Nineteen is better than nothing.
That was the point being presented to the Planning Board Thursday night when the attorney for Atlantic Health System—the parent company of Morristown Medical Center—presented the board with a proposal that would see 19 already-built residences become affordable housing units.
The compromise stems from approvals in 2004 and 2005 by the town which saw additions to the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center and the JCP&L parking garage. As part of those approvals, AHS would provide an affordable housing component in nearby Franklin Village, which the company owns. That affordable housing component of the approval would have gone toward the town's state requirements under its Council on Affordable Housing.
However, as attorney Willard Bergman noted at the Sept. 27 meeting, "COAH has been in a state of flux."
With that flux in recent years, Morristown has not created any obligations for affordable housing. As such, Bergman asked the council to remove a condition in the original approvals should they deed restrict the 19 units. Under this amended proposal, AHS would not have further affordable housing obligations stemming from the nearly decade-old approval should COAH get rolling again, something board attorney David Burton Brady said is "not likely to happen soon, given the economy."
Mayor Tim Dougherty, who sits on the Planning Board, took some issue with Bergman's proposal. "Technically, you were [already] required," he said.
"It was a gray area," Bergman said, referring to the hospital's obligation to provide affordable housing. "The obligation was unclear."
Town planning professional Bill Mikesell also acknowledged the original approval had language that was unclear.
"Your professionals have agreed there was uncertainty. This puts us on the road to certainty," Bergman said.
Still, "you should have deeded these years ago," Dougherty said.
The mayor suggested giving AHS a time limit as to how long it would take for them to deed restrict the 19 units. However, Bergman noted presently only six units are unoccupied.
With approval by the Planning Board to remove the condition, a year was given to get the deed restriction process started. The town will then seek update as to AHS' progress at that time.
"We'll proceed expeditiously," Bergman said. "We will phase them in as they become available."