Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 34
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
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Despite Recent Concerns, Mount Lucas Project Remains On Track

Matthew Hersh

Township officials last week questioned whether a recently approved proposal to build a 49-unit senior housing development slated for a 28-acre tract along Mt. Lucas Road would ever come to fruition, but those working with the developer have confirmed with Town Topics that the proposal is indeed moving through the planning process.

The applicant, Princeton Senior Townhomes, LLC, which envisioned a senior housing development along a wooded expanse between Mt. Lucas Road and Route 206, just north of Redding Circle, received unanimous approval from the Regional Planning Board of Princeton in May of this year to move forward with developing the site.

But at the August 13 Township Committee meeting, following a proposal from architect J. Robert Hillier, a shareholder in Town Topics Inc., that made the argument to relax the Township zoning residential standard on a nearby Bunn Drive tract from age 62 and up, to 55 and up, Township attorney Edwin Schmierer acknowledged that the municipality had not been able to contact Princeton Senior Townhomes principal Ned White, who had been present at the May Planning Board approval.

The Township has a special Residential Senior Community overlay zone along part of the Princeton Ridge that encompasses both the Bunn Drive and the Mt. Lucas lands and that requires residential development there to be for ages 62 and up. Mr. Hillier, in his presentation, sought to reduce the age restriction along the Bunn Drive tract to ages 55 and up, saying the less stringent mandates that accompany that classification would open the market, thus making the land more saleable and more readily developable. Township Committee, which established the senior housing overlay zone in 2001, has a long-standing policy of bringing market-rate senior housing to the municipality and has been guarded in reconsidering zoning there, mainly because 55-and-over housing only requires that one resident per household be over 55, whereas the 62-and-over classification requires that all persons living in a household are that age or higher.

Both Mr. Hillier and Mr. Schmierer suggested, however, that the federal guidelines that dictate 55-and-over housing could be reinterpreted so as to create a development that contains 80 percent housing for only ages 55 and up, with the remaining 20 percent open to the general market.

The marketability of 62-and-over housing has been questioned in recent months, with national developer K. Hovnanian's 2006 pullout of an already-approved proposal to build 140 senior units on the very same tract for which Mr. Hillier proposed a zoning change. That land, owned by William and Laura Lowe of Short Hills, is worth an estimated $10 million, and while K. Hovnanian cited marketability reasons and developmental challenges posed by the rocky terrain there as reasons for backing out, officials familiar with the application have said that the Lowes' asking price for the 20-acre Bunn Drive site also influenced the developer's reasoning.

Mr. Hillier estimated that his project, which proposed to use only a portion of the Bunn Drive site, would cost between $60 million and $70 million. No formal plan has been submitted to the municipal Planning Department, and Township Hall is expected to weigh the Hillier zoning change proposal in a public forum sometime in the fall. If the zoning requirements are changed, Mr. Hillier would then likely submit a formal site plan for municipal review.

The Princeton Senior Townhomes concept along Mt. Lucas Road is still slated to be a 62-and-up development, though if the Township does entertain Mr. Hillier's 55-and-up plan for development on Bunn Drive, it is possible Princeton Senior Townhomes principals could consider the idea of resubmitting their plan for 55-and-over housing, thus widening the project's marketability.

In the meantime, Princeton Senior Townhomes is working toward receiving permits from the state's Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Transportation and will move forward from there, according to the developer's attorney, Mark Solomon, a Princeton-based land use lawyer.

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