Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 51
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
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With Progress Made In Crafting Bunn Site, Township Looks to ’08

Matthew Hersh

The potential scope of any development on a 20-acre tract on Bunn Drive in Princeton Township became even clearer Monday night as Township Hall weighed in on a proposed zoning amendment that could result in a long-stated goal to provide market- rate senior housing for Princeton residents.

In a work session format, Township Committee appeared to achieve consensus on various changes to the senior housing overlay zone on a parcel south of Hilltop Park, and a three-acre tract across the road that could be donated to the Township to provide affordable housing, or be used for other Township needs.

The hearing was the latest in a series of public meetings that have the governing body weighing housing needs in the Township against considerable public dissent from environmentalists urging a moratorium on further development along the northeastern section of the Princeton Ridge.

A development proposal that envisions 158, age 55-and-over, housing units was first pitched to Township Hall in August, nearly a year after national developer K. Hovnanian backed out of developing the Bunn site, pointing to market restrictions posed by the Township’s current age 62-and-over zoning there, as well as a reported disagreement in land purchase price from the site’s owner, the Short Hills-based Chatham Capital Investors.

The distinguishing feature of the August proposal, put forth by architect J. Robert Hillier, was the reduction in the age restriction from 62-and-over to 55-and-over. Mr. Hillier, a Town Topics shareholder, is the contract purchaser of the land, as well as the likely developer if the Township signs off on the proposed zoning changes.

On Monday, however, Committee did not address the age restriction, but rather sought to find common ground on other portions of the zoning proposal that have been part of an ongoing public discourse. Any development on the Bunn site will likely have a so-called Princeton preference, giving priority to Borough and Township residents, immediate family of residents, and municipal employees, library employees, and Board of Education employees. A preference would also be granted to emergency service volunteers.

Also taken up in Monday’s discussion was the environmental component of any development built on that site. While the overlay zone currently in place allows for more expansive development, Township Committee appeared content with an amendment that would mandate eight-and-a-half acres of completely undisturbed open space on the 20-acre zone, with the remaining 60 percent of the land designated as common open space — a 20 percent increase from what the current ordinance stipulates.

An element not entirely embraced by the full Committee was to require any development to be LEED-silver certified, in line with the green building rating system outlined in the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards. In a December 7 hearing, Mr. Hillier said that if he were to develop the land, he could comply with a LEED-silver rating. Some members of Committee, however, thought this component exceeded the capacity of what could be put into a zoning ordinance and that the Regional Planning Board of Princeton could address the green building factor when reviewing a yet-to-be-submitted formal application.

“I think it would be entirely correct for us to go on record to say that it’s our intent that any development — whether it’s office or residential — be LEED-certified,” said Deputy Mayor Bernie Miller, while questioning whether a LEED requirement be built into the law of the land. Committeeman Lance Liverman, however, said the requirement would be appropriate: “It’s not out of line at all to ask for LEED. The way the world is today, I think it’s extremely important.”

Township attorney Edwin Schmierer told Committee that if the Township were to mandate LEED there, it would have be implemented in any ordinance. It appears likely at this point that when an ordinance comes up for introduction in January, there will be a LEED component up for consideration as well, but not necessarily a silver rating.

While the whole of any development would be built on the zone’s primary 17 acres west of Bunn Drive, a three-acre parcel on the eastern side of Bunn, still in senior residential overlay zone and also owned by Chatham Capital, has been showcased as a possible throw-in that could be donated to the Township to build housing for low- and moderate-income families, potentially as part of an expansion of Princeton Community Village. According to a memo assembled by municipal planner Lee Solow, the parcel “provides a unique opportunity to provide additional affordable housing in Princeton Township,” with the necessary infrastructure to be shared with PCV.

Committee is not locked into that arrangement, and could simply accept the land, along with a cash contribution to the Township’s affordable housing trust fund, leaving the municipality in no immediate position to develop the smaller site. The proposed zoning amendment does, however, incorporate a 20-percent set aside in the area’s main development area. As such, the 146 units the site allows would provide eight moderate income and four low-income units built in for affordable housing, bringing the total residential units up to 158.

Moreover, 24 units of any development would be affirmatively marketed to middle income residents, whose total household income is no more than 200 percent of the median gross household of the set-aside affordable units. Households earning at most $131,000 could qualify to purchase one of those 24 middle-income units, with units likely marketed as part of the Princeton preference element.

Some residents spoke against Ridge development, worrying that the proposed zoning would lead to an increase in impervious surfaces, with a residual increase in flooding along Harry’s Brook downstream.

The hearing did not result in any ordinance introduction and Township Committee will likely vote whether or not to introduce an ordinance at its January 7 regular meeting.

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