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  • Writer's pictureChristine McGrath

May 6th Meeting Summary

Last night we had a really substantial meeting - one of our biggest agendas in a long time. Here is an update.


We started off the meeting with a conversation with Conifer, the developer of Verona Flats, on how the 95 affordable housing units being built next to the Community Center will be filled. The two smaller buildings (filled with the three bedrooms) will be done and hopefully ready for occupancy in September. The larger main building will be ready in November or December.


If you or anyone you know are interested in renting an apartment in the Verona Flats, it's important to sign up your/their interest at https://coniferllc.com/properties/verona-flats/. The application to apply will be sent to everyone on the interest list about 90 days before the apartments become available, which means the application will be likely sent out in the beginning of June. Completed applications get date stamped as they are received. It's first come first serve based on completed applications on who gets to rent an apartment.


Some things we learned last night. About 1,400 individuals are on the interest list, 1/3 of them are currently living in Verona. As was previously discussed, at least 5 units are specifically for individuals with disabilities and an additional 5 are for formerly homeless families. The latter units are filled through a special process involving state agencies. The application process for all of the units is prescribed by the state of NJ and information is verified by a third party. Finally Conifer will be leasing a local space so that people can come in to ask questions and see more information on the floor plans.


I asked the question that is on everyone's minds - how many school children do we think may move in? The representatives from Conifer said in their past experience, its generally 2 children for the 3 bedrooms and 1 for the 1 bedrooms, but it is unclear what may happen with these units. The fact that 1/3 of the interest is from within town may help to keep the net increase in school population low. Last night I stressed the importance of creating an implementation team, including members from the Township and Board of Education, to help with open dialog and communication so that we ensure that the new residents are welcomed and integrated smoothly into Verona life.


We then moved on to our first conversation on the next round of affordable housing, which starts in 2025. Governor Murphy signed bill S50/A4 which created new rules for how much affordable housing Verona and other towns need to build. Here are the highlights of the timing. By October 20th, the Department of Community Affairs will be releasing a number of units that Verona (and other municipalizes) have to hit. We can choose to dispute that number, but that dispute will need to be resolved quickly. By January 31, 2025, we need to have a binding resolution agreeing to our affordable housing obligation. By June 30th, we need to have our 4th Round Plan, which will be a road map on where those units will go. By March 15 of 2026 we need to fully adopt all of the ordinances to execute that plan.


Unlike the last time, developers will not have the same power to "intervene" in this process as long as Verona complies with the timing and approach. What this means is that Verona, not developers, is in the driver's seat. That is good news.


The challenge will be the aggressive timing and the total number we need to hit, which is roughly estimated at this time to be 86 to 118 units. As a reminder, we don't need to build all of that affordable housing, but we need to create the zoning opportunities for development to occur to generate that number of units. There are certain bonus credits available depending on what you build and who it is targeted for. For example, if we help to facilitate building a group home for disabled adults, we get bonus credits for doing so (every one unit we build would count as two units).


Our affordable housing planner from DMR indicated that Verona should conduct a vacant land analysis now, and important step to figure out what land is even buildable in town. We should have our other planner conduct a baseline analysis of how many units of affordable housing could be generated under our current zoning. When we start to look at zoning changes for Bloomfield Avenue and Pompton (a project already in the works based on our Master Plan review), we can see how many additional units we can generate with those zoning changes.


5 years ago, I ran for public office because I saw the Council at that time floundering through the affordable housing process and making decisions without adequate public input. The process for this next round has now begun. This time, we have a strong management team and group of professionals (something I helped to ensure), a focus on Township communication (also something I have advocated strongly for), and a new law that focuses on a clear process and local control. What we need now is resident engagement. We need your voices at the table as we have further conversations on what our new zoning will look like and where we want to focus our higher density developments. We need your help to keep our small town feel while we comply with NJ requirements.


Moving on, we unanimously approved ordinances to pay for the Everett Field planning work, we added new zoning fees for resident and commercial projects, and we increased the fees for businesses that sell alcohol.


We introduced nearly $13 million in bonds and capital authorization last night. We will have a second reading on all of these ordinances and a final vote at our next meeting on May 20th. Highlights include:


  • $8.4 million of work on the water and sewer utility for critical upgrades and a new pump to resolve pressure issues with the Claridges.

  • $350K to re-line the big pool (after this season) and $10K paid out of the capital budget of the pool for some new furniture

  • $3.1 million for projects out of our general fund for key work such as pickleball/tennis court rehabilitation, digitization of records, property tax re-evaluation, Franklin Street bridge repair, shade tree improvement program, fire department equipment acquisition, and critical improvements to key Township buildings that need rehabilitation.

  • $235K of capital from the general fund for smaller projects such as sidewalk and catch basin repair, new parking meters and charging stations, design work for new roofs for the Community Center and Public Works garage, fire prevention personal protective equipment, and clerk license software.


As part of resolutions, we settled a long standing lawsuit with Landtek that occurred over the building of the athletic fields at Hilltop. We also introduced a bond increase of $355K to partially pay for that settlement.


Last night we voted to purchase 46 Lakeside Avenue from Our Lady of the Lake Church. We will keep the land a parking lot and renovate it to include several electric charging stations and pay meters. It will be the future site of long-term parking permits. More on this acquisition when we introduce the bond to pay for the property. In addition, we are applying for the NJ Economic Development Authority Grant to offset the costs of the property purchase.


We also declared Bloomfield Avenue an Area of Need of Rehabilitation, which will help us to apply for grants in the future and may lead to some tax abatement strategies. Also, we approved a new contract with the Cougar Aquatic Swim Team, who will be paying more this year to use our pool facilities.


As I stated previously, this was a big meeting. If you have any questions or comments, please send them to the entire Council by using this form: https://www.veronanj.org/councilcontactform.



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