Developer ups number of affordable housing units to 98 in West Windsor PDF Print Email

Published: Friday, July 08, 2011
By Lisa Coryell

WEST WINDSOR— Developer InterCap Holdings yesterday agreed to more than double the number of affordable housing units in its plan for a transit village on Washington Road, paving the way for a settlement that mollified fair housing advocates and won the approval of the courts.

The developer increased the number of below-market units to 98 out of the total 800 proposed for the site. The units will be priced for very-low and low-income families as well as those of moderate income.

Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg signed off on the agreement after a hearing to determine that affordable housing interests were adequately addressed.

“I’m satisfied that this agreement serves the public interest, therefore I’m going to approve it subject to the approval of the township council,” she said.

The council is scheduled to vote on the pact Monday night. Township attorney Michael J. Herbert predicted it will be approved.

“We believe this is a satisfactory arrangement that meets the needs of the township,” Herbert said.

Fair housing advocates, who had argued in court that the originally planned 40 affordable units wasn’t enough, considered the new deal a victory.

“Thumbs up,” said Herb Levine, executive director of Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness.

“The most important thing is that 58 more people with low incomes are going to get the chance to live in a nice place like West Windsor. That’s what this was all about, giving people a chance.”

Under the new pact, InterCap will get something back for the increased units — $900,000 from the town’s affordable housing fund to help subsidize a parking garage for affordable housing on the site.

“The settlement agreement is acceptable to InterCap,” said Carl Bisgaier, an attorney for the developer.

The agreement between the township and InterCap effectively settles a 2009 lawsuit in which the developer challenged the constitutionality of the township’s redevelopment plan for the site, which is adjacent to the Princeton Junction train station. That plan called for up to 350 residential units, with 15 to 20 percent of them set aside for low- and moderate-income households. That percentage is a generally accepted standard established by the state’s Council on Affordable Housing.

After months of negotiations, the developer and the township reached a settlement agreement that called for up to 800 residential units on the site. About 40 units were to be “affordable housing,” although the set pricing level was expected to be “moderate.”

In April, as Feinberg was set to review that settlement, the Fair Share Housing Center, an advocacy group, objected to the pact, noting that it allowed InterCap to build fewer affordable units than previously designated for the site.

Feinberg refused to sign off on the settlement until the fair housing issue was resolved.
Yesterday Feinberg said she believes the concerns of the Fair Housing Center and other advocates were addressed.

“I am extremely satisfied that the affordable housing community has taken an active role in this case,” she said. “In this case, I think there’s a great benefit for their participation.”

Despite the judge’s approval of the pact, one township council member who attended the court hearing yesterday says governing body approval is far from guaranteed.

Councilwoman Linda Geevers objects to a condition of the agreement that calls for all the affordable units to be rentals. That stipulation was requested by fair housing advocates who say rentals are in demand because more poor people are having trouble getting mortgages. Geevers says the affordable units should be for sale, just as the market value units will be.

“We’ve now taken away the possibility for people to obtain the American dream of owning a home,” she said. “That’s a major issue.”

Geevers said the township’s affordable housing money should be used to directly help people afford to buy homes, not pay for a developer’s parking garage.

“I’m not buying that it’s impossible for the affordable housing buyers to get mortgages,” she said. “Instead of saying ‘they don’t qualify,’ we should do what we can to help them qualify,” Geevers said.

Geevers predicted the council will have “a vigorous debate” on the settlement Monday night.