Angry Hazlet Residents Protest Affordable Housing Plan

August 9, 2018
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It was a packed house at Hazlet town hall Tuesday night as over 200 residents argued against an affordable housing plan they believe would burden the township. Photo by Jay Cook

By Jay Cook |

HAZLET – More than 200 incensed residents packed town hall Tuesday night to protest an affordable housing settlement permitting about 480 new total housing units at a former Catholic school and a vacant farm along Route 36.

Homeowners battling the plan were so outraged that they shouted at elected officials and pleaded for a better option. One man was even removed by police after an expletive-laden outburst.

“The town cannot handle that amount of people,” said Hemlock Street resident Sam Dimartino. “Look at the amount of people we have back here, nobody wants this. Act like it’s in your own backyard and then vote on it.”

Committeemembers Barbara Ronchetti, left, and James DiNardo have voiced their opposition to the housing compliance plan. They’re concerned about the greater impact to Hazlet. Photo by Jay Cook

The agreement, which is being negotiated by Hazlet and Fair Share Housing Center, sets guidelines to develop the shuttered, 17-acre Holy Family School and the 26-acre vacant property known as the Stone Road Meadow tract on the Union Beach border. Holy Family would be rezoned for 172 units with 26 affordable and the Stone Road Meadow’s new zoning would permit 312 units with 63 affordable.

Township officials were expected to vote on approving this compliance plan but it never reached a vote. Committeeman James DiNardo, who opposes the plan, said Tuesday’s meeting would be for residents to ask as many questions as they wanted. The session lasted four-and-a-half-hours until midnight. A final vote is expected to take place Sept. 4.

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“I want you people to realize the ramifications of what’s all going to happen with this,” he said. “It’s not a pretty picture.”

It won’t be easy for Hazlet’s five-member governing body to reach an agreement. Democrats DiNardo and Committeewoman Barbara Ronchetti are against it, yet Republican Committeeman Michael Glackin and Mayor Scott Aagre said it’s the best deal available. They’re stuck in a gridlock.

Mayor Scott Aagre said the affordable housing plan is the best deal available to the township.

Deputy Mayor Sue Kiley wasn’t present Tuesday and has recused herself from these proceedings. She’s the business administrator for the Our Lady of Perpetual Help-St. Agnes parish in Highlands which is under the Diocese of Trenton’s umbrella. Holy Family is under the Diocese of Trenton’s direction, as well.

Estimates from the state indicate Hazlet is on the hook for 800 affordable units, meaning roughly 3,000 more total units would likely be built by developers to make it profitable.

“We have a great deal on the table and we’re basically turning our nose up at it,” township attorney James Gorman said. “There’s blood in the water, developers talk and we’re going to get more and more and more of this.”

Gorman said “it’s going to get worse” if the settlement isn’t reached. He warned that Hazlet would go to trial over their lack of an affordable housing plan, would lose control of all zoning to the courts and more properties throughout town could have housing projects built. Of those could be the vacant Bradlee’s, ShopRite and Frank’s Nursey sites on Route 36, as well as another proposed dense project to be located near Costco on Route 35.

Little Silver in Legos

The Fair Share Housing Act doesn’t recognize the multiple mobile home parks in Hazlet as affordable housing stock, but the township did receive unofficial credit for its existing senior housing options.

But neighboring homeowners said the entire process was dysfunctional. Hazlet has gone over 30 years without a submitted affordable housing plan and was slapped with a second Builder’s Remedy lawsuit in November 2015. The lawsuit from Highview Homes, LLC. is for the housing project planned at Holy Family School.

A group of about 500 concerned residents have been mobilized in recent months by Jamie Iacouzzi-Capone to form the Hazlet Residents Take Action citizens group. Iacouzzi-Capone said “the minutes have been lost and the trust has been broken” between residents and elected officials.

“If the township is truly in favor for working for the people rather than their own personal agendas, there should be no objection,” she added.

Iacouzzi-Capone pushed the governing body to leave the Stone Road Meadows property out of the settlement. Resolutions by Hazlet, Keyport, Aberdeen, Keansburg and Union Beach were all passed in recent years supporting that 26-acre property’s future as protected open space.

“It would be a punishment to open my front door and see dense apartment housing,” said nearby resident John Wilk. “This development proposed will urbanize the area.”

DiNardo and Ronchetti also said they floated a plan in recent years for Hazlet to purchase Holy Family School and turn it into a community center. The necessary votes weren’t there and the plans stalled, they said.

Some residents petitioned Hazlet to stand up to the state and seek better options for the ultimate housing developments.

“This is a death sentence for the future of this town,” said Gerard Jaume. “This will turn into a Neptune. And it’ll be on all you guys.”

This article was first published in the August 9-16, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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