WESTWOOD, N.J. — Concern about building more affordable housing than their towns can handle was issue No. 1 Thursday in Westwood as the Pascack Valley mayors met for their annual breakfast.
“Breakfast with the Mayors” was hosted by The Greater Pascack Valley Chamber of Commerce at The Iron Horse.
The event drew the largest crowd in its 40-year history, according to Skip Kelley, vice president of the chamber.
“This year affordable housing is at the top of the agenda,” said Montvale Mayor Michael Ghassali.
“There’s an organized movement to change this part of North Jersey to make it look like Union City and Newark,” he added. “We chose to live here. If I wanted to live in Hoboken, I would live in Hoboken. I chose to live in Montvale. I like my streets. I like my trees. I like my schools. I like my friends and my neighbors.”
He said the process used to assign a number of affordable units per town is more chaotic and unorganized than many he has seen in dysfunctional Third World countries.
The theme of court-ordered housing quotas was echoed again and again as some 50 people listened as they enjoyed Eggs Benedict, blintzes and more, and the coffee flowed.
Oradell Mayor Diane Carmelo Didio said that, unlike other towns, her borough doesn’t face the challenge of having abandoned corporate parks converted to housing units.
“We have the historic Blauvelt Mansion, up on a hill on four acres of property, as well as the abandoned Hackensack Water Works along the river,” Didio said.
“When the special masters see those open expanses, their eyes light up,” she added. “That’s our problem.”
Those two sites, she said, are Oradell’s history worthy of saving for the future. They are examples of the borough’s character.
Old Tappan Administrator Patrick O’Brien crunched staggering numbers on what he called “the affordable housing dilemma.”
Old Tappan, he said, has an affordable housing requirement that looks to be 362 units. Since 20 percent of new housing is devoted to affordable units, that means 1,810 units overall.
“That almost approaches our current housing in Old Tappan,” he said.
The 2010 U.S. Census shows the borough had 1,931 households.
“We’re talking about doubling,” he said, “and we have no COAH (Council on Affordable Housing) direction.”
Despite the challenges, the Pascack Valley area is still a great place to live, said Mayor Janet Sobkowicz of Washington Township, which has only two commercial properties, across the street from each other on Pascack Road.
Sobkowicz is thankful Foodtown came into the space previously occupied by the A&P, she said. The company is sinking more than a million dollars into renovating the façade and interior of the store.
Participating in the breakfast were mayors from 10 Pascack Valley and neighboring towns, or their representatives.
The towns were Montvale, Park Ridge, Woodcliff Lake, Hillsdale, Westwood, River Vale, Washington Township, Oradell, Old Tappan and Emerson.