Planning Board Balks at Landmark's Affordable Housing Layout

Multiple members of the Planing Board questioned Landmark's architect Monday about the placement of the development's affordable housing units.

 members and residents spent the majority of 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."


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Ann August 15, 2012 at 08:10 PM
I find this plan to put the affordable housing units along the railroad tracks w/out greenspace and w/ a different appearance and carports w/out doors to be disturbing and a form of economic and possible racial segregation (if the affordable housing is primarily occupied by non-whites and the market-rate by whites). I thought that interspersing affordable and market rate housing in one development meant that the units would look the same and be mixed in together. Is the developer getting any financing or other benefits by including the affordable housing? If so, then he should be expected to provide decent, respectable housing to all people and that includes offering greenspace and not segregating lower-income families by the railroad tracks.
AnywhereonDaBus August 15, 2012 at 08:22 PM
ANN Your ignorance is astounding! Just because its called affordable housing YOU equate its occupancy to "non-whites " .Gaze deep into your soul dear, for the racist you write about lives within
Zak Koeske August 15, 2012 at 08:55 PM
The architect said that the facades of the affordable and market rate buildings would be indistinguishable
es August 15, 2012 at 09:05 PM
Maybe if they took up Mele's suggestion they could also see it in their hearts to add some sort of noise buffer for those units as well. Absolutely no noise buffer has been offered, other than some sort of unspecified construction material in the units. So, for those folks, don't open a window unless you prefer to be lulled by the sound of the Metro-North express.
BellairBerdan August 15, 2012 at 11:04 PM
Segregation is the new integration! How can they manage the poor folk efficiently if they don't separate them from the other people and brand them somehow so everyone knows who they are?
Really? August 15, 2012 at 11:40 PM
@Raul, where in the equation does it define the affordable housing as a poorer neighborhood? Further if as you claim " minorities are still discriminated against while applying for jobs and housing " then Ann's claim is mute...Stop searching for something when it isn't there
Walter Weglein August 16, 2012 at 12:41 AM
I find Trawinski's not in "bad faith" comments about Landmark weird, considering that I remember him chastising someone a few years ago for "discriminating" against blacks (he knows who)...strangely enough, the person he chastised had been an enthusiastic and active member of the Bergen County Fair Housing Committee in the late '60s, trying to integrate housing as far back as then.
fred August 16, 2012 at 10:40 AM
The affordable housing should be placed abutting the train tracks. Why should the regular priced housing be in an inferior location. Those that cannot afford the regular pricing should be happy to live in this development in any location. If the regular price housing is placed abutting the train tracks they will not sell. Sometimes segregation is a good thing.
Stuart Pace August 16, 2012 at 12:28 PM
Did this Board approve the transfer of the promenades affordable housing obligation over to the Paterson border on the Kem site? Hypocrisy I tells ya.
Russell Hauptman August 16, 2012 at 12:37 PM
Fred has it 100% right. They have two levels of property market rate, and not quite market rate. The full priced properties MUST be in the nicer locations. That's just good economic sense. I lived on Chandler drive for a large number of years. And I always had heard that the apartments WAYYYY in the back were "affordable housing". Assuming that's the case it's sort of the same thing.
Art Vandelay August 16, 2012 at 01:41 PM
Economic sense is not the only consideration. The COAH statute is much more broader than that with public policy considerations that transcend "economic sense." And you have to consider that the developer is getting a density of over 16 units/acre here. That makes the project profitable "no matter what." And remember, further, that they got that density in exchange for building the affordable units. So now they have to do it in an appropriate way that conforms with the ordinance and with COAH
fred August 16, 2012 at 02:03 PM
Not too many people out there are smart. And, yes I do believe in segregation in economic areas.
fred August 16, 2012 at 02:45 PM
Government regulations suck! Look what it did to our economy. If we keep building low income housing over the years we will soon be like Peterson, excuse me, Elmwood Park.
Jenne August 16, 2012 at 03:53 PM
Unless they are going to rent them under Section 8-- which absolutely incentivizes poor landlord management as landlords can get federal money for repairs caused by unaddressed wear and tear and poor maintenance-- putting the 'affordable housing' right against the train tracks with no green space or buffer is not going to get them many renters, either. It really sounds like they are planning for Section 8 rentals or taking a loss on the 'affordable housing' to offset profits elsewhere.
Jenne August 16, 2012 at 03:58 PM
Oh, Fred. Government regulations didn't institute mortgage-based securities. Lack of government regulation of the finance industry allowed those securities to be created. Now, in this case, I would not be at all surprised if Government Regulations were driving this development design: the regulations regarding tax losses, and the Section 8 housing management which pays out government money for developer's overpriced housing with substandard construction.
Walter Weglein August 16, 2012 at 05:03 PM
Kinda interesting: this whole discussion chain is taking on the aspects of a political science course...Call it Fair Lawn Patch 101
Tommy P August 18, 2012 at 04:43 PM
That has to be the most ignorant comment I have seen in weeks. The only reason mortgage back securities could exist was the implicit guarantee on the garbage mortgages that were being packaged. Without Fannie and Freddie, MBSs would never have existed.
Tommy P August 18, 2012 at 04:48 PM
Poppycock! The number of units per acre is only relevant when the cost per acre is factored in. You can only make a profit when the sell price is greater the cost of acquiring the land and costs of improvements. COAH is only second to Abbott in stupid NJ "laws"


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