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Top court's decision keeps COAH alive, for now

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New Jersey's Supreme Court has rejected a request by Gov. Chris Christie's administration to stay an Appellate Division decision to reverse Christie's affordable housing reorganization plan, meaning the Council on Affordable Housing won't be going away anytime soon.

According to Richard Hoff Jr., principal of land-use and affordable housing law firm Bisgaier Hoff LLC, the court's decision fails to resolve the "absolute confusion for anyone doing development work in New Jersey."

"Towns have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars preparing plans that don't mean anything now," said Hoff, who is not involved in the case. "There are towns across the state that still have growth-share ordinances on the book, even though the Appellate Court invalidated them in 2000. Our response is, 'That's illegal,' but they say 'That's what we have.' The ordinances might someday be legal again, but for now, we have a stalemate between developers and townships."

Christie proposed a year ago to put COAH under executive control by transferring its functions to the Department of Community Affairs. The Fair Share Housing Center appealed once the order took effect and won the case in March, which reinstated COAH's authority over municipal fair share obligations. Christie then filed for a stay of that decision, which both courts have now denied.

Hoff said COAH has "not really been doing anything in earnest" since it was reinstated in March, and he doesn't expect that to change until the Supreme Court rules on COAH's third-round regulations, which he called the "state's longest unheard pending petition," noting it has been sitting in the court for 16 months.

"Today's decision doesn't mean the Supreme Court won't take the case," Hoff said. "I think COAH could do cleanup work right now … but will continue to wait out that storm, as well."

According to Fair Share associate director Kevin Walsh, the top court's decision "further reinforces the wisdom of the Legislature's recent actions."

"Governor Christie simply does not have the power to unilaterally abolish independent agencies he doesn't like," Walsh said in a statement.

Like the third-round regulations petition, the Supreme Court has not yet ruled on Christie's request to review the decision on appeal in the future.

Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said the administration would offer no comment, though refuted the notion that the administration's reorganization of the DCA was by executive decision. Rather, Drewniak said in an e-mailed statement, the Legislature took no action on the proposal when it was submitted for publication in the New Jersey Register.

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