Borough calls Saturday session on affordable housing

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MANASQUAN — Mayor Edward Donovan and the borough council called a special public meeting for 9 a.m. Saturday to discuss the latest developments in litigation over affordable housing in Manasquan.
 
The borough is negotiating a potential settlement in a suit by the Fair Share Housing Center over affordable housing construction in the borough, the mayor said Friday.
 
The latest development in the case, he said, was a June 11 conference in Monmouth Superior Court that focused in part on a local developer’s new proposal for 45 affordable housing units on Broad Street and Union Avenue. 
 
The new proposal, by William Sepe, has replaced his earlier unsuccessful bid to build 35 units alone at 44 Broad Street, the mayor said. That proposal drew intense local opposition when it surfaced in late 2016, with lawn signs appearing along Broad Street and environs that read: “Keep Manasquan Beautiful! Say NO to 44 Broad Project.”
 
According to Mayor Donovan, Mr. Sepe is now proposing 23 units for Broad Street and 22 for a site on Union Avenue. The units could be either condominiums or rental apartments, the mayor said, but they would not be townhouses.
 
No settlement with Fair Share has been finalized, Mayor Donovan said, and Saturday’s special meeting, at the borough’s First Aid Building, will provide an update on the case and the borough’s options. The meeting is open to the public.
 
Mr. Sepe, who had sought the court’s permission to intervene in the Fair Share case in July of 2015, was granted the status of “an “interested party” and permitted representation in the June 11 conference with Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Dennis O’Brien, Mayor Donovan said Friday. The borough was represented by its affordable housing attorney, Eric C. Nolan.
 
According to the mayor, the judge’s comments during the conference were “pretty clear” in encouraging a settlement or settlements under which proposals such as the one currently offered by Mr. Sepe could go forward.
 
The gist of the message was “if you don’t agree to this, the likeihood of your prevailing in court is pretty much nil,” the mayor said, paraphrasing the judge.
 

The larger context is Manasquan’s efforts, like those of many New Jersey municipalities, to avoid “builder’s remedy” suits permitted under the landmark 1983 state Supreme Court’s Mount Laurel decision. The ruling holds that municipalities have an obligation, through zoning, to help meet their region’s need for affordable housing. 

Mayor Donovan said the borough’s goal is to retain control over individual development proposals through general compliance with overall affordable housing levels stemming from the Mt. Laurel decision.
 
Otherwise, he said, the borough will likely find judges ordering approval of development proposals with which, “we’re not going to be happy.”
 

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