Questions, Council Moves Ahead With Downtown Housing
(Matthew Hersh contributed to this story)
Council voted 4-0 to release the Palmer Square Housing Settlement for
a public hearing to be held on Tuesday, January 13.
unanimous decision didn't include Council members David Goldfarb
and Joseph O'Neill, who weren't present at the December 23
After a 13-year feud between the Council and Palmer
Square Housing, the 97 housing units, originally designed by
Robert Hillier, may be built within the next five years if
granted final approval.
While all Council members were
willing to move forward with settlement, one Council member,
Roger Martindell, is questioning the wording of the document
and the potential for Palmer Square Housing to slip out of the deal.
One of Mr. Martindell's concerns is the lack of a clause in the
document stating what will happen if Palmer Square Housing
fails to finish the housing within five years.
the developer finishes 60 [units] and walks away, then what do
we do?" asked Mr. Martindell.
The agreement also
states that Palmer Square Housing must make their last payment
to the Borough of the maximum $137,000 for sewer line connections once
all the housing units are complete. Thus, if the units are never completed,
the payments will never be made to the Borough, said Mr. Martindell.
The 14-year Council member said he is just as concerned about
the Borough holding up its part of the deal. If something were
to happen that would force the Borough to not comply with the
written agreement, the affordable housing deed restrictions
would expire. He said he feels something should be written
in the document that would prevent the Borough from losing the housing
"There may be situations over the next few
years that [the Borough] may not foresee," he said.
Mr. Martindell, a self-employed lawyer in Princeton, sent Michael
J. Herbert, Esq., the borough attorney, a list of 58 questions
he had concerning the current developer's agreement.
Mr. Herbert read and answered Mr. Martindell's questions, and
has made both the questions and answers available to the
public at Borough Hall.
The Council member said he is not
satisfied with all the answers to his questions, and would
like to have a public discussion of some of his inquiries at
the settlement hearing. He also said he would like to put off the
vote on the settlement for a month, rather than vote on it just
two weeks after releasing the document.
when you're dealing with 100 new residences downtown ... two weeks is
not much time to give mature consideration of the agreement."
The Council member said he has always been in favor of completing
the project, however he is unsure about moving ahead so quickly
with the settlement before having a much closer review with
Council of the document's clauses.
it would behoove the Borough to put together this [settlement] and
discuss it with the public without having it look like a done
Other Council members voiced frustration with Mr.
Martindell's questions. As Councilwoman Wendy Benchley said,
"I think many of those questions have been brought up
before and answered."
Mayor Reed said that Mr. Martindell's
questions have been reviewed and changes have been made to
comply with them in the current agreement.
The mayor, who
spent his last six weeks in office before retirement in negotiations
with Palmer Square Housing, was concerned about putting off the settlement
vote past the end of January. He said the agreement he made with the
developer was made with the understanding that negotiations would
be settled by the end of January.
the agreement is," he said. "This is exactly what [the developer]
had objected to; second-guessing and revising.
units have been debated since 1990, when the Princeton Regional Planning
Board approved a plan by Palmer Square Management to build 97 units,
along with retail space, and an office complex along undeveloped
land near Paul Robeson Place. While other parts of the
project were completed, the housing units, which could provide
$60 million in new rateables for the Borough, were never built.
The struggle between Palmer Square and the Council focused on
how many affordable housing units should be part of the agreement.
The Council argued that under the Borough's housing code,
20 percent of the housing must be affordable. However Palmer
Square disagreed, saying that the housing code was adopted
after the building plan had already been approved, and the state requirement
of only 10 percent should be applied.
After 13 years of
contention, Mayor Reed was approached again two months ago
by developer Oded Aboodi to reach a settlement. After getting
approval from the Council to proceed with the best possible
agreement, Mayor Reed, Mayor-Elect O'Neill, Mr. Aboodi, and
his son met together to finalize plans.
four of us had some very frank and down-to-earth discussions,"
said Mayor Reed.
Both sides discussed reasons why they
did not trust each other and were apprehensive about moving
forward with the plan, but realized that it was in the
best interest of both parties to agree on a settlement, said the
mayor. The current agreement allows Palmer Square to "scatter"
the affordable housing units downtown. They would become part
of the Square's mixed-use buildings, contrary to what the Borough
and Princeton Future had desired, which was to make them part
of the new building.
The anticipated building would have
approximately 3 stories above the garage, and 4 stories up
from the ground along Paul Robeson Place. The building will
be 35-45 feet from the ground to the eaves.
disputed the original plans, saying that a structure on Hulfish
North would not only alienate residents of the John-Witherspoon neighborhood,
but would also turn Paul Robeson Place into a "high-speed roadway"
that would effectively create a partition between Palmer Square
and the residential area that lies to the north.
Princeton Future has also contended that any affordable housing
should be included in the physical structure to be built on
Other opponents of the current plan say
crosswalks and signage need to be put in place along Paul Robeson
Place to facilitate pedestrian mobility.
housing units, which will consist of efficiencies, and some one-
or two-bedroom apartments, will be scattered throughout the new construction,
the old Palmer Square West housing, and along Nassau Street. They
will all be considered, "rental rehabilitation units,"
and Palmer Square will make the final selection on the renters.
"Considering all that has gone on before, this is about the
best we're going to get and get it done," said Mayor Reed.
Property owners within 200 feet of the new housing location will
be notified of the agreement that is being considered by Council.
A copy of the full agreement is available for public view
at Borough Hall.