This morning, Union County Judge Karen M. Cassidy granted the Judgment Of Repose from all Mount Laurel lawsuits against Roselle Park until July 1, 2025. In effect, the borough is protected against any possible Coalition On Affordable Housing (COAH) or Builder’s Remedy lawsuits for another nine years. Currently, the borough is protected until 2018.
The hearing was held at the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth. Courtroom 1A was empty except for Kevin Walsh and Josh Bauers from the Fair Share Housing Center, attorney Michael A. Jedziniak from the law offices of Jeffrey R. Surenian and Associates representing Roselle Park, and the Special Master Elizabeth McKenzie. Judge Cassidy listened to the testimony from Ms. McKenzie which laid out the borough’s good faith efforts to comply with COAH regulations and extending the time that Roselle Park can avoid any lawsuits brought by any developer filing a Builder’s Remedy Lawsuit.
A Builder’s Remedy Lawsuit is litigation that a developer can bring against a municipality to permit development of apartment complexes or multi-family housing by claiming that a borough/town/city failed to meet its affordable housing requirements and that the developer should build because they will include affordable housing in their development to meet that obligation.
Roselle Park, until 2009, did not have any affordable housing plan and had a Builder’s Remedy lawsuit filed against it by Roselle Park VP LLC – a partnership of developer AvalonBay and Romerovski property owner Israel Braunstein. In a settlement agreement signed by the municipality and AvalonBay in order to prevent litigation in the courts, the developer agreed drop the Builder’s Remedy Lawsuit and the municipality agreed to not block the developer from building as along as 38 of its proposed 249 units were set aside for affordable housing. The municipality also agreed to establish an Affordable Housing Plan to comply with its obligations.
The mediation cost Roselle Park taxpayers $400,000 in legal fees and the subsequent settlement has cost taxpayers one million dollars to comply with the rehabilitation unit component of the agreement and $3.2 million in associated costs to have senior housing at the current DPW (Department of Public Works) site. Senior housing was a component that the municipality agreed to address in order to satisfy its COAH obligations but, to date, no construction has started. The DPW would have to be moved and the $3,200,000 is the budgeted cost to demolish the DPW building next to the Little League fields then construct a new site on Laurel Avenue where it meets with Seaton Avenue. The agreement also protected the borough from an Mt. Laurel related lawsuits until 2018.
In 2011, there were rumblings of the developer walking away from the project after expressing an interest in removing the affordable housing units from its development. In 2014, then Mayor Joseph Accardi stated that AvalonBay did not foresee any plans to move forward with construction in the near future.
To date, no construction has started at the Romerovski property located on West Westfield Avenue nor at the proposed senior housing site at the current DPW building across the street from the high school nor at the new proposed DPW site.
This Judgment of Repose would protect the municipality for an additional seven years should AvalonBay wish to not develop the Romerovski property.