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Vol. LXII, No. 32
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
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Hillier’s Greenview Avenue Project Denied by Borough Zoning Board in 4-3 Vote

Dilshanie Perera

The third part of the Borough’s Zoning Board hearings on the Greenview Avenue condominium case concluded late Thursday night with a 4-3 vote to deny Architect J. Robert Hillier’s application to rezone the three properties in question by variance.

Zoning board members Ken Kehrer, Marilyn Lynch, and Russell White voted in favor of Mr. Hillier’s application, citing the need for increased senior housing in Princeton. Board members Steven Cohen, Russell McFarlan, Ann McGoldrick, and Barrie Royce voted against the application, and alternate Michael Floyd also expressed disapproval of the rezoning by variance.

The applicant, Mr. Hillier, who is also a Town Topics shareholder, had petitioned the board to approve of use variances that would allow him to build a complex of 14 units of senior housing for persons aged 55 and above, of which three would be affordable units. The proposed building featured an underground parking lot, green elements meeting Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) standards, and a front facade that was set back from the street.

Julie Ann Fox and Steve Gates, Greenview Avenue neighbors who opposed the building, were represented by attorney Christopher DeGrezia. The hearing began in April, with its most recent and final installment occurring last week.

Mr. DeGrezia started Thursday’s five-hour session by cross-examining Dennis Hudacsko, zoning and planning consultant for Mr. Hillier. The proceedings continued with testimony from Ms. Fox, Planning Director for the Regional Planning Board of Princeton Lee Solow, and planning consultant Peter Steck. Mr. Hillier’s attorney, Mark Solomon also cross-examined the witnesses. The board then heard comments from members of the public before going into executive session and coming to their final decision.

“A lot of balancing needs to be done,” said Mr. Solow, who cautioned board members that they must carefully weigh the real need for senior housing and affordable units in Princeton, which is consistent with the master plan for the Borough, with the competing need for “neighborhood preservation.”

The use variances that would have effectively rezoned the properties of 5-7, 11, and 13 Greenview Avenue, included increases in the limit of 14 units per acre to 27 units per acre, the maximum of three units per building to 14, density and floor-area ratio (FAR), and coverage.

The revised zoning ordinance passed in 2006 was a key area of focus during the night’s proceedings. Mr. Solow mentioned that the ordinance was established primarily “because there is a growing concern through the community that neighborhoods are being threatened by large houses” that are newly developed. The 2006 ordinance keeps residential buildings at a relatively small size and allows for a maximum of three units per structure.

Reactions by neighbors were mixed, with some opposing the development, and some urging the board to allow it. Ms. Fox, whose property abuts that of the proposed development, testified against it, saying that the project would indelibly change the character of the neighborhood.

Greenview resident Barbara White worried that approval of the project would “set a precedent for unbridled development.” Others, like Joan DeStaebler of Humbert Street welcomed the change, noting that the building would be an “ideal location for seniors.” Alex Magoun, also of Humbert Street, thought that such a project would bring more stability to the neighborhood.

During the final discussion among the Zoning Board prior to the decision, members noted that it was a “very difficult decision” and praised the building for its innovative design, green qualities, and the attention given to seniors. But the decision hinged largely on the 2006 ordinance and the motivation behind it.

Saying that the variance requests were “unlike any other in size, scope, and type,” Ms. Goldrick noted that “there is no guidance within the ordinance that would allow us to provide that kind of exception.” Mr. Royce echoed her sentiments, citing the variances as “such a large departure” from the original ordinance.

In a telephone interview regarding the board’s decision to deny his application, Mr. Hillier noted, “I was obviously disappointed, but I understand it also. Because the zoning code is new, it doesn’t account for what we had in mind.”

At present, Mr. Hillier and his firm have no plans regarding the site.

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