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Residential Standards in Flux As Homeowners Remain Defiant

Matthew Hersh

Zoners and planners decided yesterday to continue the discussion on placing building caps on private residences in the Borough as several residents continued to object to the proposed standards, saying the measure would hurt the town in the long term.

The Regional Planning Board's Zoning Amendment Review Committee (ZARC) re-examined an ordinance that was first proposed by Princeton Borough Council that would attempt to control homes being torn down to make way for larger homes that many residents feel would be out of character with the surrounding neighborhoods.

But some residents, particularly those living in the Borough's R-1 district in the western section of town, continue to argue that if ZARC were to recommend the ordinance for passage (ultimately to be decided by Borough Council), it should focus less on caps and more on the proportionality with the floor-area ratio (FAR) and the height-to-setback ratios.

Residents in that section of town have claimed that building caps would impose restrictions that could translate into lowered property values. They also maintained that they should be trusted not to build out of character with their neighborhood.

However, in other sections of town, such has the Borough's R-4 district that comprises the John-Witherspoon neighborhood and portions of the tree streets further down the eastern section of Nassau Street, residents have shown concern for so-called "Megamansions" that use the square-footage caps allowed by the current zoning ordinances.

The original proposed changes to the ordinance include limiting house size in the R-1 to 8,000 square feet with a 25 percent floor area ratio (FAR); the R-2, roughly the eastern section, would be limited to 4,500 square feet, with a 30 percent FAR.

Recommendations to the R-3 (parts of the Mercer Hill and Jugtown sections, and an area east of the hospital) increase FAR to 40 percent of lot size for single-family homes and 45 percent for two-family dwellings. For one-family homes in that section, the maximum building size would be 3,500 square fee with two-family homes capping out at 2,500 square feet.

The aforementioned R-4 should be limited to 3,000 square feet for single-family homes and 2,000 square feet for two-family homes, ZARC recommended, with FAR fixed at 40 and 45 percent, respectively.

Members of ZARC also explored maximum allowances in FAR, the relationship of the house to lot size, as well as a "cap plus" that would allow for more proportionate square-footage allowance for homes already impacted by caps.

But several residents insisted that the proposed ordinance, while well-intentioned, needs to more specifically address the needs of the homeowners.

"Everything needs fine-tuning so we can come away feeling that the overall needs have been met," said resident Edward von der Schmidt, adding that there would be "no guarantees" under a new ordinance if residents wanted to add on to their homes.

The discussion needs to be completed by ZARC before it can move for approval. No date, however, has been set for that hearing.


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