The recent New Jersey Supreme Court decision to overturn Governor Christie’s disestablishment of the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) may have serious implications for Toms River in the future.
COAH grew out of the Supreme Court’s Mount Laurel 2 decision banning discriminatory zoning practices by certain towns and mandated affordable housing for low and moderate-income families and individuals. From the beginning, the COAH regulations were arbitrary and confusing. For example, housing built before 1980 was not counted toward a community’s affordable housing stock. This penalized Toms River and other communities that were experiencing rapid growth and already had affordable housing units.
The COAH requirements for Toms River for Rounds 1 and 2 were over 2,000 units of affordable housing units, the MOST of any municipality in the state. That placed an unfair burden on Toms River to provide these units when clearly the Township was not an exclusionary community by any definition. Toms River does not have any exclusionary zoning practices or policies and the Township’s median income is below the state median income. In addition the state has failed to make necessary infrastructure improvements not in only Toms River but Ocean County in general.
The state has not adequately addressed the traffic congestion on the state roads that traverse Toms River. For example, Route 9 has never been improved, despite the exponential growth in Toms River and throughout Ocean County over the last 50 years. There is no mass transit rail service available to our residents. The only mass transit available in Toms River is New Jersey Transit bus service from the terminal in downtown Toms River and local service on Route 9. The bus fees for our residents have been increased over 40% in the last 5 years and the tolls have been doubled on the Garden State Parkway.
In addition, there is a job deficit in Toms River and Ocean County where over 50% of our residents must commute to jobs located outside the local area. The state has severely restricted commercial development in Toms River with burdensome regulations from New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), Coastal Area Facility Review Act (CAFRA) and the State Planning Commission that hamper commercial building and development.
If COAH is to remain a viable agency, then logically, the affordable units must be planned in areas that have adequate roads to accommodate traffic flow, access to mass transit — both bus and rail service — and finally located where the jobs are. If not, COAH will become a state-mandated failure which places undue burdens on Toms River and nearby municipalities.
Toms River Township Council President