MONROE – The township is planning to build an affordable housing community for veterans and their families on a 25-acre lot a developer donated several years ago, the administration said on Thursday.

Approximately 3 acres of the site at Cranbury-Half Acre Road west of Applegarth, which includes a park, will house 37 affordable units for veterans. K Hovnanian donated the land as part of a prior project, officials said, and at the May meeting earlier this month, the township council accepted the deed from the developer.

“The acquisition of this land serves three very important functions for Monroe Township. It increases our open space inventory and adds convenient recreational facilities for residents in that part of town,” said Mayor Gerald W. Tamburro in a statement. “Perhaps most importantly, it will provide land for the construction of affordable housing specifically for veterans, as we are so grateful for their service to our country.”

The township is soliciting bids for development and management of the site, which are due June 11. However, details such as how many bedrooms per unit, square-footage, etc., are unknown until the governing body awards a contract.

Township Administrator Alan Weinberg also noted that since this is the first time the local government has undertaken such a project the research and information gathering continues.

Ideally, he said, first priority would go to Monroe veterans, but the legalities of that approach are being studied.

“I think there may be a unique exemption for veterans, so we’re researching it,” Weinberg said. “We’re looking to do Monroe veterans and researching to ensure the law allows that.”

Once completed, this would be the township’s first affordable housing community built for veterans and their families. In the future, the township plans to name the community Patriot Park.

“It seems fitting that this site be designated Patriot Park in honor of the brave men and women who defend our country – past, present and future,” said Council President Stephen Dalina.

Why two projects differ

In March, the mayor took issue with a development project that included 42 affordable housing units.

The developer, SPII-LLC, proposed a mixed-use project with 206 residential units and 43,568 square feet of commercial and retail on 48 acres of land at 1099 Route 33 West. The proposal was a more densely-packed plan to account for less buildable space because of an Eagle’s nest, which is protected. The planning board rejected the plan.

In an unusual step prior to the planning board vote, Tamburro criticized the project, saying, “I’ve not been pleased with this proposal since its inception; it is yet another way in which developers use state affordable housing mandates to force more development into towns.”

Explaining why the mayor’s support for the veteran community differed from the SPII project, Weinberg said it complies with a 2016 court-ordered settlement. For every four market-rate units built, the developer has to construct one affordable dwelling. The mandate, however, does not apply in reverse when building only affordable units.

“The court-ordered four-to-one ratio is challenging for municipalities and in this case, there is no four-to-one ratio, which limits other impacts to the town,” Weinberg said.

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Christopher Lang is a freelance correspondent for MonroeNow. Previously he was part of The Record-USA Today Network and served as an editor for a decade at NJMG.