PARSIPPANY – Township Attorney John Inglesino — referring to himself for one night as “Professor Inglesino” — presented a master class Wednesday night to an invitation-only group of residents concerned about potential redevelopment in the township’s massive Mack-Cali business campus.
His message to the residents of the Sedgefield and Glacier Hills neighborhoods — invited by Mayor James Barberio in response to what he termed as “misinformation” spreading through those areas nearest to Mack-Cali — was that more residential housing coming to Parsippany is inevitable, including low-income housing, thanks to a 2015 New Jersey Supreme Court decision that essentially shut down the state Coalition on Affordable Housing and placed control of Mount Laurel-mandated growth into the hands of Superior Court judges.
“Tonight I am going to try to educate you on affordable-housing law in New Jersey and how a Draconian decision by the New Jersey State Supreme Court may impact you here in Parsippany-Troy Hills,” said Inglesino, who has accumulated decades of experience on the issue as a former Rockaway Township mayor, Morris County freeholder and attorney representing several municipalities, including Morristown and Florham Park.
“There’s nobody that knows land-use law like Mr. Inglesino,” Barberio said before turning the meeting over to Inglesino.
Narrating a nearly hour-long slide-show presentation for a standing-room-only crowd in Council Chambers, Inglesino outlined the lengthy and complicated progression from the landmark 1975 Mount Laurel Decision to the present.
In that historic finding, the state Supreme Court held that the state Constitution required each municipality to “plan and provide, by its land-use regulations, the reasonable opportunity for an appropriate variety and choice of housing, including low and moderate cost housing, to meet the needs, desires and resources of all categories of people who may desire to live within its borders.”
The state Supreme Court reaffirmed its decision in 1983, adding a “builder’s remedy” mandate that entitled developers to a court-ordered zoning designation, meaning a town that did not live up to its Mount Laurel obligations could lose control over the zoning of a given developer’s property if it did not stay in compliance with the stipulations of the ruling.
In 1985, the state Legislature enacted the Fair Share Housing Act to establish the Council on Affordable Housing, better known as COAH, to codify Mount Laurel and also provide municipalities with a voluntary process to satisfy its Mount Laurel obligations.
COAH adopted two rounds of rules to determine the number of required units of affordable housing each town was responsible for, and proposed a third round in 2003, which introduced an “owe as you grow” growth-share element that tied a town’s affordable-housing obligation to residential and employment growth in the town.
But in March 2015, the state Supreme Court ruled that COAH’s administrative process had failed and transferred responsibility of enforcing Mount Laurel obligations from the “moribund” agency to the courts.
“In effect, you now have 21 different COAH’s throughout the state,” Inglesino observed. “And they are not set up to do that. They are courts. They are not administrative agencies. So that has created a whole host of challenges that we, as practitioners and policy-makers, have to deal with.”
Inglesino added that Parsippany has “a long history of compliance” with the COAH administrative process, and is currently immune from builder’s remedy actions “because of its good-faith attempts to meet its affordable housing obligations.”
But Parsippany and other towns paid close attention to a recent court challenge involving a developer application in South Brunswick. In that case, Inglesino said, the judge “eviscerated” the arguments by an expert being employed by most New Jersey towns, including Parsippany, and awarded several builder’s remedies. the judge also stripped South Brunswick of its authority to control zoning on the contested sites.