Today’s Daily Record ran a story entitled, “Builders in Highlands must add affordable units.” The increased production of affordable or workforce housing units in northwest New Jersey (also known as the Highlands) should be a priority – there’s no doubt about it. There are many people like me who are making a decent salary that just cannot afford to live in New Jersey because the asking prices for homes are completely outlandish. God bless my fellow New Jerseyans for wanting top dollar for their homes, but unlike the national housing bubble – the local housing bubble hasn’t totally burst yet in New Jersey.
That said, let me make it clear that the latest COAH rules are infringing on what makes the Highlands one of the most beautiful parts of the state. For those non-New Jersey folks out there, you wouldn’t know that you were still in this state if you were driving around portions of Morris, Sussex, Warren, and Hunterdon counties. We have large forests and some gorgeous wildlife areas that are being preserved by the Highlands Commission. But we also have Governor Money Bags (you non-New Jerseyans may know him as Jon Corzine). This man knows nothing of New Jersey outside of Newark, Trenton, and Camden and – frankly – the way that the masses in Essex, Mercer, and Camden counties constantly vote Democratic, he has no reason to know anything else.
From the article in the Daily Record:
COAH issued a “scarce resource restraint” on all Highlands towns under its control — 72 of the 88 towns in the region, including 24 of Morris County’s 32 municipalities — that appears to stop all construction that does not include affordable units. The order applies even to those towns in the Highlands region’s planning area, where compliance with a regional master plan is voluntary. Still allowed would be any building exempted from the 2004 Highlands law, including a single home on an existing lot.
Stopping construction may not be the best news for those of us looking for a home in that part of the state, but given the economy construction may have stopped anyway. Forcing affordable units into larger developments, though, is not the proper way to move forward. In fact, I talk to many housing developers on a daily basis and restrictions like these almost always lead to an increase in the total number of units being built – though the amount of land to build on is not increased. What does this mean? It means more bodies in less space. It’s unnecessary urbanization. More from the article:
COAH’s action was in response to Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s September executive order that affordable housing not be built at the expense of protecting water resources in the 860,000-acre environmentally sensitive region and that COAH and the New Jersey Highlands Council work together to reconcile their competing mandates.
Highlands Executive Director Eileen Swan said that COAH’s order won’t stop all development. Any subdivision in which 20 percent of the homes will be affordable — for instance, 10 units in a 50-unit development — and those meeting one of the 17 exemptions written into the Highlands law will be permitted. So will development in any town that proves to COAH it has ample water, sewer and land for building.
In other words, if you’ve already figured out how to build affordable units in one of the areas of the nation where real estate is still overvalued, then you can go ahead and build. But the interesting part of this blocked quote is Governor Money Bags’ order that affordable housing come second to protecting our natural resources. With one hand, he’s forcing higher density units and with the other he says to keep water resources at the forefront. Double talk at its best…or worst.
New Jersey should leave the Highlands area alone. There are more than enough brownfields (former industrial sites that are no longer in use) in this state that can be demolished, cleaned, and redeveloped. Let’s work on those areas first and then think about manifest destiny to the Pennsylvania border.