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Bernards Township Commits $250K to 'Our House'

Township Committee votes to kick in $250,000 for group home rather than give developers' fee money to state.

on Tuesday voted to cut a check for $250,000 to help create a group home on Vail Terrace for adults with developmental disabilities, virtually emptying a portion of a dedicated affordable housing fund financed by local developers rather than risk having the state government take the money.

The proposed group home that would be supported by the developers' fund, as well as contributions from other state agencies, would be put toward a renovated four-bedroom residence for developmentally disabled adults, according to the resolution approved by the Township Committee. The resolution says the home is at 17 Vail Terrace on about 1.3 acres.

Creation of the group home would benefit adults with disabilities who might otherwise be institutionalized, and at the same time provides the township with credits for providing state-required affordable housing units, saidBruce McArthur. The project also would use virtually all the rest of "at risk" funds collected from developers' fees four years ago, project.

"We have had a good history with Our House in the community," noted Township Attorney John Belardo.

Township officials noted that Our House, Inc. already has been a partner in the opened last year on the Somerset Hills YMCA property, and on another group home being developed on Flintlock Court.

"This is a very good program for developmentally challenged adults," said Township Committeeman Scott Spitzer.

But Spitzer also made it clear that, "I object to the state's approach — grabbing money from [towns] like ours in order to plug [their] holes and their gaps."

Township officials already previously have discussed that they have two choices: Let the money be used to contribute toward a local affordable housing project — or lose the money to the state.

In expressing his support for the project, Township Committeeman John Carpenter said, "I would rather burn it [the money] than send it to Trenton."

After Tuesday's meeting, McArthur said the township would "cut a check" for its support of the Our House project, but also must wait for approval from the state Council on Affordable Housing before proceeding with the plans for the new group home.

McArthur said last month that many communities had been taken by surprise to find that the legislation that created the developer's funds to finance state-ordered affordable housing in municipalities around New Jersey had included a small clause that the state had the right to take the money if it wasn't used within four years.

The state's affordable housing legislation requires developers to contribute a small percentage of money spend on building new homes to be set aside for in the host community's affordable housing projects.

McArthur said that Bernards Township has spent about $7 million from the developers' fund for building or renovating affordable housing projects in previous decades, including units for low-income senior citizens at senior housing. The township also contributed funding to other subsidized housing units, including other group homes.

Other group home projects that have been discussed with township officials include a residence for adults with cerebral palsy and for adults with autism, Township Committeeman John Malay noted last weekend. Malay was among those committee members who said he would rather use the money rather than have Trenton "confiscate" it.

Overall, McArthur said, an additional $1.2 million remains in the township's affordable housing fund even after approval of the funding for Our House.

But officials said they also are looking into other group home proposals since more of the money set aside in the fund, collected when developers build local homes.

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