Calling current rules burdensome, Christie said, "We need to lift that wet blanket off of municipalities and put the people who were elected back in control of making these decisions."
Adam Gordon, an attorney for the Fair Share Housing Center, objected to the proposal, saying, "It basically means that any town can choose to have zero affordable homes in the town because they could just collect this fee and build it somewhere else."
He said his calculations showed it was cheaper for a developer to pay the 2.5 percent fee than to build the set-asides.
Christie's plan emphasizes rehabbing homes over building more, and calls for towns to develop a plan to rehab substandard units.
His measure would have towns file their municipally approved affordable-housing plan with the state Department of Community Affairs.
Affordable-housing advocates, who complained they were shut out of Christie's news conference while the plan's supporters gained admission, sounded alarms that the proposal was unconstitutional and would enable towns to block affordable housing by not bringing in new residential development.
Worse, they said, the plan allows for commercial development without requiring affordable housing for those who accept the jobs that come with it. The current rules require a ratio of new low- and moderate-income housing units to accompany job growth.
New Jersey's controversial affordable-housing requirements originate in state Supreme Court rulings in 1975 and 1983 that towns have a constitutional obligation to provide affordable housing.
Municipal officials widely oppose the current housing quotas, saying they are unwieldy and drive up property taxes. Evesham Mayor Randy Brown said COAH rules "literally prohibit well-run municipalities from coming close to balancing their books."
"How can I as mayor attract a 50,000 square-foot commercial entity to build in my town if who knows how many low-income housing [units] are going to burden taxpayers and builders?" he asked.
Christie is also proposing to repeal a 2.5 percent fee on commercial development. He wants his proposal passed before a moratorium on the fee ends in July. Noting that several lawmakers who had sponsored affordable-housing bills had been working with the governor's task force on the issue, Christie said he believed a consensus would happen by June 30.
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, voiced concern about the short timeline, given the other substantial matters for the administration and Legislature as they work to approve a state budget by the end of June.
"If we do it wrong, we could create a mess that's going to last a generation," said Tittel, adding that the proposal, if adopted, would lead to sprawl and provoke further court battles.
Christie's proposal shares some traits with legislation moving through the Legislature.
In March, the Senate Economic Growth Committee backed a bill that would also abolish COAH and transfer diminished oversight responsibilities to the State Planning Commission.
The bill, whose primary sponsors include Committee Chairman Raymond Lesniak (D., Union), deems half of New Jersey's towns compliant with affordable-housing requirements, based on their percentage of attached or price-restricted units, and would establish steps that the rest would take to comply. All communities would have future developments of 20 units or more set aside 10 percent of their units for low- and moderate-income residents, and developments of between five and 19 units set aside 5 percent for affordable housing.
A bill introduced in February in the Assembly would also kill COAH and have 10 percent of new residential development set aside for affordable housing. Its primary sponsors are Republican Whip David Rible (R., Monmouth) and Deputy Majority Whip Vincent Prieto (D., Hudson).
Contact staff writer Maya Rao at 856-779-3220 or email@example.com.