The town council will consider introducing an amended Speedwell Avenue redevelopment plan on Thursday, July 21, that restores some–but not all–of the affordable housing units mandated by a 2007 agreement.
Twenty-six apartments–10 percent of the 268 apartments planned for the first phase of construction–would be designated as “affordable.” That is more than the 5 percent that was on the table earlier this year. But it’s less than the 20 percent that the original agreement called for.
Affordable is being defined as households “at or below 80 percent of the area median income.” The town planners, Jonathan Rose Companies, urge expanding eligibility to poorer residents:
“The inclusion of affordable housing units targeting households earning at or below 60 percent of AMI is strongly encouraged,” they write in the amended plan, available on the town’s website.
Affordable set-asides for subsequent phases of the redevelopment are left for another day, “consistent with applicable law in effect at the time…and as may be agreed to by and between the Town of Morristown and selected redeveloper(s).”
Also unresolved is the thorny question of how to fix traffic congestion at Spring Street and Speedwell Avenue. Instead, the document recommends further study while the first two phases of the redevelopment are constructed.
According to the amended plan, this site always has been challenging because of “irregular topography, fragmented property ownership, as well as ineffective street alignments and connections that have caused traffic congestion and pedestrian safety concerns.” Now, economic factors added to the list:
Since the Original Redevelopment Plan’s adoption, those challenges were compounded by major
contraction that negatively affected the market assumptions and financial strategies previously
to implement the Original Redevelopment Plan.
At prior hearings, the redeveloper, Morristown Development LLC, an offshoot of Trammell Crow, has contended that the project is not economically viable if more than 5 percent is designated as affordable.
The amended plan makes a case for phased development that tries to balance profit concerns of the developers against the town’s desire to get something built–and something that is constructed with attention to aesthetics and energy efficiency.
The number of affordable units started to bubble up as a campaign issue during the June council primary. Ed Ramirez, a Republican write-in candidate challenging Democrat Stefan Armington in the Third Ward this fall, has been critical of the lower numbers. So has Councilwoman Raline Smith-Reid, a Democrat in the Second Ward who will face GOP newcomer Naveen Nadipuram. (Democrat Toshiba Foster also is waging a court battle in an effort to overturn the primary outcome.)
UPDATE: Betsey Hall, president of Homeless Solutions Inc., welcomed the amended numbers:
“We are happy to see the good faith increase in the inclusionary affordable apartment in the Speedwell plan. The need for housing for low income families is great. And we are delighted the town planners are urging the affordability criteria be 80% of median income or below.”
The amended planning document also hints that the owners of the Headquarters Plaza office complex intend to redesign the “existing stark urban plaza” known as Patriots Plaza, near the Morristown Green.
Thursday’s meeting starts at 7 pm at town hall.