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Vol. LXIII, No. 16
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
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Planning Board Approves Institute Housing, Hears Westerly Road Proposal

Dilshanie Perera

The Regional Planning Board approved a request by the Institute for Advanced Study to build 19 short-term academic housing units on 1.6 acres of land in a unanimous vote during last Thursday’s meeting. The Board also heard the concept proposal for the five-acre Westerly Road Church site.

Planning Director Lee Solow summarized the Institute’s proposal, saying that they are applying to build on a 65-acre tract of land. Each of the 19 units are one bedroom spaces of about 580 square feet, and will have access off of Springdale Road. Twenty-two parking spaces and a pedestrian walkway are also part of the plan.

The Institute also requested variances for a few zoning requirements involving a parking setback and lighting.

Associate Director of the Institute John Masten noted that the organization regularly invites 50 visiting scholars during the academic year, and many more on an ad hoc basis. “Those people are currently housed all over the place,” he said, adding that the 19 units would make the other spaces available, and make housekeeping services more efficient.

“It is placed on a site that was set aside in the plan for future development,” Mr. Masten added.

Explaining that the parking variance occurred because they had to shift building plans further to the east in order to save an oak tree, Mr. Masten said they would plant 15 trees to make up for the 15 they would lose during the construction process.

When it was suggested that the proposed development be labeled as graduate student housing, which therefore would not increase the Township’s affordable housing obligation, Planning Board member Marvin Reed said that they would not suggest that it be labeled as such to “duck out of COAH [NJ Council on Affordable Housing] regulations,” adding, “I encourage you to provide some effort in affordable housing.”

“COAH makes the ultimate determination, and we intend to abide by that,” attorney Chris Tarr asserted.

About 60 people were present to hear the discussion about the Westerly Road Church’s plans for the five-acre site it currently owns. As it was the concept review, no formal action was taken.

Mr. Solow said the proposal involves subdividing the space, which currently houses the church and four church-owned houses used as offices into 10 half-acre lots for 10 new single family homes ranging in size from 21,780 square feet to 22,707 square feet. His caveats were that portions of the site were within the state’s C1 buffer area, which prohibits development within 300 feet of a stream, and that the development has not been factored into the Township’s affordable housing obligation.

The church’s Relocation Project Manager Ed Nyce explained that their congregation has grown significantly over the past few decades, and “today we’re bursting at the seams.” The present site is too small to accommodate the demand, he said.

Tentative plans have been made to move to an 18.5-acre property on Bunn Drive, and to do so, “it was deemed necessary to sell the present location and subdivide the property,” Mr. Nyce said. The church does not plan to be the developer for the site on Westerly Road.

Township Mayor and Planning Board member Bernie Miller suggested that there could be more creative ways of using the five-acre site, which may include affordable housing.

Westerly Road resident Betsy Hoover expressed approval that the church would be moving to accommodate its congregation, but noted that “the idea of having 10 homes in a small space does change the character of the neighborhood.”

Bill Wolfe, chair of the Site Plan Review Advisory Board, noted that he expects to be reviewing the Church’s site plans for the lot on the Princeton Ridge portion of Bunn Drive in the future. “I expect it to be very controversial,” he said, adding that he “wouldn’t want approval of the subdivision on the [Westerly Road] site to automatically mean accepting the development on the Ridge.”

Heidi Fichtenbaum of the Sustainable Princeton Steering Committee urged that some of the existing structures on the Westerly Road Church lot be conserved. “In the spirit of sustainability, try to maintain some of what is there.”

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