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February 10, 2009

Re:   COAH—Affordable Housing Update

Dear Mayor:

This letter is intended to advise you, particularly those in the 257 municipalities that have pledged towards the League’s challenge of the COAH regulations, of a significant and troubling development. As you know, the League’s challenge to the COAH regulations is just one of twenty-four appeals to the current COAH regulations.  A coalition of twenty towns (referred to as the “20 Town Group” and the “Clinton Coalition”) filed its brief in the challenge last Tuesday, February 3.

As a courtesy and a resource for our membership, we have posted the Executive Summary, prepared by Stuart Koenig, Esq. at: www.njslom.org/Housing-Executive-Summary.pdf

One item referenced in their brief and referenced in the Executive Summary of particular interest to the League is a “Pilot Study” conducted by the National Center for Neighborhood & Brownfields Redevelopment, Rutgers University.  The pilot was conducted to test the vacant land analysis relied upon by COAH. This pilot study is dated July 9, and we presume that it was presented to COAH on or around that date.  

In preparation for our challenge, the League submitted an OPRA request to the agency on October 22, 2008 and we believe that this study should have been provided to us then.  On Wednesday, the League submitted a letter to COAH, demanding to know why the League was not provided a copy of this report.  

On Friday, COAH responded and explained their rationale for not providing us a copy of this study.  Basically, COAH contends that the report was not intended to test the vacant land analysis relied upon by the agency.   This is stated despite the fact that Section 1 of the report states,

            “…a number of municipal and county planning officials question the accuracy of the vacant land analysis conducted by the National Center for Neighborhood & Brownfields Redevelopment (the Center) because it did not use more current local land use information….COAH requested the Center to conduct a pilot study to determine how and why the results might differ, and what the impact might be on future development capacity.”

Thus, this study was intended to test the accuracy of the vacant land analysis relied upon by the agency, and we believe this should have been disclosed to us, and we find COAH’s explanation to be unconvincing.    We have posted COAH’s response letter on our website, so you can judge for yourself.
An objective review of the study calls into question the validity of the agency vacant land analysis.  In the simplest terms, county property line data was inserted into the GIS model employed by the Center to develop the vacant land analysis.    Data from Somerset County alone was utilized in the pilot study.  

Assuming the validity of the new estimates, the pilot study draws the following conclusions:

  • The vacant land analysis originally developed by the Center and utilized by COAH under-estimated the amount of developed land in Somerset County by 21.9%.  (See page 9, Pilot Study.)
  • Likewise, the vacant land analysis over-estimated the amount of vacant land in Somerset County by 14.9%.  (See page 10, Pilot Study.)
  • The vacant land analysis and build out analysis over-estimated residential capacity by 16.9%, and non-residential capacity by 15.4% (See pages 10-11, Pilot Study.)

The pilot study states that 15 of the 21 counties in the State “have completed full and reasonably accurate spatial databases” which would allow for similar comparison.    COAH’s response cites this as a cautionary note as to why these results cannot be applied on a statewide basis.   While that can be debated, the agency could have easily sent their vacant land conclusions to the counties for review as to accuracy, before they determined build-out.  They also could have used those counties with accurate information, and adjusted the others proportionately. At a minimum, the result of the pilot study should have signaled to the agency that the underpinnings of the COAH methodology were unsound, and everything that followed needed to be re-examined. 

As recently as last week, COAH claimed that it utilized the most accurate and up-to-date data available.   If nothing else, this pilot study demonstrates that the data relied upon by the agency is neither accurate nor up-to-date. 

To date, 257 municipalities have made financial pledges to the League’s challenge.  The League’s brief , prepared by Edward Buzak, Esq, was submitted on January 5, and our Executive Summary is also posted on our website.  The League is now considering its options as to how to proceed regarding the agency’s failure to disclose the study.  

These events are also summarized in an article in Sunday’s Home News & Tribune.
We would also call your attention to the editorial which appeared in Tuesday’s Home News as well, which calls on DCA and COAH to “to go back to the drawing board by providing real and reachable housing goals.”

Questions can be directed to Mike Cerra at mcerra@njslom.com or at 609-695-3481 x120.

Very Truly Yours,

William G. Dressel, Jr.
Executive Director

 

 

 

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