At the May 16 meeting of the mayor and council, Davis and the council came one step closer after a long discussion on the impending, COAH-imposed construction of affordable housing units in the borough that resulted in the council voting to move forward on eleven potential housing units on three separate properties within the borough’s limits.
The motion passed by a 4-1 margin and includes the further exploration of the construction of a combination of 11 affordable housing units on properties located at 275 Main St., 235 U.S. 206 and 310 U.S. 206.
After months of studies by a committee summoned by David Banisch Associates, the Borough Council was presented with options to salvage the approximately $900,000 it has collected from developers and holds in reserve for COAH-related affordable housing projects. The borough had a deadline of June 30 to properly allocate the funds for affordable housing projects.
With the borough needing to reach a total of 37 additional units of affordable housing under the third round of COAH, another property that was discussed to be designated for affordable housing units, but was not approved for further exploration, was the property at 300 Main St. Chester Borough Mayor Robert L. Davis was particularly interested in a plan that would house anywhere from 16 to 24 of these units, which would have cost approximately $746,000 and would have greatly reduced the number of units that still needed to be constructed.
“Frankly, guys, I think that 300 Main Street ought to be a part of our game,” Davis said. “I think the idea of taking that property and being done with that property as far as borough’s concerend, and being able to move that money to our general ledger, is a positive.”
Some members of the council, like Gary Marshuetz, were hesitant to designate as much of that particular property to affordable housing, stating that perhaps some of the property could instead be designated for commercial or professional interests. This would take away the impact of such a dense population on a two-acre parcel of land while making an affordable housing development on the property less of an eyesore to those coming into the borough’s central business district.
“I like the idea of having a mixed use, and my concern is that 300 Main Street is right in the center of town and could be considered a corridor into the town,” Marshuetz said.
In light of this, Davis responded by saying that there would not be as much of a difference in the impact of an affordable housing project on the land as opposed to any other building project.
“We know in the future, probably there’s going to be three (buildings) on that site,” Davis said. “Do you want a front box that’s a restaurant? If you look behind a restaurant, you have garbage. Do you want dumpsters behind a restaurant where affordable housing is going to sit, behind that? The question that comes down the road is, ‘What do you vision for the site in total?’”
Another question brought up is how tenants for the new affordable housing units would be selected, and who comprises the pool of possible tenants. Anybody who meets certain low-income criteria and hears of the advertised developments is eligible for application before being selected at random.
“You can’t discriminate. Anybody can apply, and anybody who meets the criteria is selected from a hat,” said Councilwoman Jennifer Cooper Napolitano. “It’s not something where you can say who can apply; it’s open to anybody, anywhere who meets the criteria.”
Davis sees this as an opportunity for many of the college graduates returning to the area to gain independence while staying in the area for a lower than average cost.
“This actually gives our kids an opportunity to live in a place that is provided locally, as opposed to living in a lower-cost area,” Davis said.
Above all else, however, could be the fact that the borough has made progress on establishing more affordable housing units within its boundaries, eliminating the chance that the state will come through after the June 30 deadline and eliminate the affordable housing trust funds previously granted to the borough.
“I don’t know about you, but I’ve voiced and said that I don’t want our $900,000 to go back to the state,” Davis said.