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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Feb 28, 2020

Residents React to Announcement of Rumson’s Future Housing Plans

Submitted by Adrienne Fleming

rumson new jersey nj sign

More than 1,000 Rumson residents assembled at the Forrestdale School gymnasium on Jan. 14 to hear a public presentation on the borough’s impending housing plans. After moving from the cafeteria to the gym to accommodate the large crowd, many sat on the floor through a four-hour presentation that detailed future affordable housing and luxury townhome developments in Rumson.

A town planner hired by the borough took residents through a brief history of New Jersey’s affordable housing requirements to provide context for the presented plans, which most attendees were learning of the for the first time. In 1975, the Mount Laurel Doctrine declared that all New Jersey municipalities have a constitutional obligation to provide realistic affordable housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income households. In many cases, this includes the nurses, teachers, police officers, firefighters and other valued citizens who wish to live in the community for which they provide vital services. Those who are eligible for affordable housing have the opportunity to pay lower rents and home prices based on overall income. Applying for affordable housing is a central process run at the state level.

In 1985, the state created the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH), a government agency tasked with working with towns to implement plans for affordable housing and establish how many units each township was obligated to provide. However, the New Jersey Supreme Court divested COAH in 2015 after it failed to meet the deadline for establishing new guidelines, and ruled that henceforth affordable housing obligations would be administered by the courts. In practice this meant that judges in every New Jersey county were appointed to adjudicate related issues.

Using prevailing methods, it was determined that Rumson’s affordable housing obligation was 603 units. However, the borough and The Fair Share Housing Center (FSHC) settled on a realistic development potential (RDP) of 39 units. The FSHC is a statewide nonprofit group that is an advocate for low- and moderate-income households, advises the courts, and in many ways took on the role previously held by COAH. In 2017, unbeknownst to the residents of Rumson, local developer Roger Mumford applied for intervenor status and became party to these negotiations, which according to the borough council were to be kept confidential on the judge’s orders.

Mumford proposed three sites for development in Rumson that would include both affordable housing units and luxury townhomes. As a result, Rumson’s RDP was raised to 51 affordable housing units from the previous requirement of 39. The judge’s orders made clear that the Borough of Rumson would have to come to an agreement with both the FSHC and Mumford’s company, Yellow Brook Property Co., and failure to do so would give the right to any builder to file what’s called a “builder’s remedy” lawsuit. Potentially, this would lead to a legal obligation by Rumson to accept plans far exceeding the number of proposed units, while bypassing all control mechanisms on the town level.

Mumford’s initial proposal was to build multi-family townhomes at 132 Bingham Ave. and 91 Rumson Rd., which included a 20 percent affordable housing unit “set aside.” This proposal included 56 townhouse units at 132 Bingham Ave. with 95 parking spaces and 12 affordable housing units. At 91 Rumson Rd., he proposed 76 townhouse units with 114 parking spaces and 16 affordable housing units.

After confidential negotiations between Mumford and the borough, a settlement agreement was reached that featured a reduced density, reduced number of units and an architectural design attempting to reflect that of the surrounding neighborhood. The final plans for Bingham Avenue include 18 duplex units with 43 parking spaces to be sold at $1.5 million each, while plans for Rumson Road include 16 triplex/carriage house units and 31 parking spaces to be sold between $1.2 million and $1.7 million each. Neither of these sites will contain affordable housing units.

“What I plan to build is a new type of product called ‘attached estate homes,’ which are very different from typical townhomes,” Mumford said. “I put a tremendous amount of thought into the design, which will be in keeping with the shore colonial style typical of surrounding single-family Rumson homes.”

The borough and Mumford agreed that all of the affordable housing units would be developed offsite at a property owned by Yellow Brook Property Co. on Carton Street, while all units developed on Bingham Avenue and Rumson Road would be luxury units sold at market rate. This agreement, reached under the judge’s oversight, will require rezoning of the Bingham Avenue and Rumson Road properties, and Mumford has purchased options to buy the land from the current owners.

“Effectively, the new market rate homes subsidize the offsite affordable units,” Mumford said.

Mumford will sign over the Carton Street property to the borough and pay additional fees to fund the development of 14 affordable housing units at the site, while the Borough of Rumson will work with another builder to complete the project. All of the units on Carton Street will be designated as affordable housing, adding to the nine existing affordable housing units already in Rumson. The implementation of the agreement means that Rumson will receive immunity from other similar interventions until 2025. After this date, additional units will likely be mandated toward covering the unmet affordable housing need.

Affordable housing units are shown in a Carton Street property rendering.

In the beginning of January 2020, residents who live within 200 yards of the Bingham Avenue and Rumson Road properties received letters notifying them of the settlement agreement. Shocked to learn that prior negotiations had been conducted without their knowledge, neighbors living in the immediate vicinity of the proposed building sites were invited to Borough Hall and presented with the plans. A few days later, Rumson residents arrived in droves at the information session at Forrestdale School.

“Some of us now involved in these initiatives grew up in affordable housing ourselves and know first-hand how important it was for our lives and what it meant for our families,” one Rumson resident said. “We all understand that creating affordable housing opportunities represents honoring our responsibilities to our fellow citizens in New Jersey. What we do oppose is the lack of transparency and the exclusion of the public in the process.”

Indeed, the widespread sentiment of Rumson residents is that affordable housing is a necessity, not only for moral reasons and the health of the community and its residents, but also in order to fulfill the requirements set by law. However, many residents object to the process that paved the path for the construction of high-density luxury housing that will affect parking, local traffic, stress on the school system, the loss of green space, the character of the town and – in the case of the Rumson Road property – the existence of historic buildings. A groundswell of Rumson residents petitioned the Rumson Borough, FSHC and the state of New Jersey to adopt a community guided approach to affordable housing development. These residents have founded a group called Rumson for Open Spaces and Affordable Housing (ROSAH), and its hope is that going forward the residents of Rumson will be part of the negotiations and eventually, part of a solution that satisfies all parties. Almost 7,500 supporters have registered to date.

“The settlement agreement has left us with a plan that does little to create affordable housing, changes the character of the town, poses challenges to our infrastructure, and destroys historic buildings all while allowing a builder who didn’t have to compete with other proposals to benefit financially,” another concerned Rumson citizen said.

Local residents have launched an initiative to save the historically significant Lauriston Estate at 91 Rumson Rd., which under the current plan will be demolished. Lauriston, which is listed on the National Historic Registry and registered with the Rumson Borough Historic Preservation Commission, has lingered on and off the real estate market for years and remains vacant.

Local residents have launched an initiative to save the historic Lauriston Estate, which under the current plan will be demolished.

Mumford maintains that the Lauriston estate is in need of extensive renovations and is realistically past the point of preservation.

“From a structural standpoint, restoring Lauriston would likely cost in excess of a few million dollars,” he said. “And who would it be restored for? There is no market for a 14,000-square-foot home today. The only people interested in Lauriston up until now were builders wanting to subdivide it. Residents did not express an interest in the property until it became part of the affordable housing conversation.”

The new community Mumford proposes to build at this location will be named Lauriston Park.

Through ROSAH, Rumson citizens are on a mission to bring affordable housing to New Jersey while preserving a permanent legacy of historical buildings, open space, the environment and natural habitat. With the affordable housing need still far from satisfied and concepts such as overlay zoning and open space preservation likely to influence the character of Rumson, residents are poised to become active participants in a process that affects the future of their town.

To read the Rumson Affordable Housing Program Documents in their entirety, visit RumsonNJ.gov. For more information on ROSAH, visit rosah.org or email info@rosah.org.