Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 8
 
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
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Hillier Explains Princeton Ridge Plan To Regional Planning Board, Public

Ellen Gilbert

Though no formal action was taken during last Thursday’s Regional Planning Board meeting, Bob Hillier of Hillier Properties LLC, explained his proposal for building 143 units of housing for residents aged 55 and over on Princeton Ridge for an informal review of the concept plan.

Planning Director Lee Solow summarized the basic elements of plan presented by Mr. Hillier (who is also a Town Topics shareholder).

With a cluster of three buildings surrounding an outdoor courtyard, the project sets aside 12 units of affordable housing and 21 units of moderate rate housing, while the remaining 110 units will be market rate.

“The site disturbance is limited to 17 percent of the overall site,” Mr. Solow reported. As per the Township municipal code, 286 parking spaces are required for the site, and Mr. Hillier’s plan involves an underground parking garage for 237 spaces, a small visitor parking lot encompassing 18 spaces, and a banked parking lot to the west of the site to meet the remaining obligation.

Mr. Solow recommended that Mr. Hillier consider adding an emergency access drive, and determine the specifics regarding the detention basin near the site, and whether blasting will need to be done before the building of the underground garage.

In presenting the latest version of the plan to the board and public, Mr. Hillier explained that “we have made every effort we can to have this project go forward in the most environmentally sensitive way possible.” As a result of conversations with members of the group People for Princeton Ridge, the plans had been shaped to minimize ecological damage, he said.

Of the 1,421 trees on the tract of land in question, 448 were proposed to be cut in an earlier proposal to Township Committee, but that number has been scaled back to 241 trees, with about 25 “either a hazard, dead, or in jeopardy,” Mr. Hillier remarked.

Additionally, the project will aim for a silver Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, making it a green housing development.

Due to a possible variance, Mr. Hillier has “decided to investigate the possibility” of constructing six different buildings, with no more than 30 units in the largest one, on the same footprint as the three proposed.

Planning board member Audrey Chen asked about prices for the market rate units, and Mr. Hillier anticipated that they would cost $400 per square foot, all of the units being larger than 1,000 square feet, with variation in unit size. The market rate units have a “Princeton preference,” meaning that they may only be sold to people who live or have lived in Princeton in the past five years until the full building permit is obtained.

Trustee of People for Princeton Ridge (PPR) Daniel Harris urged the Planning Board to impose certain conditions on the development project. They include, agreeing to limit the site disturbance to 3.3 acres, to deed in perpetuity the remaining land on that tract to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, to eliminate the above ground banked parking, and other stipulations.

While “PPR does not endorse any development of the Princeton Ridge,” they “believe that Mr. Hillier’s concept plan can evolve into as reasonable a development as current circumstances allow,” Mr. Harris remarked.

Princeton Environmental Commission Chair Wendy Kaczerski said that the commission “remains opposed to any development on the Princeton Ridge tract,” citing concerns about the watertable, flooding, and blasting on the site.

While the Environmental Commission “fully supports the development of senior and affordable housing,” it opposes this particular development “for reasons of social sustainability,” Ms. Kaczerski commented, adding that senior and affordable housing should be integrated into existing neighborhoods.

Saying that the commission understands that “development will likely proceed,” Ms. Kaczerski also urged that the Planning Board set restrictions, including conserving the remaining natural areas, and making sure that the access road would make as small an environmental impact as possible.

Others expressed their support for the plan. Resident Harold Lowe said that it was a “wonderful opportunity” and that he would be pleased to continue living in Princeton as part of such a community created by the development. Township resident Sandra Persichetti agreed, noting that Mr. Hillier had done “a remarkable job.”

Planning Board member Marvin Reed reminded those assembled that the underlying zoning on that site is for research or office buildings, and the senior overlay ordinance is what allows for developing housing on that tract. If Mr. Hillier’s plan were to be denied, “the opportunity would still be there for a sizable office building to be built,” he said.

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