Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 16
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
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Hillier Project Under Borough Scrutiny As Rental Agreement Changes Proposed

Dilshanie Perera

Development Manager James Banks came before Borough Council last week to petition for a change to the occupancy qualifications of certain rental apartments within the Waxwood, a J. Robert Hillier-owned and operated development on Quarry Street. Council members agreed that the query should be put to residents of the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood and that further negotiations were necessary.

Representing J. Robert Hillier, the eponymous firm with Mr. Hillier (also a Town Topics shareholder) at the helm, Mr. Banks explained that of the 34 units of housing at the Waxwood, three are set aside as affordable units and five others are deemed “Foundation units.”

The affordable units consist of two moderate-income rentals and one low-income rental, whereas the Foundation units have been rented for a 20 percent discount below market rate and are restricted to applicants who have resided in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood for at least 10 years, or who are direct descendants of such residents.

Mr. Banks acknowledged the difficulty of finding qualified applicants for the Foundation units in the Waxwood, saying that the market-rate units average $2,050 per month, and the Foundation units average $1,600 per month. Owing to some difficulty in renting the condominiums, some have been further reduced to $1,300 per month.

As of Spring 2010, one of the five Foundation units has been vacant, and as of September 2010, two such units have been vacant, Mr. Banks reported.

The revision to the developer’s agreement the firm has with the Borough was proposed by Mr. Banks as the following: instead of maintaining the residency requirements on the Foundation units, they would turn into a “preference” and 45 days after a Foundation unit is noticed as coming vacant, it will be marketed to members of the Witherspoon-Jackson community, but if vacant beyond that time, would be opened up and made available to all residents of Princeton Borough with a minimum of 5 years residency. An income limit would be imposed under state moderate income restrictions.

Mayor Mildred Trotman suggested that a list of interested residents from the neighborhood be kept to alert them once units become available.

Council member Jenny Crumiller asked whether Mr. Banks had spoken with the neighborhood association about the proposed change, to which he responded in the negative. David Goldfarb, also of Borough Council, said he suggested “you go back to the neighborhood and get a buy-in from them” before further negotiations with Council.

Mr. Banks mentioned that all 24 of the market rate units and all three of the affordable units had been rented and occupied since the Waxwood opened.

Council reminded Mr. Banks about a previous amendment to the developer’s agreement in 2010 wherein the firm requested that their sales agreement be postponed until October 2016, allowing for the continued rental of the units, “since there has been little improvement in the economy.”

Mr. Banks agreed that “the sales market is horrendous,” and said that he doesn’t want the Waxwood “to be in a situation where there are vacancies when we have a successful rental program.”

Ms. Crumiller remained skeptical of the proposed changes to the Foundation unit requirements, noting that “developers take big risks and reap big rewards,” though she agreed that “the buy-in from the neighborhood would mean a lot.”

“For us to amend [the agreement], it’s required that we get something in return,” Mr. Goldfarb reasoned.

In other news regarding Mr. Hillier’s developments in Princeton, the age-restricted “active-adult” community housing project slated to be constructed on Princeton Ridge along Bunn Drive will be called Copperwood by the developer. The project will consist of 153 luxury rental apartments, scheduled to open in the autumn of 2012.

Leases will be available for one, three, and five year options, and monthly rents are anticipated between $1,900 and $3,600. A small number of affordable units will be available on site as well, though the number and specifications are yet to be disclosed.

The Copperwood development will disturb 18 percent of the land on its Princeton Ridge site, with an undeveloped portion to be deeded to a conservation organization. The project will also utilize green design. For more information, visit jroberthillier.com or call (609) 688-9999.

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