Planning board members and residents spent the majority of Monday night's Landmark hearing questioning the developer's architect on why he placed the development's affordable housing units in two buildings at the back of the site rather than interspersing them throughout the development.
All 33 of the development's affordable units are located along Road A in Buildings K (15 of 26 units are affordable) and L (all 18 units are affordable), abutting the train tracks and without access to green space. The development's other 10 buildings contain only market rate units and all have some access to green space.
Both the Council on Affordable Housing regulations and a related borough ordinance encourage the integration of affordable units with market rate units to the extent feasible throughout a development. Just what "integration" means, however, has not been defined and is up for interpretation.
Joel Schwartz, the architect who testified on behalf of Landmark, said the developer's dispersal of affordable units complied with the spirit of the law.
Schwartz said that in a perfect world the affordable units could have been more completely dispersed throughout the entire development, but that he was still proud of the design's level of integration.
"Is it perfect? No," he said. "Is it a reasonable compromise? Yes."
Board members were of a different mind.
“When everybody on the board has looked at this, something bothers us about the location of the units," board planner Cheryl Bergailo told Schwartz.
Deputy Mayor Ed Trawinski suggested that Landmark provide the board an economic analysis to justify its affordable unit placement decisions.
"We all know what it looks like. It looks like you’re sticking them along the railroad tracks," Trawinski said. "I’m not suggesting that it was done in bad faith, I just think that you need to do a little bit in terms of persuading us…that the economic feasibility or infeasibility is there."
While Landmark's attorney Ronald Shimanowitz would not commit Monday to providing an economic analysis to the board, Trawinski said afterward that he believed Landmark would ultimately provide something brief to demonstrate why its current design is preferable.
During his testimony, Schwartz provided a number of explanations for the offset placement of the development's affordable units, beginning with the argument that full integration was not possible because the project involved two different unit types.
All 132 of the development's market units are townhouses with two-car garages, while all 33 affordable units are stacked flats with doorless carports.
"The two units are not interchangeable, they’re not the same size, they’re not the same shape. They have different dimensions and they have different parking structures," said Schwartz, who explained that it was not physically possible to distribute the disparate structures both randomly and evenly throughout the entire site.
Nor was such a distribution necessarily a virtue, Scwhartz added.
"To intersperse these garage doorless units among the units with garage doors would obviously make the units without garage doors stand out in an unflattering way and we felt that was not appropriate," he said. "Accordingly, we oriented the covered parking areas toward the railroad tracks where they would be least visible. This results in the affordable units being located in the buildings along the railroad tracks."
Board Member Joseph Mele pointed out that orienting the affordable units' carports toward the tracks removed any opportunity for including green space around the buildings with affordable units.
"I know a lot of work went into laying out this plan the way it is," said Mele, a professional planner and civil engineer, "but I’ve never seen a building situated between two roads as tight as it is, the way you have it laid out."
To add green space behind the building, Mele suggested the developer consider enclosing the carport and flipping it to the building's other side.
"If you enclose the parking then it won’t be visible and you'll create a huge area of green space between the building and the rail line," he said.
Schwartz said that building management was another consideration that went into the site's layout.
Because it's extremely difficult to qualify an affordable housing buyer for a mortgage nowadays, Schwartz said the developer prepared for the possibility that the units would be rented.
"If they have to be rented, it is all the more important to look closely at the issue of dispersal versus clustering because the 33 affordables, in order to be operated as a rental, need to be managed efficiently," he said. "It’s far more difficult to efficiently manage 33 affordable units scattered across 10 acres than it is to do so if they’re grouped in some reasonable proximity to each other."
Despite the board's concerns about Landmark's affordable housing plan, Trawinski said it would not likely provide sufficient cause to deny the application.
"The board would have to have more than just the units being placed there if it were to deny the application based upon integration," he said. "We’d have to have something that shows that they weren’t treating the acquirers of the [affordable housing units] in the same fashion as the market rate units."
The next Landmark hearing is set for Monday, Sept. 10 at 7:30 p.m. Discussion at that meeting will center around environmental concerns and include testimony from environmental consulting firm Malcolm Pirnie, borough health director Carol Wagner and an environmental expert hired by the resident group, "Neighbors to Save Daly Field."