In a crucial move that underscores the ongoing struggle over affordable housing in Saddle River, New Jersey, the borough council has approved a significant investment despite opposition from some local residents. The Council voted unanimously on May 8, 2023, to adopt Ordinance 23-1057, authorizing the expenditure of $1.675 million for the purchase of a property at 333 Mill Road that will be used for affordable housing or other public purposes.
The controversy surrounding the decision unfolded during the council meeting where John J. Lamb, representing the Concerned Citizens of Mill Road, Inc., tried to use procedural challenges to stop the Council’s actions. He challenged the legality of the meeting and the adoption of the ordinance. Lamb criticized the meeting’s compliance with the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), suggesting inadequate notice and ambiguities in the language used in the ordinance. He also raised concerns about the increased cost of $150,000 for renovations and repairs without clear explanation.
Lamb’s objections extended to an apparent lack of “Adequate Notice” for the meeting and timely posting of the meeting agenda. He had submitted a request for the affidavit of publication of the meeting in Herald News under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) but claimed to have received no response.
Despite these challenges, the council’s attorney, Mr. Lafferty, maintained that the meeting was appropriately noticed and adhered to the required protocols. He confirmed that an inspection of the property in question had occurred, but no specific budget had been prepared for it. Lafferty was unable to confirm whether the $150,000 cost increase was intended for maintenance or repairs.
Despite the objections raised, the council voted to proceed with the adoption of the ordinance. The approved funds will cover transaction expenses, repairs, improvements to the existing structure, and all necessary work and materials. Of the $1.675 million total, an $80,000 down payment will be provided, with the remaining amount to be financed through the issuance of bonds or notes. An additional $26,000 has been estimated for covering architect’s fees, accounting, engineering and inspection costs, legal expenses, and other ancillary costs.
The decision signifies a notable step in the borough’s approach to addressing the affordable housing issue, despite Lamb’s argument that the borough has no current affordable housing mandate due to an existing decision granting the borough immunity in this regard until July 2025.
Mark Infante, a resident and plaintiff in the Concerned Citizens of Mill Road, Inc. litigation against the borough, further questioned the financial preparedness of the borough regarding the property acquisition.
In an added twist, Lamb announced that an amended complaint would soon be filed, subject to his clients’ approval. The Council moved to enter a closed session to discuss matters involving the acquisition, pending or anticipated litigation, or contract negotiation in which the Borough is or may become a party.
It remains to be seen how the battle over affordable housing will play out in Saddle River, but it is clear that the Council is intent on pursuing this acquisition, seeing it as a necessary step in providing affordable housing for the borough’s residents.