Stop excluding inclusive options




Thanks to the moribund economy, exclusionary zoning hasn’t been an issue in New Jersey for the past few years. Nobody’s building and nobody’s buying.

But home rule, which has abetted exclusionary zoning and the ratable chase for commercial development, is a ticking time bomb, which will go off as the economy rebounds.

The home-rule tradition has put New Jersey on track toward further bad planning and fewer options for affordable housing and intelligent, efficient land use, a reality affirmed by a new report from researchers at Rowan University.

Gov. Chris Christie and the Legislature need to review the report carefully as they seek an alternative to the byzantine Council on Affordable Housing, the entity that regulates affordable housing in New Jersey.

The self-serving interests of individual towns are not enough to meet the need for a variety of housing types in New Jersey. Unfortunately, that’s not the way Christie sees it. Commenting on a plan he submitted to the Legislature last month to abolish COAH, he said, “I’ve always believed that municipalities should be able to make their own decisions on affordable housing without being micromanaged and second-guessed from Trenton. The Department of Community Affairs will work with municipalities on affordable housing, not against them.”

Development patterns in Monmouth and Somerset counties were highlighted as part of the statewide study led by John Hasse, Rowan’s environmental studies director and a professor of geography.

In a better economy, the study said, the two counties will continue adding to inventories of large-lot homes and commercial properties based on current zoning, leaving little room for more affordable residential development. It’s this de facto segregation that prompted the Mount Laurel court decisions, which said the state must do away with its exclusionary housing practices.

Right-minded regional planning efforts are often thwarted by New Jersey’s affinity for home rule, with municipal land-use boards opting for large-lot housing or quick ratable grabs from big-box stores and other commercial development.

High-density housing means more children, and too many towns don’t want to trade that kind of housing for higher school taxes. This leaves first-time home buyers and low-income residents with few housing options.

In addressing the related issues of affordable housing and exclusionary zoning, the Legislature must create policy in which “home rule” gives way to broader regional and statewide housing goals that better reflect the spirit and intent of the Mount Laurel court decisions.