Mayor James Schworn's Acceptance Speech - 2018
I would like to thank everyone for joining us this evening especially in light of the extremely frigid weather conditions. There was a snow storm the last time I was sworn in as Mayor so I consider this a somewhat marked improvement.
Let me begin by thanking my fellow Township Committee members for this honor, it is greatly appreciated. Congratulations to Brendon Beatrice on his election and I look forward to working with Anna as my Deputy Mayor and my other esteemed colleagues, Tom and Bob. Together, we enter 2018 with a sense of purpose, unity and cooperation in facing the many challenges that lie ahead.
I would also like to assure you that the men and women appointed to serve on our Boards and Commissions guarantee that our Township continues to be in very capable hands. We thank them for their efforts and dedication to our community.
Let me say how much I appreciate the opportunity to serve on this Committee and as your Mayor. It is an honor and a privilege to represent you. I am as deeply humbled and honored to serve Branchburg today as I was when I was first sworn into office. I thank you for your continued confidence in my ability. I must offer a special acknowledgment and thanks to my wife Dawn and my daughters: Emily, Catlin, Sarah and Jenna for their continued patience and support.
Throughout the years, I have vowed to protect Branchburg’s natural and historic resources and most importantly vigorously protect and defend our legal right to control commercial and residential development. I warned that our failure to do so would result in nothing less than the loss of our sense of community and worse, the quality of our lives as residents of Branchburg.
In light of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s recent decisions on affordable housing obligations, these words remain as true today as they were when first spoken but today, I say them with a renewed sense of urgency, importance and purpose.
I believe the sole criteria governing land use should be the impact the development will have on the long term quality of our family’s lives.
I believe I speak for every resident when I say that Branchburg is fully committed to meeting its affordable housing obligation but it must be provided in a manner that is consistent with our land use ordinances and our Master Plan. Although not finalized, our preliminary affordable housing numbers would literally double the size of the township over the next two
decades. For the record: we do not take exception to our affordable housing obligation but we do take exception to the proposed unrealistic numbers being foisted upon us.
It should be noted that in all the discussions regarding affordable housing there is never any mention of the potential long term adverse impact on a community’s existing infrastructure. There is no consideration of the impact to emergency services, utilities and sewer services, traffic congestion, roads, sidewalks and most importantly, our school system.
The sad irony is that the over development of a community under the guise of affordable housing leads to a degradation of services, lower property values and worst of all, higher taxes for all residents. The argument has been made that in the long term, affordable housing is actually regressive because the resultant tax burden creates a financial hardship on those that can least afford it.
But developers have and will continue to argue that Branchburg’s affordable housing obligation should trump all sound and reasonable arguments against high density developments. At last count, Branchburg had over 14 interveners. An interveners is a property owner who the court has granted special status requiring Branchburg to negotiate with them concerning potential development of their property.
Far in advance of this process, Branchburg issued Requests for Proposals from all interested developers to determine which properties best satisfy our affordable housing obligation while offering the most advantageous use with the least impact to our community. The properties were evaluated and ranked. (The proposals and ranking can be found on our website).
Beneath all the social rhetoric regarding affordable housing, this issue, not surprisingly, is about money. Every developer realizes that the real estate market will not support the development required to meet our over inflated affordable housing obligation. Predictably, the lower ranked developers have taken exception to this process and are lobbying with all their efforts, and in at least one case, are litigating to have their property proposals reconsidered and ranked higher.
Simply put, they know all too well that first to the trough is not only first to eat but most likely will be the only one to eat. Without the court’s protection, the end result is that Branchburg will be subject to numerous builders’ remedy lawsuits where the developers will claim that we are practicing exclusionary zoning and they should be permitted to construct high-density developments of 20 to 30 units per acre regardless of the Township’s local zoning ordinances.
Accepting grossly unrealistic affordable housing numbers only facilitates this argument and obliges the court to rule in favor of the developers. The market will never support the mandated over development but by then the damage will have been done.
The issue at hand is Branchburg’s sovereign and legal right to determine what is best for its residents. Although litigation is costly and time consuming, the Township must vigorously oppose development projects that ultimately will harm our community. We must be prepared for what I believe to be the inevitable reality of protracted litigation. There is just too much money to be made by too few people.
Despite any arguments to the contrary, we have been proactively and collaboratively working with property owners to develop projects that enhance and improve our community and protect the natural and historic assets that make Branchburg a desirable place to live, work and raise a family. We believe our process is fair, impartial and sound and will result in market driven, sustainable positive development that will also fully satisfy our affordable housing obligation.
In an effort to keep you fully informed as these issues progress, we intend to hold numerous “town hall” meetings on this matter over the upcoming months. In the interim, we ask for your support and patience but feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns.
On a more positive note, we are working with Somerset County Parks Commission to develop a long term plan to acquire the open space necessary to safely interconnect our parks through the creation of pedestrian hiking and bike paths. This will also facilitate improved resident accessibility to our natural resources through the creation of river trails and dedicated river launches for better boat access to the Raritan.
Administratively, we will be initiating a long overdue top down review of our ordinances to ensure they are conforming, consistent and accurately reflect the realities of our Township. It is of special importance to me that our ordinances encourage diversification of our local economy and tax base through the development and support of sustainable small businesses. Small businesses are critical to our local economy and help create a greater sense of community. We need to revise our ordinances to improve existing commerce, to create new business opportunities and to encourage growth and development along our existing Route 22 and 202 commercial corridors.
In closing, I would like to once again thank the countless men and women who volunteer their time, our emergency services, our fire companies, our police force, our administrators and all our employees who work tirelessly to keep Branchburg a safe and prosperous community. Thank you - your service is not overlooked.
I look forward to serving as your Mayor in 2018. Thank you again for your continued support.