responsibility to send this individual my resume, & follow-up with a phone call? OR, should I sit back, & do absolutely nothing, because this individual did not hand me a job? Although different situations, the premise is exactly the same! I rest my case!
Lori Barton July 29, 2012 at 01:08 AM
Please, Patch readers, tell your friends and neighbors what is going on. Make sure that they, too, follow what's happening on Patch. And if they are not Internet savvy, please make sure they understand that our M&C has dropped the ball on this. Tell how the down payment was rebuffed. This is the big election issue for New Milford this fall. Forget about party loyalty and find out the record of each candidate when it comes to this property. SOD!!
Mark G August 05, 2012 at 06:52 PM
Sounds like you are in favor of having the public foot the bill to buy this property? I keep hearing about a down payment? What does that mean? Where is this money from the riverkeeper and swan coming from? Is it public money too? Or is it private donations? If you are looking to buy this property with grant money, that is taxpayer money.

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