A longtime Caldwell Planning Board member is under fire for callous remarks about people who live in affordable housing.
Nathan “Chip” Gardner has been asked to recuse himself or resign after the attorney for a developer accused him of having a bias against affordable housing residents – and for failing to “understand the redevelopment process.”
“You’re giving people opportunities to live in housing that they can afford in an area that they otherwise couldn’t afford. I’m not talking about that,” Gardner said. “I’m talking about general lifestyle.
“Mr. Gardner’s derogatory statements opposing affordable housing establish that he has a direct personal interest and bias against ‘giving people opportunities to live in housing that they can afford in an area that they otherwise couldn’t afford,” said Thomas P. Scrivo, an attorney for the developer, S&S Caldwell Village. “Although Mr. Gardner may have no financial gain from opposing the application, his position on the planning board will allow him to exert his prejudicial influence through his participation and voting.”
Gardner made his comments at a March planning board meeting and some local officials have distanced themselves from his statement.
“The comments made by Chip Gardner are his and only his, and not the Borough of Caldwell,” Mayor John T. Kelley told the New Jersey Globe. “The Borough of Caldwell welcomes those who want to utilize affordable housing.”
In an email, Gardner refused to recuse himself – but did not participate in two meetings that followed Scrivo’s letter.
“If the applicant wishes to disqualify me from this application, then I guess that is their prerogative. However, I will not recuse myself,” Gardner said. “I have been a board member for over 30 years and my only concern for all that time is for the homeowners in our town, of which I have lived for 42 years.”
Last year, Caldwell settled a complaint with the Fair Share Housing Center that ended litigation on affordable housing. As a result, the borough council passed a redevelopment plan that helped them meet obligations under the settlement.
“Mr. Gardner has expressed a lack of understanding of the redevelopment process and has attempted to delay moving forward with the Application in a timely manner, Scrivo said. “If Mr. Gardner refuses to voluntarily resign or recuse.”
Earlier this year, the 67-year-old Gardner sough to delay consideration of the project until the public could meet in person.
“It cannot be done on Zoom,” he said. “And don’t tell me about COVID, CDC guidelines. Everybody’s got, um, everybody’s got shots, we can socially distance, all the gyms are open.”
Two councilmen who serve on the board, Jeffrey Gates and Jonathan Lace, have recused themselves to obviate any conflict with Caldwell’s affordable housing settlement agreement.