A Message from Mayor Joanne Minichetti:
In last year’s January message, I wrote a very complicated and, regrettably, tedious explanation of the changes in New Jersey’s affordable housing regulations. Long story short – in a surprise move, the NJ Supreme Court took over the affordable housing requirements from the Council of Affordable Housing (COAH) for NJ’s 565 municipalities and, consequently, each municipality suddenly faced unrealistic and pressing requirements to provide an exorbitant amount of low and moderate income housing. COAH had not met or approved any housing plans for years and the decision was made to move forward aggressively.
At the time this decision was announced, Upper Saddle River sat with 100 acres of vacant land. This included 50 acres at One Lake Street, vacant due to Pearson Education moving to NYC and Hoboken, with an offer of $62 million of tax credits from the State of NJ. The other 50 acres were USR’s half of the Apple Ridge Golf Course, which the owner sold to a developer with the intent to build 353 townhomes, 71 of which would be affordable units, on the USR portion. Mack-Cali, the owner of One Lake Street filed lawsuits against the Borough in State and Federal courts seeking to build rental apartments and affordable units.
The Governing Body made some very difficult decisions. A critical factor was the uncertain outcome. Courts have been approving 20-30 units per acre – 100 acres could have yielded 2,000-3,000 rental units if the case went to court. The Governing Body agreed to 44 single family homes on the golf course on conforming lots and 186 for sale townhomes on One Lake Street with 22 affordable units. The 70 affordable units for the golf course will be built behind Porcelanosa by Bergen County Housing Authority for veterans, seniors and adults with special needs. Although some residents were unhappy with the settlements, it has become clear that the decisions made were the best viable options.
The courts have allowed Fair Share Housing to intervene in all of the towns’ housing plans. Local officials have no authority over NJ State Supreme Court decisions, and, as ridiculous as it may seem, school impact, financial impact and other concerns such as traffic, environmental and utilities are not considered. Unfortunately, the courts, Fair Share Housing and the developers are in the driver’s seat and municipalities are left with little or no bargaining power. To those residents who believe the council could just refuse to comply, or are angry at the Governing Body or somehow believe the council and our professionals are either ill informed or somehow benefitting from the agreement, I again explain they are misdirecting their anger. The blame lies with the NJ court system, the Governor and legislature as well as COAH who left municipalities and taxpayers defenseless before the greed of developers.
As illustration, although Montvale initially refused a settlement with Fair Share Housing and the developers interested in building there, the Governing Body recently approved an agreement to allow a total of 615 new housing units on a total of 57 acres. This includes:
- 350 units of housing on the former Mercedes properties, a total of 37 acres. 15 percent will have to be affordable. Plus 40,000 square feet of office space, a hotel with a minimum of 150 rooms and conference space and 30,000 square feet of retail.
- 80 3-story townhomes including 16 affordable units on the 13 buildable acres at the former A&P site.
- 185 rental units with a 20 percent set-aside for affordable units on the 7 acre former Sony parking lot, which is located in Montvale. The apartment building will be four stories high over a parking deck.
Park Ridge, another town vulnerable to “builder’s remedy” lawsuits due to the exodus of corporations moving out of NJ, is currently in litigation to attempt to stop up to 800 rental units from being built on the 37 acre former Sony property. The courts will now make the final decision.
I agree that it is not easy to see change. I have lived in Upper Saddle River for more than 25 years now. I recall when Mettowee Farms was sold to make way for single family homes. Residents were in an uproar and raised thousands of dollars to save the farm. The farm was iconic and hosted community events. Years later, we have a quiet cul-de-sac with beautiful homes. I too was sad to lose the farm but, this is Bergen County, and land is valuable. More than anything, I am saddened by the rhetoric and false accusations made on social media and at public meetings which is demoralizing and, frankly, embarrassing in its negative portrayal of our small, tightly knit community. Due to the level of animosity, new security measures have had to be put into place at public meetings to protect our officials, professionals and residents. This is not the community I have been proud to call home for so many years. Yet, when asked, I reply truthfully serving as mayor is a labor of love – love of my community, love of my neighbors and a sense of responsibility which I had agreed to shoulder knowing the challenges that were ahead.
A resident suggested the Governing Body hire a public relations firm to counteract the constant negativity on social media. Realtors and residents alike have reported the impact this is having on property values, resale and our quality of life. At the same time, the local paper has stopped running community events and local news. Upper Saddle River is a wonderful community and we have much for which to be grateful. Yet it’s not being portrayed accurately.
I am suggesting we launch our own positive campaign in the year ahead. I ask for everyone’s assistance in becoming an ambassador for our community. With the help of many volunteers and organizations, we will be putting our best foot forward and sharing our initiatives. The Oktoberfest and USR Cares being showcased on The Doctors were a great kickoff. More positive things will be forthcoming – but for now I ask that everyone share the many wonderful things going on in our community on social media, whether it’s a great game, an academic success or community fundraiser and add #weloveusr.
The strong support and generous offers of assistance I receive from the community are greatly appreciated. Thank you and best wishes for a happy and healthy new year to everyone.
Joanne L. Minichetti,
Proud Mayor of Upper Saddle River